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
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
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
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
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.
Fields of Blood The Prairie Grove Campaign by William L Shea
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