Battle of Elkhorn Tavern
(Taken from the Confederate Military History, Volume 10, Chapter IV)
On January 29, 1862, with headquarters at Little Rock, General Van Dorn assumed command of the district, which comprised Missouri, Louisiana north of Red fiver, Arkansas west of the St. Francis, and Indian Territory. Headquarters were established at Pocahontas, Ark., and the following staff officers announced: Maj. W. L. Cabell, chief of quartermaster's department; Maj. A.M. Haskell, inspector-general: Maj. R. W. Keyworth, chief of subsistence department; Capt. W. N. R. Beall, assistant adjutant-general; Surg. J. J. Gaenslan, medical director; Lieut. Clement Sulivane, aide-de-camp. February 6th, General McCulloch was commanded by Van Dorn to order two regiments of infantry, two of cavalry and one battery of artillery to proceed at once to Pocahontas, where they would be stationed for the time being.
The appointment of Major-General Van Dorn to the command of the Trans-Mississippi district was no doubt made in order to bring about harmony of action between the Missouri and Arkansas troops, or, rather, between the commanders of the respective forces, the soldiers being on the best of terms, and their sympathies alike in many respects. The Arkansans were eager to advance against the enemy wherever they could find him, and were equally indignant at the cruelties of war inflicted upon the once prosperous and happy districts of Missouri, which the enemy had invaded and ravaged. They were sorry they could not have a chance at Fremont, who had induced the large enlistment of Germans in the Federal army--" Dutch, " as they were called all alike---immi-grants lately from a strange land, but eager to precipitate themselves into a conflict growing out of questions that were supposed to be settled and compromised in the formation of the government that offered them an asylum. They were principally from the servile grades of their own land; ignorant, brutal, and needing to be instructed to in matters of government and conduct of civilized warfare more than the negroes. The Confederates wished to have vengeance especially upon these intruders, who insulted women, burned homes of non-combatants, and murdered prisoners of war.
The difficulties between the Texan commander of Arkansas troops and General Price requiring settlement were: 1, rank and precedence; 2, the proper field of action; 3, widely divergent views of military strategy. General Price, holding the higher rank, had yielded the command of the combined forces on a former occasion. It could not be expected of him that he should do so continuously, especially since he had shown, by practical successes, that he could cope with the enemy and attract thousands to his standard, unaided, and on his own motion had displayed an energy and enterprise in military campaign that has rarely been equaled.
General McCulloch had an unconquerable distrust of the military judgment and capacity of General Price, notwithstanding his achievements, and of the stability and subordination of the recruits he had drawn to his standard. He avoided the association with earnestness, claiming that he was assigned to the Indian Territory, and was not authorized to march his command into Missouri. He was as much bent upon retaining his Indian command as General Price was anxious for the occupation and redemption of Missouri. If there had been forces adequate, it might have been well enough to keep the Indian country under military control; but it was of secondary importance in comparison with other fields. There was, however, reason for believing General Price's designs in Missouri could not be carried out. Its strategical .effect in preventing the reinforcement of Grant was its chief importance. The eastern boundary of Missouri was occupied by large bodies of the enemy, and other forces could be sent out from the Ohio river on short notice. Kansas, to the west, swarmed with the enemies of the South. Were there available forces of the Confederates sufficient to hold Missouri, should they succeed in occupying it? Yet it was strategy to make war in Missouri. In fact, the soldiers of both commands, Arkansans and Missourians, were otherwise likely to have to go to the assistance of Polk or of Johnston and Beauregard east of the Mississippi river, where the great wager of battle was being listed, not for a district, but for the entire country. A vigorous movement into Missouri might have rendered such transfer unnecessary. Very openly it was said by some that the object of Van Dorn's assignment was to accomplish this transfer. The circumstance of his prompt establishment of headquarters at Pocahontas, in striking distance of Point Pleasant on the Mississippi, the route by which Hardee's command had been transferred, confirmed this opinion in many minds.
Halleck's strategy was to prevent this. Gen. John Pope, who had been in command of the enemy's forces in Missouri between the Missouri and Osage rivers, had sent "Merrill's Horse" through Saline county, where they were bombarded with mortars loaded with mud by Jo Shelby and his men, near Waverly. They stripped farms, impressed stock from women, and captured, February 19th, several companies of Confederate recruits at Blackwater creek, near Knobnoster, under Colonels Robinson, Alexander and McOiffin, of which achievement Generals Pope and Halleck made much boast to Washington. Brig.-Gen. S. R. Curtis was, December 23d, assigned to the command of the Federal forces of the southwestern district of Missouri. On December 2d, martial law had been declared in Missouri by Mr. Lincoln, and Curtis was without restraint. The men under him burned the towns of Dayton and Columbus on January 3, 1862, and with a largely superior force proceeded southward, confronted by Price's men. Taking Springfield, after a skirmish on February 12th, and fighting at Crane creek on the 14th, and near Flat creek on the 15th, Curtis met a more stubborn resistance by Price's men at Sugar creek, Ark., on the 17th. Sustaining considerable loss, he encamped on the battleground, waiting for Sigel, who was a few miles behind, to reinforce him. While the Confederates under Price were camped at Cross Hollows, a cavalry force of Federals under General Asboth, on the 18th, took Bentonville, Ark., which the Confederates had evacuated. The same officer, on the 23d, marched into Fayetteville, occupied only by a Confederate picket of Col. W. H. Brooks' battalion. Fayetteville is the principal town of northwest Arkansas, north of the Boston mountains, the center of a fine region of rolling black lands, where grow the famous "big, red apples." Its permanent occupation would signify the subjugation of a populous section of the State, most of whose men were in the Confederate army, and was a menace to Van Buren and Fort Smith.
