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The Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, December 7, 1862

Discussion in 'The South & Western Theaters' started by James N., Dec 7, 2016.

  1. James N.

    James N. Major Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    Part I - March to Battle
    ARMO02.JPG
    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
     
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2017

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  3. bdtex

    bdtex Brigadier General Moderator

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    I love that painting. I've almost clicked on "Place Your Order" for that one and his other Prairie Grove print more than once. :D They're still in the Cart.
     
  4. James N.

    James N. Major Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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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.

    hindman-herron-blunt.jpg

    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.

    20111005_374.JPG

    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.
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
  5. donna

    donna Brev. Brig. Gen'l Forum Host

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    The Andy Thomas paintings are nicely done and very realistic.

    Thanks for posting all the information on this battle.
     
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  6. east tennessee roots

    east tennessee roots 1st Lieutenant

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    Prairie Grove, AR after action report:

    No. 21.


    P529627.gif

    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.

    P559380.gif

    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.]
     
  7. James N.

    James N. Major Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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  8. TerryB

    TerryB Major

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    I bought a Henry rifle bullet at the museum there a long time ago. They had a Gatling gun in the front yard.
     
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  9. TerryB

    TerryB Major

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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.
     
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  10. Buckeye Bill

    Buckeye Bill 1st Lieutenant

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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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  11. James N.

    James N. Major Forum Host Civil War Photo Contest
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    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.

    [​IMG]
     
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  12. Buckeye Bill

    Buckeye Bill 1st Lieutenant

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    * Anniversary Bump *
     
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  13. TinCan

    TinCan Captain Forum Host

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    Excellent thread, another James N. informative, and educational, work, enjoyed it very much.
     
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  14. gary

    gary Captain

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    Thank you James N. Prairie Grove is one of the four battlefields I visited last month. The Trans-Mississippi is sadly neglected.
     
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