Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers The Pea Ridge Campaign (Jan-Mar/1862) - Mar 25th, 2004
Posted on 03/25/2004 12:00:29 AM PST by SAMWolf
are acknowledged, affirmed and commemorated.
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Arkansas was quiet during the first few weeks of 1862. The primary concern of Confederate authorities in Richmond and Little Rock continued to be the unsettled situation in neighboring Missouri, where Maj. Gen. Sterling Price's ragtag army, the Missouri State Guard, was in winter quarters at Springfield in the southwestern corner of the state. Price's army was a mix of Confederates and Missouri state guardsmen and numbered about eight thousand men and forty-seven cannons. Despite serious organizational and logistical problems, the Missouri Rebels had fought well at Wilson's Creek and Lexington the previous year, and they constituted a potential threat to the vital Union stronghold of St. Louis.
Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch
Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch's Confederate army was located in northwestern Arkansas about one hundred miles south of Price's force. McCulloch's command consisted of about eighty-seven hundred men and eighteen cannons. Many of his Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana soldiers were veterans of Wilson's Creek and other engagements in Missouri and the Indian Territory. At the beginning of the new year, the infantry was in winter quarters in and around Fayetteville, Cross Hollows (near present-day Lowell), and Bentonville, enduring the frigid temperatures atop the Ozark Plateau; the cavalry and artillery were spread out along the Arkansas River Valley sixty miles to the south, where warmer temperatures and adequate forage made life more bearable for men and beasts. McCulloch, who did not expect any military activity along the frontier until spring, had gone to Virginia to confer with President Jefferson Davis about the state of affairs in the Trans-Mississippi.
What McCulloch wanted to discuss was his long-simmering feud with Price. The two generals no longer were on speaking terms, and their partisans were engaged in a full-scale newspaper war. After listening to McCulloch and to Price's advocates in the Missouri congressional delegation, President Davis decided that only a bold act could resolve the impasse. He created a new entity, the Military District of the Trans-Mississippi, on January 10, 1862, and placed an old friend, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn of Mississippi, in command. Davis believed that Van Dorn's appointment would provide unity of command and purpose to the Confederate war effort west of the Mississippi River.
Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn
Van Dorn was a poor choice despite his West Point education and years of service in the regular army. He was impulsive, reckless, and lacked administrative skills. None of that was apparent, however, as Van Dorn hastened westward from Virginia to his new post. He assumed command in Little Rock on January 29, but established his headquarters in Pocahontas because he intended to invade Missouri from northeastern Arkansas in the spring. Van Dorn expressed his rather casual approach to strategy in a letter to his wife: "I must have St. Louis - then Huzza!"
In St. Louis, meanwhile, decisions were being made that would bring the war to Arkansas more quickly than anyone expected. President Abraham Lincoln appointed Maj. Gen. Henry W. Halleck commander of the Federal Department of the Missouri on November 19, 1861. Halleck was an excellent administrator and strategist who was determined to protect St. Louis and reassert Union control over the rest of Missouri. On December 25, 1861, he placed Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis in command of the District of Southwest Missouri and its military arm, the Army of the Southwest, a force of about twelve thousand men and fifty cannons. Curtis was a West Point graduate and Iowa congressman who had helped to found the Republican Party. He was an able administrator and an aggressive campaigner well suited to his mission: to destroy Price's Rebel army.
On January 13, 1862, Halleck authorized Curtis to begin. During the next four weeks, the Army of the Southwest struggled across the Ozark Plateau toward Springfield and Price's smaller army. Price repeatedly called upon McCulloch and his subordinates for assistance, but due to McCulloch's absence and a general breakdown in communications, no help was forthcoming from Arkansas. As the Union army approached, Price decided not to fight but to flee. He abandoned Springfield on February 12 and retreated to the south. If McCulloch would not join him in Missouri, he would join McCulloch in Arkansas.
General Samuel Curtis
Curtis followed, much to Price's surprise, and the result was the only true pursuit of one army by another in the Civil War. For four days the two columns hurried down Telegraph (or Wire) Road, the primary route linking southwestern Missouri and northwestern Arkansas. The weather was intensely cold, and the soldiers in both armies endured snow, sleet, and freezing rain. Sharp engagements occurred every day between the Confederate rear guard and the Federal vanguard.
The head of Price's column reached the Arkansas state line on the morning of February 16. Later that day the pursuing First Missouri (Union) Cavalry caught up with the First Missouri (Confederate) Cavalry, which was trailing behind the Confederate main body. The intermingled mass of shooting and slashing horsemen splashed across Big Sugar Creek and swirled into Arkansas. Soon afterwards, the Federals disengaged and fell back a short distance into Missouri. Federal casualties were light: one man killed and five wounded. Confederate losses were more serious: sixteen men killed and many wounded. This minor encounter, known locally as the skirmish of Pott's Hill, was the first clash between Union and Confederate forces on Arkansas soil.
