Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pea Ridge

Pea Ridge National Military Park is but a few miles from Eureka Springs, Arkansas, as the black vulture flies, but along Arkansas State Highway 62, it seemed a lot farther. Virtually all the highways through the Arkansas Ozarks are corkscrew – roller coaster roads, twisting and turning while climbing and descending rolling hills. Nearly all are just two-lane roads with very narrow (if any) shoulders. There’s no room to pull over and let faster vehicles pass, and there are few towns big enough to have a cafĂ©.

Meandering roads! Our kind of roads!

We aren’t really history buffs, but our travels are taking us around many interesting and historic parts of this country. Pea Ridge is the third Civil War battlefield we have visited (unless you count Picacho Peak in Arizona, where both sides decided it wasn’t worth having a battle, so they shot a few rounds then sat around the campfire telling lies.) The other two battlefields were Shiloh and Britton Lane, both in Tennessee.

Pea Ridge National Military Park is operated by the National Park Service, and is the site of the most important Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River. The Battle of Pea Ridge secured the State of Missouri for the Union, when the Confederacy desperately needed that state for its own. Missouri was a slave-holding state, but did not hold that a state could secede from the Union just because it didn’t agree with the national debate.

A key feature of the park is a portion of the Old Telegraph Road, along which Union General Samuel Curtis successfully led his troops in March of 1862. Telegraph Road is also one of the best-preserved sections of the infamous 1836-39 Trail of Tears, which saw thousands of Cherokee and other Native Americans forcibly relocated from their homelands in Georgia and the Carolinas to “Indian Territory” in present-day Oklahoma.

Another piece of history followed the Old Telegraph Road: it was the setting for the 1858-61 Butterfield Overland Stage mail route to California. The name “Telegraph Road” came from the telegraph wire that was strung along the road in 1860.

Central to all of this activity was a homestead cabin built by a settler by the name of Ruddick. It was later expanded into the Elkhorn Tavern, along the stagecoach line, and was commandeered by the rebel army and used as a headquarters and a field hospital during the fierce battle. The original tavern was burned by guerrillas after the battle, then rebuilt after the war. The existing building is a reconstruction, with exhibits and a costumed interpreter available for visitors.

This ol' feller was the interpreter. He also happens to be the editor and publisher of the local historical society's newsletter. He couldn't stop telling us stories of the area and the battles. He played the part of the story, telling us he was there to guard against Indian attacks. He said he had been given 41 bullets for his rifle, and only had three or four left.

At the Visitors Center we had bought a “Driving Tape Tour” on CD narrating the events that had taken place along the park’s tour road. At each stop we also read descriptions of battle activities from the park’s brochure and on the interpretive signs.
Several Confederate soldiers took refuge here at these limestone abutments.
However, Union cannonfire rained down on the area, shattering trees and stone, sending splinters of wood and rock shrapnel over and into the hiding Rebs.

The wounded were taken to the Elkhorn Tavern field hospital, where the mid-19th century doctors did their best, which often amounted to crude surgery, without the benefit of anesthesia, and with no knowledge of antiseptic techniques. A soldier might be lucky of the surgeon even washed his hands between patients!
We left Pea Ridge knowing a little bit more about our country’s development through those tumultuous times. We also left feeling sad that such beautiful country had been the scene of such horrific fighting, resulting in over 3,300 men being killed or wounded in two days 146 years ago.

Another fulfilling day in … Our Life on Wheels.

1 comment:

  1. And so your journey continues . . . as do the interesting history reports. Reading about and following your travels is definitely "living history". Jeri and I are always fascinated with local history as we travel. Thanks for taking the time to share you adventure!


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