Civil War in the Ozarks


The Civil War years in the southern Missouri Ozarks were a sad and bitter time.  Arkansas seceded from the Union to join the Confederacy, while Missouri remained in the Union. The Ozarks were a kind of "No Man's Land" where neither side really ruled. Some people sided with the rebels, others with the Union.

Families were uprooted from their homes, towns and farms were burned, and some men were forced to go to war for causes they didn't believe in. It was a time of scarcity in the countryside as bands of soldiers, guerrillas and horse thieves roamed the hills stealing whatever they could from farmers. Many people left the area, and many towns were deserted. 

This road trip highlights several battles that took place in Missouri and Arkansas. We begin our tour in Springfield, MO.  From Springfield drive west on route 44 then north on route 71 to Carthage, MO.  Please click on link below for map.

Carthage, Missouri, United States

The Battle of Carthage took place on July 5, 1861. Union Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon had chased Governor Claiborne Jackson and 4,000 State Militia from the State Capital at Jefferson City. Col. Franz Sigel led force of about 1,000 into southwest Missouri to search for the governor and his loyal troops. Jackson learned that Sigel was camped at Carthage and he formulated a plan to attack the smaller Union force. Jackson established a battle line on a ridge ten miles north of Carthage and induced Sigel to attack him. Sigel attacked but withdrew after seeing a large Confederate force, actually unarmed recruits, moving into the woods on his left and he feared that they would turn his flank. The Confederates pursued, but Sigel conducted a successful rearguard action. By evening, Sigel was inside Carthage and he retreated to Sarcoxie after dark. There is a small museum in the town of Carthage which is worth a visit.  A roadside exhibit describes the battle.

From Carthage drive east to Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. The Battle of Wilson's Creek took place on August 10, 1861. 

Please click on link below for map.

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield (national battlefield), Missouri, United States

The National Park Service facility at Wilson Creek has a 4.9 mile paved tour road with eight interpretive stops.  There are five walking trails off the tour road for individual exploration, varying in length from 1/4 to 3/4 of a mile.

Confederate troops under the commands of Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch approached  Lyonís Army of the West camped at Springfield, MO. On August 9th, both sides formulated plans to attack the other. About 5:00 am on August 10th, Lyon, and Sigel attacked the Confederates on Wilsonís Creek about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. Confederate cavalry received the first blow and fell back from Bloody Hill. The Confederates reinforced and stabilized their positions. The Confederates attacked the Union forces three times but failed to break through the Union line. Lyon was killed during the battle and Maj. Samuel D. Sturgis replaced him. The Confederates had also routed Sigelís column in another part of the battlefield. Following the third Confederate attack of the morning, the Confederates withdrew. Sturgis realized that his men were exhausted and his ammunition was low and he retreated to Springfield. Unfortunately, the Confederates were too disorganized and ill-equipped to pursue. The victory at Wilsonís Creek gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri.

From Wilson's Creek return to Springfield via route 44.  From Springfield proceed south on route 65 into Arkansas.  In Arkansas take route 62 west to the Pea Ridge, AR battlefield.  The Battle of Pea Ridge took place on March 6-8, 1862.   Please click on link below for map.

Pea Ridge National Military Park, Arkansas, United States

By early 1862, Union troops had forced the Confederates out of Missouri.  Union Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis decided to chase the Confederates into Arkansas with his Army of the Southwest.  Curtis moved his 10,500 soldiers and 50 artillery pieces into Benton County, AR, along a small stream called Sugar Creek. Curtis found an excellent defensive position on the north side of the creek and fortified it with artillery for an expected Confederate attack from the south.

Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn was commander of the Trans-Mississippi District. Van Dorn's Army of the West composed of 16,000 men included 800 Cherokee Indian troops.  Van Dorn was aware of the Union movements into Arkansas and planned to destroy Curtis' Army of the Southwest and reopen the gateway into Missouri.

General Van Dorn did not want to make a frontal attack on Curtis' entrenched position so he split his army into two divisions under Price and McCulloch and ordered them to march north along the Bentonville Detour to get behind Curtis and cut off his lines of communication. In a crucial decision, Van Dorn left his supply trains behind in order to move faster.

It took three days for the Confederates to march down the Bentonville Cutoff from Fayetteville.  They arrived at their destination strung out along the road, hungry and tired. Van Dorn ordered McCulloch to circle around the western end of Pea Ridge, turn east along the south face and meet Price's division at Elkhorn Tavern.  Van Dorn and Price would travel east along the north face of the ridge, secure Elkhorn Tavern, and wait for McCulloch.