McCulloch's division, meanwhile in winter quarters at Van Buren, consisted of the following commands, as reported January 1, 1862:
First brigade, Col. James Mcintosh commanding: First regiment Arkansas mounted riflemen (Churchill), 845; Second Arkansas mounted riflemen (Mcintosh), 862; South Kansas-Texas regiment (Greer), 1,003; Fourth Texas cavalry (Sims), 713; Sixth Texas cavalry (Stone), 927; company Texas cavalry (Stone), 83; total, 4,433.
Second brigade, Col. Louis Hébert commanding: Hill's Arkansas infantry, 738; McNair's Fourth Arkansas infantry, 725; McRae's Arkansas battalion, 646; Mitchell's Fourteenth Arkansas infantry, 930; Rector's Arkansas infantry, 544; Hébert's Third Louisiana infantry, 739; Third Texas cavalry, 796; Whitfield's battalion Texas cavalry, 297; Brooks' battalion cavalry, 316; Gaines' battery, 74; Good's battery, 105; Hart's battery, 75; Provence's battery, 73; total, 6,052. Grand total of the division, 10,485.
General Van Dorn was at Pocahontas when, February 23d, he received dispatches informing him of the retreat of Price, followed by Curtis and Sigel, and the battle of Sugar Creek. Van Dorn immediately sent McCulloch orders to form a junction with Price without loss of time, to which McCulloch sent reply, March 1st, that he had ordered the command to march, as soon as the commanding general should arrive, with six days' cooked rations, and awaited his arrival anxiously. He appended to this note a memorandum of his actual effective strength: Hébert's brigade, 4,637; Greer's brigade, 3,747; total, 8,384. Artillery, 18 guns.
McCulloch's command marched the next day across Boston mountains to Elm Springs, Ark., where it would be joined by General Van Dorn and the Indian forces of Gen. Albert Pike, who had been given command of the department of the Indian Territory, November 22d. The main body of Price's Missouri State Guard was camped near Elm Springs. The march of the division over the Boston mountains was toilsome and slow. It reached the place of rendezvous on the 3d, where the commanding general had arrived.
On the 4th of March, without waiting for General Pike, Van Dorn moved out for Bentonville, where Sigel, with his Germans, had arrived and taken possession. Two bodies of cavalry, one under Mcintosh and one under Gates, were pushed forward, the former to go around the town on the west, the latter on the east, in an effort to cut off Sigel from the main body of the enemy at Sugar creek. But Mcintosh found the country north of Bentonville so rough with rocks, ravines and mountains, guarded by a natural cheval-de-frise of small oaks and black-jacks, that he could not hope to form a junction with Gates. Coming upon the Federals in force on these heights, and being fired upon from an ambuscade, he made an effort to charge the enemy in position, but the ground was impracticable for cavalry, and he drew back to Bentonville, which by that time had been evacuated by Sigel. Sigel left the north side of the town as Price's division entered on the south; his departure marked by burning depots and forage piles.
Van Dorn says in his report: "Owing to bad roads and delay, though the distance from Bentonville to Elm Springs is only eleven miles, it was 11 o'clock before the leading division (Price's) reached the village. If we had arrived an hour sooner, we could have cut off Sigel and beaten the enemy easily the next day." Colonel Gates pressed upon the retreating Germans and charged their rear guard on the road to Springfield, killing and wounding several of the guard, and capturing a baggage-wagon laden with arms and ammunition. He accelerated Sigel's march by continuing the pursuit and attack until the enemy disappeared in the uncertain light of the winter night. Sigel continued his march in the darkness until he joined the main body in its stronghold, on the heights commanding the valley of Sugar creek.
Snow fell during the night, and clothed both hill and valley in a mantle of white. The hills are high on both sides; the valley deep, about half a mile in width. The main road from Fayetteville to Springfield, via Cross Hollows, crosses the valley at right angles, and the road from Fayetteville leading to Keetsville, Mo., after making a circuit through the hills, also passes through this valley. Going north, a road takes off to the left nearly parallel with it, some three or four miles distant, returning to the Telegraph road on the "divide," called Pea ridge, or Peavine ridge. These roads Curtis had blockaded with trees felled across them. He had erected formidable breastworks on the headlands, and the approach by the main road from Bentonville he had "completely shielded by earthworks."
