Battle of Prairie Grove
Prairie Grove Civil War Battlefield
Battle of Prairie Grove
Summary: Both the Union and the Confederacy recognized the importance of the Trans-Mississippi West. Each
wanted to use the region as the basis for attacks and as a source for supplies, including men, livestock, and agriculture.
After Arkansas seceded from the Union, Southern forces won
the initial battles in this area. However, the Union Army won important victories at the Battle of Pea Ridge and the Battle
of Prairie Grove gaining control of that region for the rest of the war.
On December 7, 1862, Union forces from the Army of the Frontier and
Confederates from the newly formed Army of the Trans-Mississippi clashed on the open corn, wheat, and hay fields of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. The opposing
forces had previously fought several minor engagements in Missouri and Arkansas. The battle opened with Confederate cavalry routing some Union cavalry a few miles
south of the Prairie Grove
Church. The southerners lined up along the Prairie Grove ridge, stretching
from the Borden House to the Morton House. There they repelled two bloody attacks by Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron's Federal
troops who had just crossed the Illinois River from the north. The Confederates counterattacked
after each Union assault, only to be thrown back by the Union cannons on the north side of the Borden cornfield, which devastated
the rebel regiments as they came out of the woods into the open farm fields in the valley. About 2:30 p.m., Maj. Gen. James
G. Blunt's Federal troops arrived from Cane Hill and attacked the Confederates on the western end of the ridge near the Morton
House. This fighting continued until dark with no advantage gained by either side. The South fell back during the night leaving
the battlefield to the Union army. As a result, the Confederates lost control of northwest Arkansas
and never again attempting, with any sizeable army, to seize northwest Arkansas or invade
Missouri. Union casualties for this fight were 1,251 while
the Confederates lost 1,317.
The Battle of Prairie Grove was practically forgotten,
even though it was one of the few Union victories in 1862. Larger and bloodier Civil War battles dominated conversations in
the North and South. However, the families in Prairie Grove would forever remember the images of December 7th and the days
that followed. Not only did they witness the horror of the battle as it raged across their property, but they endured the
subsequent harassment and raiding by Union troops and Confederate bushwhackers. See also Battle of Prairie Grove.
|Battle of Prairie Grove Map
|Civil War Battle of Prairie Grove Map
In late 1862 Confederate forces had withdrawn from southwest Missouri and were wintering in the wheat-rich and milder climate
of northwest Arkansas. Many of the regiments had been transferred to Tennessee, after the defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge
in March, to bolster the Army of Tennessee. Following Pea Ridge, the victorious Union Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis pressed his
invasion of northern Arkansas with the aim of occupying the capital city of Little Rock. Curtis's army reached the approaches
to the capital, but decided to turn away after a minor yet psychologically important Confederate victory at the Battle of
Whitney's Lane near Searcy, Arkansas.
Curtis reestablished his supply
lines at Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River and ordered his subordinate, Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield at Springfield,
Missouri, to drive Confederate forces out of southwestern Missouri and invade northwestern Arkansas. Schofield divided his
Army of the Frontier into two parts, one to remain near Springfield commanded by Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron, and the other
commanded by Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt to probe into northwest Arkansas. Schofield soon fell ill and overall command passed
to General Blunt. As Blunt took command, the two wings of his army were dangerously far apart.
Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas C.
Hindman was an aggressive commander who had just been relieved of overall command of the Trans-Mississippi District. Hindman
had issued a series of unpopular, but effective, military decrees which gave political opponents ammunition to have him removed
from overall command. Hindman maintained a field command of Arkansas troops and, becoming aware of the Union Army's precarious
tactical position, convinced his replacement to allow him to mount an expedition into northwest Arkansas. Hindman hoped to
catch the Union army in its divided state, destroy it in detail, and open the way for an invasion of Missouri.
force gathered at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and sent out approximately 2,000 cavalry under Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke to harass
Blunt's forces and screen the main Confederate force. Unexpectedly, Blunt moved forward with his 5,000 men and 30 artillery
pieces to meet Marmaduke. The two clashed in a nine-hour running battle known as the Battle of Cane Hill on November 28, 1862.
