of Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, U.S. Army,
commanding Army of the Southwest
Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern)
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE SOUTHWEST,
Cross Timber, Ark., April 1, 1862.
Capt. N.H. MCLEAN,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Saint Louis, Mo.
CAPTAIN: The brief telegraphic report which I gave on the 9th ultimo is not sufficient to present even the general outline of the battle of Pea Ridge, and with the report of my commanders of divisions I now submit a more general detail.
My pursuit of General Price brought me to Fayetteville, Ark. The entire winter campaign from the 26th January to this time, including the march from Roll to the Boston Mountains, 240 miles, was attended with continual exhibitions of toil, privations, conflict, and gallantry, some of which I have telegraphed to headquarters, and may hereafter deserve more full development. After reaching Arkansas the forces of General Price were rapidly re-enforced by regiments which had been stationed in Arkansas and the Indian Territory. I therefore expected these combined forces would return upon us to give us battle, and in conformity with the orders of the general of the 22d of February I selected Sugar Creek as the strongest of several strong places taken from the enemy to make a stand against any and all odds.
I reported my force to you on the 12th February, after Colonel Davis' division had joined me, at 12,095 men and fifty pieces of artillery, including four mountain howitzers. My long line of communications required garrisons at Marshfield, Springfield, Castle, and Keetsville, besides a constant moving three to guard my train. My force in Arkansas on the 7th ultimo was therefore not more than 10,500 cavalry and infantry with forty-nine pieces of artillery, including the mountain howitzers, one piece having been sent out into Missouri and thus prevented front joining us in the battle.
The scarcity of forage and other supplies made it necessary for me to spread out my troops over considerable country, always trying to keep it within supporting distance, convenient to rally on the positions selected for battle. On the 4th of March this force was located as follows:
The First and Second Divisions, under Generals Sigel and Asboth, were 4 miles southwest of Bentonville, at Cooper's farm, under general orders to move around to Sugar Creek, about 14 miles east.
The Third Division, under Col. Jefferson C. Davis, acting brigadier-general, had moved and taken position at Sugar Creek, under orders to make some preparatory arrangements and examinations for a stand against the enemy.
The Fourth Division was at Cross follow, under command of Col. E. A. Car, acting brigadier-general. My own headquarters were also at this place, within about 12 miles from Sugar Creek, on the main telegraph road from Springfield to Fayetteville.
Large detachments had been sent out from these several camps for forage and information. One from Cross Hollow to Huntsville, under command of Colonel Vandever, ;and three from Cooper's farm to Maysville and Pineville. One of these, raider Major Conrad, with a piece of artillery and about 250 men, did not reach us till after the battle. All the others came in safe and joined in the engagement.
The enemy had taken position in the Boston Mountains, a high range that divides the waters of the White River and Arkansas. General Price had rallied the forces that had fought at Carthage, Wilson's Creek, and Lexington, augmented by his exertions to recruit in Missouri during the winter. On his arrival from Springfield, in Arkansas, he reported to Governor Rector that between 4,000 and 5,000 of these had joined the Confederate service previous to his leaving Springfield. The circulation of all manner of extravagant falsehoods on his way induced the whole country to leave their homes, and for fear we would kill them thousands joined his ranks. General McCulloch brought at least eleven regiments to the field and General Pike five. Besides these regularly-organized Confederate troops which General Price met in Arkansas, there were many companies and regiments of' Arkansas volunteers, most of the country people being required to take up arms. From this data and the general opinion of the country I estimated the force of the enemy to have been at least 30,000 or 40,000. This was the force in and near Boston Mountains, rallying to drive us from Arkansas and Missouri.
The two armies thus constituted and located were within hearing of each other's cannon, about 30 miles apart. I submit an accompanying map, showing some of the topographic features of the country on the roads which we traversed. Our troops were weary and somewhat exhausted in their long forced marches and frequent conflicts. Our cavalry had especially suffered in the breaking down and loss of horses. But our troops were generally well armed, drilled, and anxious to encounter the enemy at any reasonable hazard. They were all intelligent, ardent, flushed with our repeated success in many encounters on our way, and all conscious of the righteousness of their country's cause.
