On February 10th, 1862, the 10,500 man Union Army of the Southwest, under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Curtis, advanced on Springfield Missouri, which was occupied by a Confederate force under Major General Sterling Price. Price was outnumbered and elected not to fight, withdrawing south instead down the Wire Road, also called the Telegraph Road, a major route between Springfield and Fort Smith, Arkansas. Curtis pursued Price into northwest Arkansas, where the Confederates were joined by Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch’s command. This larger Confederate force retreated south to the Boston Mountains, where the men sent up camps to rest and to prepare to go back into action.
Curtis did not pursue the Confederates into the Boston mountains. He had successfully chased the Confederates out of Missouri, but did not want to further extend his already extended supply lines. He also wanted to prevent the Confederates them from returning to Missouri, so he decided to hold his position and see how the situation developed. Curtis set up a defensive line along the Wire Road at Little Sugar Creek between the Pea Ridge Plateau and the mountains, to prevent the Confederates from using that route to invade Missouri.
While Curtis set up his defensive line, the Confederate commander of the Trans Mississippi Department arrived at the Confederate base of operations to personally take command. With 16,000 Rebel troops available, Van Dorn planned to destroy Curtis’ army and then invade Missouri.
Van Dorn decided against a frontal assault against the Little Sugar Creek line, and instead attempted to go around the Federals and attack from behind. He split the army into two wings, with McCulloch in charge of one wing and Van Dorn himself commanding the other, along with Price. Federal scouts detected the troop movements and Curtis redeployed and prepared for an attack.
On March 7th, Van Dorn launched a two pronged attack from the north against the Federals. McCulloch’s wing attacked near the town of Leesburg, and Van Dorn’s wing attacked about two miles east at Elkhorn Tavern, a stagecoach stop at the intersection of the Wire and Huntsville Roads. The Union troops successfully repulsed McCulloch’s attack, killing both McCulloch and his second in command, Brigadier General James McIntosh. At Elkhorn Tavern, it was a different story. The Federals put up a stubborn defense but slowly yielded ground to the Confederate forces in heavy fighting. By nightfall, Van Dorn’s men (and the remainder of McCulloch’s force) held Elkhorn Tavern and the Wire Road-Huntsville Road intersection, but while they had pushed back the Union opposition, they had failed to break their lines or drive them from the field.
The next day, Curtis launched a counterattack, which was preceded by a two hour artillery barrage. The artillery fire was devastating to the Confederates, who were low on ammunition and could not match the Union firepower, and the infantry assault that followed turned the tide. Van Dorn retreated, and Curtis had achieved a significant victory, preventing a Rebel invasion of Missouri.
The Union troops who fought near the Elkhorn Tavern on March 7th belonged to a two brigade division under the command of Colonel Eugene A. Carr. Carr, a West Point graduate, had fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek the previous summer. The First Brigade of Carr’s division was under the command of Colonel Grenville M. Dodge, and consisted of the 4th Iowa and 35th Illinois Infantry Regiments, the 1st Independent Battery of Iowa Light Artillery, and the 3rd Illinois Cavalry. The Second Brigade, under the command of Colonel William Vandever, consisted of the 9th Iowa and 25th Missouri Infantry Regiments, plus the 3rd Independent Battery of Iowa Light Artillery. Carr’s division suffered nearly 700 total casualties in fierce fighting. Carr was wounded three times in the battle, and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Herron, commanding the 9th Iowa Infantry, was wounded and captured; he too, would be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern as it was also called.
Carr filed this report on his division’s action in the battle and the events in the campaign prior to it:
HDQRS. FOURTH DIV., CAMP NEAR ELKHORN TAVERN,
Benton County, Arkansas, March 10, 1862.
SIR: Pursuant to Paragraph I of General Orders, No. 5, dated Headquarters Army of the Southwest, Pea Ridge, Ark., March 9, 1862, directing commanders of divisions to report as soon as practicable the movements and casualties in their respective divisions during the campaign, I have the honor to report as follows:
On the 9th of February, at Lebanon, Mo., the general organized the Fourth Division and placed it under my command. I had previously conducted the operations of the cavalry expedition and the force under Colonel Osterhaus up to the time when the general commanding the district arrived in person at Lebanon. The troops ordered to constitute the Fourth Division were:
First Brigade, Colonel Dodge commanding: Fourth Iowa Volunteers, Colonel Dodge; Thirty-fifth Illinois Volunteers, Colonel Smith; First Iowa Battery, Lieutenant David.