Marmaduke was pushed back but Blunt found himself 35 miles deeper into Arkansas and that much farther from the remainder of
On December 3rd, Hindman started
moving his main body of 11,000 poorly equipped men and 22 cannon across the Boston Mountains toward Blunt's division. Blunt,
disturbed by his precarious position, telegraphed Herron and ordered him to march immediately to his support from Springfield.
Blunt did not fall back towards Missouri but instead set up defensive positions around Cane Hill to wait for Herron. Hindman's
intention was for Marmaduke's cavalry to strike Blunt from the south as a diversion. Once Blunt was engaged, Hindman intended
to hit him on the flank from the east.
At dawn on December 7th, Hindman
began to doubt his initial plan to move on Cane Hill and instead continued north on Cove Creek Road with Marmaduke's men in
the front. Why Hindman changed his mind is not known, but it is believed that he began to doubt his initial strategy. Little
did Hindman realize, though, that this move would prove useful and allow his cavalry to strike an early deadly blow to the
7th Missouri and the 1st Arkansas. Meanwhile, Herron's divisions had performed a forced march to come to Blunt's rescue and
met Marmaduke's probing cavalry south of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Hindman's characteristically
aggressive nature seems to have failed him at this moment. Afraid that Blunt would be able to attack his rear, and facing
Herron to the north, Hindman chose instead to set up a defensive position atop a line of low hills near Prairie Grove, Arkansas.
|Battle of Prairie Grove
|Prairie Grove Battlefield Map
|Battle of Prairie Grove Map
|Civil War Prairie Grove Battlefield
The battle opened on the morning of December 7th with Union General
Herron crossing the river and deploying his footsore troops on Hindman's right. Herron opened an intense two hour artillery
barrage on the Confederate position singling out individual Confederate cannon and concentrating on taking them out of action
one at a time. By noon, the devastating barrage had disabled most of the Confederate artillery and forced many of the Confederate
troops to shelter on the reverse slopes.
Seeing the effect of his artillery, Herron ordered an advance on the hill
rather than waiting for Blunt to arrive. His troops first encountered Confederate cavalry in the Borden wheatfield at the
base of a ridge overlooking the prairie. Herron took these advanced troopers to mean that Hindman was planning to attack and
capture the Union artillery. So Herron sent forward two regiments from his own 3rd Division to assault a Confederate battery
near the Borden house. When his men arrived on the hill they found themselves under a fierce Confederate counterattack from
three sides by Maramaduke and Brigadier General Francis A. Shoup. Half of the attacking Federals were wounded or killed within
minutes, most near the Borden House.
As the surviving Federals rolled back down the hill toward the safety
of Union lines, Confederate soldiers spontaneously pursued and attempt to break Herron's lines. Herron's artillery loaded
with canister caused terrible damage to the unorganized Confederates and repulsed their attack.
Herron feared the Confederates would make another rush at his artillery
and preemptively ordered another charge. This time two regiments were selected from Daniel Huston's 2nd Division. Again near
the Borden house, hand to hand fighting ensued. The Federal troops repulsed one counter attack before falling back towards
Herron's artillery. Again the pursuing Confederates rushed the Union guns but were repulsed by troops from Colonel William
W. Orme's brigade. See also: Union Order of Battle and Confederate Order of Battle.
Meanwhile, Blunt realized that Hindman had gotten past his flank and intercepted
Herron. Furious, he ordered his men to march to the sound of the guns. Not knowing the precise location of the fighting, the
Federal troops ignored roads and traversed through farm fields and over fences straight toward the sound of battle at the
double quick. This movement was probably initiated by Colonel Thomas Ewing and the 11th Kansas Infantry. While Blunt did not
order the maneuver he quickly endorsed it even chastising a regimental commander for not showing enough initiative when he
failed to follow the unorthodox procedure. Blunt's forces arrived on the field just as Hindman was ordering another attack
on Herron's forces. Blunt's division slammed into the surprised Confederates and drove them back onto the hill. The heaviest
casualties of the battle were felt during this attack by the 10th Missouri Confederate Infantry, which was caught in the open,
at the flank of the Confederate forces. Blunt aligned his two brigades and sent them forward toward the Morton house on the
same ridge to the west of the Borden house. Blunt's forces fought somewhat sporadically until being recalled off the ridge.
