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James N.

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Part I - March to Battle
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In The Bayonet or Retreat by artist Andy Thomas depicting the 37th Illinois Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, Union troops from the command of Brig. Gen. Francis Herron briefly penetrate the Confederate line at the Borden House. Below, the reconstructed Borden House as it appears today in Prairie Grove State Park.

In the pre-dawn darkness of December 7, 1862, Federal troops commanded by young Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron stumbled out from their encampments near the town of Fayetteville, Arkansas onto the celebrated Wire Road named for the telegraph that led from St. Louis, past the earlier battlefields of Wilson's Creek, Missouri and Pea Ridge, Arkansas. This was to begin the third day of a forced march to reinforce another small "army" under Brig. Gen. James Blunt at Cane Hill some twenty-five miles away; already Herron had driven his men seventy miles in the past forty-eight hours. Blunt's was the leading force of forces operating in Missouri-Arkansas and had arrived at isolated Cane Hill in pursuit of raiding Confederate cavalry led by Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke and Col. Joseph "Jo" Shelby when he learned a large force of newly-conscripted Arkansas infantry and veteran Missourians were advancing against him. When Herron received word from department commander Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis that Blunt had requested support he immediately set his own force consisting of two small divisions plus some cavalry and artillery in motion.

Prairie Grove Borden House.jpeg


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Part II - The Battle of Prairie Grove
Prairie Grove Morrow House.jpeg

Today the John Morrow House where Hindman met with his subordinates the night before the battle has been relocated to Prairie Grove State Park and stands on the battlefield the meeting generated. In addition to serving as Hindman's headquarters it also served as a hospital following the battle.

The action leading up to the battle had its origin earlier in the year when Confederate forces under Earl Van Dorn failed to eject Curtis in the Pea Ridge Campaign, following which the armies of both sides were withdrawn from the hills and mountains around Fayetteville east to what were thought to be more important theaters along or even across the Mississippi River. Into this vacuum stepped the diminutive figure of Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, a native of Helena, Arkansas along the big river. Hindman put all his considerable energy into raising a new army of Arkansas conscripts and providing for them all an army could require from the depleted resources of the state.

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Commanders at Prairie Grove included, from right to left Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Himdman; Union Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron; and Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt. Blunt's impetuous pursuit of Confederate raiders instigated Hindman's attack and Herron's subsequent forced march to reinforce Blunt. In a written order to his troops issued before the battle Hindman had stated,

Don't stop with your wounded comrade. The surgeons and infantry corps will take care of him. Do you go forward to avenge him.

Don't break ranks to plunder. If we whip the enemy all he has will be ours. If not, the spoils will be of no benefit to us. Plunderers and stragglers will be put to death upon the spot. File-closers are especially charged with this duty. The cavalry in your rear will likewise attend to it.

Remember that the enemy you engage have no feelings of mercy or kindness towards you. His ranks are composed of Pin Indians (full-blood Unionists), free-Negroes, Southern Tories, Kansas jayhawkers, and hired Dutch cut-throats.

Prairie Grove 1.jpeg


Hindman seized the opportunity offered by Blunt's pursuit of Marmaduke to march north from Ft. Smith on the Arkansas River near the border of Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) in an attempt to crush the smaller Federal force before it could be joined by Herron marching from his camps on Wilson's Creek near Springfield, Missouri. When he realized Herron was already drawing near he called a meeting of his commanders to propose sidestepping Blunt in order to "chaw up Herron for breakfast, and then turn and gobble up Blunt for dinner." Leaving fires burning and a single regiment to deceive Blunt, Hindman's force led by Jo Shelby's cavalry marched the night of December 6 between the converging federals and took up a position on the ridge above which overlooked the crossing of the Illinois River by the Wire Road and awaited Herron's arrival.

