PEA RIDGE NATIONAL MILITARY PARK – The Civil War was only at the beginning of its four bloody years on March 7-8, 1862, when mostly untested Union and Confederation troops fought for two days in the area northwest Arkansas.
In the annals of the Civil War, the Battle of Pea Ridge is less nationally known than such famous battlefields as Bull Run, Antietam, Vicksburg, and Gettysburg – although one historian has called it “the West Gettysburg ”.
Regardless of the stature of the battle, the Visitor Center at Pea Ridge National Military Park clearly shows the importance of the Union victory here. The triumph helped prevent Missouri from seceding into Confederation, while also opening up Arkansas to a subsequent federal invasion.
The reception center gives a human face to the rocking combat, which took place while the strategy and tactics of the Civil War were still being formed. The exhibits tell not only the horrors of the carnage on the battlefield, but also the miseries of civilians affected by the fighting.
The Pea Ridge National Military Park Gift Shop sells a variety of battle-themed merchandise. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
A painting of tired farming families, titled “From Farms to Battlefields,” reports that “The two days of fierce fighting destroyed this agricultural economy. Few people could plant their bloody fields in time to harvest a harvest before the end. ‘next winter’.
The figures for military casualties bear witness to the intensity of the fighting. The Union’s dead and wounded totaled nearly 1,400, while Confederate losses were estimated at 2,000. This represented nearly 15% of the 23,000 men engaged in the fighting.
A published quote from Confederate Pvt. Asa Payne sums up the mixture of bravado and fear in the midst of fighting:
“I remember some of our boys laughing and making fun of the seashells, and others were as pale as death, while still others had big drops of sweat on their faces. It was a place that was trying. souls of men. “
Southwest Army Union soldiers are pictured with combat supplies. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
Almost all of the fighters in Pea Ridge were volunteers. Their motivations, recounted in a panel entitled “Duty, Honor, Combat”, were varied:
“Some left home for a great adventure. Some volunteered because they did not want to shirk their civic duty. Some fought to defend their homes and the honor of their cities and states. fight, some found themselves fighting not to leave their comrades and not to be seen as a coward. “
The battlefield itself is considered one of the best-preserved of the Civil War, barely touched by commercial intrusion in the century and a half since combat. Its 4,300 acres largely preserve the woods and hills where the fighting took place. The site can be visited on an 11 km one-way road with 11 stops marked with vividly illustrated National Park Service signs.
Stop # 4, labeled “Leetown Battlefield”, is notable as two Confederate generals, Benjamin McCulloch and James McIntosh, were killed here by enemy fire within minutes of each other. The loss of these commanders brought confusion which played a large part in the defeat of the South.
At stop # 5, “Armies Collide,” a sign reports that Pea Ridge was the only major Civil War battle in which Native American troops fought. About 1,000 Cherokees join the Confederates and rout the Union cavalry before gunfire from the north forces them to take cover in the woods.
A post-war monument focuses on reconciliation between Pea Ridge veterans. (Special to the Democrat-Gazette / Marcia Schnedler)
The best view of the battlefield is at stop 7, “East Overlook”, where a 150-meter path leads to a shelter overlooking the fields below. Stop 8, “Elkhorn Tavern”, offers an opportunity to take photos in front of a replica of the building captured by Confederate forces on March 7 and retaken by the Union side the next day. It was used as a field hospital during the fighting.
Several wheeled cannons at stop n ° 9, “Confederate Sunset”, marked the battle lines on the decisive morning of March 8, after devastating Union musket and artillery fire, the previous twilight had pushed back the Southern troops in the woods.
Another panel, titled “That Beautiful Charge,” expresses the sense of triumph on the Union side, expressed by Captain Eugene B. Payne, an Illinois:
“That beautiful charge that I will never forget; with fluttering banners, with beating drums, and our long line of blue coats advancing on the fast double, with their deadly bayonets shining in the sun and every man and officer screaming at the top of their lungs. . “
Next Tuesday: Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, site of the last major engagement of the Civil War in Northwest Arkansas.
Pea Ridge National Military Park Visitor Center
- Location: Along US 62 about 10 miles northeast of Rogers and 3 miles west of Garfield in Benton County.
- Hours: Open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.
- The grounds of the park are open daily from 6 a.m. to sunset.
- Admission: Release.
- Information: (479) 451-8122 or visit nps.gov/peri