BY FRANZ SIGEL, MAJOR–GENERAL, U. S. V.
The battle of Pea Ridge (or Elkhorn Tavern, as the Confederates named it) was fought on the 7th and 8th of March, 1862, one month before the battle of Shiloh. It was the first clear and decisive victory gained by the North in a pitched battle west of the Mississippi River, and until Price's invasion of 1864 the last effort of the South to carry the war into the State of Missouri, except by abortive raids. Since the outbreak of the rebellion, Missouri, as a border and slave State, had represented all the evils of a bitter civil strife. The opening events had been the protection of the St. Louis arsenal, the capture of Camp Jackson, the minor engagements at Boonville and Carthage, the sanguinary struggle at Wilson's Creek on the 10th of August, forever memorable by the heroic death of General Lyon. The retreat of our little army of bout 4500 men to Rolla, after that battle, ended the first campaign and gave General Sterling Price, the military leader of the secessionist forces of Missouri, the opportunity of taking possession of Springfield, the largest city and central point of south-west Missouri, and of advancing with a promiscuous host of over 15,000 men as far as Lexington, on the Missouri River, which was gallantly defended for three days by Colonel Mulligan. Meanwhile, General Fremont, who on the 25th of July had been placed in command of the Western Department, had organized and put in motion an army of about 30,000 men, with 86 pieces of artillery, to cut off Price's forces but had only succeeded in surprising and severely defeating about a thousand recruits of Price's retiring army at Springfield by a bold movement of 250 horsemen (Fremont's body-guard and a detachment of "Irish Dragoons") under the lead of Major Zagonyi. Our army, in which I commanded a division, was now concentrated at Springfield, and was about to follow and attack the forces of Price and McCulloch, who had taken separate positions, the one (Price) near Pineville in the south-western corner of Missouri, the other (McCulloch) near Keetsville, on the Arkansas line. Although McCulloch was at first averse to venturing battle, he finally yielded to the entreaties of Price and prepared himself to cooperate in resisting the further advance of Fremont. Between Price and McCulloch it was explicitly understood that Missouri should not be given up without a struggle. Such was the condition of things when the intended operations of General Fremont were cut short by his removal from the command of the army (November 2d), his successor being General David Hunter. The result of this change was an immediate and uncommonly hasty retreat of our army in a northerly and easterly direction to Sedalia on the 9th, and to Rolla on the 13th; in fact, the abandonment of the whole south-west of the State by the Union troops, and the occupation of the city of Springfield for the second time by the enemy, who were greatly in need of more comfortable winter quarters. They must have been exceedingly glad of the sudden disappearance of an army which by its numerical superiority, excellent organization, and buoyant spirit had had a very good chance of at least driving them out of Missouri. As it was, the new-fledged "Confederates " utilized all the gifts of good fortune, organized a great portion of their forces for the Confederate service, and provided themselves with arms, ammunition, and equipments for the field, while the Northern troops were largely reduced by the hardships of miserable winter quarters, and the Union refugees who had left their homes were in great part huddled together in tents in the public places andstreets of Rolla and St. Louis and were dependent on the charity of their sympathizing friends or on municipal support. The whole proceeding was not only a most deplorable military blunder, but also a political mistake. To get rid of Fremont, the good prospects and the honor of the army were sacrificed. It would be too mild an expression to say that the Union people of Missouri, or rather of the whole West, felt disappointed; there was
deep and bitter indignation, even publicly manifesting itself by demonstrations and protests against the policy of the Administration, and especially against its political and military advisers and intriguers, who sacrificed the welfare of the State to their jealousy of an energetic and successful rival.
To regain what was lost, another campaign - the third in the course of eight months - was resolved upon. It was undertaken by the very same army, but under a different commander, and greatly reduced on account of the prevalence of diseases and the extraordinary mortality in the different camps during the months of inactivity; in truth, the campaign from September to November had "to be done over again" in January, February, and March, in the midst of a very severe winter, and with the relations of numerical strength reversed. Toward the end of December '61 when not fully restored from a severe illness, I was directed by General Halleck (who, on November 9th, had succeeded General Hunter, the command now being called the Department of the Missouri) to proceed to Rolla, to take command of the troops encamped there including my own division (the Third, afterward the First) and General Asboth's (the Fourth, afterward the Second), and to prepare them for active service in the field. I arrived at Rolla on the 23d of December, and on the 27th, when the organization was completed, I was superseded by General Samuel R. Curtis, who had been appointed by Halleck to the command of the District of South-west Missouri, including the troops at Rolla. The campaign was opened by the advance of a brigade of cavalry under Colonel E. A. Carr on the 29th of December from Rolla to Lebanon, for the purpose of initiating a concentration of forces, and to secure a point of support for the scouting parties to be pushed forward in the direction of Springfield, the supposed headquarters of the enemy.
On January 9th, after toilsome marching, all the disposable forces were assembled at Lebanon. Here, by order of General Curtis, the army was organized into 4 divisions of 2 brigades each, besides a special reserve.