The next morning, February 17, the Army of the Southwest invaded Arkansas and the Confederacy. Bands played patriotic and popular tunes, including, appropriately enough, "The Arkansas Traveler," while thousands of cheering blue-clad troops stepped across the state line. Curtis congratulated his men for being the first Federal soldiers to set foot on the "virgin soil" of Arkansas and sent a triumphant message to Halleck in St. Louis: "The flag of our Union again floats in Arkansas."
Federal Army National Battleflag. There were no regulations governing the layout of the stars on the national flag. Some flags had the stars arraigned in rows with either a square or rectangular canton (blue field), while others had the stars arranged in two-ovals within a rectangular canton.
Later that day Curtis and his men crossed the broad table land of Pea Ridge and tramped past a rural hostelry called Elkhorn Tavern. A short distance south of Little Sugar Creek (near present-day Avoca), the Federals encountered a strong line of Confederate infantry and cavalry supported by artillery. After an initial engagement between mounted forces, the two sides blasted away at each other with artillery. As darkness fell, Price withdrew down Telegraph Road to join McCulloch's army at Cross Hollows, a dozen miles to the south. The clash at Little Sugar Creek was the first Civil War engagement fought entirely in Arkansas, and the first time since the battle of Wilson's Creek that some of McCulloch's troops fought alongside Price's men. An Arkansas soldier described the fight at Little Sugar Creek as a "right brisk skirmish," but it was more than that and casualties were correspondingly high: thirteen Federals killed and about twenty wounded; Confederate losses are uncertain, but may have included as many as twenty-six men killed. Curtis camped for two days in the broad valley of Little Sugar Creek. He heard rumors that exaggerated the strength of the Confederate position at Cross Hollows, which was a large cantonment rather than a fortified strongpoint. He therefore decided not to advance directly upon the Confederates but to outflank them by swinging around to the west by way of Bentonville and Elm Springs. Such a maneuver would compel McCulloch and Price to retreat or be surrounded. On February 18 he sent Brig. Gen. Alexander S. Asboth and a cavalry brigade on a reconnaissance in force down Little Sugar Creek to Bentonville. When Asboth reported that the rolling terrain west of Cross Hollows was clear of enemy soldiers, Curtis prepared to move his command in that direction.
Image from Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
Before the Army of the Southwest could move, however, the Confederate retreat began anew. McCulloch, just returned from Richmond, was appalled at the strategic consequences of Price's headlong flight, for he knew that the cantonment at Cross Hollows was untenable and that the combined armies would have to fall back even deeper into Arkansas. And so on February 19, the Confederates burned the barracks, huts, mills, and storehouses in Cross Hollows and trudged south in miserably cold weather. The next day they reached Fayetteville, the major Confederate supply depot in northwestern Arkansas. Unable to remove the tons of military stores because of a lack of transportation, McCulloch made everything available to the passing troops. The disorganized system of distribution soon degenerated into looting. Homes and businesses were ransacked and vandalized. The situation grew even worse the next day when McCulloch ordered all remaining supplies destroyed. Unsupervised soldiers set fire to warehouses, some of which contained ammunition. The resulting explosions spread the fire and several city blocks burned to the ground. A disgusted Confederate surgeon called the sacking of Fayetteville "one of the most disgraceful scenes that I ever saw."
The heavily laden Rebels, many of them carrying jewelry, mirrors, dresses, and even baby rattles, staggered south another seventeen miles on Telegraph Road into the Boston Mountains, which form the rugged southern edge of the Ozark Plateau. McCulloch's army camped along the Illinois River near Strickler's Station (present-day Strickler); Price's army bivouacked just to the west along Cove Creek. The long retreat was over.
Curtis soon learned from Arkansas Unionists and runaway slaves that the Confederates had abandoned Cross Hollows and had fallen back into the Boston Mountains. Curtis declined to follow because the headlong Confederate retreat from Springfield had drawn him much farther south than anticipated. The Federals were over two hundred miles from the railhead at Rolla, and their supply situation was critical. Curtis decided that he could best carry out his mission of securing Missouri by holding his ground in northwestern Arkansas and keeping Price at bay. He knew that it would be dangerous to be entirely passive, so he dispatched cavalry raids and scouting expeditions in various directions to keep the enemy off balance. The largest of these operations, another reconnaissance in force led by Asboth, occupied Fayetteville on February 22-26.
