The following is an old newspaper article from the Daily Missouri Republician, in St. Louis, MO, another great article submitted by Jim McGhee from Missouri.
THE BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE
Richard H. Musser
I was serving on the staff of the Third Division, Missouri State Guard, as judge-advocate. I had been appointed to this position after the Battle of Boonville by Gen. John B. Clark, Sr. For what distinguished service I was promoted from a private to the rank of lieutenant-colonel it is not necessary here to mention. The old general had been sent to the Confederate Congress by the Neosho legislature and his successor to the command, Gen. E. W. Price had been captured on the Osage and was a prisoner of war. The command of the division devolved, therefore, on Col. John B. Clark, Jr., who was ranked only in seniority by Col. Congreve Jackson, then absent on recruiting service.
We had evacuated Springfield on the 13th day of January, 1862, fallen back to Crane Creek, thence Keetsville, down the Wire Road through the Cross Hollows to Mudtown, and thence over the range to Dripping Springs and Cove Creek. Gen. Ben McCulloch, who might have supported and reinforced us so as to enable us to remain in Missouri, had sulked, like Achilles at the siege of Troy.
The retreat from Springfield had been the result of a want of harmony between Gen. Price and Gen. McCulloch, the latter having reluctantly made a stand at Wilson's Creek in August, 1861, on condition that Gen. Price would waive the right to command to which his rank entitled him. He then ran away from his victory and failed to support Gen. Price in his advance to the Missouri, even after he had captured Lexington. As Price fell back from the Missouri for want of his support, McCulloch retreated into the deep valley in which is situated the Wire Road, felling the trees across it for fear of an enemy not at that time threatening him or within reach. He not only undertook to make the road impassable, but destroyed the crops and forage in Missouri he ought to have consumed, and then went into winter quarters near Cross Hollows in Arkansas. This movement of McCulloch not only left open to the enemy the well supplied country of Southwest Missouri inhabited by a friendly people, but practically abandoned the lead mines of Granby, the then only source of supply for bullets short of Mexico. The retrograde movement of McCulloch had compelled Price to leave the Missouri River. Reluctant to leave his own state he had made a stand at Springfield and sent courier after courier to urge McCulloch to send him reinforcements. The Texas, Louisiana and Arkansas troops with the Indians would have enabled Gen. Price to hold Southwest Missouri and the country was more abundantly supplied with food and forage for them than Arkansas. They were the same army with which the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought at such disadvantage.
Gen. Price, duly informed of the enemy's movements, strength and purposes, urged every consideration and offered every inducement, proposing again to waive rank and give McCulloch command. He continued to hope for this assistance at Springfield till the enemy in force, pressing on his pickets and threatening his rear induced him to order a retreat. The same conditions and inducements were again offered to Gen. McCulloch by Gen. Price, who insisted on making a stand at Cross Hollows. How far we should have fallen back cannot be told if we had not been joined in the latter days of February by Gen. Earl Van Dorn, who took command of the forces, ranking both Price and McCulloch. Van Dorn was an able and dashing cavalry officer from the regular army and a West Point graduate. He took command and reorganized the forces the best he could in the short time available and patched up a sort of harmony between the two generals. The order to move northward toward our own state was gratefully heard on dress parade on the evening of the 1st of March, and the Missouri infantry were on the second morning along the deep valley which perforated the ranges of the Boston Mountains. It was the 3rd when we reached Cane Hill neighborhood, famous for its apples and fruits.
It was between Cane Hill and Fayetteville that we passed the house of Mr. Reagan, a blind gentleman of great intelligence and hospitality. Some of the Missouri soldiers went to his well and began drawing water. The water soon gave out, but on examination in the supposed bottom of the well was found a barrel of whiskey. Confederate enterprise was equal to the occasion. The barrel and four of its brothers were rescued from drowning. Mr. Reagan was blind and could not see it, but it soon became apparent from the number of soldiers reeling under the burden of their canteens. Unfortunately for the captors of the whiskey, Gen. Martin Green came along, discovered the cause of their joy and ordered the barrels decapitated. Much to their disgust and eternal regret it was done.
On the 4th we passed through Fayetteville, and on the evening of the 5th we bivouacked at a dismantled overshot mill known as the Elm Spring. It was here we got our first definite information of the enemy. Maj. Lawther, in command of some scouts, captured a foraging party of the enemy with a small escort on the Wire Road, that is, the road on which the telegraph line from Springfield to Fayetteville and to points south was built. The road we bivouacked on was the Bentonville Road, parallel to the Wire Road, and from ten to fifteen miles west.