Second Brigade: Colonel Vandever commanding: Ninth Iowa Volunteers, Colonel Vandever; Twenty-fourth Missouri Volunteers, Colonel Boyd; Dubuque battery, Captain Hayden; third battalion of the Third Illinois Cavalry, under Majors Ruggles, McConnell, and Captain Maus.
With this command I started from Lebanon, Mo., on the 10th of February, and arrived at Marshfield on the 12th, where the whole army had assembled. On the 13th we marched within 8 miles of Springfield, I leading the advance on the direct road, and my advance of cavalry, under Major McConnell, together with Major Bowen and Colonel Wright’s cavalry, and the mountain howitzers, under Captain Stephens, skirmished the enemy during the latter part of the day’s march. I placed a picket of four companies, Third Illinois Cavalry, a mile and a half in advance, at the fork of the road, immediately after arriving in camp. This picket was attacked by the enemy, but gallantly held its ground and drove the enemy away. The next morning at 4 o’clock my division took the advance in the direction of Springfield. Upon arriving 5 miles from Springfield, before daylight in the morning, I halted to wait for the other divisions to come up and deploy, but a company of the Fourth Iowa, which had been thrown forward as skirmishers, did not receive the orders to halt, but marched into Springfield and took it, with some prisoners and stores, the enemy having evacuated in the night.
The next day the Third and Fourth Divisions moved on to McCulla’s Store, 29 miles. The next day my division led. The cavalry advance, composed of the Third Illinois Cavalry, the cavalry of the Third Division, and the mountain howitzers, overtook the rear guard of the enemy’s artillery and infantry on Flat Creek, and brought them to bay. The Dubuque battery was brought up, and under the personal supervision of the general fired upon the enemy, doing him considerable damage, but the infantry could not come up until it was too late to pursue any farther.
The next day the Third Division led, preceded by all the cavalry, including the Third Illinois. They had a skirmish after passing Keetsville, and in Cross Timber Hollow a party with Colonel Davis, commanding Third Division, who went forward to reconnoiter, consisting of three companies of the Third Illinois Cavalry and about a company of the First Missouri, charged the enemy’s pickets and ran them to their camp, my men having several men and horses wounded and 1 horse killed.
The next day, my division leading, with Ellis’, Wright’s, and McConnell’s cavalry, came upon the enemy at Sugar Creek. The general ordered a charge of cavalry, which was gallantly executed, supported by the mountain howitzers under Major Bowen, who was wounded in the wrist. My cavalry, though in rear of the column, advanced well up by flanking to the left, and did considerable execution. I came on as rapidly as possible with the Second Brigade, under Colonel Vandever, and opened with the Dubuque battery, Captain Hayden, the enemy having made a stand about a mile and a half from the creek. He was quite obstinate, and showed some good artillery practice at our battery, disabling two horses, but Captain Hayden finally drove him away, and we camped where we were. I have since learned that the enemy had come to that point from Cross Hollow to assist Price and intended to fight us there, but that his heart failed him and he retreated in considerable confusion before my Second Brigade, and that/if we had pursued at that time we might have routed him and done him considerable damage; but the positive order of the general, based upon the reason that it was too late in the day to go as far as Cross Hollow and fight a battle–and that point had long been spoken of as one where the enemy intended to make a determined stand–forbade my going farther.
The next day we waited for General Sigel’s division to come up. The next we marched to Osage Springs, when we found that the enemy had decamped from Cross Hollow. My division was then moved to that place, Colonel Phelps’ regiment of Missouri Volunteers having been assigned to the Second Brigade and Colonel Boyd’s regiment relieved. While at Cross Hollow Lieutenant Jones, of the First Iowa Battery, received his commission as captain and took command, relieving Lieutenant David. The ammunition of that battery and also the Dubuque battery was defective, the powder being poor, the charges too light, and the fuses uncertain. I was told that the ammunition was put up by contractors, and on the day of battle the blood of our soldiers paid over again the unjust debt which had once been paid from the public Treasury.
On the 24th of February an expedition of cavalry and artillery, under General Asboth, was sent to Fayetteville. My cavalry led the charge into the town, capturing several prisoners. During my occupation of Cross Hollow, up to the 5th of March, several parties went out in different directions, Colonel Dodge making two expeditions and Colonel Vandever one, taking a good many prisoners and killing some of the enemy.