As Van Dorn well knew, to attack the enemy's line from the south, with his infantry and artillery in chosen positions, would be storming a stronghold. He resolved to make a formidable demonstration in front, while he should lead his main attack against the enemy's left (northeast) flank, marching around on the north of the Federal line. Camping with his whole force within a mile of the enemy's front, he lighted the snowclad hills with the fires of an army, as if in position to give battle next day from the alignment then occupied. After the men had eaten supper, Van Dorn and Price, with the Missouri division, leaving their campfires burning, resumed the march in the night, moving on the parallel road which would lead them into the Telegraph road, by' a long and toilsome circuit, it is true, but well in the enemy's rear, and in an equal position on Pea ridge near Elkhorn tavern, to the north of the enemy. The large trees felled across the roads by Curtis, to block up the approaches on his left and rear, proved formidable obstacles to cut away for the passage of the Confederate artillery and ordnance wagons, and the flanking column did not reach the ridge in the enemy's rear until 10 o'clock a. m. of the 7th. Its march had not been molested and it took the desired position unopposed. The roar of artillery and rattle of small arms came from the distant front and center as this line of attack was formed in the rear of the carefully-established lines of the enemy. Completely surprised, Curtis had necessarily to reverse his front at the place of attack, which was his extreme left, and now became his right, at the same time that his established right center was engaged from the front.
When Price's division ascended to the plateau of Pea ridge, there ensued an artillery duel of more than an hour's duration, between the batteries of Captains Wade and Clark, and the enemy's batteries commanded by Col-one1 Carr. The guns of the enemy first ceased firing. Gates' Missouri cavalry charged the Position occupied by the batteries, but was repulsed; then, dismounting, went into line under General Little. The enemy charged Little's brigade twice and were repulsed. Having placed a battery in position which played upon the enemy's lines, the commands of Little and Slack charged the position and held it. A general advance was still deferred, waiting for McCulloch's demonstration against the enemy's front. McCulloch was necessarily delayed in arraying the disorganized detachments which choked the narrow roads--General Pike with his Choctaws, Cherokees and Creeks, Stand Watie's regiment on foot, D. N. McIntosh's Creeks on foot, Drew's Choctaws, pony-mounted, and a "squadron," as General Pike named it, of mounted whites --in all only 1,000 men. Gen. Douglas Cooper's Indian command contained Chilly Mcintosh, the Creek war chief, and John Jumper, Boudinot, and other celebrated Cherokees, all of whom had come up late on the 6th.
"It was about 10:30 a.m.," says Col. Evander McNair, of the Fourth Arkansas, on the extreme right of Hébert's (Second) brigade, "before that brigade, under the lead of McCulloch, was ordered into action." The brigade was composed of the Arkansas regiments of Colonel Mcintosh, Colonel McNair and Colonel Mitchell, Hébert's Third Louisiana, and McRae's battalion. There were nominally attached to the brigade, Brooks' Arkansas battalion, Good's, Hart's and Provence's Arkansas batteries, Gaines' Texas battery, the Third (Greer's) Texas cavalry, and Whitfield's battalion Texas cavalry. The other brigade, called the First brigade, sometimes led by McIntosh, was commanded by Col. Elkanah Greer, of the Third Texas, and was composed of Churchill's Arkansas rifles, the Second Arkansas regiment, the South Kansas-Texas regiment and three commands of Texas cavalry. Colonel Mcintosh usually left the command of his regiment to Lieutenant-Colonel Embry, and forming a brigade of mounted men from the five regiments, led them as cavalry, which was the arm of the service preferred by that dashing soldier. The colonels of Arkansas regiments, in both of these brigades, had already greatly distinguished themselves.
General McCulloch, in person, directed the movement against the enemy's front and center, near Leetown, up the valley and along its sides. For this the enemy was prepared, and resisted with a storm of shot and shell from his batteries in position, and with infantry behind his breastworks. There were vacant fields, separated by strips of timber and dense undergrowth in the valley, and fallen timber, which the Confederates had to pass; this they did with difficulty, but with undaunted resolution under a harassing cross-fire from the enemy upon the heights. They ran upon ambuscades of the infantry in the underbrush, which they drove back, and when opposed by a new formation, repulsed that also, until, penetrating the cul-de-sac formed by the valley, they were met by large bodies of the enemy's infantry. The Confederates reformed their disordered lines and charged, driving back the enemy, and capturing a battery which had been playing upon them at a distance of nearly 200 yards.
It was when the enemy had concentrated his forces to meet this charge that General McCulloch fell, shot from the brush, and Colonel Hébert, leading an advancing party of the brigade which became disconnected, was surrounded and captured. Four times the Confederates repulsed the enemy's lines in this advance up the valley, driving batteries and repulsing assaults by cavalry on their flanks, with great slaughter of men and horses. But finding the enemy strongly intrenched and increasing in numbers, beginning to enfilade their lines and threatening to surround them, being themselves unsupported by reinforcements from their own lines, and "not hoping to obtain any advantage by persistence in the attack, they fell back in good order, no one pursuing them," to a position which Colonel Greer, who now commanded the division, ordered to be occupied until further orders. Colonel Mcintosh had led a cavalry charge with five regiments across a field and, driving away the gunners, carried a battery of the enemy. With his usual fearless energy, he returned to the assault in a second charge, and was shot dead at the head of his men. The consequence of the loss of these leaders, to whom the entire command looked for direction in the disposition of their forces in the action, caused a paralysis of this wing of the army. Officers rode about trying to learn the position of commands, what movement next should be made, and who was to take the place of the dead commanders, while the men stood or rested in their lines, in a state of inaction, until after 2 o'clock. Then, after correspondence with the commanding general, several miles distant, they were ordered to his assistance.