Before we reached Lebanon I was doubtful about my personal relations to General Curtis which had been somewhat troubled by his sudden appearance at Rolla and the differences in regard to our relative rank and position, but the fairness he showed in the assignment of the commands before we left Lebanon, and his frankness and courtesy toward me, dispelled all apprehensions on my part, and with a light heart and full confidence in the new commander, I entered into the earnest business now before us.
The army left Lebanon on the 10th of February, arrived at Marshfield on the 11th, at McPherson's Creek, about 12 miles from Springfield, on the 12th, where a light engagement with the rear-guard of the enemy's troops occurred, and took possession of Springfield on the 13th. Price's army of Missourians, about 8000 strong, had retired and was on its way to Cassville. On entering Springfield we found it pitifully changed,-the beautiful "Garden City,' of the South-west looked desolate and bleak; most of the houses were empty, as the Union families had followed us to Rolla after the retreat of General Hunter in November, 1861, and the secessionists had mostly followed Price. The streets, formerly lined with the finest shade trees, were bereft of their ornament, and only the stumps were left. General Price had applied his vacation-time well in organizing two brigades under Colonel Little and General Slack for the Southern Confederacy, had spread out his command as far as, and even beyond, the Osage River and would have been reenforced by several thousand recruits from middle Missouri, if they had not been intercepted on their way South by Northern troops. As it was, he took whatever he found to his purpose, destroyed what he could not use, and feeling himself not strong enough to venture battle, withdrew to Arkansas to seek assistance from McCulloch. We followed him in two columns, the left wing (Third and Fourth Divisions) by the direct road to Cassville, the right wing (First and Second Divisions), under my command, by the road to Little York, Marionsville, and Verona, both columns to unite at McDowell's, north of Cassville.
I advanced with the Benton Hussars during the night of the 13th to Little York, and as it was a very cold night, the road being covered with a crust of ice, we had to move slowly. On this night march about eighteen horsemen, including myself, had their feet frozen. In the neighborhood of Marionsville we captured a wagon train and 150 stragglers of the enemy, and arrived at McDowell's just at the moment when, after a short engagement, the left wing had driven Price's rear-guard out of the place. From this time our army moved, united, to Cassville and Keetsville, forced without great trouble Cross Timber Hollows, a defile of about ten miles in length across the Missouri-Arkansas State line, leading to Elkhorn Tavern, and arrived at Sugar Creek on the 18th of February. We were now over 320 miles
from St. Louis, and 210 miles from our base at Rolla. The Third and Fourth Divisions advanced from this position 12 miles farther south to Cross Hol
lows, where also the headquarters of General Curtis were established, and the First and Second to Bentonville, 12 miles to the south-west, while a strong cavalry force under General Asboth went to Osage Springs. On the 23d General Asboth made a dash into Fayetteville, twenty miles in advance, found the city evacuated, and planted the Union flag on the court-house. To balance things somewhat, a raiding party of the enemy surprised our foragers near Huntsville, and another party ventured as far as Keetsville, in our rear, playing havoc with the drowsy garrison of the place.
On March 1st Colonel Jeff. C. Davis's division withdrew from Cross Hollows and took position immediately behind Little Sugar Creek, covering the road which leads from Fayetteville, Arkansas, by Elkhorn Tavern to Springfield, and as an approach of the enemy was expected to take place on that road from the south, Colonel Davis made his position as strong as possible by crowning the hills north of the creek with abatis and parapets of felled trees; he also protected one of his batteries in the rear of the bridge with intrenchments. As we shall see, these works never became of any practical value.
On the 2d of March the First and Second Divisions moved 4 miles south of Bentonville to McKissick's farm. Colonel Schaefer, with the 2d Missouri Infantry and a detachment of cavalry, was sent to Smith's Mills (0 sage Mills), 7 miles east of McKissick's farm, as a post of observation toward Elm Springs, and for the purpose of protecting and working the mill - at that time and under our circumstances a very important " strategic object."
Another detachment of cavalry was stationed at Osage Springs to hold connection with the division at Cross Hollows (south of Elkhorn Tavern), and to scour the country toward Fayetteville and Elm Springs. On the 5th, a detachment under Major Conrad was on its way from McKissick's farm to Maysville, 30 miles west of McKissick's farm; by order of General Curtis, another detachment under Major Meszaros went to Pineville, 25 miles northwest, while from Carr's division a detachment under Colonel Vandever had been sent as far east as Huntsville, 40 miles from Cross Hollows, making the line of our front about seventy miles from Maysville in the west to Huntsville in the east. Since the 18th of February, when we took our first position at Sugar Creek, Price had made his way to the Boston Mountains (Cove Creek), between Fayetteville and the Arkansas River, where he united with McCulloch.