The arrival of Major-General Van Dorn on the 2d of March in the camp of the enemy was the occasion of great rejoicing and the firing of forty guns. The rebel force was harangued by their chiefs with boastful and passionate appeals, assuring them of their superior numbers and the certainty of an easy victory. Dispatches were published falsely announcing a great battle at Columbus, Ky., in which we had lost three gunboats and 20,000 men; and thus the rebel hordes were assembled. The occasion was now opened to drive the invaders from the soil of Arkansas and give a final and successful blow to a Southern Confederacy.
The 5th of March was cold and blustering. The snow fell so as to cover the ground. No immediate attack was apprehended, and I was engaged writing. About 2 o'clock p.m. scouts and fugitive citizens came in, informing me of the rapid approach of the enemy to give me battle. His cavalry would be at Elm Springs, some 12 miles distant, that night, and his artillery had already passed Fayetteville. Satisfied of the truth of this report, I immediately sent couriers to General Sigel and Colonel Vandever, and ordered them to move immediately to Sugar Creek, where I also ordered Colonel Carr to move with his division.
I also sent you a dispatch, which may have been lost with other mail-matter which I have since learned was captured by the enemy. I told you I would give them the best reception possible. All my messengers were successful in delivering their orders. Colonel Carr's division moved about 6 p.m. Colonel Vandever had intelligence of the movement of the enemy before my messenger reached him, and made immediate change in his march, so that with great exertion he arrived on the 6th. General Sigel deferred his march from Cooper's farm till 2 o'clock in the morning of the 6th, and at Bentonville tarried himself with a regiment and battery till he was attacked about 9 a.m.
I arrived at Sugar Creek at 2 o'clock a.m. on the 6th, and immediately detailed parties for early morning work in felling timber, to obstruct certain roads to prevent the enemy having too many approaches and to erect field works to increase the strength of my forces. Colonel Davis and Colonel Carr early in the day took their positions on the high projecting hills commanding the valley of the creek, leaving the right of the line to be occupied by the First and Second Divisions, which were anxiously expected. The valley of the creek is low, and from a quarter to a half mile wide. The hills are high on both sides, and the main road from Fayetteville by Gross Hollow to Keetsville intercepts the valley nearly at right angles. The road from Fayetteville by Bentonville to Keetsville is quite a detour, but it also comes up the Sugar Creek Valley; a branch, however, takes off and runs nearly parallel to the main or Telegraph road, some 3 miles from it. The Sugar Creek Valley, therefore, intercepts all these roads.
The Third and Fourth Divisions had before noon of the 6th deployed their lines and cut down a great number of trees, which thoroughly blockaded the roads on the left. Later in the day I directed some of the same work to be done on the right. This work was in charge of Colonel Dodge, who felled trees on the road which runs parallel to the main road to which I have before referred. This proved of great advantage, as it retarded the enemy some two hours in their flank movement. Breastworks of considerable strength were erected by the troops on the headlands of Sugar Creek as if by magic, and a battery near the road crossing was completely shielded by an extensive earthwork, erected, under the direction of Colonel Davis, by a pioneer company, commanded by Captain Snyder. About 2 o'clock p.m. General Asboth and Colonel Osterhaus reported the arrival of the First and Second Divisions. This good news was followed immediately by another report that General Sigel, who had remained behind with a detachment, had been attacked near Bentonville and was quite surrounded by the enemy's advance forces. I immediately directed some of the troops to return to his relief. In the mean time he had advanced with his gallant little band, fighting its way within 3 or 4 miles of our main forces. The two divisions turned back in double-quick, and a large cavalry force also started, all being anxious to join in a rescue of their comrades in peril.
Part of the First Division, under Colonel Osterhaus, soon met the retreating detachment, and immediately opened with artillery and infantry, which checked the further advance and terminated the action for the day. In the retreat and final repulse, which occupied several hours, our loss was some 25 killed and wounded. The enemy must have suffered more, as our artillery had telling effect along the road, and the rebel graves in considerable numbers bear witness of the enemy's loss.