Meanwhile, on the field near Elkhorn tavern, before 2 o'clock, it was evident, Van Dorn reported afterward, that if McCulloch could advance or even maintain his ground, Price's left could be thrown forward, the whole line advanced, and victory won. A dispatch to this effect was sent to McCulloch, but was never received by him. "Before it was penned his brave spirit had winged its flight, and one of the most gallant leaders of the Confederacy had fought his last battle."
It was getting late in the day, and General Price sent instructions to his subordinate commanders that they would press the enemy at once, and drive him from the field, or be driven, and to prepare for a general advance. The brunt of the action had fallen during the early part of the day on the brigades of Slack and Little, and they were everywhere victorious, though Slack fell mortally wounded. Toward evening the enemy were found in great force, supported by artillery, and the whole line was advanced. "Forward! for Missouri, for Arkansas, for the States which stood for manhood and equality, in good faith, as the symbols of a lasting Union." The foe resists: he delivers deadly volleys of musketry and hurls screaming shells, which bursting scatter death among the Confederates. But on they press, as the enemy falls back stubbornly into a wood across the field, resolving to retire no further. Now the Confederates charge the wood. The lines of Carr cannot stand; they retire, as Colonel Little said, "compelled to seek refuge in the obscurity of the forest."
Col. Henry Little's report is the story of the action of his brigade of Missouri volunteers. If the whole battle could be described as he pictures the action of that brigade, it would stand revealed as in a photograph. His account, which is here reproduced, is clear and unimpas-sioned--no boasting, no criticism--a plain narrative which carries with it the conviction of its truthfulness in every word. It rivals any description of Xenophon's "March to the Sea," or of "Livy's pictured page."
The brigade marched from bivouac at Elm Springs early on the morning of March 6th, and proceeded on the road to Bentonville. In compliance with orders issued from headquarters on the previous evening, Colonel Gates' regiment of cavalry led the advance of the whole army. On reaching Bentonville the smoke of burning stores and dwellings indicated the presence of the enemy (Sigel and his Germans), whose rear guard abandoned the town as Colonel Gates' cavalry entered. From information subsequently received, it is believed that this body of troops was General Sigel's division, numbering from 5,000 to 7,000 men. Colonel Gates, pressing upon the retreating enemy, engaged his rear guard a short distance beyond the town on the Springfield road. Here, besides the capture of prisoners and a baggage-wagon laden with arms and ammunition, our cavalry killed and wounded several of the enemy and compelled the main body to continue its retreat, pursuing it until dark. The other regiments of the brigade, occupying their respective positions in the line, came into camp late in the afternoon and proceeded to prepare supper, having received orders to resume the line of march at 8 o'clock on the same evening. Colonel Gates' cavalry having rejoined the brigade, the Second regiment under Colonel Burbridge was detailed for the advance.
At 8 o'clock our line of march was resumed, and continued all night. Once, about midnight, and again, toward morning, our progress was checked by an extempore blockade of the road, the enemy having felled the timber behind him as he retreated. By 6 a.m., the 7th, we had cleared the road of every impediment, and by 8 o'clock we reached and secured possession of the Telegraph road at a point about half a mile to the north [and rear] of the enemy's position. The Second infantry, being at the head of our column, was now ordered to advance in line by the hillside to the right of the road, the Second brigade, under General Slack, following. Gates' cavalry next defiled by the left up the face of the hill afterward occupied by our artillery. Here the cavalry made a prize of several forage wagons, returning laden to the camp of the enemy. In compliance with orders, I then advanced by the same road with the remaining portion of my command. The Third infantry I placed in position as reserve on the hill to the left of the road, and shortly afterward summoned up the two batteries under command of Captains Wade and Clark, which were immediately placed in position with some other batteries [MacDonald's and Bledsoe's] already engaged in replying to the heavy fire directed from the enemy's artillery along the line of the Telegraph road. For more than an hour our guns played upon the enemy's batteries with such spirit and effectiveness as to silence their fire. Colonel Gates, with his cavalry, then charged the heights, supported by Rives' regiment of infantry.
On reaching the ground, our cavalry received a heavy discharge of small arms from three regiments of the enemy's infantry in position. Returning the fire, our cavalry prudently fell back before superior numbers, and, dismounting, they formed on the left of Colonel Rives. The enemy, in turn, advanced against our lines, but were received by Colonel Rives' regiment with a heavy fire, and repulsed with heavy loss. A second time the enemy charged our lines, only to be repulsed with greater spirit, Colonel Rives sternly holding his position, from which his men did not yield an inch of ground. After an interval of thirty minutes the enemy, with two pieces of artillery, were observed advancing against our right, occupied by Colonel Burbridge (the Second) and by the men under General Slack. Major Lindsay, of the Sixth division, arriving on the ground with a small body of infantry, I directed him to the support of Colonel Burbridge's position, on the left. Thus supported, Colonel Burbridge advanced, driving the enemy before him. This movement was supported on the left by the simultaneous advance of Colonels Rives' and Gates' regiments, which speedily occupied the heights lately crowned by the enemy's batteries. Here we found a broken caisson and a quantity of ammunition, and several dead and wounded horses, showing the destructive effects of our batteries on the enemy's position.
