PRAIRIE GROVE
U S Highway 62

Prairie Grove AR 72753


Prairie Grove is best known for the large Civil War battle fought there on December 7,1862. Some 2,700 casualties (killed, wounded and missing) were suffered in what was the last major Civil War engagement in northwest Arkansas.

The Battle of Prairie Grove was the culmination of extensive maneuvering by both sides with the primary goal of Union forces to keep the Confederates from moving into Missouri, and the Confederates with Missouri as their goal. Extreme northwestern Arkansas was the most easily traveled approach to Missouri from Ft Smith.

After the Pea Ridge battle in April 1862, Confederate General Hindman tried to remain north of the Boston Mountains in Huntsville and Brashears. But with frequent Union assaults and declining food and ammunition, he had to retreat south of the mountains to rebuild his forces and receive what supplies could be brought up the river from Little Rock. Hindman built up a force of some 17,000 men including Arkansas and Missouri infantry units, several Texas units and a number of units of cavalry from Indian Territory. Shea says no more than 12,000 were considered prepared and equipped for battle.

Union forces withdrew back into Missouri with Generals Herron and Totten in command and General Schofield their commander. General Blunt and his Kansas Division moved south and established base near Maysville. Blunt sent his troops into Indian Territory after Confederate General Cooper and generally controlled the western area of northwest Arkansas. Confederate General Marmaduke sent units on foraging missions to Cane Hill to gather food and fodder.

General Blunt moved his troops to Cane Hill to keep Marmaduke from using the area to resupply his forces, and Union forces were able to benefit from the bounty produced there as well. Marmaduke felt this put Blunt in a position too far from Union bases in Missouri and lobbied Hindman to support him in a move to destroy Blunt, opening up the way to Missouri. Hindman could not resist this opportunity so put his entire force behind it. He wanted to avoid alarming the Union army into bringing more support to Blunt, hoping to overwhelm him at Cane Hill.

Blunt received intelligence about Hindman's moves in his direction and sent messages to Union forces in Missouri outlining a plan for support from Schofield's army. He was enough in advance of Hindman's actually moving north to give valuable time for Union support troops to start his way. The lead group was the First Arkansas Cavalry unit under Colonel Harrison at Elkhorn Tavern which was ordered to Fayetteville to hold Telegraph (Old Wire) Road open for the troops from Missouri.

Blunt began preparing defensive positions around Cane Hill while Hindman began his move up from the Valley. From the size of Hindman's forces, it probably would have been wise for Blunt to move north and wait for reinforcement, but this was not in Blunt's nature and he intended to hold Cane Hill at all costs.

Hindman issued orders with five simple rules: "do not shoot unless specifically ordered to; take deliberate aim, as low down as the knees; to pick off the enemy's officers especially the mounted ones; don't yell except when charging the enemy; and don't break ranks to plunder the enemy's camps". Some of these may have been a result of their shortage of ammunition, with no more than 40 or 50 rounds available per man. But he continued with a description of the enemy Union forces they would be facing: "they have no feeling of mercy or kindness toward you; they are made up of Pin indians, free negroes, Southern Tories, Kansas jayhawkers and hired Dutch cut-throats. These bloody ruffians have invaded your country, stolen and destroyed your property, murdered your neighbors; outraged your women; driven your children from their homes and defiled the graves of your kindred". Hindman was sure if his rules were followed, the enemy would be defeated and possibly destroyed. So his troops marched with a firm determination to defend their country and defeat the invaders.

All Hindman's efforts were focused on Blunt at Cane Hill until he received word that General Herron was marching to support Blunt. He then modified his plans to attack Herron's army before he could join up with Blunt, thinking he could destroy each alone but possibly not combined.

