Category Archives: Pea Ridge

The Guns of Pea Ridge: Location of cannons on the battlefield today

When I think of Pea Ridge, the picture in my mind is the view across Cox’s Field with massed Federal batteries to each side and Confederate batteries to the distant front. I posted on that action, the centerpiece of the second day of the battle, some time back. Usually we think of cavalry or irregular forces when considering the Trans-Mississippi theater of war. But in one of the largest battles in the theater, artillery played a critical role on both days of battle.

The majority of weapons in the order of battle were smoothbores not far removed from Mexican War-era technology, and only a little more removed from the Napoleonic-era. However in the second day’s bombardment, about half the Federal guns were bronze rifles (either James or similar alterations to 6-pdr guns). There were only four rifled guns in the entire Confederate force. Both sides deployed a handful of Napoleons. The short battle ranges in the second day duel, between 500 and 800 yards, negated the advantages of the rifles and Napoleon guns.

Today Pea Ridge National Military Park boasts twenty-four authentic Civil War artillery pieces, complemented by several reproduction guns. Most “un-historic”, there are more 12pdr Napoleons in the park today than any other type. On my last visit in 2010, the park had a large number of unfilled carriages. I’ve included the authentic guns, reproduction, and empty carriages in the map below.

I’ve heard the park has brought in more reproductions and perhaps moved some of the pieces around. So I’d appreciate any updates to ensure the map is accurate.

Pea Ridge NMP features an excellent trail system, with more than just Civil War themes. The park is a restored gem – dare I say a mandatory stop for any battlefield stomper?  And when you do visit Pea Ridge, take some time to examine the bronze and iron “artifacts” around the battlefield.

150 years ago today: First Day of Pea Ridge

On this day, March 7, in 1862, the battle of Pea Ridge opened.  General Earl Van Dorn’s wide march around the Federal positions along Sugar Creek might have succeeded were not for some turns on the battlefield.  Van Dorn outnumbered his opponent, and caught General Samuel Curtis off guard.  Shoulda… woulda… coulda…

Earlier today I posted an article on XBrad’s site examining one aspect of that first day’s fighting.  The breakdown of Confederate command on the western half of the battlefield (Ben McCulloch’s division) provides a timeless lesson for leaders.  Failure to relate intent has wrecked many a plan.  That was very evident on the afternoon of March 7 around Oberson’s Fields.

In that debacle, Albert Pike made a most significant decision, even though he was not properly in “command.”  He ordered a withdrawal.  Ultimately for this and many other reasons, Pike fell out of favor with the Confederate authorities.  By the end of 1862 he was out of the war.

There’s a statue honoring him in Washington, DC’s Judiciary Square, which I pass nearly every day.

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It is the only outdoor statue of a Confederate General in the District, placed more so due to his Masonic connections than any military achievement.  Yet the monument graces the same section in the nation’s capital as statues to Abraham Lincoln, George Meade, and John Marshall (along with the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial).  There is always some interesting back-story for public memorials in DC.

Tomorrow I plan to post a “guns of Pea Ridge” map.  For those interested in other aspects of the battle, some time back I ran a piece on massed artillery on the second day and another on battlefield preservation there.  And of course, please do check out the piece on XBrad’s site running today.

Pea Ridge: A Restored Battlefield

Yesterday I closed saying Pea Ridge was a well restored and maintained battlefield.   Yes restored.

When established in 1956, Pea Ridge National Battlefield Park included over 4,000 acres of the core battlefield area.  Unlike many other fields, Pea Ridge’s bounds included nearly all the contested ground.  But that area included several dozen structures – homes, barns, cribs – none of which dated to the war.  Farmers cleared much of the wartime forests for fields in the years after the war.   The effect of agricultural activity on the battlefield is clear in this 1940’s aerial photograph.

1940's Aerial Photo of Pea Ridge (see note)

With a patchwork of fields across the core battlefield area, only the familiar Big Mountain along with traces of the road network stand out.   I’ve traced placed some notations on the photo in the view below.

1940s Map with Fields, Roads and Points Noted. (Click to enlarge.)

Yellow lines show the existing road network.  In particular notice the Telegraph and Leetown Roads, which were still in full use at that time.   On the left, County Road 700 would become the western boundary of the park.  I don’t think the US highways were designated in the 1940s, but have labeled them as such here for reference.  Green boxes indicate the important fields that existed during the battle.  And I’ve added some red stars for notable reference points for discussion.

In stark contrast to the forest with a few patches of fields, in 1940 only a few stands of trees stood on what was otherwise an expanse of farmer’s fields.  Numerous buildings appear in those fields.

On the left, notice the Leetown battlefield.  The wood line where McCulloch and McInstosh fell was not there in 1940.   Morgan’s Woods, where combatants fought a bitter close-quarters contest, were also gone save a small stand of trees.   Little Mountain retained its wooded slopes, but stood surrounded by open, clear fields.

Looking to the eastern part of the field, at Welfley’s Knoll shadows of several buildings lay in what is an enlarged Cox’s Field.  Big Mountain, while still wooded, had several open fields on top.  A new structure stood at the site of Elkhorn Tavern.  And the wood lines around Ruddick’s and Clemon’s fields were gone.  The wide intersections near the tavern imply that the Telegraph Road, Ford Road, and Huntsville Road were in use.

Compare to a Google Earth view today, with the same points indicated.

Modern View of Pea Ridge Battlefield

(You may wish to browse the Google Map I prepared this from for reference also.)

Most apparent are the restored wood lines.  But look close.  Practically no buildings (Elkhorn Tavern, the visitor center, and some park maintenance areas).  Where did they go?  In a visit to the battlefield in the  early 1980s, I recall seeing debris piles and remains off to the sides of the display areas.  At that time park rangers indicated those were structures leveled for landscape restoration.   (During my recent visit, a volunteer at the park further elaborated that in the 1960s, many structures were simply leveled in place as the park lacked funds.  Those were cleaned up over time.)

So can you “restore” a battlefield?  Perhaps.  In the case of Pea Ridge, the National Park Service worked for more than half a century to restore wood lines and clear non-wartime structures.  Sure, no shopping complexes or apartments were leveled, but the starting point in 1956 was far from the 1862 appearance.  The change is remarkable, but is not the whole story.  The overhead views do not provide details of fence lines, artillery pieces, and a reconstructed Elkhorn Tavern.   For those touches, organizations outside the park aided the efforts (and rightfully should be covered in another post).

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Elkhorn Tavern from the old Huntsville Road Trace

Pea Ridge was not exactly a pristine battlefield which the park service simply had to maintain.  When created in 1956, the field was a diamond in the rough that has taken well to fifty plus years of polishing.

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NOTE:   Source for the aerial photo is “The Battle Raged…With Terrible Fury:” Battlefield Archeology of Pea Ridge National Military Park, Midwest Archeological Center Technical Report No. 112, by Carl G. Carlson-Drexler, Douglas D. Scott, and Harold Roeker.   Lincoln, Nebraska:  United States Department of the Interior, National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center, 2008, page 7.   I recommend this very detailed study of the field’s artifacts for those interested in the battlefield.