The Battle That Saved Missouri for the Union:
Virtual Reality 360º TOUR
“Keeping Missouri in the Union was a prime objective of the Federal government during the first year of the Civil War. It was the reason that the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was fought near Springfield, Mo., in August 1861, and it was one of the reasons for the battle at Pea Ridge in March 1862. The Pea Ridge Campaign began on Christmas Day, 1861, with the appointment of Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis to command the Federal Southwestern District of Missouri. Curtis’s main objective was to drive the Confederate and pro-Confederate forces from the state.
By mid-February 1862 he and his troops had chased their main opponents, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price and the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard, into Arkansas. In the Boston Mountains south of Fayetteville, Price joined forces with Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch’s Confederates. There on March 4 Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn took command of this combined 16,000-man army and led it north, intending to strike into Missouri and capture St. Louis. But Curtis’s 10,500 Federals were dug in across his path on the bluffs above Little Sugar Creek, not far from Elkhorn Tavern and nearby Elkhorn Mountain (part of the larger Pea Ridge plateau).
Van Dorn knew that a frontal assault against Curtis’s troops would be suicidal, so he swung north to come in behind them. He planned to strike at dawn on March 7, but his troops, hungry, cold, and weary from a difficult three-day march, arrived hours behind schedule. McCulloch’s troops fell so far behind that Van Dorn decided to temporarily divide his army. He ordered McCulloch around the west end of Elkhorn Mountain, then to turn east along Ford Road to rejoin Price’s troops near Elkhorn Tavern.
These delays gave Curtis time to face about and prepare for the attack. As McCulloch’s troops, including two regiments of Cherokee Indians under Brig. Gen. Albert Pike, were engaged in this maneuver, they ran into intensive fire near Leetown that killed McCulloch and Brig. Gen. James McIntosh and led to the capture of the ranking colonel. With their command structure practically destroyed, McCulloch’s men scattered from the field. Attacking east of Elkhorn Mountain, Van Dorn and Price fared better.
Price’s Missourians slowly but steadily pushed the Federals back until, at nightfall, they held Elkhorn Tavern and the crucial Telegraph and Huntsville roads. During the night the survivors of McCulloch’s Leetown fight joined them. On the morning of March 8, Curtis counterattacked in the tavern area.
A two-hour artillery barrage crippled the Confederate line and a concerted infantry attack broke their defenses. Realizing that his ammunition was running low, Van Dorn ordered his troops to withdraw. The battle of Pea Ridge was over, and most of the Union and Confederate troops moved east of the Mississippi to fight in other campaigns. Missouri remained in the Union and politically neutral throughout the war, although it provided men and supplies to both sides.” – National Park Service Brochure