Pea Ridge Campaign 1862
General Curtis understands the
objective is Price’s army not the liberation of Springfield. That
night, over dinner, Curtis and his commanders hold a council of war
agreeing to pursue Price’s army. Sigel talks Curtis into splitting
the army to pursue on the Telegraph Road and over a series of
parallel roads further west. The command is split on ethnic lines,
the two German divisions being commanded by Sigel. No one seems to
have noticed that Sigel’s route, west to Little York, and south
through Marionville to rejoin the Telegraph Road at McDowell is the
longer one. No one seems to have noticed the parallel to the
Wilson’s Creek plan and Curtis has not yet learned of Sigel’s
tendency to forget orders and do as he pleases. On the surface, this
plan offers the best chance of dealing Price a serve blow.
Pursuit starts on the morning of
February 14 over a prairie covered in ice and snow. Sigel’s column
captures a large foraging party with fifteen wagons, in spite of
slow progress due to the bitter cold. Curtis has the shorter route
but is following Price. Each defendable point is approached with
caution; all they find are broken-down wagons, discarded equipment
and stragglers wanting to get warm.
Price’s army makes eight miles on the
Fourteenth, going into camp in Crane Creek valley expecting to watch
Springfield while waiting for reinforcements. The men are laying out
a camp and starting to cook food when shells burst among them.
Prices’ rear guard commander, Col. Henry Little forms the 1st
Missouri Brigade to ward off the attack of Curtis’ advanced guard
comprised of Col. Calvin Ellis, the 1st Missouri Cavalry
with four guns.
This minor action convinces Price that
his command is in great danger and must move south as fast as
possible. Camp is out of the question, everything focuses on linking
up with McCullough in Arkansas. Having no supply base, Price’s army
carries everything with them in a collection of wheeled vehicles
from ox carts to stagecoaches. The road south is cleared and the
train started in advance of the army. For the entire night, Price
and his men watch this seemly endless supply train roll by. Price is
reputed to have asked, “Is there end to this train?”
Curtis knows Price will move quickly.
A dispatch to Sigel, directs him to move to McDowell without
stopping. At dawn, Curtis is advancing to Crain Creek with all
possible speed encountering only abandoned equipment and those
staying behind. Curtis sends Ellis toward McDowell, hoping to bring
on a battle delaying Price until Sigel cuts the Telegraph Road. Late
that afternoon, Curtis’ column reaches McDowell, finding neither the
rebels nor Sigel and continues south.
On February 16, Sigel reaches McDowell
finding himself at the tail of the Union army. No one knows if the
dispatch from Curtis failed to arrive or if it was disregarded. We
do know that while a frenzy of activity is taking place on the
Telegraph Road, Sigel takes a full day to march an extra 10 miles.
From Prices’ Crain Creek camp
to the safety of Little Sugar Creek in Arkansas is a
fifty-mile march. Encumbered by a supply train, battered by the
weather and demoralized by defeat this march takes thirty-six hours.
The last good night’s sleep was in Springfield on February 11th,
men fell asleep every time the line of march stops, men fell asleep
as they marched. With the supplies at the head of the column, the
men suffered from lack of food. In the bitter cold, clothing freezes
to their bodies, frostbitten feet became swollen, and those that
fall out either surrender or die.
While the Federals are enjoying a
sense of victory, the march is a hard one for them too. They outpace
the slower supply wagons and forage along the road. The pickings are
very slim; this poor section of the state has already been picked
over several times. Sheridan orders supply wagons to throw out a box
of hardtack every 30 yards when passing troops. The men break open
the boxes, filled their pockets and eat as they marched. Curtis
orders guards posted over the supply of corn and oats needed for the
animals. His march is slowed as each defendable point must be check
for rebels. When found, the cavalry and guns deploy, infantry comes
up at the double-quick, the rebels retreat and the march resumes.
The men hear constant rumors of “Price’s pedestrians” making a stand
South of Keetsville, just north of the
Arkansas state line, the Telegraph Road enters a narrow eight-mile
long gorge. In 1861, McCullough’s men blocked about four miles of
the gorge with felled trees. Later, they opened a passage through
the barrier just wide enough for a wagon. The locals call this area
Cross Timber Hollow. Price’s rear guard takes maximum advantage of
this area to delay Curtis. The Union break through and the 1st
Missouri Cavalry, Union & Confederate, fight a sharp little battle.
Price sends back some of his exhausted infantry. Each side breaks
off the battle with the rebels getting the worst of it. At Cross
Timber Hollow, Curtis clears the last major obstacle between
Springfield and the Arkansas state line. On February 17, with bands
playing and flags flying the Union Army of the Southwest entered
Arkansas, the invasion is under way.
About 1:00 PM on the 17th,
at Little Sugar Creek, Arkansas, the advance elements of Curtis’
army find rebel infantry and artillery blocking the Telegraph Road.
