May, 2019 – Cape Fair, Missouri

The trip north was a short trip of just over an hour as we moved from the southern end of Table Rock Lake in Arkansas, to the northern end in Missouri at Cape Fair Campgrounds.  This was another Corps of Engineers campground that are all around the lake.  Unlike Cricket Creek, Cape Fair was an older campground designed for smaller RVs.  Most of the sites were nicely laid out with rock walls and asphalt pavement.  However, the road through the campground was narrow and winding with sharp turns and rocks to be avoided on both sides.  Our campsite was also narrow with a rock wall on one side and a drop off into the site next to ours.  It would have been very difficult to get into if we showed up later in the week.  Thankfully, on Monday the campground was fairly empty and there was nobody camped in the site across from ours.  I was able to pull straight into the sight across the road and then back the RV into our site with no difficulty.  We got set up quickly and settled in for another week on Table Rock Lake.

Campsite

Tuesday was cloudy, but thankfully no rain so we headed north to Springfield to explore Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.  With all the Civil War battlefields east of the Mississippi it can be easy to forget the Civil War was fought west of the Mississippi as well.  In fact, the fighting in Missouri and Kansas started years before the Civil War following the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.   Unlike the Missouri Compromise years earlier that allowed Missouri to be a slave state, Kansas and Nebraska would decide their own fate.  This led to men and their families flooding into Kansas that wanted to influence this decision.  Both pro and anti slave supporters.  Violent clashes between them, as well as, atrocities on both sides occurred on both sides of the state line.  “Bloody Kansas” became a common term for this conflict before the Civil War.  Missouri was also violently split on the issue.  When the Civil War began in 1861, Missouri narrowly voted to stay with the Union.  Governor Jackson did not agree with this and called up the Missouri State Guard to “protect Missouri from all invaders”, which to him meant the Federal troops.  He created Camp Jackson outside of St Louis to train the Guard, which was a direct threat to the vital Federal armory there.  General Lyon understood the threat and surrounded the camp to break it up.  After a couple failed attempts at peace, it was obvious the Governor would settle for nothing less than war.  Most of the Union soldiers in St Louis under the command of General Lyon were from Missouri including a large number German immigrants from St Louis.  The Missouri State Guard were all Missouri natives under the command of General Price.  So began the Civil War in Missouri which was already a civil war between those in favor of and opposed to slavery.  In the spring of 1861, there were a number of skirmishes between the Union and Missouri Guard soldiers until General Lyon was occupying Springfield, the state capitol.  General Price intended to retake Springfield and joined with the Confederate army out of Arkansas commanded by General McCulloch.  With this combination the Confederate army finally outnumbered the Federals, by more than 2-1.  General Lyon knew he needed to withdraw back to St Louis, however, this Confederate army was a serious threat to a safe withdrawal.  He decided to surprise the Confederates, hitting them quick and hard, to allow him an opportunity to withdraw without opposition.  The Confederates were camped along Wilson Creek, south of Springfield and also had plans to attack at the same time.  They broke camp to advance towards Springfield on August 9, but a late afternoon thunderstorm stopped them as they were concerned about keeping their powder dry.  They returned to camp, but failed to reestablish pickets that night, so they had no warning.  The Federal troops also left Springfield on August 9 with plans to attack at dawn the next morning.  Without pickets, the Confederates never saw them coming.  General Lyon was not only going to attack with inferior numbers, but he also split his command with a third of his force, all German immigrants under the command of Colonel Sigel circled around to attack the Confederate rear.  Initially the attack west very well for the Federals with Lyon driving the northern part of camp allowing them to obtain the high ground on what became known as Bloody Hill.  Sigel also successfully made his way around to the rear without detection and hit the camp with an artillery barrage at dawn.  The sleeping Confederates initially scattered allowing Sigel to establish a position across the Wire Road cutting off Confederate retreat.  However, later in the morning he mistook a counterattack for Lyon’s Iowa Company who also wore gray uniforms at this point in the war, allowing them to get within point blank range.  Sigel was routed and scattered to the woods.  In the meantime, Lyon was stopped on top of Bloody Hill and thus began a 5 hour defensive battle.  Three times the superior Confederate forces, now more than 3-1, attempted to drive them from the top of the hill and failed.  On the third attempt General Lyon was killed, thus becoming the first Union General to die in the Civil War.  With the loss of their leader and no sign of Sigel, the Union army withdrew after the third attack.  The Confederates were already running low on ammunition, which was in short supply at this point in the war and chose not to pursue.  So the Confederates won the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, although Lyon achieved his objective which was to eliminate the threat to his withdrawal all the way back to St. Louis.

Kal and I had actually visited this battlefield years ago, but it was during the winter and very cold.  We did not spend much time exploring the battlefield and I really did not remember much of the battle, so it was great to see it again when we could spend the day exploring it.  Once again we purchased the auto tour CD of the battle, which gave a lot more information about the battle, the stops we visited, and the principals involved in the battle.  The auto-tour had 8 stops on it taking us from the northern end of the Confederate camp around to the southern end where Sigel hit them in the rear.  Highlights of the tour were the Ray House, which is the only structure to survive to today, that sits on the Wire Road.  The other highlight was the only monument erected at the battlefield to mark the location of General Lyon when he was killed in a countercharge during the battle.  It was interesting that at the time General Lyon was a national hero for the Union with a funeral train all the way back to Connecticut where he was buried.  In comparison to the monuments at other battlefields, this monument is very modest.  I suppose the reason is that this battle was primarily Missouri versus Missouri soldiers.  It was also interesting to learn that the monument replaced a cairn of rocks that had been built over the years to over 8 feet high.  It was a nice day to be out without dealing with rain.

