The Civil War – Battle of Prairie Grove, AR

Submitted by C.J. Johnson Following the Battle of Cane Hill in late November in far northwestern Arkansas, Union troops had fallen back to Cane Hill, while Confederate forces withdrew to the Boston Mountains. Confederate General Thomas Hindman had forces in Fort Smith and was working toward pushing Union forces out of Arkansas and into Missouri. Fighting for possession of Arkansas continued in early December 1862 with the Battle of Prairie Grove.

The Confederates had established defensive lines on a ridge near Prairie Grove. According to history.com, “After Cane Hill, Hindman moved his 11,000-man army across the Boston Mountains and approached [Union General] Blunt’s 5,000 troops. Hindman prepared to attack, but was surprised by the approach of Union reinforcements from Missouri.

In one of the most dramatic marches of the entire war, Union General Francis Herron had moved 7,000 reinforcements more than 110 miles in three and a half days. Hindman turned to face Herron, but then took up defensive positions in Prairie Grove.

Herron arrived and attacked Hindman on December 7.

At the National Park Service website, there is a firsthand account of the battle from the viewpoint of a young woman. “Julia West was fourteen years old when she viewed the carnage and destruction of the battle at Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Yet, the images of that day and those that followed were vividly etched in her memory forever. She was not the only young spectator at the battle, but she did have one of the best views of the conflict.

Looking south from her home on West Hill, Julia beheld the splendor and horror of battle when the men of the Union Army of the Frontier encountered the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi.

The southern troops waited atop the heavily-wooded Prairie Grove ridge stretching from the large yellow two-story Borden House on the east end to the small log Morton House on the west end of the ridge. The only rebels visible were those in the clearings around the homes and the Fayetteville-Cane Hill road which bisected the ridge. Footsore Yankees advanced across open corn, wheat, and hay fields in the valley to face the Southern foe.”

Only half of Union General Herron’s troops were initially thrown into the fight. When this effort failed, the Rebels counterattacked, but suffered heavily and were pushed back. Union General James Blunt then moved his troops toward the battlefield and attacked later in the day. He also failed, as did the following Rebel counteraction.

The EncyclopediaofArkansas.net website provides additional insight. “Nightfall ended the savage fighting, but neither side gained an advantage. The opponents called for a truce to care for the wounded and gather the dead.

During the night, the Confederates wrapped blankets around the wheels of their cannon to muffle the sound and quietly withdrew from the ridge because of a lack of ammunition and food. Federal troops slept on the battlefield with few tents or blankets and without campfires even though temperatures were near freezing.

Hindman’s command had about 204 men killed, 872 wounded, and 407 missing with several of the missing being deserters. The Federal Army of the Frontier had 175 killed, 808 wounded, and 250 missing.

The Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi consisted of about 12,000 troops from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and the Cherokee and Creek nations, with about twenty-two cannon. The Union Army of the Frontier had about 10,000 soldiers from Arkansas, Missouri, the Cherokee and Creek nations, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin, with about forty-four cannon.

The battle was a tactical draw, with the casualties about the same in each army. But the Southern retreat during the night gave the Union a strategic victory, as a full-scale Confederate army would never return to northwest Arkansas, and Missouri remained firmly under Union control. This savage battle was probably the bloodiest day in Arkansas history.”