The firing having ceased, I sent back other troops that had joined the movement and designated the positions on the right, which were promptly occupied by the First and Second Divisions. Our men rested on their arms, confident of hard work before them on the coming day. The accompanying map of the battle ground will fully illustrate the positions then and subsequently assumed. In my front was the deep, broad valley of Sugar Creek, forming the probable approaches of the enemy, our troops extending for miles, and generally occupying the summits of headlands on Sugar Creek. In my rear was a broken plateau called Pea Ridge, and still farther in my rear the deep valley of Big Sugar Creek, or Cross Timber. My own headquarters and those of Generals Sigel, Asboth, and other commanders of divisions were near Pratt's house. The lines A, B, and C show the different fronts assumed during the progress of the battle.
The approach by Bentonville brought the enemy to my extreme right, and during the night of the 5th and 6th he began a movement around my flank by the road before mentioned, which crosses Pea Ridge some 3 miles northwest of the main Telegraph road. I ascertained in the morning this flank movement of the cnemy, which I perceived was designed to attack my right flank and rear. I therefore immediately called my commanders of divisions together at General Asboth's tent, and directed a change of front to the rear, so as to face the road upon which the enemy was still moving. At the same time I directed the organization of a detachment of cavalry and light artillery, supported by infantry, to open the battle by an attack from my new center on the probable center of the enemy before he could fully form. I selected Colonel Osterhans to lead this central column, an officer who displayed great skill, energy, and gallantry each day of the battle.
The change of front thus directed reversed the order of the troops, placing the First and Second Divisions on the left, their left still resting on Sugar Creek, Osterhaus and the Third Division in the center, and the Fourth Division became the extreme right. While I was explaining the proposed movement to commanders and Colonel Osterhans was beginning to rally and move forward this attacking column, a messenger brought me intelligence that my picket, commanded by Major Weston, of the Twenty-fourth Missouri, had been attacked by infantry. This was at Elkhorn Tavern, where the new right was to rest. Colonel Cart being present, he was ordered to move into position and support the major as soon as possible.
This was the commencement of the second day's fight. It was about 10.30 o'clock, and the officers separated to direct their several commands. The fire increased rapidly on the right and very soon opened in the center. After visiting the right, where I perceived the enemy was making a vigorous attack, and finding Colonel Carr, under a brisk fire of shot and shell, coolly locating and directing the deployment, I returned to my central position near Pratt's house, and sent orders to Colonel Davis to move near to Colonel Carr, to support him. In the mean time Colonel Osterhaus had attacked the enemy and divided his forces; but he was soon pressed with greatly superior numbers, that drove back our cavalry and took our flying battery, which had advanced with it. The colonel, however, was well supported by his infantry, and soon checked a movement that threatened to intercept the deployment of other forces. I considered the affair so imminent that I changed my order to Colonel Davis, and directed him to move to the support of the center, which was his proper place according to my order for the change of front. My new line was thus formed under the enemy's fire, the troops generally moving in good order and gallant bearing. Thus formed, the line was not continuous, but extended entirely across Pea Ridge, the divisions in numerical order from left to right, Colonel Osterhaus remaining in command of a detachment and operating with Colonel Davis in resisting McCulloch and Mcintosh, who commanded the enemy's forces in the center. I did not err in sending Colonel Davis to this point, although Colonel Carr, on the right, also needed re-enforcements.
The battle raged in the center with terrible fury. Colonel Davis held the position against fearful numbers, and our brave troops nobly stood or charged in steady lines. The fate of the battle depended on success against this flank movement of the enemy, and here near Leetown was the place to break it down. The fall of Generals McCulloch, McIntosh, and other officers of the enemy, who fell early in the day, aided us in our final success at this most critical point; and the steady courage of officers and men in our lines chilled and broke down the hordes of Indians, cavalry, and infantry that were arrayed against us. While the battle thus raged in the center the right wing was sorely pressed, and the dead and wounded were scattered over the field. Colonel Carr sent for re-enforcements, and I sent a few cavalry and my body-guard, with the little mountain howitzers, under Major Bowen. These did good service at a most critical period. I urged Colonel Carr to stand firm--that more force could be expected soon. Subsequently Colonel Carr sent me word that he could not hold his position much longer. I could then only reply by sending him the order to "persevere." He did persevere, and the sad havoc in the Ninth and Fourth Iowa and Phelps' Missouri and Major Weston's Twenty-fourth Missouri and all the troops in that division will show how earnest and continuous was their perseverance.
