Battle of Pea Ridge
(also known as Elk Horn Tavern)
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Location: Benton County, AR
               (near Garfield, AR)
Dates: March 6-8, 1862
Union Commander:  Samuel R. Curtis, Brigadier General
Confederate Commander:  Earl Van Dorn, Major General

Battle Summary:
Missouri was one of the most hotly contested states in the Union.  Abraham Lincoln knew the strategic importance of Missouri to the Union and thus established his department of the West in St Louis.  In August, 1861, Federal troops led by Brigadier General Nathanial Lyon pushed southwest, from St Louis, to the Springfield, Missouri area, to confront Missouri State Guard troops under Major General Sterling Price, and Confederate troops under Brigadier General Ben McCullough.  On August 10, these troops met at Wilson's Creek, where Lyon would be killed (the first general to die in the Civil War) and Union troops would be repulsed.

After the defeat at Wilson's Creek, Union troops would move back to Rolla, and St. Louis, for the winter.  Missouri State Guard troops, under Price, would remain on the offensive, taking a fort near Lexington, Missouri in September.  Price would winter his troops in the vicinity of Springfield, while McCullough would winter his troops near the Boston Mountains in northwest Arkansas.

In November, 1861, in order to bring a cohesive command to the Department of the Missouri, John C. Fremont was removed in favor of Major General David Hunter and then by Major General Henry W. Halleck on November 18, 1861.  Halleck was called "Old Brains" for his tactical understanding of fighting battles.  However, preferring to administrate, from St. Louis, he left Brigadier General Samuel Curtis in charge of the troops near St. Louis.  In December, 1861, Curtis' command would become known as the Army of the Southwest.

In February, 1862, Curtis was instructed, by Halleck, to push the rebel troops from the state of Missouri.  Moving his troops to the Springfield area, on February 11, Curtis would push Price's Missouri State Guard troops down the Telegraph Road and into northwest Arkansas.  Price would unite with McCullough in the vicinity of the Boston Mountains.  Curtis, in pursuit of Sterling Price, stopped along Little Sugar Creek, just south of a hostelry, Elkhorn Tavern.

In early March, Jefferson Davis installed Major General Earl Van Dorn to command his Army of the West.  Immediately traveling to northwest Arkansas, he met with his new lieutenants - Ben McCullough and Sterling Price.  Van Dorn, being an aggressive fighter, immediately made plans to engage Curtis.

Meanwhile, Curtis, expecting Van Dorn to attack from the south, fortified his position along Little Sugar Creek.  His defensive works were impressive, and he was certain he could handle anything Van Dorn could deliver.

Moving out on March 4, a day that brought snow to northwest Arkansas, Van Dorn pushed his troops north.  On March 6, Van Dorn encountered, and quickly routed Federal rear guard troops commanded by Brigadier General Franz Sigel, near Bentonville.  Van Dorn pressed on, outpacing his supply train, marched his two divisions along Bentonville Detour, determined to get behind Curtis, blocking his escape route north, into Missouri.  Bentonville Detour, being a little known local road became clogged with Confederates.  By mid-morning Price's division had reached Telegraph Road, north of Elkhorn Tavern, but McCullough's troops were still far behind.  In order to shorten their route, Van Dorn instructed McCullough to take a shorter route, south of Elkhorn Mountain, meeting Price's troops at Elkhorn Tavern.  This fateful decision would haunt Van Dorn, as he separated his army, in front of a powerful foe.

Meanwhile, Curtis, being alerted by Sigel, early on March 7, had pressed his troops into action, reversing his army, that was facing south, to face north, the direction Van Dorn would approach from.  This was truly a feat and was one of the most celebrated "changes of front" occurring during the Civil War.

Determining to hit the rebels in their flank, as they moved south on the Telegraph Road, Curtis sent two divisions, under Colonel Peter Osterhaus and Brigadier General Jefferson Davis (no relation to the Confederate president, Jefferson C. Davis), toward the settlement, Leetown.  In the Foster farm field, north of Leetown, Union cavalry and an artillery battery, were surprised to find McCullough's division moving east on Ford Road, in route to meet Price at Elkhorn Tavern.  With cannon unlimbered, the Federals enfiladed the rebels.  McCullough, quickly dispatching his cavalry, supported by two regiments of Cherokees, scattered the Union forces and captured the battery.

