The Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, Arkansas, March 7 - 8, 1862

novushomus

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Another *BUMP* for the anniversary of the battle!

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That's a little bit of an over exaggeration. Pike's Indian Brigade scattered after McIntosh's initial charge overwhelmed Elbert's battery and Bussey's command (where the scalping incident took place) and practically ceased to exist as an organized military unit. They came under long range skirmish fire and cannon fire and lost almost all discipline. Only Stand Watie's regiment continued to participate in the battle in any meaningful form and Pike himself could not get his men to make another charge. Around 3:00 p.m., Pike found out that McCulloch and McIntosh had been killed and that no one could find Colonel Hébert. Pike, after making no serious effort to establish command and control over McCulloch's division, left the field, leaving Colonel Elkanah Greer of the 3rd Texas Cavalry to extract the remnants of McCulloch's men off the field. Pike earned the emnity of Van Dorn (and later Van Dorn's replacement, Thomas C. Hindman) and was later accused of embezzling military funds for the Indian tribes.
 

novushomus

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Pea Ridge is in my opinion an excellent campaign for the study of leadership and generalship and proves why Samuel Ryan Curtis is one of the most underrated Union generals of the war. His actions at Pea Ridge are textbook examples of a spoiling action, economy of force, and why logistics are more important than tactics. Conversely, from Van Dorn we learn of why a holding force is important in flanking movements, command fatigue, the dangers of overestimating one's own army, and again, why logistics are more important than tactics.
 

novushomus

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Curtis:
When logistics forced the Army of the Southwest to halt, Curtis fortified his position along the Little Sugar Creek. This early example of fortifications is interesting. Curtis was an engineer in the U.S. Army before the war and the layout of his trenches show it. Further more, unlike Grant and Sherman, who at this point in the war believed fortifications would undermine the courage of volunteer troops (see their reasons not digging at Pittsburg Landing), Curtis decided that they would act a sufficient deterrent along with the terrain in the valley of Sugar Creek.

Initially, Curtis was outgeneraled. His defensive posture allowed Van Dorn to seize the initiative and steal a march into Curtis's rear. However, despite the larger (15,000 of 16,500 vs 10,500 roughly) Confederate Army of the West sitting on his line of communications, supply, and his only line of retreat to friendly territory, and with half of his army led by the marplot Franz Sigel, Curtis did not panic. He initiated a spoiling action, sending Col. Peter Osterhaus with the First Division to Leetown and sending Eugene Carr's Fourth Division to Elkhorn Tavern. Osterhaus encountered McCulloch's large rebel division (some 8,000 men) and in the ensuing action rendered it entirely leaderless though a series of lucky (or unlucky for the Confederates) incidents and quick and aggressive tactics by local Union commanders. On the other side of the battlefield, Carr bought enough time with a delaying action that slowed Price's Confederate and Missouri State Guard division led by Van Dorn himself. The ultimate result of this quick thinking and aggressive action enabled Curtis to change front.

The next day is good showing of tactics, if it is not quite brilliant. Aided by Sigel, Curtis massed one of the most effective artillery bombardments of the early war and the largest massing of artillery pieces in a battle to that point. Curtis's bombardment devastated and drove off several batteries, including Good's Texas and Hart's Arkansas batteries. An infantry assault by Sigel's Left Wing drove the Confederates in and compelled Van Dorn to quit the field. Now, Curtis is in for a few criticisms. Left unsupervised, a panicky Sigel marched his half of the army right up the road back into Missouri. Curtis can also be criticized for not using his right more in the assault and not doing enough to intercede Van Dorn's line of retreat to the east.

Overall, however, Curtis demonstrated a good competence that was almost sorely lacking elsewhere in the early Union war effort. He was quick to shift into an aggressive gear that allowed him to spoil his opponents movement and steal the initiative from Van Dorn. If the Army of the Southwest had been led by a lesser commander, say one who reacted the way Hooker did to Lee at Chancellorsville, then Pea Ridge could have been an unmitigated disaster in the Trans-Mississippi that may have set back the Union cause by a year or more.

