Battle of Pea Ridge
A line of Confederate cannon
looks out over the battlefield
at Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
View of the Battlefield
This view of the ground
across which Union troops
attacked during the second
day's fighting was taken from
heights once occupied by
Confederate soldiers.
The Battle of Pea Ridge - Pea Ridge, Arkansas
Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge
The original tavern was the scene of heavy fighting
during the Battle of Pea Ridge, one of the largest
engagements of the Civil War in the West.
Pea Ridge National Military Park
One of the most dramatic and significant
battles of the Civil War took place in the small
Arkansas community of Pea Ridge on March
7-8, 1862.

The Battle of Pea Ridge ended the threat of a
major Confederate invasion of Missouri and
was fought across thousands of acres of
Ozarks countryside. The site is now the Pea
Ridge National Military Park, one of the best
preserved battlefields in the nation. As can
be said of several other significant battles,
Pea Ridge was one of the places where the
Confederacy could have won the Civil War.

The battle developed when Maj. Gen. Earl
Van Dorn accepted the command of the
Confederate army in the west from President
Jefferson Davis. Two other generals, Henry
Heth and Braxton Bragg, had already
declined the command.

Ambitious to a fault, however, Van Dorn
headed west where badly mauled Southern
forces had withdrawn south into the Boston
Mountains ahead of an advance by Union
Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis and his Army of the
Southwest. His plan was to the point. He
would fight his way into Missouri and keep
going north. As he told his wife, "I must have
St. Louis."

The situation in Arkansas presented Van
Dorn with one of the great opportunities of
the war. Gen. Curtis had taken up positions
at Little Sugar Creek in Benton County,
Arkansas. He was 250 miles from his base
of supplies and had fewer men and fewer
cannon than Van Dorn.

Sweeping north from the mountains in
brutally cold weather, the Confederates
swept around the right of Curtis' entrenched
army and launched devastating two-pronged
attack on the Union right and rear. It was a
remarkable opportunity to completely crush a
major Union army, but Van Dorn handled it

Pushing his men too hard during the hours
leading up to the battle and advancing with
insufficient supplies for a major fight, he led
a numerically larger army into the field but
allowed his command and control structure
to completely deteriorate.

The first prong of the Confederate attack
swept in from the west near the Leetown
community. Gen. Ben McCulloch, who led the
assault, was killed almost immediately and
his second-in-command, Gen. James
McIntosh, fell just 15 minutes later. Despite
heavy fighting and the personal courage of
Col. Louis Hebert, the Confederate attack
disintegrated in the face of stiff Federal

It was during fighting at Foster's Farm near
Leetown that Confederate Gen. Albert Pike's
Indian Brigade ambushed two companies of
Iowa cavalry. After the battle, Union soldiers
found that eight of their comrades had been
scalped and another 17 mutilated.
Meanwhile, the second Confederate column,
led by Gen. Sterling Price, attacked from the
hills and ravines just north of Elkhorn Tavern
on the northern end of the battlefield. Despite
his superiority in men and artillery, however,
Price was unable to drive Union Col. Eugene
Carr from the field. It took six hours of heavy
fighting to dislodge the colonel and his men,
giving the Federals time to completely
reverse their field of battle.

The day ended with Van Dorn holding ground
at the northern end of the battlefield, but
Curtis bringing more and more men and
guns into position opposite him. The next
morning, March 8th, the Federals opened a
massive artillery barrage. The Confederates
were exhausted and running short on
supplies and when Curtis ordered his lines
forward, there was little the Southern troops
could do to stop them.

The Confederate right gave way first, Van
Dorn and Price going with it, leaving the
Southern left to fend for itself. These men
evacuated the battlefield as best they could,
leaving the field in the hands of the victorious
Union army. Curtis had won a classic battle
and Missouri was saved for the Union.

The site of the battle, where 26,000 men
fought and more than 3,000 were killed,
wounded or captured, is now preserved at
Pea Ridge National Military Park. Please
here to visit the park's official website.
View from the Union Lines
Federal soldiers attacked
over this ground during the
Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
Native American Attack Site
Southern forces fighting at
Pea Ridge included Native
American soldiers who
captured Union cannon at this
Battle of Elkhorn Tavern
The massive engagement at
Pea Ridge was also called
the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern
after the landmark around
which heavy fighting swirled.
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Copyright 2012 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Update: November 13, 2012
Civil War Sites of Interest