Battlefield_of_Prairie_Grove,_Arkansas._December_7th,_1862.jpg


The map above shows the positions of the combined forces near the end of the day-long battle. Hindman's Arkansas and Missouri Confederates are represented by the west-to-east red lines near the bottom; Marmaduke's largely dismounted cavalry which had led the advance are at the extreme right with Missourians under generals D. M. Frost and Mosby M. Parsons and Arkansas conscripts under James Fagan and Francis Shoup extended the line to the left along the ridge facing north. Herron's outnumbered force crossed the Illinois River and slowly deployed facing Hindman's right. Blunt's force only arrived around 2:00 in the afternoon well after the battle had been going on for several hours, extending the Union line to the right of Herron.

Prairie Grove Borden House 2.jpeg


Hindman made the mistake of allowing Herron to deploy in his own time and fashion, which he did rather slowly and ponderously, all the while expecting to be joined by Blunt. In this he was taking a great risk because there was no agreement nor communications between the two Federal commanders who were essentially operating independently of each other. Following a long artillery duel, the outnumbered Herron attacked Hindman's confederates along the ridge upon which stood Prairie Grove Church and actually penetrated the line at the Borden House above. The Confederates rallied in the space behind the house seen below and counterattacked onto the plain before being shattered and driven back by Union artillery.

Prairie Grove Borden House 1.jpeg


Confederate Commanders at Prairie Grove.jpg


Subordinate Confederate leaders at Prairie Grove included, from left-to-right above, Brig. Gen. James Fagan commanding an Arkansas unit; West Pointer Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke commanding all of Hindman's cavalry and responsible for the defense of the right flank; and Missouri Col. Joseph "Jo" Shelby, a veteran of the guerrilla war known as Bleeding Kansas in the 1850's.

Prairie Grove.jpeg


In the afternoon Blunt's small army began to appear after making a forced march of its own to the battlefield from Cane Hill ten miles away. After waiting impatiently for Hindman to attack him there, when Blunt heard the opening guns at Prairie Grove he realized he had been fooled but quickly recovered and marched to the sound of the guns. Meanwhile, Herron continued to attack Hindman along the ridge, holding him in place until Blunt's arrival turned the battle in the Federals' favor. The addition of Blunt's force made the battle at Prairie Grove the third-largest in the Trans-Mississippi during the war, with some 9,000 Confederates under Hindman facing Blunt and Herron's 15,000 once they were combined.

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In another painting by Andy Thomas, Hindman's Arkansans attack through a cut hayfield in a vain attempt to disrupt Blunt as he deployed. The haystacks into which some of the wounded had crawled for shelter from the chill December night before some were accidently set on fire also played a part in the horrible aftermath of the battle, as recounted by Jay Monaghan in his Civil war on the Western Border: "The worst scene of horror was around the charred haystacks. Here the smell of burning flesh had attracted hogs during the night. They had rooted through the black ashes, dragging out, fighting over, and devouring morsels of human bodies - intestines, heads, arms, and even hearts."

Prairie Grove Latta House.jpeg


Hindman had been hindered throughout the battle by the recalcitrant behavior of his Arkansas conscripts, possibly one reason he had decided to stand on the defensive before Herron in the first place. According again to Monaghan, "Salvage crews picked up unshot bullets by the hatful. The conscripts had bitten them from the cartridges and fired only blank loads against their nation's flag. In their pockets searchers found the propaganda leaflets Hindman had distributed." Nightfall brought an end to the battle which Hindman claimed as a victory because he continued to hold his position on the ridge. However, he realized that the union of the Federal forces meant he no longer had any hope of winning an actual victory on the battlefield. That night he began his retreat which was to prove far more disastrous to the Confederate cause in Arkansas than the battle itself had been when his army began to melt away on the return through the mountains to Van Buren. Battle losses included 339 dead and 1,630 wounded for both sides combined but desertion wrecked the Confederates in western Arkansas leading soon to the loss of Fort Smith.

