of Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn C. S. Army,
commanding Trans-Mississippi District
Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern)
HEADQUARTERS TRANS-MISSISSIPPI DISTRICT,
Jacksonport, Ark., March 27, 1862.
General Beauregard, Commanding, &c.
GENERAL: I have the honor to report that while at Pocahontas I received dispatches on February 22, informing me that General Price had rapidly fallen back from Springfield before a superior force of the enemy, and was endeavoring to form a junction with the division of General McCulloch in Boston Mountains. For reasons which seemed to me imperative I resolved to go in person and take command of the combined forces of Price and McCulloch.
I reached their headquarters March 3, and being satisfied that the enemy, who had halted at Sugar Creek, 55 miles distant, was only waiting large re-enforcements before he would advance, I resolved to attack him at once. Accordingly I sent for General Pike to join me near Elm Springs with the forces under his command, and on the morning of March 4 moved with the divisions of Price and McCulloch by way of Fayetteville and Bentonville to attack the enemy's main camp on Sugar Creek. The whole force under my command was about 16,000 men.
On the 6th we left Elm Springs for Bentonville, and from prisoners captured by our scouting parties on the 5th I became convinced that up to that time no suspicion was entertained of our advance, and that there were strong hopes of our effecting a complete surprise and attacking the enemy before the large detachments encamped at various points in the surrounding country could rejoin the main body. I therefore endeavored to reach Bentonville, 11 miles distant, by rapid march, but the troops moved so very slowly that it was 11 a.m. before the head of the leading division (Price's) reached the village, and we had the mortification to see Sigel's division, 7,000 strong, leaving it as we entered. Had we been one hour sooner we should have cut him off with his whole force, and certainly have beaten the enemy the next day.
We followed him, our advance skirmishing with his rear guard, which was admirably handled, until we had gained a point on Sugar Creek about 7 miles beyond Bentonville and within 1 or 2 miles of the strongly-intrenched camp of the enemy.
In conference with Generals McCulloch and Mcintosh, who had an accurate knowledge of this locality, I had ascertained that by making a detour of 8 miles I could reach the Telegraph road leading from Springfield to Fayetteville, and be immediately in rear of the enemy and his intrenchments. I had resolved to adopt this route, and therefore halted the head of my column near the point where the road by which I proposed to move diverges, threw out my pickets, and bivouacked as if for the night. But soon after dark I marched again, moving with Price's division in advance, and taking the road by which I hoped before daylight to reach the rear of the enemy. Some obstructions, which he had hastily thrown in the way, so impeded our march that we did not gain the Telegraph road until near l0 a.m. of the 7th.
By prisoners, with forage wagons, whom our cavalry pickets brought in, we were assured that we were not expected in that quarter, and that the promise was fair for a complete surprise.
I at once made dispositions for attack, and directing General Price to move forward cautiously, soon drew the fire of a few skirmishers, who were rapidly re-enforced, so that before 11 o'clock we were fairly engaged, the enemy holding very good positions and maintaining a heavy fire of artillery and small-arms upon the constantly-advancing columns which were being pressed upon him.
1 had directed General McCulloch to attack with his forces the enemy's left, and before 2 o'clock it was evident that if his division could advance or even maintain its ground, I could at once throw forward Price's left, advance his whole line, and end the battle. I sent him a dispatch to this effect, but it was never received by him. Before it was penned his brave spirit had winged its flight, and one of the most gallant leaders of the Confederacy had fought his last battle.
About 3 p.m. I received, by aides-de-camp, the information that Generals McCulloch and Mcintosh and Colonel Hebert were killed, and that the division was without any head. I nevertheless pressed forward with the attack, and at sunset the enemy was fleeing before our victorious troops at every point in our front, and when night fell we had driven him entirely from the field of battle.
Our troops slept upon their arms nearly a mile beyond the point at which he made his last stand, and my headquarters for the night were at the Elkhorn Tavern. We had taken during the day seven cannon and about 200 prisoners.
In the course of the night I ascertained that the ammunition was almost exhausted, and that the officer in charge of the ordnance supplies could not find his wagons, which, with the subsistence train, had been sent to Bentonville. Most of the troops had been without any food since the morning of the 6th and the artillery horses were beaten out.. It was therefore with no little anxiety that I awaited the dawn of day. When it came it revealed to me the enemy in a new and strong position, offering battle. I made my dispositions at once to accept the gage, and by 7 o'clock the cannonading was as heavy as that of the previous day.
On the side of the enemy the fire was much better sustained, for, being freed from the attack of my right wing, he could now concentrate his whole artillery force. Finding that my right wing was much disorganized, and that the batteries were one after the other retiring from the field with every shot expended, I resolved to withdraw the army, and at once placed the ambulances, with all the wounded they could bear, upon the Huntsville road, and a portion of McCulloch's division, which had joined me during the night, in position to follow, while I so disposed of my remaining forces as best to deceive the enemy as to my intention, and to hold him in check while executing it.