Mosby M. Parsons' Rebel brigade swept across the farm fields of prairie toward Blunt's artillery. Once again the Union soldiers
and artillery repulsed the attack and darkness put an end to the fighting.
During the night of December 7th and into early morning December 8th, Blunt began to call on his reserves. Hindman on the other hand had no reserves remaining,
was low on ammunition and food, and had lost much of his artillery firepower. Hindman had no choice but to withdraw under
cover of darkness back towards Van Buren, Arkansas. The Confederates reached Van Buren on December 10th, demoralized, footsore,
and ragged. By December 29th Blunt and Herron would threaten Hindman at his Van
Buren sanctuary and drive him from northwest Arkansas permanently. See also Arkansas Civil War History.
The Battle of Prairie Grove, December 7, 1862, resulted in a tactical stalemate but essentially secured northwest
Arkansas for the Union. Federal forces suffered 1,251 casualties
and Confederate forces suffered 1,317 casualties. In addition, Confederate forces suffered from severe demoralization and
lost many conscript soldiers during and after the campaign. Though the
battle was a tactical draw, it was a strategic victory for the Federal army as they remained in possession of the battlefield
and Confederate fortunes in northwest Arkansas declined markedly from that point on.
The Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park is nationally known as one of the
most intact Civil War battlefields. Active efforts are underway to acquire additional land for the park and preserve its integrity.
The park is located just outside of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, about 10 miles west of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Prairie Grove
order of battle has been compiled by the historians at the park.
(Sources and related reading below.)
Recommended Reading: Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road
(This Hallowed Ground: Guides to Civil War). Description: Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove were three of the most important battles fought west of the Mississippi
River during the Civil War. They influenced the course of the first half of the war in that region by shaping Union
military efforts while significantly contributing to Confederate defeat. Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove,
the first book to provide a detailed guide to these battlefields, takes the visitor step-by-step through the major sites of
each engagement. Continued below.
With numerous maps and illustrations that enhance the
authors’ descriptions of what happened at each stop, the book also includes analytical accounts explaining tactical
problems associated with each battle as well as vignettes evoking for readers the personal experience of those who fought
there. An indispensable companion for the battlefield
visitor, this guide offers not only touring information and driving tours of sites associated with the campaigns that led
to the battles, but also a brief history of each battle and an overview of the larger strategy and tactics of the military
action in which these battles figured.
Recommended Reading: Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign (Civil War America) (Hardcover). Description: On Sunday, December 7, 1862, two armies collided
at an obscure Arkansas
hamlet named Prairie Grove in a desperate battle that effectively ended Confederate offensive operations west of the Mississippi River.
In Fields of Blood, historian William L. Shea offers a gripping narrative of the events surrounding Prairie Grove, one of
the great unsung battles of the Civil War. Continued below…
a colorful account of a grueling campaign that lasted five months and covered hundreds of miles of rugged Ozark terrain. In
a fascinating analysis of the personal, geographical, and strategic elements that led to the fateful clash in northwest Arkansas, he describes
a campaign notable for rapid marching, bold movements, hard fighting, and the most remarkable raid of the Civil War. After
months of intricate maneuvering punctuated by five battles in three states, armies led by Thomas C. Hindman and James G. Blunt
met one last time at Prairie Grove. The costly daylong struggle was a tactical draw but a key strategic victory for the Union,
as the Confederates never again seriously attempted to recover Missouri
or threaten Kansas.
Historians have long ignored the complex campaign that ended in such spectacular fashion at Prairie Grove, but it is at last
brought to life in these pages. From the Inside Flap: Shea offers a gripping narrative of the events surrounding Prairie Grove,
Arkansas, one of the great unsung battles of the Civil War that effectively ended Confederate offensive operations west of
the Mississippi River. Shea provides a colorful account of a grueling campaign that lasted five months and covered hundreds
of miles of rugged Ozark terrain. In a fascinating analysis of the personal, geographical, and strategic elements that led
to the fateful clash in northwest Arkansas,
he describes a campaign notable for rapid marching, bold movements, hard fighting, and the most remarkable raid of the Civil
War. About the Author: William L. Shea is professor of history at the University
of Arkansas at Monticello. He is coauthor
of several books, including Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West (UNC Press) and Vicksburg Is the Key: The Struggle for
the Mississippi River.
Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Description from Publishers Weekly: With its exhaustive research and lively prose style, this
military study is virtually a model work of its kind. Shea and Hess, who teach history at the University
of Arkansas at Monticello and Lincoln
Memorial University (Tenn.),
respectively, convincingly argue that the 1862 campaign for Pea Ridge (Ark.) decisively changed
the balance of power in the West, with the Union gaining effective control of Missouri.
Samuel Curtis, commander of the Federal Army of the Southwest, understood the strategic requirements of his theater, according
to the authors, and elicited the best performance from his troops, even though they were beset by internal tensions. Continued
The Southern commander,
Earl van Dorn, the authors maintain, was a swashbuckler out of his depth--particularly in light of the administrative weaknesses
of the trans-Mississippi Confederacy. Their detailed analysis of the climactic battle impressively conveys the difficulties
of the improvised armies that groped for and grappled with each other in the Civil War West. From Library Journal:
The battle of Pea Ridge, fought in northwestern Arkansas in March 1862, was probably the most important trans-Mississippi battle of the
Civil War. It was unusual in the use of Indian troops and in the Confederates' numerical superiority, better supplies, and
inferior leadership. The battle ended any serious Confederate threat to Missouri and opened the Union's path into Arkansas. The book offers the rich tactical detail, maps, and order of battle that military scholars love but retains a very
readable style combined with liberal use of recollections of the troops and leaders involved… This is an important book for academic libraries and for public libraries in the region.
Recommended Reading: Pea Ridge And Prairie Grove, Or Incidents Of The War In Arkansas. Description: With the goal of sketching "at least some of the bright
lights and dark shadows of the war, " William Baxter authored his regional classic, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, in 1864,
before the actual end of the Civil War. Primarily focusing on the civilians of the region, Baxter vividly describes their
precarious and vulnerable positions during the advances and retreats of armies as Confederate and Federal forces marched across
their homeland. In his account, Baxter describes skirmishes and cavalry charges outside his front door, the "firing" of his
town's buildings during a Confederate retreat, dashes between secessionist and Unionist neighbors, the feeding of hungry soldiers
and the forceful appropriation of his remaining food supply, and the sickening sight of the wounded emerging from the Prairie
Grove battlefield. Continued below…
Since its original
printing, this firsthand account has only been reprinted once, in 1957, and both editions are considered collectors' items
today. Of interest to Civil War scholars and general readers alike, Baxter's compelling social history is rendered even more
comprehensive by William Shea's introduction. Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove is a valuable personal account of the Civil War
in the Trans-Mississippi West which enables us to better comprehend the conflict as a whole and its devastating affect on
the general populace of the war-torn portions of the country.
Recommended Reading: Hill Folks: A History of Arkansas Ozarkers
and Their Image. Review: The Ozark region, located in northern Arkansas
and southern Missouri, has long been the domain of the folklorist
and the travel writer--a circumstance that has helped shroud its history in stereotype and misunderstanding. With Hill Folks,
Brooks Blevins offers the first in-depth historical treatment of the Arkansas Ozarks. He traces the region's history from
the early nineteenth century through the end of the twentieth century and, in the process, examines the creation and perpetuation
of conflicting images of the area, mostly by non-Ozarkers. Continued below…
Covering a wide range of Ozark
social life, Blevins examines the development of agriculture, the rise and fall of extractive industries, the settlement of
the countryside and the decline of rural communities, in- and out-migration, and the emergence of the tourist industry in
the region. His richly textured account demonstrates that the Arkansas Ozark region has never been as monolithic or homogenous
as its chroniclers have suggested. From the earliest days of white settlement, Blevins says, distinct subregions within the
area have followed their own unique patterns of historical and socioeconomic development. Hill Folks sketches a portrait of
a place far more nuanced than the timeless arcadia pictured on travel brochures or the backward and deliberately unprogressive
region depicted in stereotype.