On the 5th of March his cavalry appeared in strong force on the Fayetteville road and captured some of our wagons and men which were out foraging. We at the same time received intelligence that he was advancing in force. The general directed me to move back to Sugar Creek, to which place he had ordered the other divisions and where he intended to fight. I moved that night, but on account of the loss of my wagons was obliged to destroy a few stores and some camp equipage and valuable private baggage.
Battle of the 7th.–Having heard that the enemy had made his appearance on the west of us, General Curtis had called us in consultation on the morning of the 7th about changing front in that direction, when news came from the rear (north) that parties of the enemy were in close vicinity to the Elkhorn Tavern, where our depot of supplies had been placed, together with the provost-marshal’s guard and prisoners. The general immediately directed me to send a brigade to that point, and I gave the order to Colonel Dodge, who was present. Elkhorn Tavern was about a mile and a half north of our camp, the ground being smooth and gradually ascending, with open fields on each side of the road from about three-quarters of a mile from camp to within about a hundred yards of the house. The house is situated on the west side of the Springfield and Fayetteville road, at the head of a gorge known as Cross Timber Hollow (the head of Sugar Creek), through which the road runs about 7 miles north towards Keetsville. Behind the house to the west is a rocky hill about 150 feet high, running off in a ridge towards the northwest. In front of the house is a level ridge, on which a road runs towards the east, having on the south side the smooth slope, mostly timbered, and on its north side the heads of rugged gorges running down into Cross Timber Hollow. About a half a mile from the tavern on the north side of this road is Clemens’ house, with a field mostly on the south side of the road of about 20 acres. About the Elk-horn Tavern is an open space of about 10 acres. With these two exceptions the ground is mostly covered with trees and underbrush, which comes up close to the tavern on the north side. As I left the general to go with my leading brigade he remarked to me that I would clean out that hollow in a very short time.
On arriving at the tavern I found that the enemy were trying to flank around to the east beyond Clemens’ house. I sent out the cavalry, under Major McConnell, to skirmish them, followed by Colonel Dodge, with his regiment and two pieces; ordered Captain Jones to remain with two pieces as a reserve at the tavern, and took two other pieces myself down the road, which led down the hollow 300 or 400 yards to where the bushes were open enough to see a little to the front and to the right, bringing Colonel Smith, with the Thirty-fifth Illinois, to support the battery, and opened fire on a battery on a bluff on our right front. They immediately replied, and as long as my guns staid there there was a perfect storm of shot, shell, and grape.
In the mean time Dodge had driven back the enemy on the right flank and frustrated his first attempt to outflank us. I then sent back to the general a request to send forward Vandever’s brigade; brought Jones’ two pieces down the road, which took some time, owing to the fact that they had gone with Dodge instead of remaining as reserve. About that time one of the pieces which I had became disabled by a cartridge sticking half way down and was sent off.
The enemy seemed to have the range exactly. Colonel Smith, Thirty-fifth Illinois, was wounded in the head by a shell, which took off a part of his scalp. He received a bullet in his shoulder and his horse was killed all about the same time. Colonel Smith and his regiment showed the utmost gallantry, and deserve great credit for their steadiness in supporting the battery as well as for their conduct. Subsequently, when fighting the enemy’s infantry near the same point, just before Colonel Smith was wounded, five or six ammunition chests burst, one after the other. Captain Jones and Lieutenant Gainbell were wounded by my side, and all but one of the pieces were disabled. This one piece was commanded by Corporal Leebert, First Iowa Battery, and was the only gun which was in the action from beginning to end, and both Corporal Leebert and his cannoneers deserve great credit for coolness, gallantry, and activity through the entire action.
About this time General Curtis came up to see how we were getting along. At this juncture two pieces of the Dubuque battery arrived, under Lieutenant Wright, and were served with admirable zeal and activity. Lieutenant Wright showed great coolness and skill during the entire action and was slightly wounded. The remainder of the Dubuque battery then came, and continued firing until I became satisfied that it was disadvantageous to remain there any longer, and retired to the top of the hill. I had then been struck three times. I then sent word to the general that I had need of re-enforcements, having become satisfied that it was no small party merely to annoy the road with whom I was contending, but a very considerable force—perhaps his main body. From subsequent information I learn that it consisted of between 10,000 and 15,000 men, comprising all the Missourians, some of whom were called Confederate troops, and were under Colonel Little; all the Missouri State Guards, under General Price. There were other rebel forces, including Indians, the whole commanded by General Van Dorn in person, with about twenty guns, some of which were rifled, while I had not quite 2,500 men now on the field, with twelve guns, which came up successively, were disabled, and ran out of ammunition in such a manner that I could never have more than five playing at the same time.