Although serving the same cause, there never existed an entente cordiale between the two champions of Missouri and Arkansas; the two men were too different in their character, education, and military policy to understand each other perfectly, to agree in their aims and ends, and to subordinate themselves cheerfully one to the other. McCulloch was a "rough and ready" man, not at all speculative, but very practical, to the point, and rich
in resources to reach it. In his youth he was a hunter and trapper; he served under Sam Houston, with the artillery, in the battle of San Jacinto, participated in the Mexican war as captain of a company of Texas rangers, and when the war for the Union broke out, he was very active in Texas in se during much war material from the United States, and forcing United States troops to surrender. He was a good fighter, energetic in battle, and quick in discerning danger or espying the weak point of his antagonist; an excellent organizer, disciplinarian, and administrator, indefatigable in recruiting and equipping troops. His care for them was proverbial, and his ability in laying out encampments was extraordinary, and challenged the admiration of our troops.
In a strategical point of view, McCulloch was more bent to the defense of the Trans-Mississippi region, especially Arkansas and the Indian Territory, which district had been put under his command, than to aggressive movements beyond the borders of Arkansas. Price had also had military experience in the Mexican war, which circumstance, combined with his political position, his irreproachable personal character and sincere devotion to the cause which he embraced, after the catastrophe of Camp Jackson, had made him the military head of the secession forces in the State. Brave, and gifted with the talent of gaining the confidence and love of his soldiers, he was undoubtedly the proper man to gather around him and hold together the heterogeneous military forces; but, having no organized State or Government to back him, he seldom could rise above the effectiveness of a guerrilla chief, doing business on a large scale and almost on his own account. His army was an ever-changing body, varying from week to week, advancing and retreating, without stability of quarters and security of resources, and therefore not disciplined in a manner to be desired. Sometimes there were men and 110 arms for them, or muskets without caps and horses without riders; at other times the army of camp-followers and poorly mounted infantry was almost as large as the fighting force of infantry. No wonder then that in spite of the great popularity of the champion of Missouri, McCulloch became disgusted in meeting the half-starved "State Guards" of Missouri with their "huckleberry" cavalry and their great crowd of unarmed, noisy camp-followers.
It was therefore fortunate for the Confederates that on the 10th of January, 1862, Major-General Earl Van Dorn was appointed by Jefferson Davis to the command of the Trans-Mississippi Department, and hat he took charge of the combined forces about to confront Curtis. He was a graduate of West Point and head served with honors in the Mexican war as lieutenant of infantry, and was in the United States service as major at the opening of the war. Having joined the Confederacy, he was appointed colonel, and already in Texas had been of great service to his cause. On the 14th of February, 1862, the very day when the Army of the South-west took possession of Springfield, he wrote to Price from his headquarters at Pocahontas, stating in detail his plan for "attempting St. Louis and carrying the war into Illinois." Our appearance in Arkansas suddenly changed the situation. Van Dorn at once hastened from Jacksonport to Van Buren on the 24th of February, issued a very flourishing proclamation on the 2d of March, and on the 3d the Confederate army was on its way from the Boston Mountains to Fayetteville and Elm Springs, at which latter place its advance arrived on the evening of the 5th. On this march Price's troops were leading, followed by the division of McCulloch, while General Albert Pike, who had come from the Indian Territory by way of Evansville with a brigade of Indians, brought up the rear. The secrecy of the movement was so well kept that positive news did not reach us until the 5th, when the Confederates were about a day's march from my position at McKissick's farm. It was the intention of Van Dorn to move early on the 6th and "gobble up" my two divisions before they could prepare for defense or make good their retreat; I had, however, ample time to guard myself against the attempted capture, as I had not only been advised by General Curtis on the 5th, after nightfall, of the advance of the enemy, but also had received positive proof of the movement from Colonel Schaefer at Smith's Mill, whose outposts had been attacked on the evening of the same day, which fact he immediately reported. It was now necessary for us to concentrate to meet the enemy's advance, and Colonel Schaefer was then directed to fall back during the night to Bentonville and await further instructions. The time for the two divisions to leave McKissick's farm and march by Bentonville to Sugar Creek was fixed for 2 o'clock A. M. of the 6th, but, before the movement began, the commanders of divisions and brigades, with their staff-officers, met at my headquarters at 1 o'clock A. M. of that day, to be informed of the enemy's movements and to receive verbal instructions respecting the order of march, and the precautions to be taken during the retreat. At precisely 2 o'clock A. M. of the 6th, General Asboth's division left McKissick's farm with the whole train, followed by the division of Colonel Osterhaus. They passed through Bentonville from 4 to 8 o'clock A. M., and arrived at the camp behind Sugar Creek at 2 p. M., where the Union army was to concentrate.
For the purpose of defending the main column on its retreat, and with the intention of finding out whether the enemy was approaching in strong force, and whether he was advancing from Smith's Mill on the road to Bentonville, or by Osage Springs, or on both roads at the same time, I remained at Bentonville with about 600 men, and a battery of 6 pieces, after all the troops had left the place.