The delays in the Confederate movement allowed Curtis to reposition his army to meet the attack from his rear and get his forces between the two wings of Van Dorn's forces.

McCulloch's troops swung westward around Pea Ridge and were met by Federal Army at Leetown.  Soon after the battle began. McCulloch and his second in command, McIntosh, were killed in action and Colonel Hťbert was captured. With the destruction of the their command structure the Confederates were unable to organize an effective attack.

On the other side of Pea Ridge, Van Dorn and Price fought the Federals near Elkhorn Tavern. By nightfall the Confederates succeeded in pushing the Union forces back. The Confederates seized the Telegraph and Huntsville Roads and cut Curtis' lines of communication at Elkhorn Tavern. The survivors from McCulloch's command joined Van Dorn at the tavern during the night.

On the morning of March 8th, Curtis massed his artillery near the tavern and launched a counterattack in an attempt to recover his supply lines. The combination of artillery,  cavalry and infantry attacks began to break the Confederate lines. By noon, Van Dorn realized that he was low on ammunition and that his supply trains were miles away with no hope of arriving in time to resupply his men. Despite outnumbering his opponent, Van Dorn withdrew down the Huntsville Road.

From the Pea Ridge battlefield drive to west on route 62 to route 540 to Prairie Grove, AR . Please click on link below for map.

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park (state park), Arkansas, United States

After the Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Curtis continued his invasion of northern Arkansas. Curtis ordered General John M. Schofield to drive the Confederate forces out of southwestern Missouri and penetrate northwestern Arkansas. Schofield divided his Army of the Frontier into two parts, one to remain near Springfield commanded by General Francis J. Herron and the other commanded by General James G. Blunt to probe into northwest Arkansas. Schofield became ill and overall command passed to General Blunt. As Blunt took command the two wings of his army were dangerously far apart.

Confederate General Thomas C. Hindman, commander of the First Corps of the Trans-Mississippi Army, saw the Union's precarious tactical position and mounted an expedition into northwest Arkansas. Hindman hoped to catch the Union army in its divided state, destroy it in detail, and open the way for an invasion of Missouri. Hindman's force gathered at Fort Smith, AR and sent out 2,000 cavalry under General John S. Marmaduke to harass Blunt's forces and screen the main Confederate force.

Blunt moved forward to meet Marmaduke and on November 28th the forces clashed in a nine-hour running battle known as the Battle of Cane Hill. Marmaduke was pushed back but Blunt found himself 35 miles deeper into Arkansas and that much farther from the remainder of his army. On December 3rd Hindman started moving his main body of 11,000 poorly equipped men and 22 cannon across the Boston Mountains toward Blunt's division. Blunt ordered Herron to come to his support from Springfield. Blunt set up defensive positions around Cane Hill to wait for Herron.  On December 6th  Hindman learned of Herron's movement from Springfield and decided that he would move north and intercept Herron before he could reinforce Blunt.  Hindman bypassed Blunt's force and moved northward with Marmaduke's cavalry in the lead.  Meanwhile, Herron's divisions had performed an amazing forced march to come to Blunt's rescue and met Marmaduke's cavalry south of Fayetteville, AR. 

Afraid that Blunt would be able to attack his rear, and facing Herron to the north, Hindman chose instead to set up a defensive position atop a line of low hills near Prairie Grove, AR.  Herron brought his artillery across the Illinois River and began an artillery duel with Hindman's batteries. The Union troops attacked twice but were repulsed.

The Confederate counterattack was slowed by Union artillery firing canister. Just when it looked as if the Confederate attack would roll up Herronís troops, Bluntís men attacked the Confederate left flank. By nightfall, neither side had won. With the battle a stalemate, Hindman retreated to Van Buren and the Union established control of northwest Arkansas.

Prairie Grove, AR battlefield is recognized as one of America's most intact Civil War battlefields. The park protects the battle site and interprets the Battle of Prairie Grove, where on December 7, 1862, the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi clashed with the Union Army of the Frontier resulting in about 2,700 casualties in a day of fierce fighting. 

See Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park for admission fees and directions.  The park has a self-guided auto tour with 14 stops and a paved walking tour with 11 markers describing the troop movements during the battle.  The park also has a nice museum and 12-minute film of battle. If you can brave the winter weather, the Battle of Prairie Grove re-enactment is scheduled for December 6-7, 2008.

These battlefields can be seen in connection with a trip to the tourist destination at Branson, MO.

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Revised 04/12/2013