Pea Ridge National Military Park

Location: Rogers, Arkansas

Webpage: National Park

General Description:  At the start of the Civil War, Missouri and Kansas were already embroiled in the battle between pro and anti-slave supporters.  Missouri voted to remain in the Union, but this did not stop Governor Jackson who called out the Missouri State Guard to “protect Missouri from all invaders.”  General Price was put into command of the Guard, who’s proceeded to secure Missouri from Union “invasion”.  In April of 1861, the Missouri Guard was combined with the Confederate forces under the command of General McCulloch and defeated the Union forces at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.  The Union army retreated back to St Louis and Price led the Guard to capture Springfield and Lexington in the fall of 1861.  His victories, however, were short lived since he did not have the support of the populace in northern Missouri who supported the Union.  In the meantime, the Union army was reinforced in St. Louis under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Curtis, who’s mission was to drive the Confederates out of Missouri and secure the state for the Union.  This process began in earnest during the spring of 1862, with a series of skirmishes against the Price and the Missouri Guard, driving them out of the southwest corner of Missouri into Arkansas.  General Price met up with the Confederate army in the Boston Mountains of northwest Arkansas and joined with them under the command of Major General Earl van Dorn.  Knowing the Confederates were planning an attack, General Curtis stopped at a wide plateau known as Pea Ridge along the Telegraph Road near Elkhorn Tavern.  He dug in defensive positions on the bluff overlooking Little Sugar Creek to await the Confederates.  However, General van Dorn decided on a bold plan for his combined forces of 16,000 men against General Curtis 10,500 Federals.  His plan was to circle behind the Union position, which required a quick three day march, to attack at dawn on March 7.  His plan was to move up Bentonville Cutoff to come in behind Curtis on Telegraph Road.  However, his plan began to fall apart when his weary and cold troops got strung out along Bentonville Cutoff and arrived hours behind schedule.  These delays allowed Curtis time to face about and prepare for the attack.  General McCulloch’s troops were so far behind that van Dorn decided to split his forces and ordered him to cut across on Ford Roar to Elkhorn Tavern.  This turned out to be a mistake as his troops ran into intensive fire near the small town of Leetown, where McCulloch was killed as well as his second in command, Brigadier General James McIntosh.  Since the ranking Colonel was also captured, his command structure disintegrated and McCulloch’s men were scattered from the field.  In the meantime, General Van Dorn fared better where he led General Price’s Missouri Guard against Curtis at Elkhorn Tavern.   Progress was slow, however, by nightfall they held Elkhorn Tavern and the crucial Telegraph and Huntsville Roads.  During the night the survivors of McCulloch’s command joined them to take defensive positions in and around Elkhorn Tavern with high spirits of a great victory the next day.  On the morning of March 8, Curtis began with a two-hour artillery barrage that knocked out one position after another.  By the end of the barrage, the Confederates had abandoned all positions around Elkhorn Mountain and were concentrated at Elkhorn Tavern.  Curtis lined his troops in one long line extending more than 300 yards and advanced as one on the Confederates.  By this point, General Van Dorn began to regret his decision to leave his supply wagons behind as he quickly moved to the rear of the Union.  His artillery was running very low on ammunition and by 10:30 it was obvious they would not survive the advancing Union army.  By 11:00 the Confederates were retreating north on the Telegraph Road and east on the Huntsville Road.  General Curtis had broken the back of the Confederate army in Arkansas and secured Missouri for the Union.  This was the final major battle of the Civil War west of the Mississippi, however, fighting still continued as guerilla warfare for both sides throughout the rest of the Civil War.  While Missouri remained technically neutral for the rest of the war, it continued to supply men and supplies to both sides.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) A visit to Pea Ridge National Military Park should begin at the Visitor Center where they have some excellent exhibits about the Civil War and the battle in 1862.  There is also an excellent video about the battle.  We also purchased the auto tour CD that added a lot of details about the battle along the auto tour.

2) The first stop on the tour is actually not part of the battlefield.  Instead a shallow depression is the remnants of the Trail of Tears when thousands of Cherokees and other American Indian tribes were forcibly removed from the homes to Oklahoma in 1838-39.  It was latter part of Telegraph Road that was used by both sides during the battle.

TrailOfTears

3) The next stop is the site of General Curtis’ Headquarters, which was to be in the rear of the battle along Little Sugar Creek.  Instead this position was threatened when the Confederates went around the Union position to Elkhorn Tavern to the north along Telegraph Road.

4) The next stop is near the site of the small town of Leetown where the Confederates under the command of General McCulloch was defeated by part of the Union army.  During the battle the homes were all used as field hospitals for both sides.  Today there is nothing left of the town and a short trail to the town bears this out as we could see no evidence of any buildings.

Leetown

5) The next stop is close to the location where McCulloch and McIntosh were both killed near the north boundary of the field in the distance.

LeetownBattlefield

6) The next stop is an overlook from the northwest of the battlefield, however, there is not much that can be seen from this location.

7) The next stop is up a short spur to another overlook on Elkhorn Mountain from where you get an excellent view of the main battlefield.  Interpretive signs provide a good view of the fields where the Union army lined up for their charge on the morning of March 8.

BattlefieldOverlook1

8) The next stop is Elkhorn Tavern which served travelers on Telegraph Road before the Civil War.  General Curtis used part of the tavern as part of his supply base until Confederates captured and occupied it early in the afternoon of March 7.  The present building is a reconstruction, which is not surprising given the amount of fighting that occurred here over the two days of the battle.  There are a number of trails that head out from Elkhorn Tavern through this area of the battlefield and also an interpretive sign with a lot of information about the Butterfield Overland Stage that ran from St. Louis to San Francisco from 1857-61.  Twice a week a stage would make this run in just three days.  Of course, this meant passengers had to endure rough roads and conditions both day and night for three days.

9) The next couple of stops highlight the Confederate artillery line south of Elkhorn Tavern occupied the night of March 7 and the east end of the Federal line on the morning of March 8.  Today they have cannons placed out along the line to mark it and it extends beyond the wood line in the distance.

10) For the adventurous explorer, a short drive south of the battlefield, along Little Sugar Creek is a short path up to the top of the bluffs to the remnants of the trenches dug by the Union in anticipation of the battle which never happened at this location.  While the trail is made of decaying asphalt, it is a steep climb up to the top of the bluff.

UnionTrench