During this time Colonel Nemett, who had been sent out with the Benton Hussars to reconnoiter, reported to me that he had met the enemy's cavalry, and that several thousand men, cavalry, and infantry were forming in line of battle about a mile from Bentonville on the open fields south of the village. From personal observation I found out that this was correct, and, therefore, had not the least doubt that we had the advance of an army before us. This was at precisely 10 o'clock. I state these facts to show how egregiously Van Dorn was mistaken in supposing that if he had arrived an hour sooner– Maury says 30 minutes sooner–" he would have cut me off with my whole force [of 7000 men], and certainly have beaten the enemy [our army at Sugar Creek] the next day." As it really was, he only found my rear–guard of 600 men in his front, because at the hour when his troops advanced against Bentonville, the leading division (Asboth's) of our retreating column crossed Sugar Creek, 10 miles from Bentonville. Van Dorn officially says, "We followed him [Sigel], our advance skirmishing with his rear-guard, which was admirably handled, until we gained a point on Sugar Creek, about 7 miles beyond Bentonville, and within 1 or 2 miles of the strongly intrenched camp of the enemy." Van Dorn then ascertained, in a conference with McCulloch and McIntosh, that by making a detour of eight miles he could outflank our position on Sugar Creek, and reach the Telegraph road in our rear, which movement he commenced soon after dark, Price's division leading. He expected to reach the point in our rear, north of Elkhorn Tavern, before daylight, but on account of obstructions placed on the road by Colonel Dodge's Iowa regiment his march was so impeded that Price's division did not gain the Telegraph road until nearly 10 A. M. of the 7th, the first day of the battle, while McCulloch's division, and the Indian brigade under Pike,
had only reached a point opposite Leetown, about five miles distant from where Price struck the Telegraph road.
During the night of the 6th our army rested quietly in its position behind Sugar Creek. General Asboth's division held the extreme right, on the entrance of the Bentonville road, Colonel Osterhaus's was on his left, Colonel Davis's in the center, and Colonel Carr's, which during the 5th had retreated from Cross Hollows (Camp Halleck) behind Sugar Creek, was posted on the extreme left. Asboth's division was facing west and south-west; the other
two divisions were facing toward the south. Curtis expected to be attacked from the south, and had made all his preparations accordingly. I was, however, doubtful whether the enemy would knock his head against a position naturally so strong, and for this reason expected the main attack
from the direction of Bentonville against Asboth's division, i e., against our
right flank and rear. To ascertain, therefore, what was going on during the night in the direction mentioned, I sent out two of my scouts (Brown and Pope) with some cavalry, to proceed as far as possible toward the west and north-west, and report any movement of hostile troops immediately. Toward morning they reported that during the night troops and trains were moving on the back road, around our position toward Cross Timber; that they had heard the noise of wagons or artillery, but they had not seen the troops. I then ordered Lieutenant Schramm, of my staff, to go out with an escort and bring in more information. This was at 5 o'clock in the morning. His report, made a little after 6 o'clock, left no doubt in my mind that the enemy was moving around our position toward the northeast (Springfield road). I now went out myself and saw clearly trains and troops moving in the direction mentioned. At about the same time when the flanking movement of the enemy was discovered on our right, Major Weston of the 24th Missouri Infantry, who was posted in our rear, at Elkhorn Tavern, was informed by his outposts of the advance of some of the enemy's cavalry on the roads from Bentonville and Cassville, toward his position. Between 6 and 7 in the morning, skirmishing had begun near the tan-yard, on the Cassville road, north of Elkhorn Tavern, so that his reports and those sent in by myself reached General Curtis during the early morning of the 7th. A meeting of the division commanders was called by him for 8 o'clock at Pratt's store, and after a short consultation he directed Colonel Carr to take position at Elkhorn Tavern, while Colonel Bussey was directed to proceed with the cavalry of the different commands (except the 3d Illinois), and with three pieces of Elbert's battery to move by Leetown against the enemy, supposed to be advancing in that direction. Colonel Osterhaus was also requested to accompany Colonel Bussey for the purpose of taking control of the movement. As up to that time not even a demonstration had been made against our front on Little Sugar Creek, and there was no doubt in my mind that the main forces of the enemy were working around our flank, I suggested the necessity of supporting our cavalry by at least a brigade of infantry and another battery of my command, because a repulse of the cavalry might lead to serious consequences. The proposition was immediately accepted, and so it happened that after the disaster which befell our cavalry, the advance and onslaught of McCulloch's troops were checked by the command of Osterhaus. The speedy arrival of Colonel Jeff. C. Davis's division on the right of Osterhaus, and its energetic advance, turned a very critical moment into a decisive victory of our arms. McCulloch and McIntosh fell while leading their troops in a furious attack against Osterhaus and Davis. Hebert and a number of his officers and men were captured by pickets of the 36th Illinois (cavalry) under Captain Smith
and of the 44th Illinois infantry under Captain Russell. Thus the whole of McCulloch's column, deprived of its leaders and without unity of command, was thrown into confusion and beaten back. During the night of the 7th scarcely two-thirds of it reached the wing under Price, near Elkhorn Tavern.
