Tag Archives: Prairie Grove

More of Hindman’s suggestions to fix the Confederacy: Pay, conscription, and martial law

Back a few days I pulled a section from General Thomas Hindman’s official report from the Prairie Grove campaign. Well the general must have considered this report the vessel by which to air all his ideas about the war effort….

In the next paragraph in his report, he addressed a problem with pay, or more precisely regularity of pay:

Next in importance is the subject of the pay of the troops. Poor men almost invariably make up our armies. Their wives and children, left without protection, are exposed to absolute suffering unless the men are regularly and adequately paid. No troops that I have known during the war have been paid with anything like promptness. Immense arrearages are now due the men of this corps. Their families are in great suffering. The consequence is that very many desertions have occurred. If arrearages could be at once discharged, the evil would be checked. If the pay of the soldier was not only promptly given him, but made sufficient in amount to support his family as it should be, desertions would be unknown. This subject involves the fate of the Confederacy. Notions of false economy ought to be discarded in considering it.

Without pausing, Hindman rolled into the next recommendation:

The conscript act ought to be revised. Every man between sixteen and sixty, who is able to serve the Confederacy in the army, whether in the ranks or as an artisan or mechanic, laborer, teamster, cook, hospital attendant, or in any other capacity, ought to be put in service without regard to avocation or other plea. There ought to be no exemption whatever, except in the case of absolute and permanent physical disability. If by this means more soldiers are raised than necessary, it would be a very just and humane policy to grant furloughs to the old soldiers and put the young conscripts in their places. If the men out of the army are “the people” these ideas may fail of popular approval. That, however, in no way affects their merits.

There you have it. Draft everyone. No exemptions.

Under the same supposition, the last suggestion I have to make will be still more decidedly unpopular. It will be odious in the eyes of speculators, extortioners, refusers of Confederate money, evaders of conscription, deserters, harborers of deserters, spies, marauders, federalists, and that less respectable class who regard these others as the people, and pander to them for their votes. The obnoxious suggestion is, a vigorous and determined system of martial law, covering all classes of evil-doers mentioned above, and compelling them, by stern and swift punishment, either to leave the Confederacy or to bear their due part of the burdens of the war. Without martial law, loyal citizens and the fighting soldiers of the country, their wives and children, are literally the prey of the basest of the population. The civil laws, State organizations, rights on paper, and penalties on statute-books, are inert and powerless to help them. A living, active, fearless assertion and enforcement of martial law alone can do it. If much longer delayed, that remedy itself will come too late.

So how does this proposal square with the principle of states’ rights?

(Once again WordPress’s mobile app failed to update this post before publication.  Here’s the intended ending…)

Consider the context of Hindman’s proposals.  Four or more written pages within an official report of a failed campaign.  Almost like he felt this was his only chance to vent on these issues.  But at that stage of the war, sending recommendations to Richmond was like taking coals to Newcastle.  Perhaps we can characterize Hindman’s proposals as extreme attempts to deal with a sinking reality.  I’m reminded of an even more radical proposal by Patrick Cleburne, one of Hindman’s close friends, two years later.  Must have been something in the water around Helena, Arkansas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 22, Part I, Serial 32, pages 145-6.)

150 Years Ago: Sound of the guns at Prairie Grove

NOTE:  This post is focused on the Federal artillery at the battle of Prairie Grove.  For more background information on the battle, I refer you to Civil War Daily Gazette’s entry or the Civil War Trust resource page for Prairie Grove.

On this day (December 7) in 1862, one of the westernmost battles of the Civil War took place at Prairie Grove, Arkansas. We don’t often think of artillery in the Trans-Mississippi, yet just as at Pea Ridge the “King of Battle” played an important role.

After the long, rapid march from Springfield, Missouri, Brigadier General Francis Herron advanced from Fayetteville towards the advanced position of Brigadier General James Blunt at Cane Hill to the southwest. Before he could link with Blunt, Herron ran into Confederate Major General Thomas Hindman’s defensive position outside Prairie Grove.

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View Shoup’s Lines at Prairie Grove

Hindman chose good ground to defend. On the right side of the line, facing the advance of Herron’s Federals, were four batteries – Blocher’s, Marshall’s, and West’s Arkansas batteries along with Bledsoe’s Missouri battery. All told, these batteries fronted six 6-pdr field guns and four 12-pdr howitzers.

When Herron’s column reached Illinois Creek, they came under the Confederate guns. First throwing Captain David Murphy’s Battery F, 1st Missouri Light Artillery over a ford, Herron then moved the remainder of his force over. Rapidly, Herron established a gun line by adding the other three batteries under his command. These were Lieutenant Joseph Foust’s Battery E, 1st Missouri; Captain Frank Backof’s Battery L, 1st Missouri; and Lieutenant Herman Borris’s Battery A, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery. Twenty guns in total – four 10-pdr Parrotts, six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, six James Rifles, one 6-pdr field gun, and three 12-pdr howitzers.

In his battle report, Foust described the initial phase of the action:

Arriving at the ford of the creek, I was ordered to halt out of sight of the enemy, and to advance and open the battery upon a signal to be given from Captain Murphy’s battery.

We went into action at the signal, under a terrible fire from the enemy while crossing the ford. About the third round the enemy’s guns were silenced. Another battery on our left having got our range, we were compelled to change position to the front….