Seeing no signs of approaching foes by the Telegraph road, I sent him three pieces of artillery and a battalion of infantry of Colonel Benton's command (part of the Third Division), which had been located at Sugar Creek to guard the approaches. Each small accession to the Fourth Division seemed to compensate an overpowering force. As to the left, I was repeatedly informed it stood safe and firm, although threatened by the foe.
About 2 p.m. my aide, Captain Adams, who had communicated with that wing informed me he had just seen Generals Sigel and Asboth on Sugar Creek, and there was still no attack in that quarter and no appearance of an enemy. About this time the enemy's forces melted away in the brushy center, and the fire gradually ceased. Believing the left and center were no longer menaced, and the enemy was concentrating on the right, I again sent word to Colonel Carr that he would soon be re-enforced. I had now resolved to bring up the left and center to meet the gathering hordes near Elkhorn Tavern. To inform myself of the condition of the extreme left I went in person to that point. On my way I ordered forward the remainder of Colonel Benton's command, three pieces and a battalion, which had remained guarding the crossing of the main Telegraph road.
I found Generals Sigel and Asboth with the troops on the hill near the extreme left, where all was quiet, and the men, not having been under fire, fresh and anxious to participate in the fight. It was now safe to make a new change of front, so as to face Sugar Creek. I therefore ordered this force forward. General Asboth moved by the direct road to Elkhorn Tavern, and General Sigel went by Leetown to re-enforce Davis if need be, but to press on to re-enforce Carr if not needed in the center. Both generals moved promptly. I accompanied General Asboth, collecting and moving forward some straggling commands that I found by the way.
It must have been near 5 o'clock when I brought this force to the aid of Colonel Cart. He had received three or four shots, one a severe wound in the arm. Many of his field officers had fallen and the dead and wounded had greatly reduced his force. He had been slowly forced back near half a mile, and had been about seven hours under constant fire. His troops were still fiercely contesting every inch of ground. As I came up the Fourth Iowa was falling back for cartridges in line, dressing on their colors in perfect order. Supposing with my re-en-forcements I could easily recover our lost ground, I ordered the regiment to halt and easily about. Colonel Dodge came up, explaining the want of cartridges; but, informed of my purpose, I ordered a bayonet charge, and they moved again with steady nerve to their former position, where the gallant Ninth was ready to support them. These two regiments won imperishable honors.
General Asbboth had planted his artillery in the road and opened a tremendous fire on the enemy at short range. The Second Missonri Infantry also deployed and earnestly engaged the enemy. About this time the shades of night began to gather around us, but the fire on both sides seemed to grow fierce and more deadly. One of my bodyguard fell dead, my orderly received a shot, and General Asboth was severely wounded in the arm. A messenger came from General Sigel, saying he was close on the left and would soon open fire. The battery of General Asboth ran out of ammunition and fell back. This caused another battery that I had located on the right of the rosa to follow, this latter fearing a want of support. The infantry, however, stood firm or fell back in good order, and the batteries were soon restored, but the caissons got quite out of reach. The artillery firing was renewed, however, and kept up till dark, the enemy firing the last shot, for I could not find another cartridge to give them a final round; even the little howitzers responded, "No cartridges." The enemy ceased firing, and I hurried men after the caissons and more ammunition. Meantime I arranged the infantry in the edge of the timber, with fields in front, where they lay on their arms and held the positions for the night. I directed a detail from each company to bring water and provisions, and thus without a murmur these weary soldiers lay and many of them slept within a few yards of the foe, with their dead and wounded comrades scattered around them. Darkness, silence, and fatigue soon secured to the weary broken slumbers and gloomy repose. The day had closed in some reverses on the right, but the left had been unassailed, and the center had driven the foe from the field.
