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.


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.

Massed Artillery in the West: Pea Ridge

In his report of the Battle of Pea Ridge, Captain Louis Hoffmann, Forth Independent Battery, Ohio Light Artillery recounted his activities on March 8, 1862:

The battery was placed on the left wing of the First Division, on a high plateau, and has not changed its position, firing without interruption during nearly four hours. After having compelled the enemy to stop the firing of his batteries, Hoffmann’s battery turned its whole attention to a high rocky hill opposite our plateau, occupied by the strongest force of the enemy, for the support of our infantry, which that time commenced its marching up the said rocky hill…. The four 6-pounder rifled guns of the battery have thrown 460 shots and the two howitzers 106 shells and spherical case. [OR, Series I, Volume 8, Serial 8, page 238]

Hoffmann’s battery was one of six batteries, or surviving portions of, massed on the Federal left on the second day of battle at Pea Ridge.  All told, twenty-one cannons formed across Cox’s Field, spanning from the Ford Farm nearly to the Telegraph Road.

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Right End of Federal Gun Line in Cox’s Field

The massed guns was the largest concentration of field artillery seen thus far in the war (keep in mind Shiloh was a month in the future, and the great eastern battles of 1862 had yet to transpire).  In what was perhaps the greatest day in his military career, Brigadier General Franz Sigel, commanding the First and Second Divisions (in other words a “wing”) of the army, directed this concentrated firepower against the Confederate lines in preparation for an infantry assault.

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View of Confederate Lines Opposite Cox’s Field

Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Army of the Southwest, put events in motion the previous night by ordering Sigel to concentrate his command for a morning attack against Confederates.  Sigel sent his First Division commander, Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus, to examine the ground and begin placing the troops.  Osterhaus, exhibiting a keen eye for terrain, noted a rise on the western side of Cox’s Field.   Today the ground is known as Welfley’s Knoll, named for Captain Martin Welfley, whose Missouri Light Artillery deployed on that high ground.

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Looking West Down Federal Artillery Line at Welfley’s Knoll

On the Confederate side, Major General Earl Van Dorn did not prepare for this concentrated assault.  At no time during the morning were more than a dozen guns positioned to counter Sigel’s artillery.  In his official report, Van Dorn cited ammunition shortages.   To some degree this was true, but Van Dorn and his commanders did little to direct the guns in defense.

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Confederate Gunner’s View of Telegraph Road and Federal Guns

But other factors also worked against the rebel gunners.  The lay of the ground worked against the Confederates.  Big Mountain hemmed in the Confederate right flank.  And batteries deployed at the edge of Cox’s Field were enfiladed by Welfley’s Battery.  Ranges varied between 500 yards to 800 yards.  With many rifled guns and better fuze-shell combinations, the Federal gunners had a technical advantage also.

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Welfley’s Knoll from the Confederate Gun Line

The bombardment left a memorable impression upon those on the field that day.  Some witnesses estimated a cannon fired once every two seconds that morning.  Just based on Hoffmann’s report, that Ohio battery averaged a shot every two minutes over the span of four hours from each rifled gun; and one every four minutes from each howitzer.  And likely the average does not properly reflect the intense firing mid morning.   Still even a conservative estimate is a round every thirty seconds from Hoffmann’s gunners alone.

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View of Confederate Artillery from Welfley’s Knoll

Under cover of this bombardment, Sigel advanced his infantry in bounds to staging points.  Upon seeing several Confederate batteries withdraw, Curtis remarked to Sigel, “General, I think the infantry might advance now.”  With that order, the entire Army of the Southwest, four divisions, stood on line and advanced.  A sight not often seen during the war in the east, much less in the far west.   The infantry assault broke the Confederate line and triggered a general retreat, if not full route.

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View of Cox’s Field from East Overlook

On the second day of Pea Ridge artillery did pave the way for an infantry assault.  Some will point out the Confederate Army of the West was not widely equipped with rifled muskets.  That may be true, but the bombardment ranges at Pea Ridge were closer than at battles later in the war.  And those massed guns were mostly Mexican War vintage smoothbores and 6-pdr bronze rifles, with only a handful of 12-pdr Napoleons.  That said, perhaps, with the bombardment and the grand attack of the Army of the Southwest on line considered, Pea Ridge was among the last true “Napoleonic” battles.