About 10 o'clock I gave the order for the column to march and soon afterwards for the troops engaged to fall back and cover the rear of the army. This was done very steadily; no attempt was made by the enemy to follow us, and we encamped about 3 p.m. about 10 miles from the field of battle. Some demonstrations were made by his cavalry upon my baggage train and the batteries of artillery, which returned by different routes from that taken by the army, but they were instantly checked, and thanks to the skill and courage of Colonel Stone and Major Wade, all of the baggage and artillery joined the army in safety.
So far as I can ascertain our loss amounts to about 600 killed and wounded and 200 prisoners: and one cannon, which, having become disabled, I ordered to be thrown into a ravine.
The best information I can procure of the enemy's loss places his killed at more than 700, with at least an equal number of wounded. We captured about 300 prisoners, making his total loss about 2,000. We brought away four cannon and ten baggage wagons, and we burned upon the field three cannon taken by Mcintosh in his brilliant charge. The horses having been killed, these guns could not be brought away.
The force with which I went into action was less than 14,000 men. That of the enemy is variously estimated at from 17,000 to 24,000.
During the whole of this engagement I was with the Missouri division, under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops and more gallant leaders than General Price and his officers. From the first to the last shot they continually pushed on and never yielded an inch they had won, and when at last they received the order to fall back they retired steadily and with cheers. General Price received a severe wound early in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose himself to danger.
No successes can repair the loss of the gallant dead who fell on this well-fought field. McCulloch was the first to fall. I had found him, in the frequent conferences I had with him, a sagacious, prudent counselor, and a bolder soldier never died for his country.
Mcintosh had been very much distinguished all through the operations which have taken place in this region; and during my advance from Boston Mountains I placed him in command of the cavalry brigade and in charge of the pickets. He was alert, daring, and devoted to his duty. His kindness of disposition, with his reckless bravery, had attached the troops strongly to him, so that after McCulloch fell, had he remained to lead them, all would have been well with my right wing. But after leading a brilliant charge of cavalry and carrying the enemy's battery he rushed into the thickest of the fight again at the head of his old regiment and was shot through the heart. The value of these two officers was best proven by the effect of their fall upon the troops. So long as brave deeds are admired by our people the names of McCulloch and Mcintosh will be remembered and loved.
General Slack, after gallantly maintaining a long-continued and successful attack, was shot through the body; but I hope his distinguished services will be restored to his country.
A noble boy, [S.] Churchill Clark, commanded a battery of artillery, and during the fierce artillery actions of the 7th and 8th was conspicuous for the daring and skill which he exhibited. He fell at the very close of the action. Colonel Rives fell mortally wounded about the same time and was a great loss to us. On a field where many gallant gentlemen were I remember him as one of the most energetic and devoted of them all.
To Col. Henry Little my especial thanks are due for the coolness, skill, and devotion with which for two days he and his gallant brigade bore the brunt of the battle. Colonel Burbridge, Colonel Rosser, Colonel Gates, Major Lawther, Major Wade, Captain MacDonald, and Captain Schaumberg are some of those who attracted my special attention by their distinguished conduct.
In McCulloch's division, the Louisiana regiment, under Col. Louis Hebert, and the Arkansas regiment, under Colonel McRae, are especially mentioned for their good conduct. Major Montgomery, Captain Bradfute, Lieutenants Lomax, Kimmel, Dillon, and Frank Armstrong, assistant adjutant-general, were ever active and soldierly. After their services were no longer required with their own division they joined my staff, and I am much indebted to them for the efficient aid they gave me during the engagement of the 8th. They are meritorious officers, whose value is lost to the service by their not receiving rank more accordant with their merit and experience than that they now hold.
Being without my proper staff, I was much gratified by the offer of Colonel Shands and Captain Barrett, of the Missouri Army, of their services as aides. They were of great assistance to me by the courage and intelligence with which they bore my orders; also Colonel Lewis, of Missouri.
None of the gentlemen of my personal staff, with the exception of Colonel Maury, assistant adjutant-general, and Lieut. C. Sulivane, my aide-de-camp, accompanied me from Jacksonport, the Others having left on special duty. Colonel Maury was of invaluable service to me both in preparing for and during the battle. Here, as on other battle-fields where I have served with him, he proved to be a zealous patriot and true soldier; cool and calm under all circumstances, he was always ready, either with his sword or his pen. His services and Lieutenant Sulivane's were distinguished. The latter had his horse killed under him while leading a charge, the order for which he had delivered.
You will perceive from this report, general, that, although I did not, as I hoped, capture or destroy the enemy's army in Western Arkansas, I have inflicted upon it a heavy blow and compelled him to fall back into Missouri. This he did on the 16th instant.
For further details concerning the action and for more particular notices of the troops engaged I respectfully refer you to the reports of the subordinate officers, which accompany this report.
Very respectfully, sir, your obedient servant,
EARL VAN DORN,
HEADQUARTERS ARMY OF THE WEST,
Memphis, Tenn., April 20, 1862.
GENERAL: I regret to find that in my report of the battle of Elkhorn no mention was made of the excellent conduct of Lieut. L.C. Leftwich, of General McCullock's staff. After exhibiting great, courage and energy during the engagement of that division he joined my staff and rendered me very great assistance during the action of the 8th. I desire to bring him to your notice as a gallant and meritorious young officer.
I am, general, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
EARL VAN DORN,
RETURN TO PEA