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Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas
in the American Civil War

Union Battle Summary

Pea Ridge, Ark., March 6-8, 1862. Army of the Southwest. About the middle of February, 1862, Maj.-Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, after completing the organization of the Army of the Southwest, entered Springfield, Mo., to find that it had been evacuated by Maj.-Gen. Sterling Price and his Confederate army. Curtis followed by forced marches, skirmishing with Price's rear-guard across the Arkansas line, where the enemy took refuge in the Boston mountains. Upon reaching Fayetteville Curtis withdrew to await an attack on ground of his own choosing. The army was not widely separated, but it was essential that some division be made of it for purposes of obtaining forage. The location of the different potions was as follows: the 1st and 2nd divisions, jointly under the command of Brig.-Gen. Franz Sigel and individually under Col. Peter J. Osterhaus and Brig.-Gen. Alexander Asboth, were on Cooper's farm 4 miles southwest of Bentonville; the 3rd division, under Col. Jefferson C. Davis, was at Sugar creek, where the preliminary arrangements were made for a stand; the 4th division, under command of Col. Eugene A. Carr, was at Cross Timber hollow, 12 miles north of Sugar creek. About 2 p.m. of the 5th Curtis learned that the combined forces of Price and McCulloch, together with some five regiments of Indians under Gen. Albert Pike, all under the command of Maj.-Gen. Earl Van Dorn, were moving on the Federal position. Orders were immediately sent for a concentration on Davis at Sugar creek. Carr's division, with the exception of Col. William Vandever's brigade, which was out foraging, started its march about 6 p.m. Vandever, however, received the news of Van Dorn's movement before Curtis' messenger reached him, and by forced marches reached Sugar creek on the 6th. Curtis, at the head of Carr's division, arrived at Sugar creek at 2 a.m. of the 6th and immediately set about erecting field works and felling trees to obstruct the enemy's progress. Early in the morning Davis and Carr took position on a hill commanding the creek valley, which at that point is from a quarter to a half mile wide. The valley intercepts three roads - the Telegraph pike on the east, the Bentonville and Keetsville road on the west, and a branch of the latter road, which is nearly parallel to and 3 miles from the Telegraph road. During the morning Col. Grenville M. Dodge directed the felling of trees across all three roads. About 2 p.m. Asboth and Osterhaus reported with their divisions and shortly afterward it was learned that Sigel, who had remained at Bentonville for two hours with a detachment, had been surrounded and attacked at that point by Van Dorn's advance. The 1st and 2nd divisions were immediately hurried to his assistance, Osterhaus in the advance. Four miles from camp Osterhaus met Sigel fighting his way, and the artillery of the division was brought into action, which drove the enemy back. The divisions then took position along Sugar creek, with Asboth forming the right, then Osterhaus, Davis and Carr in order. In front of them was the deep valley of Sugar creek and in their rear was the broken plateau called Pea ridge. The road from Bentonville would have brought Van Dorn's forces in contact with Curtis; extreme right, but no assault was made that night. Rather than attack in a position which Curtis had chosen Van Dorn moved his force so as to outflank the Federals on their right and gain their rear by proceeding up the Bentonville and Keetsville pike and coming upon them from the direction of Cross Timber hollow and Elkhorn tavern. The trees which Dodge had felled on the 6th so effectually delayed the movement that Curtis had ample time on the following morning to make a change of front. The 1st and 2nd divisions became the left of the line with their left resting on Sugar creek; Osterhaus was ordered to take a detachment of light artillery, some cavalry and an infantry support and open the fight against the enemy's center. This force with Davis' division formed the Federal center, and Carr's division took the extreme right. About 10:30 a.m. it was reported that the pickets at Elkhorn tavern on the Telegraph road, about three and a half miles above the Sugar creek encampment, had been driven in. It was at this point that Carr's right was to rest. Osterhaus immediately advanced against the Confederate center, composed of the commands of McIntosh and Hebert and the Indians, and succeeded in breaking the enemy's advancing line. A greatly superior force was brought against him, however, and he was compelled to retire, losing in the movement his flying battery. His infantry support after some desperate fighting checked the Confederate advance, but Curtis thought the position so strategic that he countermanded an order to Davis to support Carr and sent him to assist Osterhaus. It was at the center of the Union line that the fight raged the most furiously at first, but Davis' line held like a stone wall and Van Dorn was compelled to adopt other tactics. Carr had met some trouble in repelling the attacks on him and Van Dorn determined to force that part of the line. At the first call for reinforcements from the right Curtis sent his body-guard and a detachment of mountain howitzers, but notwithstanding this the Confederates still held the advantage. Carr again asked for reinforcements, stating that he could not hold out much longer, and was sent a battalion of infantry and 3 pieces of artillery. Each augmentation of the Union right seemed to result in a still larger addition to the Confederate force opposed to it. At 2 p.m. no attack had been made on Sigel and Asboth on Sugar creek, and Curtis resolved to bring one or both of those divisions into the action. Asboth was moved by the direct road to Elkhorn tavern and Sigel with Osterhaus' division proceeded by way of Leetown to reinforce Davis, or if not needed at that point to come to Carr's assistance. Curtis himself accompanied Asboth and about 5 p.m. came to where Carr was stationed. The latter's division after 7 hours of constant fighting was still stubbornly engaging the enemy. Asboth's artillery was planted in the Telegraph road and opened a heavy fire at close range, continuing it until a lack of ammunition compelled it to fall back. Darkness closed in while the troops were still in the same relative positions. Curtis immediately began the formation of a new line of battle. Davis was drawn back from his center position and ordered to take the ground at Carr's left. About 2 a.m. of the 8th Sigel reported and with Asboth was sent to take position on the left. The 1st and 2nd divisions under Sigel were not yet in position when day broke, but the enemy did not renew the attack. Davis' division opened the fight of the third day, but no sooner had it done so than the enemy replied from a new line and from new batteries established during the night. The Federal right fell back a distance to avoid a raking fire, and in the meantime the left took position, the line then extending from the mountain on the left, commanded by Sigel's 2nd division, in a southeasterly direction across the Telegraph road to where Carr's division, somewhat refused, held the right. On the extreme right was a slight eminence some distance in advance of the main line, on which Curtis located the Dubuque battery, and had Carr move forward his right to support it, thus giving direction for the advance of the whole right wing. Other batteries were moved forward in the same way all along the line. As each battery sent forward by Sigel's two division on the right would drive the Confederates back from their front they would wheel with deployed infantry support half to the right. These tactics, repeated along the whole left, kept the Confederate right dropping back, and before many hours the Union line was a huge semi-circle, the Dubuque battery its right end, the left of Asboth's division the left end, enclosing within it Van Dorn's army. It was next to impossible for the Confederates to withstand the concentrated cross-fire of the converging Union line and before noon they had stopped firing. It was soon discovered that Van Dorn was fleeing north through the gorge where the Telegraph road passes. Pursuit was made by Sigel along the Keetsville road to intercept the enemy at the junction of that road with the Telegraph, but it was afterwards found that the main force of Van Dorn's army after entering the gorge had turned short to the right into the ravines and passes that led into the Huntsville road in a direction due south. The losses in this engagement were 203 killed, 980 wounded and 201 captured or missing on the Federal side. The Confederate casualties were never definitely ascertained, but were undoubtedly fully as heavy. The affair is called by the Confederates the battle of Elkhorn Tavern.

Source: The Union Army, Volume 6, Cyclopedia of Battles, 1908


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