Though a great advantage was gained on our side by the death or capture of those leaders, the principal cause of our success was rather the quick rallying and the excellent maneuvering of Osterhaus's and Davis's forces, as well as the coolness and bravery of their infantry, supported by Welfley's, Hoffmann's, and Davidson's batteries. Osterhaus changed his front twice under the fire of the enemy, to meet the dangerous flank attack and pressure of Hebert's Louisiana and Arkansas infantry, while the brigades of Davis, by striking the left of McCulloch's advancing column, threw it into disorder and forced it to retreat. It was during this conflict that two officers, Major John C. Black of the 37th Illinois and Major Sidney Post of the 59th Illinois, although both severely wounded in the right arm, refused to leave the field until peremptorily ordered to do so. Here fell Lieutenant-Colonel John A. Hendricks of the 22d Indiana, receiving two mortal wounds.
While our left wing was thus successful against about 11,500 of the enemy, the right wing under Carr had been sorely pressed by the 6,500 Missourians under Van Dorn and Price. In spite of the heroic resistance of the two brigades of Dodge and Vandever, and the reenforcements sent to them during
the afternoon, they were forced back from position to position, until Elkhorn Tavern was taken by the enemy, and our crippled forces, almost without ammunition, their artillery reduced by losses of guns, men, and horses, their infantry greatly reduced, had to seek a last shelter in the woods and behind the fences, separated from the enemy's position by open fields, but not farther than a mile from our trains. There they formed a contracted and curved line, determined to resist, not disheartened, but awaiting with some apprehension another attack. Fortunately, the enemy did not follow up his success, and night fell in, closing this terrible conflict. While this engagement of our right wing was in progress, I received an order from General Curtis at 2 o'clock P. M. to reenforce Colonels Osterhaus and Davis with the remainder of the troops of the First and Second Divisions, held in reserve near our original position, between Sugar Creek and Elkhorn Tavern. Before receiving this order I sent Major Poten with the 17th Missouri, 2 companies of the 15th, 2 companies of the 3d Missouri, a section of artillery (Elbert's 2 pieces), and a squadron of Benton Hussars under Major Heinrichs, toward the south-west, to try to gain the rear of a hostile force stationed there. Leaving a small detachment as a guard in our camp, I moved with all the other troops by Leetown to the battlefield, north of the town. We arrived just in time to give a send-off to the retreating hostile forces, and, joined by Osterhaus's brigade, advanced toward the east, parallel with the curve formed by the chain of hills called Pea Ridge, with the intention of bringing assistance to our right wing, where the noise of the engagement with Van Dorn and Price was unabating.
We had to move slowly and cautiously, as a part of the enemy's forces evidently tried to rally on our left flank but withdrew after some little skirmishing with the 44th Illinois. Reaching finally an open field about half a mile from the last spur of the hills, looking down upon Elkhorn Tavern, we halted, and report was sent to General Curtis's headquarters, describing our position and asking for orders. At that time it had become dark, firing on the right had almost ceased, and as we had not sufficient knowledge of the position of the enemy, or our own troops on the right, I concluded to
stay where we were, and took the necessary precautions to make our position secure. To conceal it as much as possible, no camp-fires were allowed, and the troops lay silently on the field resting on their arms. Between 12 and 1 o'clock the outposts reported some noise at a distance from our left, as if troops were moving toward the north-east. I therefore went out with one of my staff-officers as far as our line of out-posts, and remained there about half an hour, but could hear nothing. I, however, saw distinctly the camp-fires of Price's troops extending from the heights near Elkhorn Tavern far down toward the south-east. Toward the west and south-west the sky was illumined by two large, isolated camp-fires, one about midway between Elkhorn Tavern and Leetown, and the other four or five miles farther off in the direction of Bentonville. This, in connection with what we had seen during the afternoon, when some of the enemy's troops were moving along the heights of Pea Ridge toward Elkhorn Tavern, and others toward the south-west, and with what the outposts had reported, made it clear to my mind that the enemy would not venture battle again near Leetown, but that McCulloch's troops would join those of Price, and by a united effort try to overwhelm our right wing at Elkhorn Tavern. For this reason, and to give our worn-out and hungry troops something to eat, good camp-fires and rest, I resolved to withdraw them from their position, move them back to our camp, and lead them forward again in the morning to the same ground, to fall upon the enemy's right flank and rear, as soon as he should begin his attack. Leaving the Benton Hussars and a line of outposts with a reserve of infantry on the field, to guard our position, I marched off from the left, called in all the detachments from wherever they were, and formed the two divisions in such a manner on the road leading from my headquarters to the ground we had left, that, by reaching it with the head of our column, we could bring it in the shortest possible time on the right into line, and come into action at the very moment the first regiment and battery had taken their position. All these preparations were completed before daybreak of the 8th.
