General Slocum at Pea Ridge Battle

Image above: General Franz Sigel at the Battle of Pea Ridge by Currier and Ives 1862. And yes, we do think he looks like Leonardo DiCaprio in that one. Right: Lithograph of Pea Ridge by Kurz and Allison, 1889. Both images courtesy Library of Congress.

Battle of Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge National Military Park

It was March 1862, March 6-8, and the battle for the western theater was raging across the midwest. In northwest Arkansas, the spring of 1862 had seen movement. The Federal Army, under General Samuel Curtis, began positioning the Army of the Southwest in Benton County, over ten thousand strong. This was not going to sit well with Confederate General Earl Van Dorn; his sixteen thousand man Trans-Mississippi District Army would attempt to push the Federals out of Arkansas and reopen the gateway to Missouri. The battle would rage for three days and despite the unusual man advantage for the Confederates in the battle, they would not win. Missouri would not be threatened again by the South during the rest of the Civil War.

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Battle of Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge Then

Prior to the start of the Battle of Pea Ridge in 1862, the area had been collecting troops of the Federal Army of the Southwest around Benton County. With ten thousand five hundred men, including half in Sigel's German immigrant corps, Confederate forces began to move in their direction, intending to attack the rear of General Curtis and force a retreat or capture.

Chronology of the Battle

March 6, 1862 - Van Dorn splits his army into two divisions, marching north on the Bentonville Detour without his supply trains.

March 7, 1862 - Warned by scouts of the Confederate movement, half of Van Dorn's troops battled Federal forces at Elkhorn Tavern. Waves of Confederate attacks forced the Union troops back to Ruddick's field. A counterattack late in the afternoon was recalled. Meanwhile an attack on eight thousand Confederate troops under McCullough near Leetown around noon was thwarted by Bussey's cavalry and infantry reinforcements. General McCullough and McIntosh were killed, unknown to many of their troops, forcing a vacuum in command. The Confederates withdraw.

March 8, 1862 - Federal troops were consolidated and a morning artillery bombardment on Southern lines was successful. At the same time, General Sigel led an infantry charge on the Confederate right with Davis attacking the center. Confederate troops, lacking supplies and support, withdraw from Pea Ridge.

Photo above: Lithograph of Pea Ridge by Currier and Ives, 1862. Courtesy Library of Congress. Below: Scene over the battlefield at Pea Ridge. Source: National Park Service.

Pea Ridge Battlefield

Pea Ridge Now

The battle of Pea Ridge solidified the control of Missouri for the remainder of the Civil War. In 1956, the park was preserved as a National Military Park. Today you can visit the park, one of the best preserved Civil War sites, watch the Visitor Center film on the battle and see many of the visual landscapes that were there during 1862. From the Leetown Battle Site to Elkhorn Tavern, the self-guided tour road covers the two main actions of the first day, as well as the fighting of the second day, which ended in a Confederate withdrawal and subsequent control of Missouri for the Union.

Today, the battlefield at Pea Ridge is considered one of the major preservation successes of the entire Civil War, with intact sightlines and terrain over which to contemplate the battle and its outcome. Why is the Battle of Pea Ridge relevant? Because it allowed the Union to thwart any future attempts by the Confederate Army in the western theatre to gain reentry into Missouri. What are some of the lessons to be learned from its tactics? The risk of splitting your forces in two, which the Confederates did prior to the battle, and its affect on reinforcing your lines. The hazard of leaving your supply trains in exchange for speed of movement. An army needs supplies to be successful in battle. These two lessons cost the Confederates, with superior numbers, to withdraw.

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Battle of Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge Battlefield

Things You Should Not Miss

1. Watch the twenty-eight minute movie "Thunder in the Ozarks" in the Visitor Center. Gives you a great overview of the battle.

2. Take the Ranger Guided Caravan Tour. Offered in the summer, usually from Thursday through Sunday. Great way to understand the battle. Takes about one and one half hours. If it's not offered on your day there, the self-guided auto tour takes you to many of the same places.

3. Hike or ride the battlefield. Whether you stay on the tour road or dip into the trails that span the park, it's a great way to understand the terrain.

Photo above: Night scene over the battlefield. Source: National Park Service.

Visitor FAQ

Wilson's Creek Battlefield

Elkhorn Tavern, Pea Ridge

More Photos of the Park

Above: Photo of Elkhorn Tavern from the Historic American Buildings Survey, date unknown, Library of Congress.