An outnumbered Union army gained a victory in northwest Arkansas on this date of March 7th (and 8th) in 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge – also known as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern.
The Confederates had previously been driven out of Missouri, and the Union Army of the Southwest (about 11,000 men) under Gen. Samuel R. Curtis had pushed into Arkansas and established a defensive position on the bluffs overlooking Little Sugar Creek.
For the Confederates, a force of about 16,000 under General Earl Van Dorn was determined to defeat this Union army – now extended some 250 miles from its base.
Van Dorn’s strategy was to flank and cut off the Northern forces, but his own army was split by Pea Ridge – essentially turning the battle into two contests. Pushing his men too hard during the hours leading up to the battle and advancing with insufficient supplies for a major fight, Van Dorn lost an
opportunity for a major victory. Additionally, his command and control structure deteriorated, and toward the middle of the second day, his supplies wagons were found to have been mistakenly ordered far away from the scene.
The Confederates superior numbers largely carried the first day of battle. But Union reinforcement and redeployment of lines overnight (on a bitter cold evening) strengthened the Federal line significantly. Union artillery under Franz Sigel softened the Rebel line and facilitated a successful infantry attack. Short on supplies, the Confederates were forced to retreat from the field. The Union victory at Pea Ridge solidified Federal control over Missouri for the next two years.
Miscellaneous Interesting Details:
Pea Ridge was the only major Civil War battle in which Indian troops participated. About 800- 1,000 Cherokee comprised two Confederate regiments. Some wounded Iowans were scalped, and a number of mutilated bodies were found after the battle.
Union troops hailed primarily from Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio. Over half of the Federal
soldiers were German immigrants.
It was possibly the only time during the war an entire army (Union on the 8th) was visibly deployed in one continuous line of battle from flank to flank. <Shea, William, and Earl Hess, Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. University of North Carolina Press, 1992, p. 239.>
It was one of the few times in the Civil War when a preparatory artillery barrage effectively softened up an enemy position and paved the way for an infantry assault. <ibid, p.236>
This area gets its name from the wild peas that grow there, especially abundant when settlers first arrived.
The 4,300 acre National Park also contains a 2.5-mile portion of the Trail of Tears.
Casualties: 1,400 Union / 3,000+ Confederate
Quote – from Isaac Smith, of the 1st Missouri Brigade (CSA)
“It was a very cold night and it was pitiful to hear the wounded calling all through that night in the woods and alone for some water or something to keep them warm. I hope I never will hear such pleadings and witness such suffering again. Such cruelty and barbarity ought not to be tolerated by civilized nations. Young men, the flower of the country in the bloom of youth to be shot down and left on the field of battle to suffer untold agony, and die the death of the brave, to be forgotten by their countrymen and all that can be said of him is ‘He was a brave man and died for the cause he thought was right.’”