The unsuspecting foraging party were bagged, trains and all, together with their escort. From them Gen. Price gained information as to the enemy's position and a knowledge of the fact that Gen. Franz Sigel was in his front only a few miles and possibly had no knowledge of his proximity. The march had been a hard one that day and the weather quite cold. It was too late to press forward and the soldiers were very tired and hungry. The supper was cooked and heartily eaten, and we lay down for rest, expecting an early reveille. It came at 4 o'clock in the morning, and after bolting a hastily cooked breakfast we moved out. Early in the day we ascertained that our cavalry had struck Sigel, who was at a mill somewhere north and west of us and was pressing him. He had gotten information of our neighborhood and force, and was active and early as usual. He got into Little Bentonville prairie too soon for us, but our infantry entered the park of the beautiful meadow in time to see his rear guard, skirmishing with our advance, escape into the canyon of Sugar Creek. Thus, like a good soldier, he deployed, masked his field-pieces and held us at bay till he made good his retreat.
I never saw so handsome a retreat, nor a corps extricated so skillfully in the presence of a superior force. No man ever saw all of a battle , but from our standpoint and information, Sigel's escape was the question of the diligence that enabled him to enter Bentonville Prairie ahead of us and escape into Sugar Creek valley. The chances of war, however, turns more upon vigilance and endurance than upon genius. It is the staying qualities that make the soldier. From Julius Caesar to Grant the pluck that never gave up the fight and could retrieve disasters had always been worth the price of armies.
Sigel deployed every few hundred yards and masked his pieces. We advanced cautiously, with skirmishers in front and flanking parties on the heights on either side till halted by a ricochet round shot and shell and volley of canister. Availing himself of our prudent halt, Sigel would unlimber and gallop forward till the approaching shadows of nightfall rendered it necessary to cease the pursuit and enabled him, by following the course of the creek, to make his junction with Curtis' command at Elkhorn Tavern.
Sigel's retreat was not without casualties, and he did not extricate himself without loss. I saw a poor soldier wounded and very cold, without his boots. A Confederate being in need of such articles had anticipated his death and pulled them off him while alive. He was placed in charge of the surgeons and taken care of. I hope he lives to remember his bootless condition, and pardon the over hasty enemy who gave him so much suffering that day.
Gen. Curtis, as afterwards we learned, expected us to advance on the Wire Road and had made dispositions on the south of his camp to impede our march. I suppose his theory of our advance from that side was based upon the fact of Lawther's capture of his foragers and wagons. We, however, being well informed of the country turned north after the long skirmish with Sigel and moved around on a road which intersected the Wire Road just north of Pea Ridge. We bivouacked in the woods very hungry and quite cold, and were early in the morning on the march, reaching the Wire Road north of Curtis' rear just before daylight.
The road passes through a deep canyon or creek valley, into high and precipitous cliffs on either side. Flanking parties moved along the table-lands and hills on either side, and the infantry and artillery of the Missouri troops, under Gen. Price, moved along the valley on the Telegraph Road. The Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana troops, with the Indians, under Gen. Albert Pike, were moved by a different road to the rear of Curtis' position, so that when about 9 o'clock in the morning, we were near the Elkhorn Tavern. There was an elevated and almost impassable hill between the two wings of our army. This was known as Big Mountain, and extended longitudinally from the point where the Missourians debouched into the canyon of the Wire Road, some four miles north, and overlooked Curtis' camp. This ridge was taken possession of by Gen. Frost, who was in command of the artillery, rather by instinct than by reason of any orders from the commanding general. The right and left wings of our army, although they had turned the enemy's rear, were in sight of each other, or rather in sight of the enemy from Pea Ridge, but seven miles apart by the long detour which was alone practicable for assisting and reinforcing each other. The commander-in-chief could not go from one wing to another or superintend the whole battle.
The disposition was unknown to Gen. Price till after his own line of battle had been determined on and we were about to go into battle. Gen. Van Dorn, who had been with McCulloch's wing of the army, at that time rode up. Gen. Price said to him, "Ah, general, I am glad to see you for I have just made a disposition of my forces." He then explained to him his plans and pointed out his line of battle, stating to him if he did not like it he could change the orders as the men were just about being put into positions. After asking a few questions as to the order and arrangement of the several commands Gen. Van Dorn said he did not think the order of battle could be improved.