In order to facilitate foraging, Curtis placed two divisions at Cross Hollows and two divisions at McKissick's Creek (near present-day Centerton) and posted advanced pickets at Mudtown (near present-day Springdale) and Elm Springs. Should the Confederates launch a counteroffensive, the two halves of the Army of the Southwest would fall back toward Little Sugar Creek and make a stand. Curtis disliked assuming the defensive after such a successful offensive campaign, but he felt he had no choice. In addition to the alarming logistical situation, the attrition caused by inclement weather, hard marching, and the need to garrison Springfield and other vital points along his line of communications had worn down the Army of the Southwest to only about ten thousand men and forty-nine cannons. "Shall be on the alert, holding as securely as possible," Curtis assured Halleck. What happened next would be up to the Confederates.
As are we, it's 51 degrees right now with a high of 65 !
The same thing has happened to us. It's been beautiful all week and now a storm front is moving in, even some snow in the mountains.
Sad to see that some of the Poles are still buying into the EU crap.
Today's classic warship, CSS General Sterling Price, later known as USS General Price.
General class cottonclad steam ram
Displacement. 633 t.
CSS GENERAL STERLING PRICE often referred to as GENERAL PRICE or PRICE was built as LAURENT MILLAUDON, L. MILLANDON or MILLEDON at Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1856. She was acquired for Confederate service and fitted out at New Orleans, La., for the River Defense Fleet under Capt. J. E. Montgomery. On 25 January 1862 Captain Montgomery began to convert her into a cottonclad ram by placing a 4-inch oak sheath with a 1-inch iron covering on her bow, and by installing double pine bulkheads filled with compressed cotton bales. On March 25 GENERAL PRICE, Capt. J. H. Townsend, sailed from New Orleans to Memphis, Tenn., where she stayed until 10 April having her ironwork completed. She was then sent to Fort Pillow, Tenn., where she operated in defense of the river approaches to Memphis.
On 10 May 1862, off Fort Pillow, GENERAL PRICE under First Officer J. E. Henthorne (or Harthorne), in company with seven other vessels under Captain Montgomery attacked the ironclad gunboats of the Federal Mississippi Flotilla. In the action of Plum Point Bend, which followed, the Confederate ram GENERAL BRAGG struck USS CINCINNATI halting her retreat. This allowed GENERAL PRICE to violently ram the Federal gunboat, taking away her rudder, stern post, and a large piece of her stern, decisively disabling her. At the same time GENERAL PRICEs well directed fire silenced FEDERAL MORTAR BOAT NO. 16, which was being guarded by CINCINNATI. GENERAL PRICE was heavily hit in this action. Her upper works were severely damaged, and she was struck by a 128-pound shell which cut off her steam supply pipes and caused a dangerous leak.
The Confederates quickly repaired GENERAL PRICE and later she participated with Montgomerys force in holding off Federal vessels until Fort Pillow was successfully evacuated on 1 June. The Confederate vessels then fell back on Memphis to take coal.
Following the Federal capture of Fort Pillow, Flag Officer C. H. Davis, USN, commanding the Mississippi Flotilla, pressed on without delay and appeared off Memphis with a superior force on 6 June. Montgomery, unable to retreat to Vicksburg, Miss., because of his shortage of fuel, and unwilling to destroy his boats, determined to fight against heavy odds. In the ensuing Battle of Memphis, GENERAL STERLING PRICE charged the Federal ram MONARCH but instead collided with the Confederate ram GENERAL BEAUREGARD, also attacking MONARCH. GENERAL PRICE lost her wheel and was disabled. While the two Confederate vessels were entangled Federal rams attacked them mercilessly. GENERAL PRICE collided with the Federal ram QUEEN OF THE WEST under Col. C. Ellet, Jr., USA, commander of the two rams of the Davis Flotilla. As QUEEN OF THE WEST captured her crew, GENERAL STERLING PRICE sank slowly onto a sand bar.
Raised and repaired by Federal forces, she was commissioned for U.S. Navy service in March 1863 as USS GENERAL PRICE, though her old name also continued to be used.
GENERAL PRICE was involved in the Vicksburg campaign in March and April 1863, and took part in the Mississippi Squadron's run past the Confederate fortress city on 17 April. During the rest of the Civil War, she operated against Grand Gulf and Vicksburg, in the Red and Black Rivers and elsewhere in the lower Mississippi River area. On 8 March 1864, GENERAL PRICE accidently rammed and sank USS CONESTOGA. She took part in the Red River Expedition during the next month. Decommissioned in July 1865, USS GENERAL PRICE was sold the following October.