This action allowed Osterhaus time to deploy his division in Oberson's corn field, south of the Ford Road.  Partially protected by fences, the Union troops were engaged by McCullough.  With McCullough riding on a horse, far in the front,  wearing a simple black coat, he became an easy target for Union skirmishers.  McCullough was shot and died instantly, unknown to many of his own troops.  Command devolved to Brigadier General James McIntosh, who lead a general infantry assault further to the Confederate left.  While leading one of his regiments, McIntosh was also killed.  This ended fighting in the Oberson field.

Further left of McIntosh's position, CS Colonel, Louis Hebert, led 2,000 rebel troops into a dense thicket of woods, east of the Oberson field.  They ran into the two regiments of the Union division commanded by Brigadier General Jefferson Davis, pushing them back toward Leetown and capturing two Federal cannons.  Davis sent two Indiana regiments, from his other brigade, to the right, into the rebel left flank while troops under Osterhaus hit Hebert's right flank.  Hebert, was forced to retreat to the Ford Road and resumed his march, east, to Elkhorn Tavern to meet with Price's Missouri troops.

About this time, Franz Sigel arrived at Leetown with additional  Federal reinforcements.  This effectively secured this sector of the battlefield allowing them to march toward the fighting now occurring near Elkhorn Tavern.

While the fight at Oberson's field was being waged, Van Dorn pushed Price's troops down the Telegraph Road, towards Elkhorn Tavern.  Just north of the tavern, the Confederates had to cross a deep canyon, called Cross Timber Hollow.  Federal 4th division troops, under Colonel Eugene Carr, were on the south side of Cross Timber Hollow, on the Pea Ridge plateau.  This was an excellent defensive position, but the one division could not hold back Price's much larger force.  Leaving many wounded, and dead, rebels, in Cross Timber Hollow, Price pushed Carr south of Elkhorn Tavern, near the Clemon farm.  This area of the battlefield was to endure the most desperate fighting of the day.  Fighting for the day ended, as darkness began to cover the field of battle.

During the overnight hours, Curtis, undeterred, began to consolidate his troops south of Elkhorn Tavern, in a formidable line of battle.  On the other side of the field, Van Dorn was enjoying his achievements in pushing Curtis' troops south of the tavern.  His plan was to finish his work in the morning, believing it would be a fairly quick, and easy conclusion of the battle.  However, he forgot one very important thing.  He had left his supply train miles behind him with food and ammunition.

At dawn, on March 8, Curtis' troop placements were as follows, left to right: 1st Division (Osterhaus), 2nd Division (Asboth), 3rd Division (Davis), 4th Division (Carr).  These were faced by Price, on the left, and the remnants of McCullough's army on the right - many of which were entrenched on the face of Elkhorn Mountain.

With the sky beginning to brighten, the Confederate Army could see the entire Union Army spread before them.  It was an amazing sight, one which the soldiers would remember years into the future.  Under cover, of the largest artillery bombardment, to that point in the war, Sigel advanced his troops, turning on his right flank, and pushing the remnants of McCullough's troops from their entrenchments on the rebel right.  At this point, Curtis advanced the rest of his troops on the Union right. 

Van Dorn was caught by surprise by the aggressive Union offensive.  Furthermore, realizing he had little artillery ammunition to face the Federal offensive, he ordered a retreat southeast on the Huntsville Road, with many of his troops, on the right, scattering towards the north, not rejoining Van Dorn for several days.  Many of the rebels dropped their weapons and returned home, never to rejoin the Confederate effort. 

Unaware of which direction Van Dorn's Army of the West retreated, Curtis did not give pursuit until the following day, never catching up with him.

Campaign: Pea Ridge

Outcome: Union victory

Troop Strengths
Union: 10,250
Confederate: 14,000

Casualties (estimated):
Union: 1,384 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)
Confederate: 2,000 (killed, wounded or missing/captured)

Battle Aftermath:
Samuel Curtis
would continue to pursue Earl Van Dorn through Arkansas, but would not catch him.  Van Dorn, having been directed by Albert Sidney Johnston, to join him at Corinth, MS, would leave Arkansas in late March.  Unfortunately, he as not able to arrive in time to reinforce Johnston's troops that would be mauled by U.S. Grant at Shiloh.  Having been beaten by William Rosecrans at Corinth, Van Dorn would be replaced by Lieutenant General John Pemberton.  Later, Van Dorn would be "murdered" by a jealous husband, claiming he had "destroyed the sanctity of his home."

Curtis' victory at Pea Ridge would remove any organized Confederate efforts in Missouri for the remainder of the war, with the exception of a brief, largely unsuccessful, incursion by Sterling Price during September and October 1864.  Unfortunately, Missouri would continue to be plagued by rebel guerilla warfare through the remainder of the war - and beyond.    Close Window