After a considerable interval, the batteries of the enemy renewed the action by a heavy fire directed against our lines from the road in front of the Elkhorn tavern. A brisk reply from Guibor's battery, which I had placed in position on the road to the left of Rives' infantry, very speedily checked the bold assault of our adversaries, who gradually slackened their fire and answered only by an occasional round from their guns Meantime our ambulances were summoned to the field. After our wounded had been removed, the wounded of the enemy, who thickly strewed the ground were removed to our hospitals in the rear. Colonel Burbridge's command, having been much weakened by their prominent position during the action of the day, now called for reinforcements. General Frost, whose brigade had been ordered up to my support at my request, advanced his command to Colonel Burbridge's support, taking position to the left of Lindsay's battalion, on a slope of the ridge to his rear, with the ravine intervening.
About this time I received instructions from General Van Dorn to the effect that General Price was about to make an assault on the extreme left of the enemy's line [his right formerly]. With this information was coupled an order for me to advance my whole line so soon as the heavy firing on our left should give the signal of the attack under General Price. Colonel Burbridge's regiment having been pressed forward somewhat in advance of Colonel Rives' regiment, I ordered Burbridge to fall back, and forming my command into line, awaited the expected signal.
It was very late in the day when the sharp rattle of small-arms, in the direction of the extreme left, announced the moment for action. My men advanced in one unbroken line. We met the foe. For a few seconds he resisted, and then fell back before our lines, as with a shout of triumph, Rives' and Gates' regiments dashed onward past Elkhorn tavern, and we stood on the ground where the enemy had formed in the morning. Here, too, Burbridge's regiment halted, after forcing the enemy's position on the right, and came into line, having Lindsay's battalion and a portion of Frost's division, under Cols. Colton Greene and Shaler, on his left and resting on the Elkhorn buildings. Two pieces of the enemy's cannon, with an artillery camp, commissary and sutler's stores, fell into our hands, captured by the charge of Gates' and Rives' regiments. A renewal of the enemy's fire by a battery placed in position on the road was answered by Guibor's battery, of Frost's brigade. For more than thirty minutes we contested the position against a brisk fire of artillery, when, General Price having forced the left wing of the enemy from the ground he had occupied by General Van Dorn's orders, my command again charged the enemy's lines, driving them from the woods, beyond the tavern, and compelling them to seek refuge in the obscurity of the forest which skirted the opposite side of an open field. In this last charge Lieut.-Col. J. A. Pritchard made prisoners Lieutenant-Colonel Chandler and five other officers, with forty men of the enemy's line, who surrendered to Col. J. A. Pritchard, commanding the left of Rives' regiment .... Our men, exhausted by the exertions of the day, after a fast of thirty-six hours, were now released by the descent of night, and, under favor of the obscurity, rested upon their arms on the field whence they had driven an obstinate and stubborn foe .... Early on the morning of the 8th, our line was formed on the verge of the timber, . . . our front being covered by Col. John F. Hill's Arkansas regiment, deployed in line ... To the right, and almost 300 yards in rear of Colonel Burbridge's command, three Arkansas regiments, commanded by Col. Thos. J. Churchill, were stationed. . . Until 7 o'clock no gun had been fired. Each army was engaged deploying its columns for a decisive contest. A battery of the enemy now advanced into the open field and took position in front of the enemy's line, in full view of our men. During this operation they received no molestation; but no sooner had they opened fire upon our line than they were answered by Teel's battery, which, having come up, was assigned position between Rives' regiment and Gen. Martin E. Green's command. But few shots had been interchanged until Wade's battery entered the list. The enemy, not counting on such odds, limbered up and hastily left the field.
For a short interval the report of an occasional shot from our own batteries was the only sound that broke the stillness of the morning. After a short time, the appearance of the enemy's batteries moving into position over against our right proved that they had not been loitering .... Captain Good's battery, now coming up, was placed to the right of Burbridge's regiment, and opened fire upon the enemy's battery from its position. The enemy, having got the range of our lines, threw in the shells with great precision and rapidity, concentrating' their fire on one point. Wade's battery was ordered up to Good's support, but had scarcely unlimbered when Good's battery retired from the ground. Hart's battery was now ordered to take the place vacated by Good. Hart's battery did not prove more steady than its predecessor under the enemy's fire, and immediately left the field. [Some of Hart's officers and men were censured in reports, but upon investigation by court-martial, were relieved of all censure.] Wade's battery, having exhausted its ammunition and several horses, was now ordered to retire to the rear and replenish its caissons. The position vacated by Wade's battery was supplied by Captain Clark's battery, which continued to answer the enemy's fire, until, by slacking his previous impetuosity, it became evident that he was contemplating a new maneuver.