I know of the following divisions being engaged there, viz: Frost’s, Slack’s, Parsons’, Rains’, and Little’s; also the following batteries: Guibor’s, Clark’s, MacDonald’s, and Wade’s. Against this force my division, with the slight assistance mentioned further on, held its ground for upwards of seven hours. After retiring from my first advanced position down the road there was a lull in the action, and I went over to see Colonel Dodge, who was about three-quarters of a mile distant, near the road running to the east, along the ridge and beyond Clemens’ house. During this time the enemy advanced up the hollow in the brush along the main road, and Colonel Vandever ordered forward the infantry, when there ensued a desperate conflict with small-arms, our men driving them back to the foot of the hill, where the enemy opened his batteries. As our wounded men were being brought back by their comrades from this desperate encounter many of them would hurrah for the Union and utter expressions of joy that they had had an opportunity to suffer for the cause. Colonel Vandever, Ninth Iowa, commanding the brigade, exhibited the utmost coolness and bravery. He was everywhere where his presence was most needed, cheering and encouraging his men, who, however, needed but little encouragement, and directing their efforts to the best advantage. His horse was hit twice. Colonel Phelps, commanding Phelps’ regiment of six-months’ Missourians, had three horses shot under him and received a contusion from a shell. Both he and his regiment behaved nobly. Major Geiger, of the same regiment, had his horse shot under him. Major Weston, Twenty-fourth Missouri Volunteers, had three or four companies on provost guard duty, a part of which were stationed on the hill, and did good service in protecting the flanks. Captain Hayden, commanding the Dubuque battery, acted with his usual coolness in superintending the operation of his guns. He had two horses killed under him. Maj. William H. Coyl, Ninth Iowa, was here wounded in the shoulder. His gallantry had been very conspicuous.
I sent word to Colonel Dodge to draw his forces near. After our men retired from the range of the battery there was another short lull, when the enemy advanced, and there was another desperate encounter, in which the enemy failed to drive us out of the edge of the timber, but was driven back himself, we being materially assisted by two mountain howitzers, under Major Bowen, and his lieutenant, Madison, which had been sent up by the general. It was at this time that one of the guns of Hayden’s battery was lost in the attempt to place it on the top of the hill, by going into a large body of the enemy who were concealed in the brush. There was now a lull for a considerable time, the enemy being engaged in arranging his forces for a final attack. From the tavern I could not see him on account of the thick brushes, but on the right, the timber being more open, Colonel Dodge saw him plainly advancing and placing his batteries and outflanking.
At this time I was satisfied that the enemy was too strong for me, although my troops had fought with the most heroic gallantry, and I would have retired but for the following reasons: The position which I now held would, if occupied by the enemy, have commanded our camp. We had some stores in a barn near the tavern, and I was constantly expecting re-enforcements, which I knew the general was using every effort to get up to me, and if they arrived in time we could hold the ridge, which would be as valuable to us as to the enemy, and the general sent me word repeatedly to “persevere.” I therefore determined to hang on to the last extremity. Knowing that every moment saved brought my re-enforcements nearer, I sent what was left of the Thirty-fifth Illinois to Dodge, as it belonged to his brigade. I received about this time a battalion of the Eighth Indiana and three field pieces, all of which I placed in position at the tavern, but soon after the enemy opened on Dodge with artillery and infantry, and I sent the last-arrived troops to him.
Inclosed find report of Lieutenant-Colonel Shunk, Eighth Indiana, of this part of the engagement.
While Colonel Vandever was closing in the gap thus occasioned the enemy commenced swarming up the road and hollow and through the brush in front of us. My troops fought with most heroic courage and devotion, officers exposing themselves freely, cheering and encouraging their men, but it was impossible to withstand such overpowering numbers, and the men retreated across the field, but rallied very handsomely along the fence not far back.
Lieut. Col. F. J. Herron, Ninth Iowa, had his horse shot under him, was wounded, and taken prisoner. He had commanded his regiment during the entire engagement, and his courage and conduct won the admiration of all, and will add to the laurels he gained at the battle of Wilson’s Creek. Here my horse was hit three times. The artillery fired until the last moment, and in consequence thereof lost two pieces, several of the men being shot down while trying to attach them to the limber. The three pieces of artillery lost that day by Captain Hay-den’s battery were recovered by our troops on the next day.
Upon retiring to the fence above mentioned we fortunately met General Curtis, with re-enforcements under General Asboth, advancing. The commanding general conducted the remainder of the operation in person.
