Snuck outa town for the weekend, Part I

Mrs. Crucis and I did something that we don’t believe, in 43 years of marriage, we’ve ever done before…taken off for a long weekend.  She’s been busy since my retirement. She says she’s more busy now than when I was still working for Sprint.  This Thanksgiving, we realized we had an opportunity.  The kids and g’kids were going to be busy, the Master’s Closet would be closed due to the holiday weekend and there was nothing keeping us in town. So we took off with only vague plans of where to go and what go do.

It was great!

We did learn, or perhaps relearn, some things.  
  • Sleeping in strange beds is difficult at best.
  • Google maps can’t be trusted to show everything.  
  • Going south does not mean the weather is warmer.
Our first destination was the Pea Ridge Military Park, site of the Battle of Pea Ridge in March of 1862.  I’m a bit of a Civil War buff and amateur historian or at least I like to think so.  The Battle of Pea Ridge was important for two things.  First, it defeated the remaining pro-Confederate Missouri forces and insured Missouri remaining in the Union.  A small pro-Confederate force lead by former Missouri Governor Sterling Price has declared that Missouri had seceded from the Union but Price at that time only controlled a small southwest segment of the state.  He was driven out of Missouri into Arkansas and his forces merged with those of Confederate General Earl Van Doren near Fayetteville, AR.

The second factor of the Battle of Pea Ridge was the destruction of the last major Confederate force in Arkansas.  The remnants after the battle retreated into Louisiana and Texas  and continued to fight in the war. But after the battle, the Union controlled Arkansas.
We used Google Maps to reach the park.  It showed one route into the park, an in ‘n out.  We followed that route and saw a few canon in a field and some split-rail fences outlining a battle site.  That’s all. No signs, no turn-out areas to take photos, no visitor’s center.  I was using cached Google maps that I’d loaded before we left home.  We were in marginal cell range and couldn’t access the National Park Service website.

We were disappointed and continued on to Ft. Scott.  At Ft. Scott Nat’l Historical Site, also operated by the National Park Service, we were told we had used the wrong route.  If we’d gone to the south side of the Pea Ridge park, we would have found the visitor’s center and access to a loop that encircled the battle fields.

I’ll write about Ft. Scott tomorrow.  Today it’s Pea Ridge’s turn.

The Battle of Pea Ridge (also known as Elkhorn Tavern) was a land battle of the American Civil War, fought on March 6–8, 1862, at Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas, near Garfield. In the battle, Union forces led by Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis defeated Confederate troops under Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn. The outcome of the battle essentially cemented Union control of Missouri. The battle was one of the few during the war in which a Confederate army outnumbered its Union opponent. — Wikepedia 

The first day. Union forces meet Confederate Calvary. McCullough and McIntosh killed leaving their troops leaderless and they sit out the rest of the battle waiting for orders.

The site of this battle is an open field near the site of the village of Leestown.  Leestown no longer exists.

This first day of the battle resulted in the deaths of Generals McCollough and McIntosh.  Between these two, they commanded Van Doren’s cavalry and a large portion of Infantry.  The Leestown battle left those forces leaderless and they sat out the rest of the day awaiting orders from leaders who were dead.

The next two days were battles fought around the Elkhorn Tavern located at the junction of Telegraph Road and the Huntsville Road.  The Union troops originally held the site the first day.  Van Doren attacked the second day of the battle as seized the Tavern and the surround terrain.  Van Doren thought he’d won the battle and stopped to regroup his forces.

Troop movements and battles around the Elkhorn Tavern on the 2nd day.
Elkhorn Tavern
The Elknorn Tavern was burned about a year after the battle by Confederate guerrillas. This building is a replica built when the Military Park was created.
While Van Doren was collecting his scattered troops, Union General Samuel R. Curtis was busy organizing a counter-attack that he launched the following day catching General Van Doren by surprise and routing the Confederates who retreated to the southeast and eventually fell back to Fayetteville, AR.  Van Doren was relieved of command and never lead any significant forces for the rest of the war.

Confederate General Earl Van Doren made two classic mistakes.  First he split his forces ordering McCollough and MacIntosh to circle to the south to attack Curtis from that direction while Van Doren and Stirling Prices around the rear of the Union troops and attack from the rear.  McCollough and MacIntosh were killed early in the battle on the first day and their troops were scattered and remained out of communication until the following day.  The two-pronged attack planned by Van Doren never happened.
Van Doren’s second mistake was to leave his supply wagons behind in Fayetteville when he started his march to meet Curtis.  Those wagons also contained Van Doren’s reserve supplies of ammunition.  Individual soldiers only had 40 rounds of ammunition and by the third day most of that ammunition was exhausted.
After an artillery duel between Curtis’s second-in-command, Franz Sigel‘s 21 canon against 12 Confederate canon.  Sigel made the Confederate guns ineffective and then turned his guns against the Confederate infantry sheltering in the trees.
With the opposing guns rendered nearly harmless, Sigel directed his gunners to fire into the woods at the Confederate infantry. Near the base of Big Mountain the projectiles created a deadly combination of rock shrapnel and wood splinters, driving the 2nd Missouri Brigade from its positions. “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.”[14] During the bombardment, Sigel’s infantry edged forward so that by 9:30 a.m. his divisions had executed a right wheel and faced to the northeast.
By this time Van Dorn found that his reserve artillery ammunition was with the wagon train, a six hour march away. The Southern commander bitterly realized that he had no hope of victory and decided to retreat via the Huntsville Road. This route led east from the tavern, then turned south. With Price disabled by his wound, Van Dorn’s army began to move toward the Huntsville Road in some confusion. — Wiki
General Curtis counter-attacked on the third day of the battle in what was called, “The Beautiful Charge.”
Plaque at the site of “The Beautiful Charge.”
The field where the Union troops (left) charged the Confederate lines (right) that won the battle for the Union.
The third day of the Battle of Pea Ridge
There aren’t too many places west of the Mississippi where there were Civil War battles on this scale.  In the Kansas City area, the site of the Battle of Westport is long gone.  A smaller battlesite, the Battle of Lone Jack in eastern Jackson County was sold to developers about a decade ago and is now a subdivision.  Little remains of it.

I’d like to tour other Civil War battlefields but none are close by.  Maybe some time in the future, we’ll travel east or south-east and see some more, like Siloh and Vicksburg.  We would like that.

I’ve uploaded a large number of photos to my Facebook account if you’d like to view them.

Tomorrow will be Ft. Scott and Judge Parker, “The Hanging Judge.”


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