From close observation I concluded that we might expect momentarily to be assailed by a charge of infantry. The enemy's line extended for nearly a mile and was supported by heavy reserves. Having ordered the left of my line to move close to the fence on the left of the woods, and Whitfield's battalion to the support of Burbridge's regiment on the right, I reported the expected advance of the enemy's infantry to General Van Dorn, who, in reply, ordered me to hold my position as long as possible.
The enemy's infantry advanced. On, on they came, in overwhelming numbers, line after line; but they were met with the same determined courage which the protracted conflict had taught them to appreciate. For more than half an hour our greatly-diminished and exhausted troops held their hosts in check. Their intention of turning our flanks by their widely-extended line becoming now clearly evident, we slowly fell back from our advanced position, disputing every inch of ground which we relinquished. It was at this critical juncture that the gallant Rives fell mortally wounded; and as though fortune sought to dispossess our resolution by multiplying disasters, within a few minutes after the fall of Rives, we suffered an irreparable loss in the fall of the young and chivalrous Clark, whose battery kept up a galling fire upon the advancing foe as our lines retired; and as we had now fallen back on a line With his position, being ordered to withdraw his guns, he fell, decapitated by a round shot, while he was executing this maneuver; the last battery in action. Captain MacDonald was now compelled to retire his battery by the intervention of our retiring line between him and the enemy, and it was with regret the order was issued for him to cease firing, so gallant was the conduct of the commander and his men, so terrible was the effect of every round which he delivered against the advancing lines of the enemy, with a coolness and courage unsurpassed. Our latest order from General Van Dorn directed our line to retire by the Huntsville road ....
Those that remained of McCulloch's wing, after the battle of the 7th, followed the route taken the previous night by Price; and marching all night, a little before daylight on the morning of the 8th reached Van Dorn, and were disposed to the right and left of the line at Elkhorn tavern. Here, upon the renewal of the battle on the 8th, the greater part of the troops remained inactive, while the cannonading on both sides continued, until ordered to fall back on Huntsville. Human endurance could stand no further tax. Some of the cavalry were dispatched to protect the flanks, or, as Colonel Greer expressed it, "to keep the cavalry out of the way of the infantry bringing up the rear of the retreating army."
Col. Evander McNair, who succeeded to the command of Hébert's brigade, said in his report that at about 10:30 a.m. of the 7th, his regiment was ordered, with the rest of the brigade, to take a battery, directly in front, but at some distance, and in the rear of an open field and a strip of woods filled with undergrowth and fallen timber. Moving forward, he came upon a body of the enemy's infantry in ambuscade; attacked and drove them back until they reformed on a second body in their rear; then repulsed the entire body, when, at a distance of 200 yards a battery opened, which he charged and took in a short time. The enemy, receiving reinforcements, made a simultaneous attack with cavalry on the left and infantry on the right of his brigade; in numbers far superior; but after a fierce conflict, McNair repulsed him a fourth time, with heavy loss to the enemy. When McNair assumed command of the brigade, it did not amount to more than 1,000 men, having been thinned by casualties, and the men being much fatigued. Soon the enemy advanced to attack his right wing, when he ordered Captain Harris, commanding the right of the Third Louisiana, to resist him, which he did with great gallantry and success, again repulsing the enemy. At the same time the enemy's cavalry attacked his right, and were defeated with great slaughter. Shortly afterward the enemy was seen advancing in several columns, and McNair fell back in good order and without haste. His report continues:
In my own regiment, Lieut.-Col. Sam Ogden and Maj. Jas. J. May nobly performed their duty, cool and intrepid, encouraging and rallying the men. Capt. Rufus K. Garland [brother of the Confederate senator] during the whole battle was constantly engaged in rallying and encouraging his men and leading them on to the attack. Capt. John M. Simpson charged the enemy's battery to the cannon's mouth. Springing upon one of the guns, waving his sword and cheering his men, he fell mortally wounded by a volley from the enemy, thus nobly offering up his life for his country. Capt. Josephus C. Tyson, leading the van of his company m the same charge, was severely wounded in both legs, a few paces from the cannon. Capt. F. J. Erwin, early in the action, was shot through the body and I was thus deprived of the services of one of my most efficient officers. Capts. J. B. McCulloch and Augustus Kile did much to sustain the men by their intrepidity during the entire engagement. Lieut. H. G. Bunn, my adjutant, rendered efficient service during the whole engagement, and was wounded on the head by the explosion of a shell, as we were retiring from the field. Capt. W. J. Ferguson, my quartermaster, who acted as my aide during the whole engagement, conducted himself with marked ability and intrepidity. Mr. Wm. Garland participated as a volunteer during the entire engagement and proved himself a valiant soldier, rendering great assistance.
Col. John T. Hughes, in his report, describing the part of the action which extended to Trott's hill, or Sugar mountain, where he was stationed the first day, said: "A terrific fire of bombs and balls hailed upon our ranks. Several of my men were wounded, but none were killed. Several brave Confederates in Colonel Churchill's regiment and Major Whitfield's Texas battalion were killed, fighting alongside on our left."