Reading: With Fire and Sword: Arkansas, 1861-1874 (Histories of Arkansas).
Description: Thoughtfully written by Thomas A. DeBlack (Associate Professor of History, Arkansas Tech University), With Fire
And Sword: Arkansas, 1861-1874 provides a scholarly examination of just how the events of the Civil War and the Reconstruction
so heavily devastated the state of Arkansas, its population and its economy, that this southern state was never to fully regained
the level of prosperity it had enjoyed prior to the war. A candid and detailed retracing of crucial decisions, their interplay,
and their lasting legacy, With Fire And Sword is a welcome contribution to the growing library of Civil War literature and
Reconstruction Era reference collections and reading lists.
Reading: The Flags Of Civil War Arkansas, by Glenn Dedmondt. Description: From the end of 1860 through the
spring of 1861, representatives from throughout Arkansas
gathered to discuss the option of secession. The question had been put to the legislators multiple times, but Unionist tendencies
prevailed in Arkansas, and the state was not among the first
to secede. On May 6, 1861, however, the representatives of the "Nary One" state met and decided that Arkansas belonged with her Southern brothers and voted 69 to 1 to dissolve their ties with
the federal government. Throughout the course of the Civil War, Arkansas
furnished sixty-five thousand men to serve in defense of the South, and each of the companies and regiments proudly bore a
banner to represent their cause. In this painstakingly researched study of Arkansas Civil War-era flags, the author presents
a stunning history of the Civil War in Arkansas as told
through the state's company, battle, and regiment flags. Included are the Bonnie Blue Flag, the First National Flag of the
and dozens of Arkansas Infantry and Cavalry regiment and battalion flags, along with a concise text about the history of each
unit and flag itself.. Continued below…
the Back Cover: Praise for Glenn Dedmondt's
previous books: "A meticulously detailed resource offering very specific information for history and Civil War buffs, The
Flags of Civil War North Carolina, is a welcome contribution to the growing library of Civil War studies and could very well
serve as a template for similar volumes." --The Midwest Book Review. "A good effort that serves to explain the flags these men fought for."
--Blue & Gray Magazine. "Colorful and well illustrated, and contains much information about each flag." --The Civil War
On May 6, 1861,
representatives from Arkansas voted to dissolve their ties with the government in Washington, D.C., feeling that Arkansas
belonged with her Southern brothers. Arkansas furnished
65,000 men to serve in defense of the South, nearly its entire male population. The flags in this work are the symbols of
the sacrifices and strengths of these men from the Land of Opportunity. Despite the large number of companies outfitted in Arkansas, surprisingly few of their flags survive. As a result of detailed research into
archived newspapers and other contemporaneous accounts, the author provides here, for the first time, a nearly exhaustive
study of the flags and the men who proudly carried them. From the Bonnie Blue Flag, the unofficial state flag of secession
in Arkansas, to the First National flag of the Confederate
States and the numerous other company and regimental flags the men of Arkansas bore into battle, each banner is presented in full color,
accompanied by a history of its unit and creation. Other books in this series include The Flags of the Confederacy: An Illustrated
History, The Flags of the Union: An Illustrated History, Flags of Louisiana, Flags of Tennessee, and Flags of Texas, all published
Sources: National Park Service; Official Records
of the Union and Confederate Armies; Library of Congress; The Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism; Baxter, William.
Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2000. ISBN 978-1-55728-591-1; Castel, Albert E. A
Frontier State at War: Kansas, 1861-1865. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1958. ISBN 978-0-313-20863-8. First published in
1958 by Cornell University Press; Hatcher, Richard W., Earl J. Hess, William G. Piston, and William L. Shea. Wilson's Creek,
Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.
ISBN 978-0-8032-7366-5; Shea, William L (2009). Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign. Chapel Hill: University of North
Carolina Press. ISBN 978-0-8078-3315-5; Smith, Ronald D., Thomas Ewing Jr., Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General. Columbia:
University of Missouri Press, 2008. ISBN 978-0-8262-1806-3.