Prairie Grove Latta Farm.jpeg


Today the scene of conflict is a pretty Arkansas State Park located on the southwest fringe of the sprawling Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers metro area. In addition to the well-preserved battlefield a virtual village of period structures like the 1834 John Latta House, known as The Lord's Vinyard," and its outbuildings seen above have been brought here, as well as the Hindman Hall Museum which interprets the battle through exhibits of artifacts and a diorama. A driving tour follows the course of the action and a series of trails allow access to Confederate positions along the ridge.
 
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Part I - March to Battle
View attachment 116476
In The Bayonet or Retreat by artist Andy Thomas depicting the 37th Illinois Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, Union troops from the command of Brig. Gen. Francis Herron briefly penetrate the Confederate line at the Borden House. Below, the reconstructed Borden House as it appears today in Prairie Grove State Park.

In the pre-dawn darkness of December 7, 1862, Federal troops commanded by young Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron stumbled out from their encampments near the town of Fayetteville, Arkansas onto the celebrated Wire Road named for the telegraph that led from St. Louis, past the earlier battlefields of Wilson's Creek, Missouri and Pea Ridge, Arkansas. This was to begin the third day of a forced march to reinforce another small "army" under Brig. Gen. James Blunt at Cane Hill some twenty-five miles away; already Herron had driven his men seventy miles in the past forty-eight hours. Blunt's was the leading force of forces operating in Missouri-Arkansas and had arrived at isolated Cane Hill in pursuit of raiding Confederate cavalry led by Br.g. Gen. John S. Marmaduke and Col. Joseph "Jo" Shelby when he learned a large force of newly-conscripted Arkansas infantry and veteran Missourians were advancing against him. When Herron received word from department commander Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis that Blunt had requested support he immediately set his own force consisting of two small divisions plus some cavalry and artillery in motion.

View attachment 116475
Prairie Grove, AR after action report:

No. 21.


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Report of Lieut. Col. John Charles Black, Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry.

HDQRS. THIRTY-SEVENTH ILLINOIS VOL. INFANTRY,
Fayetteville, Ark., December 10, 1862.
COL.: I have the honor of submitting the following report of the
marches of the Thirty-seventh Illinois prior to the late engagement, and
also of the part borne by the regiment in the battle of Prairie Grove:

On December 4, at 3 a. m., we marched from Camp Lyon, near Crane Creek,
some 25 miles south of Springfield, and encamped on Flat Creek at 4 p. m.,
having made 20 miles.

Reveille was ordered at 2 a. m., and the regiment marched at 4 a. m.,
December 5, passing through Cassville and Keytesville to within 3 miles
of the Arkansas line, making 23 miles.

We started the next morning (December 6) at 5 o'clock, and marched to Cross
Hollow, 28 miles, by 1.30 p. m. Resting until 12 midnight, we started for
Fayetteville, Ark., distant 16 miles, and arrived there at sunrise
December 7. A halt of one and a half hours was ordered, to get breakfast
and snatch a few moments of much-needed sleep. We were speedily aroused by
the cannon of Gen. Herron's advance, skirmishing with the enemy, some 12
miles in advance. Moving rapidly forward, we reached the Illinois Creek,
and, crossing it, took position on the battle-field of Prairie Grove at 12
m. of December 7, having made the tremendous march of 66 miles in
thirty-six hours, after marching 43 miles in the two preceding days.

By your order, I took post on the extreme right, supporting half of
Capt. Murphy's battery (F, First Missouri Light Artillery), moving up
under cover of a dense chaparral until abreast of our position, and then
advancing to the edge of the brush, by the left flank, in line of battle.
A halt was opened by the artillery on either side, and a fierce cannonade
was kept up for an hour. So completely were the men exhausted that I
saw them sleeping quietly around, paying no heed to the fierce missiles.

At the end of an hour we were ordered to advance into the open field.
A cheer was given, and we moved out a short distance, and remained
stationary for some fifteen minutes, when I was ordered by Col.
Huston, commanding the Second Division, to advance the regiment
down the slope to the support of the batteries of the Third Division.