This, with Curtis's subsequent invasion of Arkansas that led to the capture of Helena (where he abandoned his supply lines and foraged), along with his subsequent handling of Price's Missouri Raid in 1864 in my opinion makes him the best Union general in the Trans-Mississippi.
 

James N.

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Pea Ridge is in my opinion an excellent campaign for the study of leadership and generalship and proves why Samuel Ryan Curtis is one of the most underrated Union generals of the war. His actions at Pea Ridge are textbook examples of a spoiling action, economy of force, and why logistics are more important than tactics. Conversely, from Van Dorn we learn of why a holding force is important in flanking movements, command fatigue, the dangers of overestimating one's own army, and again, why logistics are more important than tactics.

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http://civilwartalk.com/threads/civil-war-on-the-western-border-1854-1865-by-jay-monaghan.129373/

I finally got around to reading what was likely the very first treatment of trans-Mississippi Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Indian Territory, Jay Monaghan's Civil War on the Western Border, which had a very nice treatment of the campaign and battle, although it has by now been joined by several other more recent works. I think the real hero of the affair was Eugene Carr who could easily have allowed himself to become discouraged and demoralized by his somewhat desperate position on March 7.
 
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James N.

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That's a little bit of an over exaggeration...

The text on the back of the card isn't quite as silly as the picture on the front, though it also chooses to focus too much on the supposed contributions of Pike's Indians, but the rest is surprisingly accurate, considering the source!


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novushomus

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Van Dorn:
Earl Van Dorn's career was tragic, and I think can be surmised in the Pea Ridge campaign. Van Dorn was a flamboyant and dashing officer who made an excellent cavalryman. As his actions in the campaign suggest, he thought like a cavalryman.

He was impatient, and that impatience hurt him dearly. Almost immediately after assuming command of Price's and McCulloch's divisions he started off on an offensive when waiting a few days would have given him several benefits. First, it would have acquainted him better with his subordinate commanders and allowed him to make organizational changes that the army sorely needed. He may have discovered that McCulloch's two brigades were far too large to be handled effectively and might have broken them up. Likewise, he could have allowed Confederates in the Missouri State Guard to continue enrolling, avoiding the haphazard organizations like Colton Greene's Confederates being placed into a temporary brigade with McBride's State Guard Regiment under Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Frost. This also would have allowed for the permanent organization of a cavalry brigade for Price, unlike the temporary demi-brigade that Elijah Gates of the 1st Missouri Cavalry frequently commanded throughout the battle and campaign. It would have given time for the 19th and 20th Arkansas regiments to be issued arms and to be integrated with the army. And finally, it would have given Van Dorn time to recover from the fever he had caught in transit to Northwest Arkansas.

But, fever be damned, Van Dorn was not patient. To him, his objective was to take his new Army of the West to St. Louis. There is almost no evidence of a seriously thought out campaign or strategy for his operations in Missouri. He set out almost immediately, crossing the Boston mountains in the winter of Pea Ridge. Thinking like a cavalryman, Van Dorn made his only good decision of the campaign when he encountered Curtis's line. Rather than launching a frontal attack, Van Dorn decided to flank around. However, Van Dorn made a serious error. He established a temporary brigade under Brig. Gen. Martin E. Green to guard his trains but neglected to leave a holding force to ensure that Curtis would stay in his fortifications facing the south and away from the line of march. Unlike Lee at Chancellorsville, where McLaws's and Anderson's divisions held Hooker's attention to the front while Jackson made his famous flanking march, Curtis had no serious force to his front and managed a rapid change of front once he ascertained that it was just only Green's small force across Sugar Creek.