The battle was conducted upon a daring and masterly plan that would have proved a crushing victory over the Federals had McCulloch and Mcintosh lived to execute it on their part. The confusion and inactivity that followed their death saved the enemy. Van Dorn and Price grandly carried out the plan of campaign on their part, but they were defeated in the end by a series of accidents, the like of which rarely occur, though similar ones caused disaster in other great battles with more fateful results. In his report of the battle, General Van Dorn indited the following manly, feeling, and sincere words of commendation:
The force with which I went into action was less than 14,000. That of the enemy is variously estimated at from 17,000 to 24,000. During the whole of this engagement I was with the Missouri division, under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, and more gallant leaders than General Price and his officers. From the first to the last shot they continually pushed on, and never yielded an inch they had won. And at last, when they had received the order to fall back, they retired steadily and with cheers. General Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire nor cease to expose himself to danger.
No successes can repair the loss of the gallant dead who fell on this well-fought field. McCulloch was the first to fall. I had found him, in the frequent conferences I had with him, a sagacious, prudent counselor, and a bolder soldier never died for his country.
Mcintosh had been very much distinguished all through the operations which have taken place in this region, and during my advance from Boston mountains I placed him in command of the cavalry brigade and in charge of the pickets. He was alert, daring and devoted to his duty. His kindness of disposition, with his reckless bravery, had attached the troops strongly to him, so that after McCulloch fell, had he remained to lead them, all would have been well. But after leading a brilliant charge of cavalry and carrying the enemy's battery, he rushed into the thickest of the fight again, at the head of his old regiment, and was shot through the heart. So long as brave deeds are admired by our people, the names of McCulloch and Mcintosh will be remembered and loved. General Slack, after maintaining a long-continued and successful attack, was shot through the body; but I hope his distinguished services will be restored to his country.
A noble boy, S. Churchill Clark, commanded a battery of artillery, and during the fierce artillery actions of the 7th and 8th, was conspicuous for the daring and skill he exhibited. He fell at the very close of the action. Colonel Ross fell mortally wounded about the same time, and was a great loss to us. On a field where many gallant gentlemen were, I remember him as one of the most energetic and devoted of them all. To Col. Henry Little my especial thanks are due for the coolness, skill and devotion with which for two days he and his gallant brigade bore the brunt of the battle. Colonel Burbridge, Colonel Rosser, Colonel Gates, Major Lawther, Major Wade, Captain MacDonald and Captain Schaumburg are some of those who attracted my special attention by distinguished conduct. In McCulloch's division, the Louisiana regiment under Col. Louis Hébert, and the Arkansas regiment under Colonel McRae, are especially mentioned for their good conduct. Major Montgomery, Captain Bradfute, Lieutenants Lomax, Kimmel, Dillon and Frank Armstrong, assistant adjutant-general, were ever active and soldierly ....
You will perceive from this report, General, that although I did not, as I hoped, capture or destroy the enemy's army in western Arkansas, I have inflicted upon it a heavy blow, and compelled him to fall back into Missouri. This he did on the 16th inst.
The report of Gen. Albert Pike illustrates the confusion and consequent disasters of a minor character which overtook part of the army. General Pike, by special orders from Richmond, November 22, 1861, had been assigned to the command of the Indian country west of Arkansas and north of Texas, and the Indian regiments raised, and to be raised, within the limits of the department. March 3d, General Pike had received dispatches from Van Dorn's adjutant-general directing him to hasten with his whole force along the Cane Hill road, so as to fall in rear of the army. His report is lengthy in explanation of the difficulties he had to surmount before marching, and the uncertainties which attended his operations throughout, such as would certainly prove very perplexing to a scholar and a poet, although General Pike had served with distinction in the war with Mexico. As it was known he had a large amount of money for the Indians, the Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks refused to march until they were paid off; and, treaty obligations forbidding him to take them out of their country without their consent, he "had no other alternative but to submit." On March 3d he overtook Stand Watie's regiment of Cherokees; next day, Colonel Drew's regiment of Cherokees, at Smith's mill; coming up with the rear of General McCulloch's division late in the afternoon of March 6th. On March 7th he followed McCulloch until he met Colonel Sims' Texas regiment countermarching, and was ordered to countermarch also. He had marched about a mile, when he came upon a battery of the enemy, supported by cavalry. "My whole command consisted of about 1,000 men, all Indians, except one squadron. The enemy opened fire upon us in the woods where we were; the fence was thrown down, and the Indians (Watie's regiment on foot, and Drew's on horseback), with a part of Sims' regiment, gallantly led by Colonel Quayle, charged with loud yells, routed the cavalry, took the battery, pursued and fired upon the enemy retreating through the fenced field on our right, and held the battery, which I afterward had drawn off into the woods by the Cherokees."
Pike's force now surrounded the taken battery in the utmost confusion, "all talking, and riding this way and that, listening to no orders from any one." Capt. Roswell Lee, of General Cooper's staff, attempted to have the captured guns faced to the front, that they might be used against another battery just discovered, but he could not induce a single man to assist. "At this moment the enemy sent two shells into the field, and the Indians retreated hurriedly into the woods," and there remained for two hours and a half, until twenty minutes before the action ended. The enemy continued to pour shot and shell into the woods, but never advanced. "This battery also," naively adds the general, "was thus, with its supporting forces, by the presence of the Indians rendered useless to the enemy during the action."