During the night of the 7th the division of Colonel Davis had been called in by General Curtis from Leetown, and in the morning it took position on the Telegraph road, in place of Carr's division, which had borne the brunt
of the battle of the day before, and was now withdrawn, and the greater part
of it held in reserve. Pattison's brigade, of Davis's division, formed on the
right of the Telegraph road, with Klauss's battery before the center of the
line; the second brigade (the 37th and 59th Illinois), under Colonel White,
formed on the left of the road, supported by Davidson's battery. Colonel Carr, although wounded, assisted in placing these troops.
It was a little after 6 o'clock in the morning when I sent out Colonel Osterhaus with Captain Asmussen of my staff to reconnoiter the ground on which I intended to deploy, and to find the nearest road leading to it. The 44th Illinois followed the two officers for the purpose of marking the right of the position to be taken, but with orders to keep concealed as much as possible, and not to enter into an engagement unless attacked. Half an hour later, I was standing in front of my tent, ready to mount, and anxiously awaiting the return of the staff-officers, when suddenly a few cannon-shots in our front, from Davidson's Union battery, announced the conflict. At this moment General Curtis, to whom I had sent word during the night where my two divisions were assembling, and that they would be ready for action in the morning, rode toward me from the direction where the firing had begun, and, somewhat excitedly, said: "General, I have opened the battle; it will be a hard fight; Davis is already there. Please bring your troops in line as quickly as possible." I confess that I did not understand the reason why a cannonade was commenced on our side when we were not ready to meet a counter-attack of the enemy with a good chance of success, the more so, as I had been out in our from before General Curtis met me, and had found that our line was weak, stretched out in an open field, the Telegraph road obstructed by artillery, ammunition-wagons, and other vehicles, and that there was no room to deploy my divisions, except behind the first line and masked by it; nor on the left, unless immediately exposed to and raked by the fire of the enemy, whose batteries were supposed to be posted in the margin of the woods, whence they could reach my troops at point-blank range. I explained this to General Curtis, made him acquainted with the object in view, told him that I expected Colonel Osterhaus and Captain Asmussen back every moment, and finally asked him to give me ten minutes' time to wait for them, when I would move immediately to the position selected and commence the attack. Even if our troops on the right should be compelled to yield, it could only be momentarily, as the enemy would have to direct his whole attention to my attack on his flank and rear. I never felt more relieved than when General Curtis, evidently encouraged by this proposition, said: "Well, General, do what you propose." I must add here that I had not seen General Curtis during the night and before I met him near my tent; he could, therefore, not have been fully aware of what I had experienced in my position away from him on the left, and what my intention was to do in the morning, although I had sent Captain Asmussen to his headquarters to report to him, receiving, however, no orders from him in return. After our conversation, which lasted only a few minutes, the two officers came back in all haste, and reported that they had found an excellent position; that no enemy was in sight, and that Colonel Knobelsdorff, with his regiment, was posted as directed. General Curtis declared himself satisfied and rode off, but scarcely had he left me when the cannonade in front became very brisk, some of the hostile missiles bursting over our heads.
I mounted, told Colonel Osterhaus to take charge of our column and move it to the position to be occupied; then, accompanied by Captain Asmussen, I rode to the front, where Davis's division had formed into line, to see what was going on. I found one of our batteries hotly engaged, but compelled to withdraw, which exposed the infantry on the right to an enfilading fire, and also forced it to change its position. One of the regiments– I think it was the 22d or the 8th Indiana– was thrown into momentary disorder by this surprise, and the men fell back toward an eminence on the right of the road on which I was halting. I assisted their brave commander to rally them, which I did not take long, and spoke a few words to them, saying that if the right could hold out for half an hour, assistance would come, and all would be well. Meanwhile another regiment had formed on the left, the battery had taken position again and was supported by four other guns (of White's brigade), farther to the left, diverting the enemy's fire. The line stood firm, and as no hostile infantry appeared, I took leave of the commander of the "Indiana boys," and hastened to my own troops. I reached the head of the column when it was just debouching from the woods, and the first battery that arrived took position on the left of the 44th Illinois, which was kneeling behind a fence. In about 15 minutes the First Division (Osterhaus's) was formed into line, with the artillery in the intervals between the infantry, the Second Division in reserve, about 250 paces behind our right, with General Asboth at its head, who, in spite of his wound received on the 7th, was again in the saddle. Our position, in full view of the open fields, which sloped gently down toward the long skirt of woods, where the enemy's artillery and infantry were posted, was excellent, and allowed the full development of our forces. The enemy's batteries received us well, but many of their shots were either aimed too high, or struck the ground and were buried a short distance in front of us. When well in action, we advanced slowly from position to position, at the same time contracting our line, the infantry following, rising quickly, and as soon as they had reached a new position lying down again. During this time the whole cavalry force of the two divisions had formed behind the extreme left of our line, supported by the 2d Missouri and Elbert's flying battery of General Asboth's command. The 17th Missouri, under Major Poten, also came up from the Bentonville road, and was posted on the left. On our right, communication was established with the right wing, and the two batteries of Klauss and Davidson were brought into line with our own, while the two brigades of Colonels Julius White and Thomas Pattison held the left of the enemy's line in check until our whole line advanced.
