Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West

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McCulloch's troops had been in winter quarters for months and were unprepared for such a strenuous effort. Soon the roadside was littered with hundreds of winded soldiers hobbled by blistered feet. Even Price's Missourians initially overjoyed at the thought of returning home, became disgruntled and remarked that Van Dorn "had forgotten he was riding and we were walking. After several chilly but pleasant days, a late winter storm swept across the Ozark Plateau. Temperatures dropped all day and the road became covered with sleet and snow.

Progress slowed to a crawl and the column finally halted amid the charred ruins of Fayetteville. Without tents or cooking equipment, the men passed a singularly dismal night. The next day, March 5, the situation deteriorated.

Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern), Arkansas

The Confederates left Fayetteville and plodded north across a wintry landscape. Progress was excruciatingly slow. As darkness fell and the temperature plummeted, the weary men of the Army of the West stumbled into camp at Elm Springs, halfway between Fayetteville and Bentonville.

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We had no tents and only one blanket to each man. We built log heaps and set them afire to warm the ground to have a place on which to lie, and I remember well the next day there were several holes burned in my uniform by sparks left on the ground. Despite the slow pace, Van Dorn remained confident that his plan to take Curtis by surprise was working. Most or all of the Cherokees, Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Seminoles, often referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes, were compelled to sell their traditional lands to the federal government, which in turn made the lands available to non-Indians for settlement.

They then relocated to the Indian Territory, a vast expanse of land that initially encompassed all of modern-day Oklahoma and parts of modern-day Arkansas and Kansas as well. The Cherokees were the most numerous of the Five Civilized Tribes. After much internal dissension over the wisdom of giving up their lands, the Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota in The other Indian tribes made similar agreements and received similar compensation. The movement west began in the late s and continued for several years. The Indians organized themselves into groups of several hundred people and set out at irregular intervals.

Contrary to legend, there was no single route. Some groups trekked overland most of the way. Others traveled on flat-boats and steamboats down the Ohio and the Mississippi, then up the Red and the Arkansas. Because of initial confusion over boundaries, hundreds of Cherokees and other Indians settled briefly in Arkansas before moving a short distance west to Oklahoma. The movement of so many people, including the very young and very old, was a much more difficult undertaking than anyone anticipated. Roads were primitive, boats were overcrowded, and government-issued rations and other supplies often were inadequate.

Harsh weather and other hardships caused thousands of deaths during the migration and the initial period of resettlement in the Indian Territory. The Cherokees collectively referred to the various land and water routes they followed, and their westward migration in general, as "the trail where they cried" or "the trail of tears. One of the routes used by the Indians passed through the northwest corner of Arkansas. About eight hundred Cherokees returned to the area in and played a minor role in the battle of Pea Ridge. The two regiments reflected the continuing division within the tribe over the issue of relocation.

Drew's men represented the anti-treaty faction; Watie's the pro-treaty group. Unwilling to be on the same side with people they considered traitors, many of Drew's soldiers joined the Union army after Pea Ridge. Watie's men generally continued in Confederate service for the same reason. The result was a bitter but little-known internecine conflict among the Cherokees that probably caused more death and destruction than the westward movement.

It was fortunate for the Union cause that they did so, for up to that point the Yankees were unaware of the enemy column toiling north toward Bentonville. Few patrols were out and about on March 4 and 5, and those that were reported nothing amiss. The general consensus among Union soldiers seemed to be that no one in their right mind would be moving around in such conditions, and that they might as well stay snug in their tents until the weather cleared.

Curtis received the news of a Confederate advance calmly. He had expected as much for some time, though he was surprised that the Rebels were on the move in such bad weather. Curtis ordered an immediate concentration of his outposts and the two wings of his army at Little Sugar Creek as planned.


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Never one to delay—and even though he was suffering the after-effects of flu or pneumonia—Van Dorn wasted no time heading north from Fayetteville. The movement began on March 4, following an obligatory address to the troops by their commanding general. A heavy snow was falling.

Van Dorn himself was so wracked with fever that he began the journey lying in a wagon. The rugged terrain of the Boston Mountains added to the strain of the march. As the weather-hampered Confederates trudged through knee-deep snowdrifts and stinging winds, the Union forces under Curtis were moving to meet the approaching threat.

At Pea Ridge, a long hill 30 miles northeast of Fayetteville, Curtis consolidated his forces and entrenched along Little Sugar Creek, which ran roughly parallel to the ridge, two miles to the southeast. He centered his operations at Elkhorn Tavern, a well-known watering hole at the eastern end of the ridge. The creek afforded a natural defensive barrier, and the mountains immediately to the west offered additional protection.

To add to the strength of their position, the Federal troops were busily entrenching under the stern gaze of their formidable commander. He would have to deal with Curtis first, before moving any farther north. Van Dorn decided to take advantage of his superior numbers, the static position of the entrenched Federals, and the terrain itself.