My only anxiety for the fate of the next day was the new front which it was necessary to form by my weary troops. I directed Colonel Davis to withdraw all the remainder of his reserve from the center and move forward so as to occupy the ground on Carr's immediate left. Although his troops had been fighting hard most of the day and displayed great energy and courage, at 12 o'clock at night they commenced their movement to the new position on the battle-field, and they too soon rested on their arms.
Nothing further had been heard from General Sigel's command after the message at dark that he was on or near the left. His detour carried him around a brushy portion of the battle-field that could not be explored in the night. About 2 o'clock he reported at my headquarters with his troops, who, he said, were going to their former camps for provisions. The distance to his camp, some 2 miles farther, was so great I apprehended tardiness in the morning, and urged the general to rest the troops where they then were, at my headquarters, and send for provisions, as the other troops were doing. This was readily concurred in, and these troops bivouacked also for the night. The arrangement thus completed to bring all four of my divisions to face a position which' had been held in check all the previous day by one, I rested, certain of final success on the coming day.
The sun rose above the horizon before our troops were all in position and yet the enemy had not renewed the attack. I was hardly ready to open fire on him, as the First and Second Divisions had not yet moved into position. Our troops that rested on their arms in the face of the enemy, seeing him in motion, could not brook delay, and the center, under Colonel Davis, opened fire. The enemy replied with terrible energy from new batteries and lines which had been prepared for us during the night. To avoid raking batteries the right wing fell back in good order, but kept up a continuous fire from the new position immediately taken. The First and Second Divisions soon got under way, and moved with great celerity to their position on the left.
This completed the formation of my third line of battle. It was directly to the rear of the first, and was quite continuous, much of it on open ground. We then had our foe before us, where we well knew the ground. The broken defiles occupied by him would not admit of easy evolutions to repel such as could be made by us on the open plain. Victory was inevitable. As soon as the left wing extended so as to command the mountain and rest safely upon it, I ordered the right wing to move forward so as to take position where I placed it the night previous. I repaired myself to the extreme right, and found an elevated position considerably in advance which commanded the enemy's center and left. Here I located the Dubuque battery, and directed the right wing to move its right forward so as to support it, and give direction to the advance of the entire right wing. Captain Hayden soon opened a fire which proved most galling to the foe and a marker for our line to move upon. Returning to the center, I directed the First Iowa Battery, under Captain David, to take position in an open field, where he could also direct a fire on the central point of the enemy. Meantime the powerful battery of Captain Welfley and many more were bearing on the cliff, pouring heavy balls through the timber near the center, splintering great trees and scattering death and destruction with tempestuous fury.
At one time a battery was opened in front of Hayden's battery on the extreme right, so near I could not tell whether it was the enemy or an advance of Hayden's, but riding nearer I soon perceived its true character, and directed the First Iowa and the Peoria battery, Captain Davidson, to cross-fire on it., which soon drove it back to the common hiding place, the deep ravines of Cross Timber Hollow. While the artillery was thus taking position and advancing upon the enemy the infantry moved steadily forward. The left wing, advancing rapidly, soon began to ascend the mountain cliff, from which the artillery had driven most of the rebel force. The upward movement of the gallant Thirty-sixth Illinois, with its dark-blue line of men and its gleaming bayonets, steadily rose from base to summit, when it dashed forward into the forest, driving and scattering the rebels from these commanding heights. The Twelfth Missouri, far in advance of others, rushes into the enemy's lines, bearing off a flag and two pieces of artillery. Everywhere our line moved forward and the foe as gradually withdrew.