It was now a little after 11 o'clock; most of the enemy's batteries (about fifty guns) were silenced one after another, by our concentric fire; his infantry, not venturing out of the woods into the open fields, was now treated with a shower of shell and shrapnel. Opposite our extreme left, however, near Elkhorn Tavern, Van Dorn made a determined effort to hold the high spur of hills, the top of which was crowned and protected by rocks and bowlders. Some of Price's infantry had already taken possession of it, and a battery was being placed in position, when Hoffmann's and Elbert's batteries were ordered to direct their fire against them chiefly with solid shot. Not more than fifteen minutes elapsed before the enemy evacuated this last stronghold, while our infantry on the left - the 36th Illinois, and the 2d, 3d, and 17th Missouri - rushed lip the steep hill and forced the remnants of the enemy's troops down into Cross Timber Hollow. Almost simultaneously the 12th Missouri, the 25th and the 44th Illinois advanced in double-quick from the center and right into the woods, engaged the enemy's infantry, drove it back, and one of our regiments (the 12th Missouri) captured the " Dallas Battery." On the extreme right, where General Curtis had directed the movements of the troops, Davis's division and a part of Carr's, assisted by Hayden's and Jones's batteries (the latter commanded by Lieutenant David), pushed forward against the left wing of the enemy and forced it to leave the field. The army of Van Dorn and Price, including about two-thirds of McCulloch's troops under Churchill and Creer and one-third of Pike's Indian Brigade, all of whom had joined Price during the night, were now in precipitate retreat in all directions, pursued by the First and Second Divisions as far as Keetsville, 9 miles to the north, and by a cavalry force under Colonel Bussey with 2 mountain howitzers to the south-west beyond Bentonville. So ended the battle of Pea Ridge, and our little army, instead of being "beaten and compelled to surrender," had gained a decisive victory.
The losses of our army were: killed, 203; wounded, 980; missing, 201,-total, 1384. The enemy's losses on the battle-field were about equal, if not greater than, ours, but they have never been accurately stated. On the 7th
we lost more on our right, against Price, than he did; the enemy (McCulloch's troops) more on his right against our left. On the 8th, when our forces were concentrated against Van Dorn and Price, the enemy's loss' was much more severe than ours.
IN reviewing the period from the 13th of June, 1861, when the first expeditions started from St. Louis to the north-west and south-west of Missouri, and comprising the three campaigns under Generals Lyon, Fremont, and Curtis, we must acknowledge the extraordinary activity represented in these movements. As war in its ideal form is nothing else than a continuous series of action and reaction, that side which develops the greater energy will, other conditions being equal, become master of the situation. It was the energy of the South in the first period of the War of the Rebellion which in less than three months organized a powerful insurrection and threatened the existence of the Union. And so, on a smaller scale, isolated and left almost to its own resources at the beginning of the conflict, the Union element of Missouri, led by a few energetic men, saved the city of St. Louis, then the chief city of the West, and by successive, rapid blows became master of the whole State. In no other State of the North was greater activity shown, or more undertaken, endured, or accomplished. There were regiments which traversed the State three times in 8 months, forward and backward, a distance of over 1200 miles (the line of railroad from St. Louis to Rolla not taken into account), and this, especially during the first few months, with the most miserable outfit,-without tents, without knapsacks and other accouterments, the men carrying their cartridges in their pockets and sleeping on the bare ground, braving hunger and disease.
The battle of Pea Ridge was the first respite gained by the almost incessant activity and the unflinching courage of our little army,- the Army of the South-west. It was not a "great" battle, like that of Gettysburg or Chattanooga; it was not of such preponderating national importance; it did not "break the backbone of the Rebellion," but it virtually cleared the South-west of the enemy, gave peace to the people of Missouri, at least for the next two years, and made it possible for our veterans to reenforce the armies under Buell, Rosecrans, Grant, and Sherman. It was a battle of all kinds of surprises and accidents, of good fighting and good maneuvering. Van Dorn was evidently "surprised" when he found that his plan to take St. Louis, and to carry the war into Illinois in April, 186 was anticipated by our unexpected appearance; he was badly "surprised" when on the of 6th March, instead of "gobbling up" my two divisions at McKissick's farm, as he confidently expected, he only met a rear-guard of 600 men, which he could not gobble up during nearly 6 hours of its march of 6 miles; he was also surprised to find, on his detour around our left flank and rear, that the road was at different places so blocked up, that instead of arriving in our rear, on the road to Springfield, with the divisions of Price, at daylight of the 7th, he did not reach that point before 10 o'clock in the morning, by which delay Price's and McCulloch's forces became separated and could not assist each other at the decisive moment, while we gained time to make our preparations for the reception of both. Finally, on the 8th, Van Dorn was greatly "surprised to find himself suddenly confronted by a new, unexpected force," attacked in flank and rear, and compelled to retreat. On the other hand, Curtis was "surprised" by the sudden turn things had taken, and much disappointed because the enemy did not make the attack against our front, a position not only very strong by nature, presenting a chain of high hills, but also strengthened by intrenchments and abatis, the access to it being also protected and impeded by a deep creek running along our line of defense. He would have been much more "surprised" had it not been for the discovery, by our scouting parties, of the enemy's flanking movement.