Gen. Price then said "How long will it be before Gen. McCulloch will be up?" Gen. Van Dorn replied that Gen. McCulloch would not come there at all, that he had been sent to attack the enemy on the other side of the mountain. Gen. Price remarked, seeming greatly surprised, "Gen. Van Dorn, I am exceedingly sorry to hear it, sir. I am exceedingly sorry to hear it, sir." Gen. Van Dorn asked in a very quiet, soft manner, "Why, general?" Gen. Price said "Because, sir, it is eight miles around that mountain and two miles across it, and there is no mule in the Confederacy that can climb over it. Should the enemy concentrate against me, before he could get to my assistance, I fear they would prove too much for me, and should the enemy concentrate against him, there would be nothing left of him, sir, before I could go to his assistance. I was in hopes that you would bring his men and put then into this fight side by side with mine. If you had done so there is such a spirit of emulation existing between them that they would have done such fighting as you never saw, Gen. Van Dorn!"
Gen. Van Dorn, with characteristic magnanimity, said "General, I believe you are right. He begged so hard that I yielded very reluctantly to his solicitation to go there, but I will send a courier at once to him to come here." He sent a courier, but before McCulloch's wing was reached he was engaged with the enemy and could not withdraw his forces and he fell very early in the action.
From the canyon following the Wire Road and east of Big Mountain the valley widens somewhat into a wooden plain. It is on the elevated part of the valley, and as the valley of Sugar Creek comes into it, there is situated the Elkhorn Tavern. Around the tavern an old-fashioned hostelry, where the stage-coach and weary travellers were wont, before the railroad was known, to find comfort and rest, men cultivated fields with deadened timber still standing on them. We advanced and took position upon this plateau in the timber. The enemy seemed not to be looking for us on the flank, for our cavalry captured some of his forage wagons and the caissons of the Dubuque Battery, which we kept till the surrender at Shreveport.
Col. Bob McCullough's (sic) (McCulloch's) cavalry protected our front and right flank, while our artillery, under Emmet MacDonald and Capt. Guibor, opened fire upon the enemy's lines. There was another artillery officer, not a Missourian, who commanded some guns that day. He was an expert artillerist, but so far failed in the field that he never more was officer of a Missouri command.
Our division, commanded by Col. J. B. Clark, Jr., supported the battery commanded by Capt. Emmet MacDonald. These pieces were of iron, and while cumbersome in the field were very efficient when once in position. I ought here to state that while bivouacked the night before we were joined by Col. Congreve Jackson and a considerable body of recruits. The rank of Col. Jackson entitled him to the command, but being on the eve of a battle he generously waived in favor of young John B. Clark in compliment to his personal valor and deference to the young man's ambition. We shelled the enemy on our front and pressed him till we ascertained the line of his defenses, which were on the edge of the deadened timber.
A hastily prepared stockade of rails in the edge of the red oak bushes, which carry their leaves until spring, showed his wonted skill in improvised field works. We saw what we had to do. Gen. Price made his dispositions rapidly. He was a man whose instincts were practically military and on the field possessed all his faculties intensified by the danger and the ambition for victory. We were posted on the extreme left of the line and our flank covered by the cavalry, the artillery being unlimbered and in hand to be disposed of as occasion required. Little's brigade of Confederate infantry was on the extreme right, as I now recollect, with Rains', Parsons', McBride's and Slack's divisions in the center, in the order named, from left to right, with Green's and Steen's divisions, reduced in numbers by recruiting for Confederate service, in position among them. Gen. Frost was nominally in command of the artillery but could get but one battery in hand - Guibor's, if I remember right.
It was past noon when these dispositions were made and we could hear the conflict on the right wing beyond Big Mountain, which was hot and heavy. Gen. Price, who was in the rear of Clark's division, directed me to carry orders to Clark to move forward and charge the enemy in his stockades. Gen. Price had with him at the time two of his staff; one was his son, a young lad just from school, possibly 20 years of age, and Capt. Gage, a Louisianan, who had volunteered as aide-de-camp. The orders were delivered to Col. Clark to charge and by him promptly obeyed. He directed me to take charge of the right of the division, Lieut.-Col. Joseph Vaughan to lead the left, and we double-quicked on the enemy through the deadened timber.
In about forty yards of the stockade we received a volley which was deadly and point blank. It unhorsed Clark and myself and killed and wounded many men and officers. Had we been sufficiently victorious to have pressed forward we could have carried the stockade by storm, but the men yielded to their instincts to return the fire without orders, and our staggered column hesitated; some of the men took cover and others lay down in the field. The enemy continued to pour in his volleys, and we were in a critical situation. Clark, on foot, and Joe Vaughan rallied the men and we held them to their work. But our fire was comparatively ineffective against troops behind stockades.