Scarcely had this position been reached before Col. Huston again ordered
our advance against the hill, on which the center of the enemy was posted
in unknown strength, and from which two regiments had just been driven
with heavy loss. Throwing out Company A on the right and Company I on the
front and left, as skirmishers, I ordered a charge up the hill. It was
executed in fine style, the men advancing steadily and swiftly up to the
edge. The firing of the skirmishers in front announced the enemy close at
hand. Clearing the edge, we stood face to face with them, their numbers
overwhelming (5,000 or 6,000 strong, as it was subsequently proved), one
column moving by left-oblique upon our left and the right of the
Twenty-sixth Indiana, another moving direct upon our right. They moved in
column en masse, with guns at a ready. The firing began first upon the
left, and in a few minutes was general along the entire line. But, pressed
by overwhelming numbers, the right of the Twenty-sixth gave way after most
gallantry contesting the ground. My skirmishers about the same time
reported the enemy's artillery posted on our right. Thus overwhelmed, the
only hope from annihilation was the bayonet or retreat. The bayonet could
not be used; directly in front of us was a rail fence, and it could not
have been passed and we reformed before the enemy would have been upon us;
so, reluctantly, I ordered a retreat. Not a man had moved from his post
till that order. Falling back some 300 yards, they reformed in the rear of
the batteries.

In this charge and retreat, Capt. [G. R.] Bell, of Company G, was wounded,
doing splendid duty with his men. Lieut. [F. J.] Abbey, Company I, and
Lieut. [N. B.] Hicks, Company K, were taken prisoners, they not receiving
the order to retreat until too late to execute it. I was too seriously
wounded to retain the command, and so, turning it over to Maj. [H. N.]
Frisbie, I left the field; not, however, until the regiment was reformed
and had again commenced its fire. I refer you to Maj. Frisbie for a
continuation of this report.

To Maj. Frisbie and Adjutant Bandy my thanks are due for the calm, fearless
manner in which they conveyed and executed my commands. All officers and
men stood nobly at their posts. The hand of death has snatched a brave,
true man from our midst-Lieut. Johnson, Company D, who fell, mortally
wounded, at a subsequent movement of the fight. I sorrow for his gallant
death. All who fell, fell nobly. Those who serve on, many envy their late.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully,

[JOHN] CHAS. BLACK,
Lieut.-Col., Cmdg. Thirty-seventh Illinois.

Col. W. McE. DYE,
20th Iowa Vols., Cmdg. 2d Brig., 2d Div., Army of the Frontier.

-----------

No. 22.

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Report of Lieut. Frederick J. Abbey, Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry.

BATTLE-FIELD, PRAIRIE GROVE, ARK., December 10, 1862.
MAJ.: In compliance with your direction, I have to report that on the
advance of the regiment to the foot of the hill, which we stormed, and
the throwing out of Company I as skirmishers, I took my position on the
left of the line, when the regiment fell back. As we reached the fence,
and at the same time heard the cry to halt, I lay where I was, supposing
the regiment had fallen still farther back, I saw it was impossible for me
to follow. I then emptied my revolver at them and loaded again. At that
time I was surrounded, and, presenting my pistol, demanded protection,
which was guaranteed me, and then I surrendered. I was hurried to the
rear and paroled the camp for the night. I was paroled the next morning
until exchanged. Pledged secrecy as to all I saw and learned of their
strength and position.

FRED. J. ABBEY,
First Lieut., Company I, Thirty-seventh Regt.

Maj. H. N. FRISBIE,
Cmdg. Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry.

P. S.--I surrendered my sword, belt, and revolver, which they did not
return.


Source: Official Records
PAGE 118-32 MO., ARK., KANS., IND. T., AND DEPT. N. W. [CHAP. XXXIV.
[Series I. Vol. 22. Part I, Reports. Serial No. 32.]
 
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TerryB

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The Arkansans in the upper left corner of the state, almost stretching to Fort Smith, were highly similar to the East Tennesseans who were pro-Union. The country is hilly, the Boston Mountains being part of the Ozarks. The pro-Union sentiment is why the University of Arkansas was located in Fayetteville postwar.
 

