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[27]

Price, thus roughly handled before he had been able to concentrate his forces, did not choose to risk a general engagement. He retreated rapidly through Springfield and Cassville, closely pursued, and fighting at intervals, until he had crossed the Arkansas line, forming a junction, soon afterward, near Boston Mountains, with Gen. Ben McCulloch, commanding a division of Texas and Arkansas Confederates, thus raising his entire force to a number fully equal with that which had so keenly pursued him, which was now commanded by Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, of Iowa, and which, after continuing the pursuit down to Fayetteville, Arkansas, had retraced its steps to and halted at Sugar creek, not far over the State line. Meantime, Price was joined1 and backed by Earl Van Dorn, late a captain2 of U. S. regulars, now Confederate major-general, commanding the Trans-Mississippi department, and by Gen. Albert Pike, of Arkansas, heading a considerable brigade of Indians, swelling the numbers of the Rebels to about 20,000.

Van Dorn promptly resolved to give battle, and to fight it in such manner that the defeat of the Unionists should involve their destruction. Advancing rapidly from his camp at Cross Hollows, covering Fayetteville, he struck at3 the division of Gen. Franz Sigel, holding Bentonville, the extreme advance of the Union position, 8 or 10 miles southwest from Gen. Curtis's center, near Mottsville, on the direct road from Fayetteville to Springfield. This attempt to isolate, overwhelm, and crush Sigel was baffled by the coolness and skill of that general. Sending his train ahead under escort, he covered its retreat with his best battery and infantry, planting his guns on each favorable position, and pouring grape and shell into the pursuing masses, until their advance was arrested and disorganized, when he would limber up and fall back to the next elevation or turn in the road, where he would renew the dispensation of grape with like results, then concede another half-mile, and repeat the operation. Thus fighting and falling back, he wore out the day and the distance, repelling his foes, who at times enveloped his flanks as well as his rear, with a loss of less than 100 men, a good part of these from the 2d Missouri, Col. Schaefer, who, mistaking an order, had left Bentonville considerably in advance, and who fell into an ambuscade by the way. Before 4 P. M., Sigel was met by reenforcements sent him by Gen. Curtis, when the pursuit was arrested, and he deliberately encamped near Leetown, across Sugar creek, and in close proximity to General Curtis's center position. Pea Ridge is the designation of the elevated table-land, broken by ravines, and filling a large bend of Sugar creek, on which the ensuing battle was fought.

Gen. Curtis, knowing himself largely outnumbered by the motley host collected to overwhelm him, had chosen a very strong position on which to concentrate his retreating force, provided the Rebels would attack it in front, as he expected. The country being generally wooded, he had obstructed most of the lateral roads with fallen trees; while his artillery and infantry, well posted and

1 March 3, 1862.

2 See page 18.

3 March 6.

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Samuel R. Curtis (5)
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