In his report, Murphy elaborated further about the fire effects noting, “The fire was so well directed that the enemy retired, minus caissons, horses, and one piece disabled.” With the Confederate batteries silenced, and their infantry taking cover, Herron advanced his infantry. Backof’s and Foust’s batteries moved forward to support this assault.

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View of the Confederate position from Herron’s line of advance

Backof wrote:

After silencing the enemy’s battery on the hill in front of us, I advanced 200 yards, flanked on the left by the Twentieth Wisconsin Volunteers and by the Ninety-fourth Illinois on the right, and sustained an effectual artillery fire at the enemy’s position (which they moved several times) for three hours. In the same time [the infantry] made a charge…on the hill and through the woods surrounding; meanwhile the shells of my battery did great execution amongst the enemy.

But the Federal infantry found themselves outnumbered when they closed with the Confederates on the hill. When the infantry fell back, Backof covered the retreat with canister. In the melee two of Backof’s guns were disabled (though he later reported only one out of action at the end of the day). His losses were one man killed, two wounded, and eight horses.

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Confederate artillery position at Prairie Grove

Also in this forward position and facing Confederate attacks, Foust wrote:

At this time the enemy attempted to charge our lines, when the whole battery opened on them with canister, and they fell back in confusion. The infantry attempted to charge the hill, but were repulsed by an overwhelming force of the enemy, when we again forced them back with canister. Again the infantry attempted to carry the hill, but were driven back the second time, when we covered their retreat once more with canister, driving the enemy back again to the wood. The enemy seeing the battery without support, made a great effort to take it, but were driven back by the battery.

Herron summarized the defense of these guns,

Never was there more real courage and pluck displayed, and more downright hard fighting done, than at this moment by the above-named batteries. Advancing to within 100 yards of the guns, the rebels received a fire that could not be withstood, and retreated in disorder, receiving, as they ran, a terrible fire, causing great slaughter among them.

Foust would lose also eight horses, along with two men killed and six wounded. Herron would single out Foust for heroism during the repulse of the Confederate attacks.

At this phase of the battle, action shifted to the Federal right flank. Blunt had “moved to the sound of the guns,” quite literally, and arrived to smash into the Confederate left. There three Federal batteries also played an important role there, first defeating the Confederate artillery and then breaking up the infantry. Just as on Herron’s side of the field, the Federal artillery not only outnumbered the Confederates, they outgunned them with six 10-pdr Parrotts, four James Rifles, five 6-pdrs, and one 12-pdr howitzer. In the thick of the action, Captain John Rabb of the 2nd Indiana Battery, recalled,

A heavy musketry fire was then brought to bear on my command. I answered with canister. For fifteen minutes my men stood firm, firing their pieces with terrible precision, making roads in the ranks of the enemy, which were quickly filled by fresh men from the rear. Three times they advanced in heavy force upon the battery, but were driven back to the wood with heavy loss.

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Overlook of the west side of the Prairie Grove battlefield

In the engagement, Borris reported firing 320 rounds from his two cannons. Foust fired “562 rounds of shot, shell, and canister.” Muprhy’s gunners fired 510 shells and solid shot. That is a lot of iron going downrange… particularly for a “small” battle in the Trans-Mississippi.

Prairie Grove is one of the best preserved battlefields outside of the National Park System. It is a bit out of the way, but worth the drive to visit. For those who haven’t, I’ve posted many of the historical markers on the battlefield in HMDB as a virtual tour.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 22, Part I, Serial 32, pages 100, 106, 112, 124,128-9, and 136.)

150 years ago: The Guns of December

So December is here.  For us 21st century-folks, our focus might be on gift lists and scheduling of festive events.  Of course just over a figurative hill are wars, in some cases held by cease fires.  We don’t see much in the way of major battles.  But that’s the nature of counter-insurgency, one might argue with respect to Afghanistan.

That was not the case in 1862.  News of battle after battle came nearly every day.  This was in the face of contemporary military wisdom that armies should “go into quarters” at the onset of winter.  Yet, there were several active campaigns resulting in important (if not major) battles:

  • Prairie Grove – December 7
  • Fredericksburg – December 11-15
  • Foster’s Raid (North Carolina) – December 13-20
  • Chickasaw Bayou – December 26-29
  • Stones River – December 31 – January 2

Taken in isolation, this activity might not be so noteworthy. Just another month in a major war.

But the activity in December happened after a very, very active late summer and early fall season.   Two major Confederate invasions, not to mention several smaller campaigns, drained the resources of both armies.  Again, under conventional military wisdom, following a major campaign armies would rest, recuperate, resupply, reorganize, and rest.  And yes, the respective armies on both sides did just that.  But in compressed cycles.  Sixty days after the invasions fizzled out, the respective armies lined up for another round of battles.

Reviewing the list of campaign activity, the odd one of the set is Prairie Grove – being the result of a Confederate offensive move.  At the theater level at least.  The others were result of Federal offensives from Virginia to Mississippi.  And even Prairie Grove, one might argue, was a function of the aggressive Federal stance.  By holding the northwest corner of Arkansas, the strategic flanks of forces operating along the Mississippi were more secure.

New commanders – Burnsides, Rosecrans, and Banks – with offensive oriented orders.  Existing commanders likewise given orders to press the Confederates.  Activity across one thousand miles from the Chesapeake to the tributaries of the Arkansas River (if I said Illinois River, folks would be confused).

What objective would prompt political leadership to issue such orders?  Think about it.