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

Luke Freet

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Nov 8, 2018
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Palm Coast, Florida
Kansas and Missouri had a very complex military history during the war. Hindman had made some real enemies, who assassinated him after the war.
Hindman was a fascinating figure in Arkansas and in the Civil War.
I've known him mostly as a close political ally of Patrick Cleburne's in Helena politics before the war, including the infamous shootout with some know-nothings.
Hindman's assassination is probably the most intriguing mysteries of the Reconstruction south.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
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.
Sounds like you have some interesting stories of the experience.
 

Buckeye Bill

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Forum Host
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The Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas occurred on this day in 1862. This American Civil War battle was the last time two armies of almost equal strength faced each other for control of northwest Arkansas. When the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi withdrew from the bloody ground, the Federal forces claimed a strategic victory. It seemed clear that Missouri and northwest Arkansas would remain under Federal protection.

FB_IMG_1575717796414.jpg
 

Rick Richter

Corporal
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Dec 6, 2012
Part II - The Battle of Prairie Grove
View attachment 116482
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under Earl Van Dorn failed to eject Curtis in the Pea Ridge Campaign, following which the armies of both sides were withdrawn from the hills and mountains around Fayetteville east to what were thought to be more important theaters along or even across the Mississippi River.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.

View attachment 116478

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.

View attachment 116479

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.

View attachment 116477

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.

View attachment 116481

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.

View attachment 116480

View attachment 116484

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.

View attachment 116483

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.

View attachment 116485

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."

View attachment 116487

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.

View attachment 116486

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.

Thanks for this worthwhile summary, especially with the pics and illustrations. Though small and out of the way, the battlefield today has been nicely preserved with plaques, and is well worth visiting!
 

donna

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Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
It is an excellent thread. Just wish when we use to go to Arkansas for my husband's job we had seen the battlefield. Of course when traveling on business you can't see as much as you like as no time. Glad we were able to see what we could in Arkansas.
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
Part II - The Battle of Prairie Grove
View attachment 116482
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.

View attachment 116478

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.

View attachment 116479

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.

View attachment 116477

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.

View attachment 116481

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.

View attachment 116480

View attachment 116484

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.

View attachment 116483

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.

View attachment 116485

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."

View attachment 116487

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.

View attachment 116486

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.
Thank you for this. Why is it that the war in this theater has not been taught? Is it that the capitals were in the other theater of the war and therefore that theater was of more important that Arkansas or other battles in this theater? The only thing I have read of Arkansas was of the partisan's war as in West Virginia, and Kansas .What was the importance of this battle in the overall of the war? I am more interested in the social aspects of the war in this area which as with the war as not been written about. Could you suggest any books on the war in this theater.? Did Arkansas have that many slaves or was it more of a civil war with in a civil war old grievances come to retribution ?
 

farmerjohn

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Joined
Oct 30, 2019
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.
did ya know genl. daniel harvey hill was the first chancellor of the u of a?
 

John S. Carter

Sergeant Major
Joined
Mar 15, 2017
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.
I read Jake's historical novels on this era. They are not just of a family but of the nation as it moved from one of a mutual relationship to one of hostility. One of a Jeffersonian social and political philosophy then the other of a Hamiltonian industrial and early capitalism with a moral antislavery. They began with the romantic idea of war then to the horrors of the war and the changes it has upon the people .In the end the Hamiltonians has defeated the Jeffersonians and Madisonian. I do not to say anything about your acting in the series, but the novels were much more interesting than the boring series.
 

Lampasas Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Prairie Grove was a special place for my former reenactment unit, Holmes' Brigade. I'm somewhere on the far left in the Blue and Gray participant photo (in the area that's blurred!). Every Dec. we'd take part in the reenactment at Prairie Grove; it was always cold, and that ridge was always steep! It's a wonderful historic site with few modern encroachments.
 

Patrick H

Lt. Colonel
Joined
Mar 7, 2014
Thank you for this. Why is it that the war in this theater has not been taught? Is it that the capitals were in the other theater of the war and therefore that theater was of more important that Arkansas or other battles in this theater? The only thing I have read of Arkansas was of the partisan's war as in West Virginia, and Kansas .What was the importance of this battle in the overall of the war? I am more interested in the social aspects of the war in this area which as with the war as not been written about. Could you suggest any books on the war in this theater.? Did Arkansas have that many slaves or was it more of a civil war with in a civil war old grievances come to retribution ?
You will find a few others here who share your questions about the seeming lack of interest in the Trans Mississippi Theater. Buckeye Bill, although he lives in Ohio, has traveled to nearly every major CW battlefield in the country, yet he finds our Trans Mississippi theater most interesting of all. @Boonslick, @Booner, and I all live in Boonville, Missouri, where the war first started in our state. We are immersed in local history, which goes back beyond the War of 1812 in our area. Did you know that Missouri ranks 3rd in number of Civil War battles and skirmishes fought? Most people don't realize this, and most of the locales are on private property now and are only accessible by permission. This might be one reason so few people research our area. Another reason is the population density: There are simply more people living within a few hours' drive of the eastern battlefields.

My own particular interest is the war between Missouri guerrillas and local militias where ever they happened to be operating. I have spent a great deal of time visiting their skirmish sites and visiting their graves. They are very interesting to me and many are actually sympathetic figures to me, although the reputations of a few renegades among them have tended to give them all a terrible reputation.
 

James N.

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Thank you for this. Why is it that the war in this theater has not been taught? Is it that the capitals were in the other theater of the war and therefore that theater was of more important that Arkansas or other battles in this theater? The only thing I have read of Arkansas was of the partisan's war as in West Virginia, and Kansas .What was the importance of this battle in the overall of the war? I am more interested in the social aspects of the war in this area which as with the war as not been written about. Could you suggest any books on the war in this theater.? Did Arkansas have that many slaves or was it more of a civil war with in a civil war old grievances come to retribution ?
Since @Patrick H has addressed the lack of attention given the Trans-Mississippi, I'll briefly mention the few books I'm personally aware of that discuss it to one degree or another. One of the first was Jay Monaghan's War On The Western Border which includes a concise chapter on Prairie Grove. Civil War on the Western Border, 1854 - 1865 by Jay Monaghan | Non-Fiction History of the Civil War (civilwartalk.com) The legendary Ed Bearss covered it quite well in one of his early works I only very recently finished reading, Fort Smith - Little Gibraltar On The Arkansas which tells the entire story of the region through the window of the famous and important military outpost dating from 1817 through the 1890's. Bearss points out that the Union having to deal with efforts by Hindman and others in Arkansas diverted troops that might've sooner gone to reenforce Grant at Vicksburg. There are available more recent studies of the individual battles of Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge in Arkansas as well as some of those in Missouri, but I have to admit never having read any of them.
 
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