By the end of 1861, the Union forces had secured Missouri by routing the Missouri militia that favored secession. In early 1862, the Union commander, General Samuel Curtis moved his Army of the Southwest into northwest Arkansas to take the fight to the Confedrates and secure Missouri from Rebel cross border incursions.
Newly appointed Confederate Army of the West commander, General Earl Van Dorn decided to take his numerically superior, but logistically inferior forces to the northwest of Arkansas and push the Union back onto the back foot in both Arkansas and Missouri.
After several skirmishes in February and early March, 1862, Curtis settled on favorable ground to the east of Pea Ridge, Arkansas. Van Dorn knew it was a good position, so decided to split his forces in an attempt to draw Curtis into a weaker position.
Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern
On day one of the battle, Curtis took the north and west of the position by heading off a flanking movement. The day was carried by the quick movement of the Union forces, the loss of two Confedrate Generals and the capture of a Colonel. Van Dorn led the other Confederate column to take the south and east near Elkhorn Tavern. On day two, Curtis regrouped and attacked Elkhorn tavern with heavy artillery support. Van Dorn held the position but at a tremendous cost in casualties and ammunition and eventually had to retreat and leave the position to Curtis.
The Union continued to hold the area and the strategically important state of Missouri for most of the rest of the war.
Side note: One of the Confederate leaders at Pea ridge was Stand Watie who commanded the Cherokee Mounted Rifles. Watie was a pro-treaty Cherokee who had survived the Trail of Tears move from the Carolinas/Tennessee/Georgia homelands to the Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Watie would later be promoted to Brigadier General and become the only Native American General on either side of the Civil War. After Pea Ridge, Watie commanded a brigade of Native Americans for the Confederacy. He and his troops participated in many battles and campaigns for the South.
Motorcycle Ride Recommendation
Begin or end your ride with the online tour of the battlefield. Outside of the Pea Ridge Battlefield National Military Parkpark take a through the loop ride through the Hobbs State Park and around Beaver Lake.
Photo Credit: By Kurz and Allison [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons