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Pea Ridge National Military Park I
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"Union Victory"

Pea Ridge Maps

The Battle That Saved Missouri for the Union

C ontrol of Missouri was a prime objective of both the Union and Confederate forces during the first year of the Civil War. It was the reason the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was fought near Springfield, Missouri, on August 10, 1861, and it was one of the reasons for the clash at Pea Ridge in March 1862.

The Battle of Pea Ridge marked the end of a campaign that began on Christmas Day, 1861, with the appointment of Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis to head the Federal Southwestern District of Missouri. Acting with more zeal than his predecessors, Curtis began pushing Confederates and Pro-Confederate forces out of the state. By Mid-February 1862, he and his troops had chased his main opponents, Major General Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard into Arkansas.

In the Boston Mountains south of Fayetteville, Price joined with Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch’s Confederates. There Major General Earl Van Dorn took command of this combined 16,000 man force and on March 4 headed it northward, intending to strike into Missouri and capture St. Louis. But dug in across his path on the bluffs, overlooking Little Sugar Creek, not far from Elkhorn Tavern and nearby Elkhorn Mountain (Part of the larger Pea Ridge Plateau) were Curtis’s 10,500 Federals.

Van Dorn knew that a frontal assault against Curtis’s troops would be suicidal, so he swung north to come in behind them. He planned to strike at dawn on March 7th, but his troops, hungry, cold, and weary from a difficult three-day march, arrived hours behind schedule. McCulloch’s troops fell so far behind that van Dorn decided to temporarily divide his army. McCulloch was ordered to retrace his steps around the west end of Elkhorn Mountain, then turn east to rejoin Van Dorn near Elkhorn Tavern. These delays gave Curtis time to face about and prepare to receive the assault.

McCulloch’s troops, including two regiments of Cherokee Indians under Brigadier General Albert Pike, marched west of Elkhorn Mountain and the Round Top. They ran into an intensive fire that resulted in the deaths of McCulloch and General James McIntosh and the capture of the ranking Colonel Louis Hebert. With the Command structure practically destroyed, McCulloch’s men scattered from the field.

The other prong of the attack fared considerably better. Attacking east of Elkhorn Mountain, Price’s Missourians slowly but steadily pushed the Federals back until, about nightfall, they held Elkhorn Tavern and the crucial Telegraph and Huntsville roads. During the night the survivor of McCulloch’s Leetown fight joined them.

On the morning fo March 8th, Curtis counterattacked in the tavern area. His massed artillery severely damaged the confederate line and his concerted infantry and cavalry attacks began to crumple their defenses. Still, the Confederates held. By mid-morning, however, Van Dorn realized that his ammunition was running short and ordered his troops to withdraw. The Battle of Pea Ridge was over. Missouri was in Union hands, and most of the Union and Confederate troops moved east of the Mississippi to fight in other campaigns.


Narrative Courtesy fo the Pea Ridge National Military Park Guide.

Entrance to Pea Ridge National Battlefield

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Detail

Visitor's Center--"Elkhorn Tavern Battle" picture



Page II


Page III


Page IV


Page V



Visitor's Center--

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Visitor's Center--artillery piece

 


Pea Ridge at Civil War Album

 

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