In a strategical and tactical point of view, the battle of Pea Ridge forms a counterpart to the battle of Wilson's Creek. In the latter battle we were the out-flanking party, approaching the camp of McCulloch and Price, by a night march completely surprising and attacking their forces in the morning, but making our attack in front and rear, without being able to communicate with and assist each other. My own brigade of 1118 men, which had gained the enemy's rear, was beaten first, and then the forces of General Lyon, 4282 men, after a heroic resistance were compelled to leave the field. The enemy held the "interior lines," and could throw readily his forces from one point to the other. At Pea Ride the same advantage was with our army, although the enemy had better facilities of communication between his left and right wing, by the road leading from Bentonville to Elkhorn Tavern, than we had had at Wilson's Creek. There we had had to meet substantially the same troops we encountered at Pea Ride, with the exception of the Indian Brigade under Pike.
From the result of the battles of Wilson's Creek and Pea Ridge, it will be seen that the manoeuvre of outflanking and "marching into the enemy's rear" is not always successful. It was not so at Wilson's Creek, when we had approached, unobserved, within cannon-shot of the enemy's lines; however, we were only 5400 against about 11,000, while at Pea Ridge the enemy had 16,202 men in action against our 10,500. In a manoeuvre of that kind, the venture of a smaller army to surprise and "bag'" an enemy, whose forces are concentrated and who holds the " interior lines" or "inside track," will always be great, unless the enemy's troops are inferior in quality, or otherwise at a disadvantage.
The movement of Van Dorn during the night of the 6th was bold, well
conceived, and would probably have been more successful if it had not
been pushed too far out. If Van Dorn had formed his line with the left of Price's forces resting on the heights, west of Elkhorn Tavern, and McCulloch's immediately on its right, he would have gained three or four hours' time, and could have swept down upon us before 8 o'clock in the morning, when no preparations had been made to receive him; his two wings (Price's and McCulloch's) would not have been separated from each other by an interval of several miles, and his communications between Bentonville and his position would have been protected. Instead of following this course of action demanded by the unforeseen impediment on the road, he passed several miles farther to the north-east, and after gaining the Springfield road, he shifted the whole of Price's forces around to the south-east (toward the Huntsville road), consuming again much valuable time. In fact, instead of commencing his attack by the left at daylight on the 7th, as he expected to do, he did not commence it earnestly before 2 P. M. and instead of gaining the desirable position on the heights and fields which my divisions occupied the next day, he made his attack in Cross Timber Hollow, where our inferior forces had the advantage of defense and of concealing their weakness in the woods, ravines, and gullies of that wilderness. Price's troops fought very bravely, but so did ours; it therefore happened that when Carr's division had been forced back, even half a mile beyond Elkhorn Tavern, the assailants had spent so much of their force and sustained so great a loss, that they were unable to follow up their success by a last assault on our reduced and contracted line. Price's 6500 men with 38 guns could not overwhelm about 4500 with 23 guns (including the reenforcements from the First and Second Divisions). The fight on this part of the field was, at the beginning, a wild, isolated, irregular struggle of single batteries and their supports, sometimes almost hand to hand, instead of in serried and well-defined lines; this accounts for the great losses on both sides. It was here that the two brigades of Vandever and Dodge, with the 9th and 4th Iowa, the 35th Illinois, the 24th and Phelps's Missouri regiment, Hayden's and Jones's batteries, and two mountain howitzers of Bowen's battalion, assisted by a part of the 1st Missouri and 3d Illinois Cavalry, withstood the incessant onslaught of the two Confederate brigades of Colonel Little and General Slack and the Missouri State Guards with the greatest tenacity, yielding only step by step, when exhausted by losses and without ammunition.
The death of McCulloch was not only fatal to his troops, but also a most serious blow to Van Dorn. Until 2 o'clock on the 7th, the latter had confidently expected to hear of successful action against our left wing; but he received no answer to the dispatch he had sent, and began to push forward his own wing. He succeeded, and when night fell made his headquarters at Elkhorn Tavern, where Carr and Major Weston of our army had been in the morning. But here he stopped. He says that by some misunderstanding the troops in the advance were called back (as they were at Shiloh); the true reason for their withdrawal, however, seems to have been their satisfaction with what they had done, and the assurance of completing the work in the morning.