Visiting Pea Ridge National Military Park
Pea Ridge National Military Park is located in northwest Arkansas on U.S. Highway 62 about 11 miles northeast of the city of Rogers. The Battle of Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern as it is also called, was fought on March 7-8, 1862 and was the largest in terms of numbers of troops engaged in the Trans-Mississippi theatre of the war. Confederate forces under Major General Earl Van Dorn numbered about 16,500, while Brigadier General Samuel Curtis commanded about 10,500 Union troops.
In February 1862, Curtis advanced on Springfield, Missouri forcing a Confederate army under Major General Sterling Price to abandon the city. Curtis pursued Price out of Missouri to Arkansas, where the latter combined his force with that of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch. Van Dorn, the commander of the Trans-Mississippi department arrived to take overall command of the Confederate forces. Meanwhile Curtis had established a defensive position along Little Sugar Creek to block the important Wire Road, or Telegraph Road as it was also known, to prevent the Confederates from reentering Missouri.
Van Dorn split his force in two and launched a two pronged attack against the Union flanks on March 7th. While the Confederates were able to push back the Federals, they were not able to destroy the Union forces and this limited success came at the cost of a large number of casualties including the death of General McCulloch. The next day, Curtis concentrated his army and launched a counterattack preceded by a huge artillery barrage. The attack was successful and forced Van Dorn to retreat. It was a very important victory for the north and helped secure Missouri for the Union.
Pea Ridge National Military Park was established in 1956 and covers about 4300 acres. Before visiting this or any other battlefield, it’s a good idea to do a little research to get some background of the events that took place. Near the entrance is the park’s visitor center, where visitors can ask questions and get information about the battle and the battlefield from knowledgeable National Park Service personnel and volunteers. There is also a film about the battle, museum exhibits, and a bookstore. Among the artifacts on display is a relatively rare 12 pounder mountain howitzer, a compact cannon that could be disassembled and transported by mules to locations inaccessible to larger artillery pieces. Mountain howitzers were used in the battle. Several regular sized cannon are also located in the park, as is common at many battlefield parks.
There is a seven mile self guiding driving tour of the park that takes visitors to key locations on the battlefield. Walking trails take visitors to other locations that are inaccessible by car. There is a great view of much of the battlefield from the East Overlook on Big Mountain. At the bottom of Big Mountain is Elkhorn Tavern, which served travelers on the Wire Road. The building was used as a headquarters and hospital by both sides. Elkhorn Tavern got its name from the set of elk antlers placed on the roof by the building’s owner. It’s unclear how the owner got a set of elk antlers since the animals were not native to the area. The original Elkhorn Tavern burned in 1863, and was rebuilt on the original location. That building was restored to the original structure’s 1862 appearance by the National Park Service.
For more information, check the Pea Ridge National Military Park National Park Service website.