Curtis leads the reinforcements forward to confront what he thinks
is Price’s exhausted army. They had encountered Col. Hebert’s
brigade from McCullough’s army, the 3rd Louisiana, the 4th
and 15th Arkansas and a battery from Price. After
allowing the enemy to see his strong position, he turns to followed
Price. This is standard operating procedure for the theater and the
time. Curtis’ determined advance catches Hebert by surprise. In
place of an excellent defensive position, the best available
position and a quickly set up a defensive line will have to do.
Little’s 1st Missouri Brigade is quickly recalled from Price's
command to strengthen the line. Hebert is on the east of the road,
Little on the west, with the battery pointing straight down the
road. Curtis realizing an army commander has no business commanding
the advanced guard and orders Ellis to clear the valley.
Used to rebels that flee at a hard
push, Ellis advances at a gallop; out distancing his infantry
support and runs into Hebert’s position. The battery fires up the
road into the advancing cavalry, which vacates the road for the
woods and fields. The lead battalion of the 1st Missouri, not
hearing the order, charges. Intermingling with rebel skirmishers,
they charged almost to the rebel lines. In a desperate attempt to
disengage, they lose about 17 men and 25 horses. With the
Confederate attention focused on the charge, the balance of the
Ellis’ command drives in the rebel skirmishers advancing to where
they got a good look at the main battle line and withdraw. Curtis is
rushing forward reinforcements, many who had never been in battle
and want to “see the elephant” before the war is over. By 3:00PM,
the battle settles down to an artillery duel. An hour later, Hebert
has enough and withdraws. Curtis elects not to follow ending the
battle. Union casualties are about 35 men and 50 horses, Confederate
casualties are unreported. While this actions has all but
disappeared from history being dismissed as an over grown skirmish,
it has the distinction of being the first time the Confederate Stars
& Bars go into battle in the
Trans-Mississippi. At the time, no one noticed the 3rd Louisiana
carries a different flag.
Curtis’ Army of the Southwest camps on
the bluffs south of Little Sugar Creek, Arkansas. Marching south,
the next defendable site is the valley of Cross Hollow running east
to west. Intelligence says the valley is heavily fortified. Curtis
controls the road west from Little Sugar Creek to Bentonville, where
a parallel road runs south to Osage Spring on to Elm Spring and
rejoins the Telegraph Road at Fayetteville. The town of Fayetteville
about thirty miles south of the camp is the objective. The problem
is the fortified rebels at Cross Hollow. General Asboth, commander
of the Second Division had shown an ability to handle cavalry
operations, Curtis orders him to conduct a reconnaissance in force
toward Bentonville. Asboth takes the town capturing thirty members
of the 17th Arkansas and the regiment’s flag flying over
the courthouse. When they find the body of a Union cavalryman
stuffed in an outhouse, Asboth’s troopers burn Bentonville. Upon
learning that the road from Bentonville is open, Curtis issues the
orders to flank Cross Hollow.
At Cross Hollow, Price and McCulloch
are at war, again. The perceived insults, slights and genuine
dislike quickly boil to the surface. Price wants to make a stand,
fortify and fight a defensive battle. This will put the loss of
Missouri, the long retreat, desertions, and stragglers behind him.
McCulloch know Cross Hollow is not well fortified and is easy to
flank. He is sure the addition of Price's command will create supply
problems. Faced with an aggressive foe, his solution is to fall back
to his supply center at Fayetteville where no road allows a flanking
movement. Once there they will decide to stand and fight or to
continue south into the Boston Mountains. Each step south shortens
McCulloch’s supply lines and lengthens Curtis’ supply line.
At an impasse, they poll the senior
officers, who vote to continue south. Price still will not agree and
insist the armies make a stand. When a citizen from Bentonville
reaches the camp at Cross Hollow, his story shows McCulloch is
right. Price accepts retreat and the army starts south again. On the
night of February 18 /19, another winter storm falls on the area as
both sides struggle to move south.
On February 20, the tired ice coated
rebel army reaches the forward supply base at Fayetteville.
McCulloch's decision to weather his cavalry and artillery further
south is hurting him. He has no animals to carry his supplies as he
retreats south. They open the doors and tell the men told to take
what they can carry. The distinction between army supplies and
private property is lost. Officers try to restore order but the
looting continues until the army abandons the town on the 21st. The
burning supplies set the town on fire. The Female Institute, used as
an arsenal, blows up and several city blocks burn to the ground.
The Missouri State Guard is ending.
Price did everything in his power to force enlistments in the
Confederate Army. In spite the pressure brought to bear, about 1,200
men leave the ranks and start the long walk home to Missouri. Fewer
than 6,800 men stay to form the Missouri Brigade of the Confederate
The Union Army had been active. The
Confederate camp at Cross Hollow is a smoking ruin of burned
buildings in a landscape of mud. However, some mills and storehouses
survived, using them as a base, the Union army establishes a camp.
Curtis needs to rest his men and animals while taking time to assess
what happened. No one expected the extent of the rebel retreat, the
men are tired and almost a thousand animals have broken
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