At that juncture Gen. Price, who had been wounded in the fleshy part of his lower arm, had sent orders to the cavalry to advance. Bob McCullough (sic) (McCulloch) lost not a second, and he came in on the enemy's flank just in time to force the enemy to yield his stockades to us and retire. There was an officer commanding a battalion of cavalry who refused to obey the order to charge. Maj. Caleb Perkins, his next in command, summarily charged him with cowardice and led the squadron into the fight. We were victorious in our combined attack on our left wing due much to the prompt gallantry of Bob McCullough. (sic) (McCulloch)
I had no time to notice how Parsons', Rains', Little's and other corps behaved on our right. I found them, however, doing well when I was unhorsed and had leisure to look. Had we failed or given away on the left they would hardly have been able to sustain the battle. Gen. Slack had been killed earlier in the day, or rather, fatally wounded. The casualties in our division were not heavy as to fatal wounds, but there were many, among these, Capt. Wallace of Chariton County, hors de combat for several months. Lieut.-Col. William S. Hyde of Chariton County was also wounded and fatally.
Just as we were satisfactorily resting from our labors the news from the right wing spread among the troops that Ben McCulloch had been killed and his command having devolved on Gen. McIntosh, who was likewise killed - that Gen. Hebert of the Third Louisiana, next in command, had been severely wounded, and the command devolved on Gen. Albert Pike, commanding the Indians; that Pike had been unable to keep his Indians in hand and had withdrawn from the field. The news of disaster had come to dispel the joy of victory, but we went into bivouac with the declining sun, on the enemy's ground, with some prisoners and captured artillery as trophies, full of hope that the morrow's daybreak would awaken us to renewed battle.
The Missouri troops bivouacked upon the field and many were regaled with captured sutler stores of the enemy and other luxuries. There was much suffering during the night among the wounded of both armies, for it was very chilly, and the wounded suffered from both cold and thirst. They were relieved as fast as the surgeons and infirmary corps could reach them. For myself, being unhorsed and having lost part of my blankets, I fell back upon our hospital, some two miles down the canyon, when I saw Dr. Grinstead, an able and sympathetic surgeon from my own county, attending the wounded, of whom there were many of our own neighbors.
We made a rail pen in the neighborhood of the hospital and with Col. Joe Finks and Col. Elgin passed the night in the comfort a soldier earns by fatigue and danger. There never was a more charming night's sleep. We were awakened by the sound of field artillery and we repaired to the front. I saw my poor horse George lying dead on the way and realized with regret that I was a cavalier with only a saddle and bridle. I remembered his behavior in battle, and the peculiar groan he emitted when the bullet cut the halter rein and penetrated his chest just in front of my knee, and how he gradually filled up with blood and died.
There was a heavy skirmish going on when we reached the front. All night Gen. Pike's command had been making the detour from the position on the right wing, and we felt confident, occupying as we did the enemy's ground, we could with the reinforcements drive him out from his position, even if he retreated over the ground formerly threatened by our right. But Gen. Van Dorn, who had not learned to appreciate the value of the volunteer soldier, as illustrated afterwards in both the American armies, North and South, determined to retreat and leave the field we had won to the enemy.
Rives' regiment and some reliable infantry had been thrown forward to cover a movement that looked to us like a retreat, but, we were assured, was only a strategic change of front. This movement involved the loss of that gallant officer (Rives), and the death of Capt. Churchill Clark, commanding a battery of artillery -a young officer of great skill and judgment, whose loss was universally regretted. He was a descendant of the first governor of Missouri.
There is no pleasure in recounting the details of disaster. Suffice it to say we retreated in excellent order, as much to the surprise of the enemy as to ourselves. We had lost very few prisoners and no standards. We had several pieces of artillery and caissons more than we went in with, which were saved by the soldierly instincts of the battery commanders, and ultimately reported safely to headquarters at Van Buren. Our orderly retreat was impeded by the immense extent of fallen timber found in the road. This forest had been felled by Gen. McCulloch a few months before, while Price was between him and the enemy.
Our wearied and breakfastless march was enlivened by few incidents. The situation was hardly realized till we found it so bad no amount of execution could do it justice, and the very excellence of the badness made it rather more charming than disgusting. We reached Van Winkle's mill in the charming valley of one of the White Rivers, a place ever to us famous. For at the mill we found a field of turnips and a drove of shoats. The pig impaled on a bayonet yielded his flesh to the hungry Missourians, and we broke our nearly two days fast in a menu that would have charmed a Parisian chef de cuisine: Squealing pig spitted on bayonet and ramrod and raw turnips.
Source: Daily Missouri Republican, St. Louis, MO, Nov. 21 and 28, 1886.
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