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Chapter 8:

  • Price Falls back to Arkansas
  • -- affair at Sugar Camp -- Price and McCulloch Disagree -- Van Dorn Takes personal command -- the battle of Pea Ridge -- McCulloch and McIntosh killed -- Van Dorn Retreats -- Van Dorn's opinion of the Missourians -- the army of the West ordered east of the Mississippi -- General Price's address to his troops.

General Price remained in camp on the Osage river near Osceola something more than a month. During this time the term for which many of the men had enlisted expired, and some returned to their homes, while others re-enlisted. Camp life was wearisome, and there was no immediate prospect, as far as the men could see, of a resumption of hostilities. Price was too weak to take the offensive with any hope of success, and the Confederate commanders in Arkansas showed no disposition to help him. General McCulloch, at his comfortable winter quarters near Fayetteville, turned a deaf ear to his appeals. Since the battle of Wilson's Creek, nearly six months before, not a Confederate soldier had raised a hand or fired a gun in aid of the Missourians, who at this time were leaving their State organization, of which they were justly proud, and enlisting in the Confederate service. McCulloch alone had men enough—well armed, well drilled, well disciplined and eager for active service—to have beaten back, in conjunction with Price, any force that could have been brought against them. McCulloch was immovable. A retrograde movement on Price's part became imperative. He therefore fell back to Springfield and occupied his old camp there. But his stay was short. [76]

About the 1st of February, 1862, he received information that the enemy were preparing to advance upon him from Sedalia, Rolla and Fort Scott. Ten days later the column from Kansas, under Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, made its appearance on the Bolivar road, and, though checked for a time by outposts, steadily forced its way. The next day the army, 8,000 men and 51 pieces of artillery, with a wagon train big enough for an army four times as large, was on the road to Cassville. Colonel Gates with his regiment kept the enemy in check while Springfield was being evacuated. The three columns of the enemy were now united, and Price commenced his retreat to Arkansas in earnest. The First brigade of Missouri Confederates was given the rear, and performed its duty of alternately halting and forming in line to check the enemy's advance, and then closing up on the main body, in a soldierly manner. The weather, which had been pleasant, turned suddenly cold, with a biting wind and the air full of icy sleet, and the men, who were kept on the alert day and night, suffered severely. At Dug Springs the cavalry of the enemy became obtrusive, and were sent reeling back to the rear in short order. At Crane Creek, just at night, a general engagement seemed imminent, and every man and battery was placed in position; but after some heavy skirmishing the enemy withdrew and waited for morning. The rear guard remained in position until midnight, the main column having pushed on to anticipate a heavy force of Kansans under General Lane, who were forced-marching to reach Cassville before Price did. But at 9 o'clock at night of the 15th, Price's column reached there, weary, cold, hungry and wet, having crossed Flat Creek seventeen times during the day. Price now had everything behind him, with his front and flanks clear. At Sugar Creek there was heavy skirmishing for several hours, in which the First brigade and Clark's and Macdonald's batteries made it so uncomfortable for the [77] enemy that they withdrew with considerable loss and in some confusion.

On the 17th, about 10 o'clock at night, the command reached Cross Hollows, Ark., a strong defensive position, where it camped in line of battle, cold and without provisions. At this point Generals Price and McCulloch met and had a conference, the result of which was that after remaining there one day the command moved to Cove Creek, in the depths of the Boston mountains, where it awaited the developments of the future. At Cove Creek several Arkansas regiments joined the Missourians and they fraternized, for there was always the best of feeling between the troops of the two States. Gen. Albert Pike also came with a body of Indians, who possessed the vices of their civilized conquerors and their uncivilized ancestors and the virtues of neither. As soldiers they were worthless, but it may not have been entirely their fault. General Pike was not the kind of commander to develop a very high order of soldiership in any body of recruits, and least of all in a body of half-civilized Indians.

When Price and McCulloch met, their old differences were revived, and prevented any cordial co-operation between them. The main causes of difference were those of rank and precedence. Price was a majorgen-eral in the Missouri State Guard, and McCulloch was a brigadier-general in the provisional army of the Confederate States. At Wilson's Creek, Price and Pearce waived their rank and gave McCulloch command of the united army—the Arkansas and Missouri State troops as well as the Confederate troops. But this concession did not seem to satisfy him, for when the Federals were defeated he refused to make pursuit or in any way assist Price in the perilous position he occupied. Events since the battle of Wilson's Creek had not tended to give either of them a better opinion of the other. In the shifting scenes of war they were again thrown together, under [78] conditions that required agreement and concert of action, and they could not agree nor act together.

Price, therefore, wrote to Gen. Earl Van Dorn, commander of the Trans-Mississippi department, whose headquarters were at Pocahontas, in the northeastern part of Arkansas, laid the matter before him in full, and suggested that he settle all differences by taking personal command of his and McCulloch's forces, and attacking the enemy. Price's views impressed Van Dorn favorably, and he started at once for the scene of action, and made the ride across the State in five days. He spent a day with Price and another with McCulloch, with the result that he determined to move early on the morning of the fourth day, March 4th, find the enemy and give him battle. His army was divided into two corps, commanded respectively by McCulloch and Price, aggregating about 17,000 men. The combined force of Curtis and Sigel comprised about 18,000.