During all this time Colonel Dodge had sustained a constant engagement with the enemy. He had placed himself on the hither side of the field near Clemens’ house, and though immediately outnumbered
and in point-blank range of grape, held his position until his ammunition gave out, when he retired a short distance, waited for the enemy’s approach, gave him a last volley, which checked and turned him, and then marched off the field with colors flying, and bringing his wounded men along. Colonel Dodge had three horses shot under him, one of them being struck with 20 balls, and received a slight wound in the hand. Lieut. Col. J. Galligan, Fourth Iowa, was wounded in the hand. Lieut. Col. William P. Chandler, Thirty-fifth Illinois, was taken prisoner while rallying a squad of men to cheek the enemy, who were very near the left flank. Maj. John McConnell, with two battalions of the Third Illinois Cavalry, supported the right during the entire engagement, and Colonel Dodge speaks in the highest terms of their conduct. They were much under fire of artillery. They skirmished constantly, and frequently dismounted to fight on foot. Some of the men whose horses were disabled joined the infantry and fought out the battles with them. Captain Sparks was wounded. Captain Davis had a horse shot under him.
The Second Battalion of the Third Illinois Cavalry supported the left, and was a part of the time placed on top of the hill to the west of the tavern, skirmishing with the troops there, some of whom were Indians. Lieut. S. F. Dolloff received a dangerous wound in the thigh. Lieut. W. S. Lee had a horse shot under him.
The total loss of the division was 97 killed, 488 wounded, and 78 missing; total, 663.
We brought onto the ground 1,790 infantry and 469 cavalry; twelve smooth-bore guns, with 204 men.
In giving the above narrative I have spoken of those officers and troops whom I personally noticed or whose conduct has been specially reported to me. There are many others deserving of whom I have not yet heard. All the troops behaved with such gallantry and devotion that it is the proudest boast of my life to have commanded them.
My staff were of the greatest service to me. First Lieut. T. W. Sullivan, adjutant Third Illinois Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant-general of the Fourth Division, rode the same horse on which he made the gallant charge at Dug Springs, where both he and his horse were desperately wounded. He carried a great many orders and went forward many times to reconnoiter, exposing himself freely. His horse was wounded. Lieut. L. Shields, Fourth Iowa, acting aide, was of great assistance. He had a horse shot under him while conducting a battalion of the Eighth Indiana to Colonel Dodge. Lieut. O. A. Bowen, Ninth Iowa, acting aide, was of great service, transmitting, &c. Mr. John E. Phelps, who has been acting aide since February 17, was with me in all the hottest parts of the engagement, and was wounded in the leg. Sergt. Maj. James William Wooster, of my regiment, was killed while trying to disengage an artillery team in front of the troops.
After the engagement we lay en bivouac in front of the enemy until morning, when the action was again renewed. My division, being on the right, did not come in contact with the enemy. Captain Hayden’s battery, however, did excellent service, having been posted by the general in person so as to cross-fire on the enemy. The First Iowa Battery also, under Lieutenant David, did good execution with what little ammunition he had been able to obtain during the night, and the Third Illinois Cavalry, as on the previous day, was of great benefit to us by skirmishing on the flanks.
Before closing I wish to remark on the facts that Colonel Dodge, with a large part of his brigade, by special direction of the general, had been out the night before the battle until 12 o’clock, blockading the road by which the enemy traveled an hour or two afterwards to get in our rear. This blockading delayed the enemy and was of great advantage to us. Also Colonel Vandever, with a large part of his regiment, Phelps’, and the Third Illinois Cavalry, composing more than half his brigade, being on detached service, made a march of 40 miles the day before the battle to join us. The horses had absolutely nothing to eat from the morning of the 6th till the evening of the 8th. These facts show that my division was tired when it went into action, account for the absence of some of the men, who were absolutely worn-out, and demonstrate what our soldiers cheerfully endure for the cause.
I inclose herewith reports of Col. G. M. Dodge, Fourth Iowa, and of Col. William Vandever, Ninth Iowa, with the accompanying papers; likewise the report of Col. David Shunk, commanding battalion of Eighth Indiana.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. A. CARR,
Colonel, Commanding Division.
Capt. T. I. McKENNY,
Actg. Asst. Adjt. Gen., Army of the Southwest.
Generals in Blue by Ezra J. Warner
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion, Series I, Volume VIII.
“The Pea Ridge Campaign” by Franz Sigel. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I, edited by Clarence C. Buel and Robert U. Johnson.
Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road
by Earl J. Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston, and William L. Shea.