March 9, 1862, General Van Dorn requested of General Curtis that, according to the usages of war, his burial parties be permitted to collect and inter the bodies of officers and men who fell during the engagement of the 7th and 8th, to which the Federal commander replied that all possible facilities would be given, and that many of the dead had already been interred. He added that quite a number of Confederate surgeons had been captured (engaged in the hospitals during the battle) and permitted to act under parole, and further liberty would be allowed if such accommodations would be reciprocated. The general regretted to state that many of the Federal dead had been tomahawked and scalped, and their bodies shamefully mangled, contrary to civilized warfare, and expressed a hope that this important struggle would not degenerate into a savage warfare. To this note Col. D. H. Maury, Van Dorn's adjutant-general, made an immediate reply, as follows:
General: I am instructed by Major-General Van Dorn, commanding this district, to express to you his thanks and gratification on account of the courtesy extended by yourself and the officers under your command to the burial party sent by him to your camp on the 9th inst. He is pained to learn, by your letter brought to him by the commanding officer of the party, that the remains of some of your soldiers have been reported to you to have been scalped, tomahawked and otherwise mutilated. He hopes you have been misinformed. The Indians who formed part of his forces have for many years been regarded as a civilized people. He will, however, most cordially unite with you in repressing the horrors of this unnatural war. That you may coöperate with him to this end more effectually, he desires me to inform you that many of our men who surrendered themselves prisoners of war were reported to him as having been murdered in cold blood by their captors, who were alleged to be Germans. The privileges which you extend to our medical officers will be reciprocated, and as soon as possible, means will be taken for an exchange of prisoners.
On March 11, 1862, the actual strength of McCulloch's division was reported as follows: Greer's brigade of Texas cavalry, 947, men and horses "in dreadful condition;" Churchill's brigade, 2,902.
On the 18th of March, 1862, General Van Dorn reported that the entire army he had marched against the enemy some days since was in camp a few miles from Van Buren, and that he would march in a few days for Pocahontas to make a junction with whatever force might be assembled at that point. His intention was then to attack the enemy near New Madrid or Cape Girardeau, and, if practicable, march on St. Louis, and thus withdraw the forces threatening that part of Arkansas. A heavy blow had been struck the Federals; Van Dorn proposed to seek another field before they recovered. If he gave battle near New Madrid, he would relieve Beauregard, in command at Corinth. If that were not advisable, he would march boldly and rapidly toward St. Louis.
Gov. Isham G. Harris had written Van Dorn, March 7th, from Clarksville, Tenn., that General Beauregard desired Van Dorn to join his forces with those of Beauregard on the Mississippi river, if possible. To this General Van Dorn replied, March 16th, that he would unite all his troops at Pocahontas, about the 7th of April, and would have about 20,000, maybe more; that the enemy in Arkansas had fallen back to Springfield. On the 17th of March he sent a message to Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston that by the 22d he would get off, and reach Pocahontas on April 7th with 15,000 men. He received a letter from Gen. R. E. Lee, dated March 19th, informing him that all the troops called from Arkansas and Texas, and by Hébert from the coast, were ordered to him.
March 19th, General Van Dorn ordered Col. T. J. Churchill, with his brigade, and Gates' battalion of cavalry, to make an expedition against Springfield, Mo., and endeavor to capture and destroy the stores of the enemy there. On the same day the First division, army of the West, under command of Major-General Price, was ordered to be ready to march on the 25th inst. General Pike was continued in command of the troops in the Indian Territory, and Woodruff's battery, reorganized at Little Rock, was ordered to report to him at Van Buren. Maj. W. L. Cabell, at Pocahontas, was advised, as chief-quartermaster, on the 25th of March, that it had been decided to make Des Arc, Ark., the point of rendezvous and of deposit for supplies. Brig.-Gen. Albert Rust was ordered to assume command of the lower Arkansas from Clarksville to its mouth, and of White river from Des Arc to its mouth, and that all companies organized under the call of Governor Rector for the Confederate service should report to Col. Jas. P. Major at Des Arc. On the 28th of March, Gen. T. J. Churchill was urged to reach Des Arc by the earliest possible day. All these orders pointed to the transfer of the army of the West to the east side of the Mississippi, to reinforce Generals Johnston and Beauregard at Corinth, Miss.
General Price, for the Missourians, had acquiesced and relinquished his former rank in the State Guard for the same rank in the Confederate army. Special orders announced that the First brigade of Price's division would embark for Memphis April 8th, and Colonel Little would take command. At Des Arc, April 8th, General Price bade farewell to the soldiers of the State Guard in a touching and eloquent order. General Price was greatly beloved in Arkansas. His natural amiability, his unassuming, fatherly dignity, recognized in the sobriquet of "Pap," his honesty and superb bravery, and untiring energy and devotion to the cause, made him a popular idol. Wherever he became accessible, the ladies called to see him, and the most enthusiastic kissed him, as he sat to give them a reception. The little girls he took upon his knee.
RETURN TO BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE (ELKHORN TAVERN) OFFICIAL RECORDS PAGE