Price's corps was composed of the First Missouri Confederate brigade, under General Little, consisting of three regiments of infantry, one of cavalry, and two batteries, in all about 2,000 men; the Second Missouri Confederate brigade, under General Slack, consisting of about 700 Confederates and 350 State Guard men; General Rains' division of the State Guard, numbering 1,200, General Steen's 600, Gen. E. W. Price's 500, General McBride's 300—making the Missouri force about 5,700 rank and file. General Green's division, nearly 2,000 strong, was left to guard the train and stock. McCulloch's corps was composed of eleven Confederate regiments, one of which was unarmed, and Pike's Indians, whom no one probably ever undertook to count. The men had been ordered to prepare five-day rations, and were in buoyant spirits. They marched with their guns loaded, not knowing at what moment they might meet the enemy.

The enemy occupied three separate camps, the main [79] body under Curtis being at Elkhorn Tavern. Van Dorn's design was to throw his force, by a rapid movement, between Sigel, who was at Fayetteville, and Curtis. To do this he had to reach Bentonville before Sigel did. But Sigel was too fast for him. When Van Dorn's column debouched from the mountains, three miles from Bentonville, Sigel's column could be seen entering the town. McIntosh and his mounted men were ordered to get in Sigel's front and delay him, but McIntosh, instead of attempting to check him, attacked, and he and his men—wild men on wilder horses—were speedily dispersed by Sigel's infantry and artillery. The Missourians tried the same experiment and also failed, but inflicted considerable damage and captured a number of prisoners. Van Dorn pushed on in pursuit, but before night Sigel had formed a junction with Curtis, and the Federals were concentrated at Elkhorn Tavern.

Van Dorn moved up to within almost cannon range of the enemy and camped for the night. But during the night he learned of an old road, by following which and making a detour of eight miles he could get in Curtis' rear, and he determined to make the movement with Price's corps. The road was rough and had been obstructed by the enemy, but by eight o'clock the next morning he reached the main road—the only one by which Curtis could retire northward. By ten o'clock Price had driven in all the outlying forces of the enemy, and was prepared to open the battle. The enemy was surrounded—the larger force by the smaller. Price's order of battle was: Slack's brigade, with 350 of the State Guard and a battery, was posted on a ridge on the right; Little's brigade with a battery was in reserve, while the left was held by the troops of the Second, Fifth, Seventh and Eighth divisions of the State Guard and a number of unattached batteries. Gen. D. M. Frost was assigned to the command of General McBride's division, but he declined so small a command, and [80] watched the battle from a convenient height. Col. Colton Greene and Maj. James R. Shaler commanded the troops of the division in the battle.

Price was strong in artillery, and the battle opened with the fire of forty odd pieces in position along his left. The guns of the enemy promptly replied, and there was a continuous fire between them for three hours or more. At the same time, the State Guard forces were frequently engaged in detached attacks, their artillery firing over them, and were steadily pressing the enemy back. On the right Rosser met a cavalry charge and repulsed it, capturing one piece of a battery which had been pushed forward to support the charge. Burbridge's regiment charged a battery and found it strongly supported by three regiments. Though unable to capture it, Burbridge held his ground until Rives' regiment came to his assistance, when both the battery and its support retired precipitately. About three o'clock General Price changed his tactics and ordered an advance. The First brigade was brought to the front and the whole line closed up for a united charge on the enemy's center. Before this Curtis, finding it impossible to drive the Confederates, had begun to maneuver with his greater force to turn their flanks. The flanking movements were checked, and the enemy driven back-by the First and Second brigades, the one on the left and the other on the right, and the charge of the whole line which followed drove the enemy's line back a mile beyond Elkhorn Tavern, making the ground lost by them since the beginning of the fight nearly two miles. In the charge the troops of the State Guard did the hardest fighting. They had to cross a large corn field, swept by the artillery of the enemy, while the Federal infantry had a great advantage from their position in the edge of the timber. The Guard never faltered, but crossed the field with a rush and swept the Federals, infantry and artillery, backward before them. In this engagement the batteries [81] did effective service, particularly those commanded by Bledsoe, Guibor, Wade, MacDonald and Clark. General Van Dorn made his headquarters on the night of the first day's fight at Elkhorn Tavern, where Curtis had made his headquarters the night before. Price had been entirely successful in the attack he had made from the north; had driven the enemy at every point, and advanced his own lines a mile and a half or two miles.