The roar of cannon and small-arms was continuous, and no force could then have withstood the converging line and concentrated crossfire of our gallant troops. Our guns continued some time after the rebel fire ceased, and the rebels had gone down into the deep caverns through which they had begun their precipitate flight. Finally our firing ceased. The enemy had suddenly vanished. Following down the main road, which enters a deep cation, I saw some straggling teams and men running in great trepidation through the gorges of the mountains. I directed a battery to move forward, which threw a few shots at them, followed by a pursuit of cavalry comprised of the Benton Hussars and my escort from Bowen's battalion, which was all the cavalry convenient at the time. General Sigel also followed in this pursuit towards Keetsville, while I returned, trying to check a movement which led my forces north, where I was confident a frightened foe was not likely to go. I soon found the rebel forces had divided and gone in every direction, but it was several hours before I learned that the main force, after entering the canyon, had turned short to the right, following obscure ravines which led into the Huntsville road in a due south direction. General Sigel followed some miles north towards Keetsville, firing on the retreating force that ran that way. Colonel Bussey, with cavalry and the little howitzers, followed beyond Bentonville.
I camped on the field and made provision for burying the dead and care of the wounded. The loss in the several divisions was as follows:
O = Officers
M = Enlisted Men.
A = Aggregate
1st (Sigel's) Division :
O Killed = .... M Killed = 11; O Wounded = 4; M Wounded =89; O Missing = 2; M Missing = 38; A = 144
2d (Asboth's) Division
O Killed = 3; M Killed = 17, O Wounded = 3; M Wounded = 60; O Missing = ....; M Missing = 36; A = 119
3d (Davis') Division
O Killed = 4; M Killed = 42; O Wounded = 18; M Wounded = 256; O Missing = ....; M missing = 9; A = 329
4th (Carr's) Division
O Killed = 6; M Killed = 95; O Wounded = 29; M Wounded = 491; O Missing = 2; M Missing = 78; A = 701
3d Iowa Cavalry (Colonel Bussey).
O Killed = ....; M Killed = 24; O Wounded = 1; Men Wound = 18; O Missing = ....; M Missing = 9, A = 52
O Killed = ....; M Killed = 1; O Wounded = 1; M Wounded = 2; O Missing = ....; M Missing = 2; A = 6
O Killed = 13; M Killed =190; O Wounded = 56; M Wounded = 916; O Missing = 4; M Missing = 172; A = 1,351
This sad reckoning shows where the long-continued fire was borne and where the public sympathy should be most directed. The loss of the enemy was much greater, but their scattered battalions can never furnish a correct report of their killed and wounded.
The reports of division and other officers of my command are all submitted, with such details as were seen or understood by local commanders. They give interesting incidents and notice many deserving heroes.
I mentioned in my telegraphic report of the 9th March with high commendations, and I now repeat, the names who have done distinguished services. These are my commanders of divisions, Generals Sigel and Asboth, Colonel and Acting Brigadier-General Davis, and Colonel and Acting Brigadier-General Carr. They commanded the four divisions. I also again present commanders of brigades, Colonels Dodge, Osterhaus, Vandever, White, Schaefer, Pattison, and Greusel. The three first named I especially commend. I also renew the just thanks due to my staff officers, Capt. T. I. McKenny, acting assistant adjutant-general, Capt. W. H. Stark, Capt. John Ahlfeldt, Lieut. J. M. Adams, and Lieutenant Stitt, all acting aides; also A. Hoeppner, my only engineer. To these I must now add Major Bowen, who commanded my body-guard, and with the mountain howitzers did gallant service in every battle-field, in the pursuit, and especially at Pea Ridge. Captain Stephens, Lieutenant Madison, and Lieutenant Crabtree, of this battalion, also deserve honorable mention. Major Weston, of the Twenty-fourth Missouri, provost-marshal, in camp and in battle did gallant service. Lieutenant David, ordnance officer on my staff, took charge of me First Iowa Battery after Captain Jones was wounded, and did signal service. I must also thank my commanders of posts, who supported my line of operation and deserve like consideration, ss their duties were more arduous--Colonel Boyd at Rolla, Colonel Waring at Lebanon, Colonel Mills at Springfield, and Lieutenant-Colonel Holland at Cassville.
To do justice to all I would spread before you the most of the rolls of this army, for I can bear testimony to the almost universal good conduct of officers and men who have shared with me the long march, the many conflicts by the way, and final struggle with the combined forces of Price, McCulloch, Mcintosh, and Pike, under Major-General Van Dorn,at the battle of Pea Ridge.
I have the honor to be, very
respectfully, your obedient servant,
SAML. R. CURTIS,
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