Wednesday was spent with Kal finding a laundramat in West Branson while I cleaned the RV.  Thursday was also spent in the campground as it rained most of the day.  When I stepped out of the RV after dark, the steps suddenly sagged on the left side.  We got out the flashlight and had a look to discover that the brace that attaches to the RV had broke.  I put some wood under the steps to help hold them up until we could get it fixed.

The weather on Friday was marginally better, at least it was not suppose to rain, so we headed back to Arkansas to explore Pea Ridge National Military Park.  The Civil War battle that took place at Pea Ridge was the next major chapter in the Civil War after Wilson’s Creek.  Following the loss at Wilson’s Creek the Union forces withdrew back to St. Louis where they got a new general, Brigadier General Curtis and reinforcements increasing their number to 10,500 soldiers.  Since Wilson Creek, General Price and the Missouri State Guard had essentially a free run of Missouri during the fall of 1861.  However, this was about to change as General Curtis’ objective was to drive the Confederates from Missouri and keep the state a part of the Union.  By mid-February, 1862 he had chased Price and the Missouri State Guard into northwest Arkansas.  There they once again joined up with Brigadier General McCulloch’s Confederates in the Boston Mountains, south of Fayetteville.  On March 4, Major General Van Dorn took over command of the combined forces that now numbered 16,000 soldiers and led them north.  However, Curtis was now dug in across his path on the bluffs above Little Sugar Creek, not far from Elkhorn Tavern on the Telegraph Road and Elkhorn Mountain on the Pea Ridge plateau.  Knowing a frontal assault would be a mistake, he decided to swing north to come in behind the Federals.  This meant a grueling three day march leaving their supply wagons behind to catch up.  Plans were to strike Elkhorn Tavern at dawn on March 7, however they arrived far behind schedule.  In fact, the Confederates were strung out and General McCulloch’s forces were miles behind General Price.  So Van Dorn decided to divide his army and ordered McCulloch to cut east short of Elkhorn Mountains and approach the Tavern from the west instead of the north.  However, this put McCulloch running into the left flank of Curtis’ forces who had quickly repositioned from the bluffs.  In fact, the intense fire from the Federals killed both McCulloch and his second in command, McIntosh and captured the colonel next in line.  The command structure was practically destroyed, leaving McCulloch’s men scattered without command in the field and effectively out of the fight.  Meanwhile, Van Dorn and Price fared better slowly pushing Curtis south of Elkhorn Tavern when night fell.  The Confederates thought the battle the next day would be short and decisive, however, they forgot that their supply wagons were still attempting to catch up.  On the morning of March 8, Curtis counterattacked the tavern area.  This began as a two hour artillery barrage which for once was terribly effective.  They managed to knock out one Confederate battery after another and then turned on the soldiers dug in on Elkhorn Mountain.  The Confederates thought they had a good position, but against artillery that exploded in the rock walls behind them turned it into a death trap.  They had to withdraw to tavern area.  Meanwhile, Curtis lined all of his soldiers in a long line over 3 football fields long and charged the Elkhorn Tavern.  Even though the Confederates still outnumbered the Federals, their ammunition was dangerously low and they had no choice but to retreat to the north and east and the battle was over with a Union victory.  They had driven the Confederates out of Missouri, securing it for the rest of the war for the Union, although there continued to be guerilla fighting in Missouri for the rest of the war.  This was the second major battle in the Civil War west of the Mississippi and the last.  Nearly all of the troops from both sides were moved east of the Mississippi River for the remainder of the war.  Missouri continued to be technically neutral although it continued to provide men and supplies to both sides.

The Pea Ridge battlefield is actually not very large and the driving tour around the battlefield is only 7 miles long.  Once again we purchased the auto-tour CD which gave some valuable insights on the battle, although it was still difficult to understand the battle itself.  Part of the problem was due to the fact that Van Dorn turned the battle around by circling around to the rear of the Federals.  This meant they were attacking to the south and the Union to the north.  Also the maps in the brochure were terribly confusing and did not match with the very well with the interpretive signs at each of the stops.  We never did figure out the battle near the town of Leetown where McCulloch and McIntosh were killed.  The short trail to the town site did not help since there is nothing left of the town today.  The best part of the trip was the overlook on Elkhorn Mountain.  From there you could see the field where the battle for Elkhorn Tavern took place.  They placed cannon along the line through the field where the Federals lined up for their advance on the morning of March 8.  I was surprised to find that Elkhorn Tavern had survived all of the fighting until I found out it was a replication of the tavern.  There are a number of trials that circle the area around the tavern, however, after walking no more than 100 yards, Kal found three ticks crawling up her pants.  At this point we decided not to take a hike, which turned out to be a good thing as we talked with some other hikers that were very busy picking off ticks!!  Without any hiking, it did not take long to explore the battlefield and we returned to the campgrounds early in the afternoon.

Once again Saturday threatened rain, so we decided to drive back into Branson, this time from the west, to play another couple of rounds of mini-golf that we were both enjoying.  Kal had seen a pretty fancy course last week, so we headed to the Shoot For The Stars Mini-golf.  Visually it was very fancy with a lot of objects depicting Hollywood, including mockups of Gramans and the Hollywood Bowl among others.  The idea was it represented the 18 steps to becoming a movie star.  They had an agent with prerecorded messages at the beginning of each hole, when the recordings worked.  In fact, the course was more glitz then substance.  The holes were very easy with few challenges, but still was enjoyable.  After we finished that course, we decided to go back to Pirates Cove for another round on their more challenging course, Blackbeard.  Of all the mini-golf courses we played in Branson, this was our favorite.  We also checked and found out we had played fewer than half of the mini-golf courses in Branson!

Sunday was spent just relaxing in the campground while it rained once again.  This weather has gotten ridiculous and did not look like it would change anytime soon.

 

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