But in the attack from the south, where McCulloch commanded, one disaster followed another in rapid succession. McCulloch, who was confronted by Sigel, attacked as soon as he heard the report of Price's guns and drove Sigel from his first position. His second attack was also successful, as was a cavalry charge by McIntosh, who captured three pieces of artillery. But in reconnoitering the enemy's position, McCulloch advanced too far and was shot and instantly killed. McIntosh, in charging with an Arkansas regiment to bring off his body, was also shot and instantly killed. This left Colonel Hubert in command, and he was reported killed, but was a prisoner and afterward made his escape. General Pike, upon whom the command properly devolved after McIntosh's death, did not make an effort at that time or any other to rally the men, restore confidence and continue the fight. There was a strong force in reserve, but there was no one to give an order to bring it to the front, and it remained inactive. Besides this bad condition of things, the ammunition train had been ordered to Bentonville, fifteen miles distant, and the enemy were between it and the command.

In view of this condition of affairs, General Van Dorn determined to withdraw. General Price was in favor of fighting it out, but was overruled. The next morning Price's combined artillery, supported by the First and Second Missouri Confederate brigades, opened on the enemy a furious fire, and under cover of this, the other troops were withdrawn. But when Curtis found the [82] attack on him from the south had failed, he massed his whole force to crush Price. The attack was furious, but the artillery and the two supporting brigades held their own with unflinching resolution. The engagement lasted two hours. The artillery was gradually withdrawn, and in firing his last shot young Churchill Clark was killed. The .enemy did not attempt to make pursuit. Indeed, the Confederates and the Missouri State troops did not know they were retreating. They thought they were making a movement to help McCulloch's wing, and fully expected to be engaged again in a few hours. When they found the battle was ended and lost, they were in the savagest of moods and almost mutinous in their criticisms of their commanders. The Confederate loss was about 200 killed and 500 wounded and missing. Among the killed were General McCulloch and General McIntosh, both of whom were gallant soldiers, and their death sincerely mourned by the soldiers of both corps, and young Capt. Churchill Clark, hardly more than a boy in years, but who had fought in a dozen battles and always with great dash and courage. Among the mortally wounded were Gen. William Y. Slack, commander of the Second Missouri Confederate brigade, and Col. B. A. Rives, commander of the Third Missouri Confederate infantry. General Slack was desperately wounded at Wilson's Creek, and was just recovered from the wound when he was struck by a ball in almost exactly the same place, and died a few days afterward. He was of a singularly pure and ardent nature. He left and sacrificed a competence and a fine professional practice in his devotion to the cause of Southern rights. He served in the Mexican war under General Price, and when Missouri called for soldiers he left his home and family and all he had, without a day's delay, in response to the call. Simple and unostentatious in his life and manners, he was the soldier's friend, and the soldiers to a man were his friends. Colonel Rives was an accomplished gentleman [83] and a born soldier. He knew nothing of arms at the beginning of the war, but in much less than a year's time had fought his way to the command of as good a regiment as there was in the service. His untimely death cut short a brilliant career. He was succeeded in the command of the regiment by Col. James A. Pritchard.

The Federal loss was 300 killed, 600 wounded and 300 prisoners. The trophies of the battle were with the Confederates. They brought off four pieces of artillery, several battleflags, four loaded baggage wagons and 300 prisoners. They did not lose a gun or a wagon. In fact, the Federal commander found himself so badly crippled that he abandoned the plan of making a campaign into Arkansas and occupying the portion of the State north of the Arkansas river, and fell back into Missouri more like a beaten than a victorious general. Of the part taken by the Missourians in the battle, General Van Dorn said, in a communication to the government at Richmond: ‘During the whole of this engagement, I was with the Missourians under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, or more gallant leaders than General Price and his officers. From the first to the last shot, they continually rushed on and never yielded an inch they had won; and when at last they received orders to fall back, they retired steadily and with cheers. General Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose his life to danger.’

General Van Dorn retreated across the Boston mountains and went into camp near Van Buren, Ark., preparatory to moving his command across the Mississippi to the support of General Beauregard, at Corinth. General Martin E. Green, who had received his commission as a general officer from Richmond, was assigned to the command of the Second Missouri Confederate brigade. The detached Confederate organizations were consolidated into battalions commanded respectively by Lieutenant- [84] Colonels Irwin, Rosser and Hughes. The State Guard organizations that were willing to follow General Price were formed into a brigade, commanded by General Parsons. Those who remained west of the river were assigned to the command of General Rains. The army remained in camp near Van Buren for about ten days, and then marched across the State to Des Arc. At this point General Price issued a stirring address to the soldiers of the State Guard, in which he informed them that he was no longer their commander but had resigned his commission in the service of the State to enter the Confederate army, and called upon them to follow him in the service of the Confederacy, as they had in upholding the same cause followed him in the service of the State, and in conclusion said: ‘Let not history record that the men who bore with patience the privations of Cowskin prairie, who endured uncomplainingly the burning heats of a Missouri summer and the frosts and snows of a Missouri winter; that the men who met the enemy at Carthage, at Wilson's Creek, at Fort Scott, at Lexington, and on numberless battlefields in Missouri, and met them but to conquer them; that the men who fought so bravely and so well at Elkhorn; that the unpaid soldiers of Missouri were, after so many victories, and after so much suffering, unequal to the great task of achieving the independence of their magnificent State. Soldiers, I go but to make a pathway to our homes! Follow me!’ [85]

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