Herron's march of three and half days covered near 120 miles on primitive roads in bitterly cold weather with only brief halts for food and rest. He sent Iowa, Missouri and Wisconsin cavalry units to Cane Hill to support Blunt with about 2250 men and artillery. Herron's infantry units passed through Fayetteville very early the morning of December 7, halting for a brief rest. As they were forming up to continue to Cane Hill, arms fire was heard from the west. Blunt had ordered Harrison to take his First Arkansas Cavalry unit to Cane Hill rather than wait for Herron in Fayetteville. But the cavalry unit was overrun by some of Marmaduke's cavalry. Some of Herron's cavalry were sent ahead to Cane Hill. In the meantime Marmaduke had moved toward Prairie Grove with the aim of keeping Herron from reaching Blunt.

Marmaduke's men first encountered one of the Union cavalry units which camped on their way to Cane Hill and put them into retreat. Another Confederate unit bypassed Prairie Grove and ran into Harrison's Arkansas cavalry unit. Soon Harrison's unit was put into retreat along with the first cavalry unit. They met up with Herron's advance force at
Walnut Grove Church Walnut Grove Church
but Harrison's men continued in retreat from the Confederates, leaving Herron's men to soon be sent into retreat also. These Confederate units were led by Colonel Jo Shelby and they decided to stop and sort out all the supplies and prisoners they had captured from the retreating Union forces. Marmaduke came to Walnut Grove and met with his victorious units and proceeded on looking for Herron. He found him soon and was put into retreat by Herron's men and pulled back across the Illinois River where the remainder of Hindman's men had established positions on higher ground that is now Prairie Grove Battlefield Park. Looking NE from Prairie Grove Battlefield Park


Herron advanced to the Illinois River and sent some artillery units across to attack Hindman's men on the high ground. Then began the primary battle with artillery units on both sides shelling the other and infantry charging to take out the artillery. Attrition was heavy on both sides and little ground was gained by either side.

General Blunt in Cane Hill realized Hindman had bypassed him and the sound of cannon fire from his east meant Hindman had met up with Herron's forces that were coming to Blunt's aid. Blunt sent his supply wagons to Rhea's Mill and intended to go to Prairie Grove to attack Hindman from the rear. However his men followed the supply train toward Rhea's Mill which avoided a confrontation with Hindman's defenses deployed to stop Blunt, and allowed them to more directly join up with Herron's troops north of Prairie Grove. Herron had been taking a beating from Hindman's men and was badly in need of Blunt's forces.

A complex battlefield was formed with Hindman on the "ridge" of Prairie Grove to the south, Blunt's forces coming in for the northwest and Herron's troops who had pulled back to the northeast. Blunt's artillery began a shelling about 4:00 PM against Hindman's men on the high ground north of the Fayetteville Road, in preparation for an infantry assault. The Union infantry charge was not well organized and Confederates made a counter- charge that was stopped only when Union artillery fired over their own troops forcing the Confederates to retreat back up the hill. When this attack was over, another began just to the west with Kansas and Indian units charging up the hill and Missouri Confederates advancing to meet them through thick brush. General Blunt joined this attack to observe. As troops emerged from the thick brush, firing began from both sides, described by one Union soldier as "leaden hail that was simply awful". While the infantry battle raged, Herron resumed firing his artillery at Confederate troops who were not involved to keep them from moving against Blunt's men. All this firing of artillery and infantry produced a roar heard in Fayetteville some ten miles away. Confederate infantry would answer Union infantry charges but in the end would be repulsed by Union artillery. So it continued until dark.

Thus ended the Battle of Prairie Grove though troops on both sides fully expected it would be resumed the next morning. Both commanders reported the other side approached with flags of truce to allow them to gather their dead and wounded. Shea says it was Hindman who made the approach to Blunt to buy time to gather his casualties but also to organize a withdrawal back to the Arkansas River valley. Confederate troops felt they had withstood all the Union had thrown against them without giving up any ground. Union men were sure they had defeated the Confederates, forcing their withdrawal. Hindman knew he had run out of food and ammunition. Both sides had lost around 1200 men each, either killed, wounded or missing.

Bibliography:
Fields of Blood The Prairie Grove Campaign by William L Shea



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