- Apr 8, 2018
- Coffeeville, TX
By: William L. Shea
Title: "Fields of Blood The Prairie Grove Campaign"
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Pages: 358 pages including index and sources
Price: Hardcover $30.66, softcover $23.77 based on online search
Fields of Blood is an awesome book, filled to the brim with surprises. To most Civil War students, the Prairie Grove Campaign is a matter of General Thomas Hindman heading up to NW Arkansas, fighting a battle with General James Blunt, being beaten, and retreating. This book is an eye opener, that takes you deep into the campaign. Here you learn of the Battle of Cane Hill, the Battle of Old Fort Wayne just over the Arkansas border in the Indian Territory, an in depth take on the Battle of Prairie Grove, Hindman's horrifying retreat from that battle, and Blunt and Herron's raid on Van Buren along with other actions. The author does an excellent job of showing this campaign from every angle, from the lowliest Federal or Confederate private, to the minds of Hindman, Blunt, Herron, Curtis, and Schofield, and down to the terrible experiences of the citizen population in NW Arkansas.
As mentioned, the Prairie Grove Campaign is often over-simplified, and even often forgotten, much like the rest of the Trans-Mississippi, or at the very least overshadowed by the much more well known Battle of Pea Ridge. The author, William Shea, goes above and beyond in showing the unjustness in that. To most students of the Civil War the Trans-Mississippi was a backwater devoid of large scale battles outside of Pea Ridge, or Mansfield in Louisiana. This book, without a doubt, dispels that notion. But that's not to say there isn't anything here to interest students with a preference for the battles East of the Mississippi. Of particular note, is Shea's treatment of General John M. Schofield, the famous victor of the 1864 Tennessee Battle of Franklin. For me this book, was quite a shock on General Schofield, for I myself never knew just how much of a self aggrandizing glory hunter he could be. His actions in this campaign, backed up by excellent sources in the book, show him in some ways to be a more desperate glory hunter than many of the famous "political generals" of the War.
As for the other top personalities of the campaign, Shea does an excellent job of helping the reader to know and understand them. We get an in depth look at Generals Hindman and Blunt, along with Medal of Honor holder Francis J. Herron, whos march from Springfield, Missouri to Prairie Grove to the relief of Blunt, rivals the famous marches of Confederate Stonewall Jackson, yet remains completely unknown to many today. We get to see one of the first "live" conversations over great distances when Shea shows us the back and forth telegraphing between Hindman and superior General Theophilus Holmes in Little Rock with the two not sending notes from their offices to the telegraph office, but rather standing in the telegraph office arguing with each other in real time over a distance of a couple hundred miles, likely one of the first times that happened, (some today could call it the first text message argument) which along with so many other unique happenings during this 1862 campaign has been forgotten.
Once again, I can't understate how much is unknown of the battles and campaign here. It is often overshadowed by Pea Ridge, but as many soldiers who had been at Pea Ridge, the battle at Prairie Grove was far bloodier and more terrifying in their eyes. We get to see a unique happening with Union troops of the Kansas Division under Blunt going without shoes, lacking proper winter gear, and uniforms in taters, but the Confederate Army under Hindman, while being deficient in food, being mostly better uniformed and shod, along being better armed, for the most part, (some Confederates still went without shoes, and starved, with some units being unarmed, but for the most part according to Union soldiers they were better off shoe and uniform wise). We see the horror of hogs, (Arkansas razorbacks) descending upon the battlefield to feed on the wounded, forcing wounded of both sides to build walls out of their fallen comrades to protect themselves, and we see the only time Generals of both sides agree on a name for a battle, together when they met to discuss a truce, the Battle of Prairie Grove. Whether your a fan of the war in Virginia and Tennessee, the war as a whole, or of the Trans-Mississippi, this book is a great read that shouldn't be passed up.
William L. Shea is a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, and the author of "War in the West: Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove" as well as co-author of "Vicksburg is the Key: The Struggle for the Mississippi River", "Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A battlefield Guide with a section on Wire Road", along co-authoring with Earl J. Hess "Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West".
Review written by Michael Pepper, Coffeeville, TX ("Rusk County Avengers" on Civil War Talk)