The restored and well maintained battlefield at Pea Ridge offers the student of the war the opportunity to study the tactical use of massed batteries.  And that battlefield preservation is the subject of my next post on Pea Ridge.

Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove Battlefield Guide

Usually I prepare for a battlefield visit with some “read a-heads” both to refresh my knowledge and to seek out new aspects of the campaigns.  I’ll add to that any tour maps, plots and waypoints for associated sites off the beaten path, and of course a trip plan for the driving part of the tour.

For my recent “trans-Mississppi” visit, I was a bit pressed on time.  Since I’d grown up out that way, visited those battlefields many times before, and been reading about the battles since I was hub-high to a regulation 6-pdr carriage, I cut my preparations short.  Boldly, I chose to go with one guidebook:  Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, from the Hallowed Ground battlefield guide series.   My faith in that single work for preparation was vindicated during two solid days of battlefield stomping.

The co-authors – Earl J. Hess, Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garret Piston, and William L. Shea – have all produced, in recent years, important works on these three battles.  (Piston and Hatcher covered Wilson’s Creek; Hess and Shea co-wrote on Pea Ridge; and Shea independently wrote on Prairie Grove.)  Beyond that, I’ve heard each speak on the battles before.  In fact I’ve surveyed one of Piston’s Civil War classes and attended one of his tours of Wilson’s Creek.  I had high expectations about the content of the guide, and was not disappointed.

To be honest, this is not a guide for three battles, but rather three full campaign guides in one cover.  In some regards when first taking up the guide, I felt the sections were somewhat “digests” of the larger works.  Not a knock, but rather refreshing that I had a “field reference” every bit as authoritative as the three larger volumes –  summaries of three full campaign histories in a handy paperback.

The book follows the same format as other Hallowed Ground works.  If you are not familiar, the book presents a tour for each battlefield.  The tour stops are broken down in a logical order, not necessarily the order of events or the order of the park driving tour.  The narrative for each stop includes clear directions, orientation to the site, explanation of the events, analysis, and additional vignettes adding to the story.   My one complaint with the series in general is the maps.  While sufficient for field work, I’ve been spoiled with the full color, high quality maps from the “map-books” and the Civil War Preservation Trust’s site.

A concern I had was the fusing of three battles, from separate campaigns, into one book.  Well, this is a guide book, not a narrative, so some jumps are expected.  But I found the introductory sections for each campaign made up for that.  Such was handy when traveling between the battlefields, linking the towns and place-names passed along the roads to the historical events.   Since all three campaigns were tied to the Wire Road, the inclusion of a section discussing (and offering additional tour stops) the road further aided my understanding of the road network and terrain.

Touring Wilson’s Creek, the guide took me well off the tour road on the excellent trail system inside that park.  The guide did not take as much advantage of Pea Ridge’s trail system, but made up with an eleven stop tour outside the battlefield (which I could not completely tour due to time constraints).  The Prairie Grove section completely covered that battlefield and offered nine more campaign stops.  Finally the last section covers the Wire Road from Springfield to Fort Smith.  In all these sections could easily stand alone in a single guidebook.

I’d spent many weekend days in graduate school pacing out Wilson’s Creek.  I’ve camped on the ground at Prairie Grove during reenactments.  And I’ve tramped about Pea Ridge as a boy scout.  But I must admit, this Battlefield Guide offered a number of new perspectives and more than a handful of previously unseen locations.  It will be in my kit bag for the next (hopefully not so far off this time) trip back to those Trans-Mississippi battlefields.

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12-pdr Field Howitzer Model 1838

For me, an attraction of the “western” Civil War battlefields is encountering rare or at least uncommon artillery pieces.  Last week I was able to examine not one but two 12-pdr Field Howitzers of Model 1838 pattern.