Like a cavalryman on a raid, Van Dorn drove hard into his opponents rear. He had forced march the Army of the West ever since he had crossed the Boston Mountains In the hustle and bustle, Green's brigade and the ammunition wagons were left behind and neither he or anyone on his staff ordered them up (perhaps they were forgotten in the heat of the moment). His tired, hungry, and footsore soldiers would only have the ammunition in their cartridge boxes and caissons. He overestimated what infantry were capable of and further more his critical lower commanders would be exhausted too, robbing them of any initiative. He also assumed that Curtis would sit passively and allow Van Dorn to make his triumphal march in the Federal rear unmolested.

Van Dorn's third serious mistake was to divide his force once in was in Curtis's rear. Sending McCulloch's division south of Pea Ridge and Big Mountain allowed Curtis to essentially spoil Van Dorn's offensive by waylaying into the Texan at Leetown. Though Van Dorn's rational is that McCulloch would be in position to strike Curtis's flank, what actually happened robbed him of more than half of his army's strength. The next day, Curtis was able to concentrate his entire's army strength against only half of Van Dorn's army, neutralizing Van Dorn's advantage in numbers and his positional advantage in gaining Curtis's rear.

His tactics as a battlefield commander were mixed. In tactical articulation, Van Dorn did well on March 6, organizing a coordinated assault that finally drove and flanked Carr from his line at Elkhorn. However, deploying his troops into line ate up so much valuable time that it was dark by the time Carr had been dislodged and thus made any effective pursuit impossible.

Whatever Van Dorn had tactically achieved, it was undone by his troops running out of ammunition on March 7, which compelled him to abandon the field and left his army starving in the Ozarks as they marched around the Union army to meet their supply trains.
 

novushomus

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http://civilwartalk.com/threads/civil-war-on-the-western-border-1854-1865-by-jay-monaghan.129373/

I finally got around to reading what was likely the very first treatment of trans-Mississippi Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas, Jay Monaghan's Civil War on the Western Border, which had a very nice treatment of the campaign and battle, although it has by now been joined by several other more recent works. I think the real hero of the affair was Eugene Carr who could easily have allowed himself to become discouraged and demoralized by his somewhat desperate position on March 7.

Have you read William Shea's and Earl J. Hess's campaign study? I highly recommend it if you haven't.

Carr was pugnacious (his nom du guerre in the Indian Wars would be "the Black Bearded Cossack") and his Medal of Honor was well deserved.
 

James N.

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Have you read William Shea's and Earl J. Hess's campaign study? I highly recommend it if you haven't.

Carr was pugnacious (his nom du guerre in the Indian Wars would be "the Black Bearded Cossack") and his Medal of Honor was well deserved.

No, I've gotten most of my information and impressions from several visits spread over three or four decades. One was the very first Living History encampment allowed in the park since it opened in 1962: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/living-history-at-pea-ridge-nmp-march-1978.122069/
 

Philip Leigh

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Oct 22, 2014
Is this the same region as the post-Civil War fiction "True Grit?".
The scenery in the 2nd film was striking, if it was filmed there.


"True Grit," the novel, was set in eastern Oklahoma and Fort Smith, Arkansas on the Oklahoma border. Neither movie version was filmed there.

The "Blue and the Gray," however, was filmed in Fort Smith and the Arkansas Ozarks. Some scenes were even filmed on the Prairie Grove battlefield park.

 
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James N.

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Is this the same region as the post-Civil War fiction "True Grit?".
The scenery in the 2nd film was striking, if it was filmed there.

I've written about this before because it's one of my "pet peeves." The John Wayne version was filmed in COLORADO; the latest one was filmed in New Mexico and part of Texas - NONE of these look anything like that part of Oklahoma! Here's what that area actually looks like: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/le-...ne-of-the-real-true-grit.126784/#post-1379550

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Pvt.Shattuck

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I've written about this before because it's one of my "pet peeves." The John Wayne version was filmed in COLORADO; the latest one was filmed in New Mexico and part of Texas - NONE of these look anything like that part of Oklahoma! Here's what that area actually looks like: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/le-...ne-of-the-real-true-grit.126784/#post-1379550

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That's why I was asking. Most historical movies and shows, with a few notable exceptions, were filmed in Southern California, which looks nothing like Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, or Georgia.
 
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