He was further encouraged by a minor success when his advance guard briefly engaged and dispatched a small Union detachment under Brig Gen. Franz Sigel. Van Dorn then determined to bring his force to the rear of the Federal line, thereby negating its entrenchments and its advantageous position behind Little Sugar Creek. On the night of March , he ordered his troops, already weary from three days and 50 miles of arduous marching, to make their way along a road called the Bentonville Detour. That movement would allow the Confederates to move past the Union right flank.

They would fall on both Union flanks from the rear, creating a surprise double envelopment from which the outnumbered Federals would have no escape. In attempting to create a double envelopment, however, Van Dorn had created an ironic problem for himself. His two wings would be attacking in a southerly direction.

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By cutting off the Federal force from its line of supply and retreat to Missouri, he was also severing his own communications with his rear supply area in Arkansas. Even worse, he had left his slow and cumbersome supply and ammunition trains behind him—in effect, cutting himself off from his own supplies.

The hollow of the creek and the obstacle of Pea Ridge provided a natural defense. At the outset of the battle, Van Dorn was confident. He had kept his campfires burning in front of the Union lines all night to mask his maneuvering around their position. At first he had no idea where they had gone. Curtis could have retreated across Little Sugar Creek, fleeing toward Arkansas or circling back into Missouri. Instead, he chose to fight. He quickly ordered an about-face, not the easiest maneuver to execute, nor the best way to redeploy for a fight.


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After turning degrees, an army is frequently disoriented—units normally on the left are now on the right, and orders and directions become confused. Yet Curtis and his subordinates maintained good order and discipline. The Confederates, by contrast, were struggling to meet their timetable. The long mountain trek had delayed them during the cold, dark night. They were coming into attack position a few miles from the Union lines—but they were also a few hours late.

By a. Again and again, Carr regrouped and formed new defensive lines. He sent word to Curtis that he needed reinforcements. Davis no relation to the Southern president to meet the threat.

Pea Ridge Campaign

But they, too, were outnumbered and hard-pressed to hold on. On both flanks the Confederates had employed their superiority in infantry and artillery to gain—at least temporarily—the upper hand. It would prove a costly diversion. Curtis was under intense pressure to reinforce both his wings.

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Osterhaus had been hit particularly hard. He had given up much ground, and in the process had lost several artillery pieces and equipment. Carr, too, was reeling, but so far neither wing had broken. Time was now on the Union side.


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  8. Price knew that the further the federals were drawn away from the railroad head at Rolla, the more vulnerable they became. Reuniting the two forces would give the Confederates a significant numerical advantage over Curtis, but getting Price and McCulloch to work together had previously proved impossible. Something had to change. After this reorganization of the Confederate forces under his command, Van Dorn decided to attack the federals while they were at the end of a very long and tenuous supply line. This required almost superhuman efforts from the men in Confederate ranks.

    The flanking attempts failed and the federals spoiled the rebel attacks in a day of ferocious fighting. On the following day at Pea Ridge, the Army of the Southwest counterattacked and drove the Confederates from the field in a stunning victory.

    Pea Ridge Civil War Campaign in the West Civil War America

    The Confederates suffered approximately 2, casualties killed, wounded, and missing , while the Federals took 1, To make matters worse, Van Dorn took the battered remnants of the Army of the West, including the Missouri State Guard, to the east bank of the Mississippi too late to participate in the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee on April , where the Union won another victory.

    The federals attempted to consolidate their control of Missouri. Hindman inherited a virtually defenseless state, and, in a matter of months, he not only managed to restore Confederate forces in Arkansas, but he also raised a force to go back into Missouri.

    Holmes, a West Point graduate, was well past his prime, and he allowed Hindman considerable leeway within the department. Herron force-marched his men a remarkable miles in three days to join Blunt. To prevent the federal forces from joining, Hindman moved east of Blunt and intercepted Herron at Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7, In proportion to its size, the Battle of Prairie Grove was one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.

    The attack failed, but the Army of the Frontier held against a Confederate counter-attack. Blunt had heard the noises of battle at Prairie Grove and marched to the sound of the guns to save Herron. Blunt immediately launched an attack with his force, which was bloodily repulsed. Hindman then launched a counter-attack against Blunt that was also stymied. The federal Army of the Frontier had 9, men engaged and took 1, casualties. With Missouri firmly under federal control as of early , Union military strategists attempted to isolate Missouri to prevent guerrillas from coming into the state or from receiving any military supplies.

    Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West - William L. Shea - Google книги

    A state as large as Missouri was extremely difficult to pacify, so the federals concentrated on the river valleys in and around the state. Louis was, not surprisingly, the center of Union efforts on the Mississippi River. Louis was a major supply hub and forward operating base for operations down the river. Most of the men and materiel supplying the guerrilla bands in Missouri came from Arkansas and Texas.

    Union military strategists attempted to isolate Missouri to prevent guerrillas from coming into the state or from receiving any military supplies.

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