Buckeye Bill

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Wonderful thread, James!

My son and I visited the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in 2011. We really enjoyed the Thomas C. Hindman Visitor Center and the 14 tour stops. Most people have never visited this venue and most do not know much about this 1862 American Civil War battle. In my opinion, the Trans-Mississippi battles are fascinating!

Bill
 
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Wonderful thread, James!

My son and I visited the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in 2011. We really enjoyed the Thomas C. Hindman Visitor Center and the 14 tour stops. Most people have never visited this venue and most do not know much about this 1862 American Civil War battle. In my opinion, the Trans-Mississippi battles are fascinating!

Bill
I was annoyed recently when looking for the date for Prairie Grove in the Chronology that accompanies the 1960 Deluxe 2 volume boxed set of my old standby The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War that the battle's not even included! So much of the war in the Trans-Mississippi gets overlooked I'm only aware of a single older treatment of the whole Arkansas-Kansas-Missouri-Indian Territory theater, one which I recently reviewed here: http://civilwartalk.com/threads/civil-war-on-the-western-border-1854-1865-by-jay-monaghan.129373/ . (I seem to recall Prairie Grove being included in Shelby Foote's The Civil War though.) I believe more recently there has been a separate study but haven't read it; for this I largely relied on memory of previous visits, park brochures, and the two or three relevant chapters in Civil War on the Western Border.

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Can anyone bring some light onto the situation at Rhea's Mill?
This OOB:
notes some units as at Rhea's Mill.
Now as Blunt moved towards Rhea's Mill and from there turned to join Heron I wonder if these troops where already at Rhea's Mill on the morning of the 7th December or if they were left behind when Blunt marched there and left his train at Rhea's Mill.
 
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In The Bayonet or Retreat by artist Andy Thomas depicting the 37th Illinois Volunteer Regiment at the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, Union troops from the command of Brig. Gen. Francis Herron briefly penetrate the Confederate line at the Borden House. Below, the reconstructed Borden House as it appears today in Prairie Grove State Park.
It's very sad what happened to all the main commanders after the war.

Hindman was assassinated.
Herron died a pauper in a tenement.
Blunt died in an asylum for the insane.
 
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For those with a very long memory, the Borden House served as the Henry House in the miniseries The Blue and the Gray. I was killed somewhere in the front yard. I am sure all of the houses on the site were in the movie. I would have to watch it again. I am lucky enough to have the DVD. Thank you for this thread. Prairie Grove is not well known or understood battle. Blunt was pretty well hated by Missourians as was Schofield, and Curtis before him. According to many people Blunt got justice due him in the end, other cite Baxter Springs as justice, something he well deserved. Kansas and Missouri had a very complex military history during the war. Hindman had made some real enemies, who assassinated him after the war.
 
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For those with a very long memory, the Borden House served as the Henry House in the miniseries The Blue and the Gray. I was killed somewhere in the front yard. I am sure all of the houses on the site were in the movie. I would have to watch it again. I am lucky enough to have the DVD. Thank you for this thread. Prairie Grove is not well known or understood battle. Blunt was pretty well hated by Missourians as was Schofield, and Curtis before him. According to many people Blunt got justice due him in the end, other cite Baxter Springs as justice, something he well deserved. Kansas and Missouri had a very complex military history during the war. Hindman had made some real enemies, who assassinated him after the war.
In case you haven't seen it before, here's my thread on The Blue and The Gray: https://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-blue-and-the-gray-1981-82-tv-miniseries.101812/

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I had a photo of the cannon someplace. It was bad. I had some shots of the trapdoors also. I am sure the trapdoors are the same ones used in the minis they did of the John Jakes Bicentennial series minis. I still remember the stunt men wearing black tennis shoes in shots. Another was 4 or 5 Zouaves marching in order with the other ranks. Quite weird. I did meet Warren Oates there. He was a nice guy to talk too.
 
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