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12-pdr Model 1838, Ames Reg #13, Wilson's Creek NBP

The example at Wilson’s Creek is the Visitor Center.  Lighting prevented a quality photo of the markings, but my notes verify this as registry number 13 from N.P. Ames, produced in 1840.    I’ve mentioned the type in a post last December covering the early 12-pdr Field Howitzers (those preceding the familiar Model 1841).

I was able to check another Ames Model 1838 at Pea Ridge in more detail.

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12-pdr Model 1838, Ames Reg #15, Pea Ridge NMP

The main difference between the Model 1838, its predecessor the Model 1835 and the Model 1841 was the length of the piece.  The Model 1838 was four inches shorter than the other models.  This is not easily determined without measurements.  The distance between the muzzle and chase ring is perhaps an inch shorter than the other models.

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Muzzle and Chase Ring of Model 1838

The easiest for a field observer to pick out is the weight, if the stampings are visible.

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Breech of Model 1838 - Markings, Vent, and Lockpiece Mount

The registry number (15), weight (691 pounds), and inspector (J.W.R. – John Wolfe Ripley) appear on the upper breech face.  Model 1841 howitzers weighed about 85 to 90 pounds more.

Note the multiple threaded holes around the vent.  I am told these are definitely mounting points for a lockpiece.  In brief, this was a firing mechanism similar to that used on naval guns of the period, using a primer placed over the vent.

Cyrus Alger and N.P. Ames produced 21 Model 1838 howitzers between 1838 and 1840 (nine of which survive).  For all practical purposes, the type was simply an evolutionary step, if not misstep, towards the Model 1841.

Next time you see a 12-pdr on the battlefield that looks smaller than usual, check the weight stamps.  You may have found a Model 1838.

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Late Summer Vacation

Not a lot of recent posts, as we’ve been on the road a bit and enjoying time at the family “homestead” in Missouri.  The Aide-de-Camp and I made our last road-trip of the summer.  Sure, we’ll make a few more through the fall, but those will be weekenders, due to school schedules.

We started our trip with a stop at the Stones River Battlefield.  Been some time since I was last there (perhaps back in the 1990s if I recall).  Like all the NPS battlefield park, Stones River has improved the tour route and interpretation over the years.    And the staff deserves credit for managing view sheds in a bustling, growing community.  I’d never had time to visit the preserved portions of Fortress Rosecrans, so we made Old Fort Park a stop.

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Battery Thomas - Fortress Rosecrans

For those with “young ones” the city maintains an excellent playground next to the NPS annex.  Aide-de-camp gave it the prestigious “I’d rather play than eat” stamp of approval.

Our second day out, we reached Springfield, Missouri and took a tour of Wilson’s Creek.  The weather was a “pleasant” 90-degree Missouri summer (put that in context, of course).  About a week earlier, the park staff had conducted a controlled burn, clearing much of the brush.

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Bloody Hill from Edwards Cabin Site

Perhaps more so than my previous dozen visits, I was able to take in the terrain as it must have confronted the Civil War soldiers.  I’ve posted the marker entries for the battlefield on HMDB.

On the third day of our trip, we took in Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove Battlefields in Arkansas.  I plan to cover both battlefields in more detailed trip reports later.   Pea Ridge in particular is a great example of good stewardship in action.  But for now here’s a view from the East Overlook.

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Cox's Fields and Welfley's Knoll from the East Overlook

In the days since our drive, we’ve based out of my parents’ place for some short trips along the Mississippi River.  One was just outside Osceola, Arkansas where the Confederate navy ruled the river for a day.  In the battle of Plum Point Bend, on May 10, 1862, two Federal ironclads (yes, two!) fell victim to Confederate rams.

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Tow and Barges passing Plum Point

The Federal navy recovered the two sunken ironclads, and eventually attained the campaign’s objective – Fort Pillow – on the Tennessee side of the river.  Of course that fort is better known for the April 12, 1864 battle involving N.B. Forrest.

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Reconstructed Interior Battery of Fort Pillow

We’ll start our way back tomorrow, and plan a couple of stops along the way.  So regular posts will resume next week.