The Battle of Pea Ridge

(March 6-8, 1862)


"The Battle That Saved Missouri For the Union"

 

        The battle of Pea Ridge, fought between March 6-8, 1862, was one of the most fiercest and decisive battles fought west of the Mississippi during the Civil War.  During the last months of 1861, C.S. General Sterling Price, commander of the Confederate Missouri State Guard, had been waging a war against Union soldiers for control of the crucial border state of Missouri.  Price had been losing that war, though, and by early 1862, had been completely pushed out of Missouri and into Arkansas by U.S. General Samuel Curtis, the commander of the Union Army of the Southwest.  
        General Price, retreating from the superior forces of the enemy, marched deep into the Boston Mountains of north-west Arkansas and combined his forces with those of C.S. General Benjamin McCulloch, who was stationed there.  In February, General Curtis marched his army into northern Arkansas and set up a defensive position to safe-guard the Union-controlled state of Missouri.
   
     The Confederate Army was strengthened again in early March, when C.S. General Earl Van Dorn was named commander of all Confederate forces west of the Mississippi.  Van Dorn marched his available men to the Boston Mountains and joined forces with General Price's and McCulloch's men.  General Van Dorn renamed the 16,000 strong army the Army of the West.  
        On March 4th, General Van Dorn decided to act.  Van Dorn ordered Price and McCulloch to split into two divisions and march along the Bentonville Detour, a road that traveled around and north of the Union army's right flank.  General Curtis, learning of the advancing Confederate army, ordered his 10,000 strong army, which was positioned near Elkhorn Tavern, to switch fronts and face north towards the approaching enemy.

The Old Stage Road, where heavy fighting occurred on March 7th.  

 

        On March 7th, McCulloch's division left Price's and began it's way south to the small hamlet of Leetown.  Price continued east towards Elkhorn Tavern.  The ensuing battle of Pea Ridge was actually two battles fought by the two separate Confederates forces.  The battle of Leetown began when General McCulloch's men encountered stiff resistance near the Foster Farm from U.S. Colonels Peter Osterhaus and Jefferson Davis.  The Confederate cavalry pushed the Federals south into nearby cornfields but it was there that General McCulloch was mortally wounded.  After the Union army was reinforced by U.S. General Franz Sigel, the western Confederate attack crumbled, and fighting moved east to Elkhorn Tavern.
   
     General Price's division had marched south along the Old Telegraph Road and had engaged the Federals near Elkhorn Tavern.  U.S. Colonel Eugene Carr held the Confederates at bay for a while, but a Confederate flank attack drove Carr off the hill, and after several hours of heavy fighting the Confederates held the high ground.  During that night, General Curtis concentrated his remaining men along the Telegraph Road in order to push back the Confederate army.              The next morning, on March 8th, Curtis deployed his entire army against the outnumbered Confederates.  Van Dorn's battered army soon retreated from the field.  An outnumbered Union army had won an important and decisive victory which would later be called the "Battle that Saved Missouri for the Union," for after this decisive battle the state of Missouri would be controlled by the Union for the rest of the war.


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