After the Confederate defeat at Pea Ridge in March of 1862 (see our earlier posting), the Southern Army was transferred east of the Mississippi, leaving Arkansas almost defenseless. In May, Confederate General Thomas C. Hindman came to organize the defense of the area. Hindman was successful in raising and equipping a new Confederate Army.
On December 7, 1862, Confederate and Union forces met and clashed near Prairie Grove, Arkansas. All during the day it was nip and tuck, with first the Gray being successful, then the Blue. Charging and counterattacking continued until dark. The Confederates launched one final evening attack in an attempt to win the day, but they were repulsed by Union artillery.
The Union Army had rifled cannon, which were superior to the smooth-bore artillery used by the Confederates. That edge served the Union well during the battle.
According to the leaflet guide published by the Arkansas State Park System, “The battle ended with neither side gaining a clear advantage.
Casualties were about equal with a total of over 2,700 men killed, wounded, and missing. General Hindman ordered a Confederate withdrawal at midnight, leaving the bloody ground to the Union Army which claimed a strategic victory.”
After watching a film describing that December day’s action, we left the Visitors Center and took a one-mile hiking tour of the 800-acre park, seeing the battle from the aspect of the soldiers who fought there. A self-guided tour map described eleven separate sites, and interpretive signs added to our understanding. In addition, we followed a five-mile driving tour that extended beyond the State Park limits into the town of Prairie Grove to visit other important sites of the 3,200-acre battleground.
Prairie Grove is said to be one of America’s most intact Civil War battlefields, with the ridges and fields looking much as they were then. Residents’ cornfields and hayfields are open grassy areas now, and most of the original buildings are gone. But homes and outbuildings from nearby areas have been moved onto the site to give visitors an idea of how folks lived in mid-1800s Arkansas.
One home, the Borden House, is the only historic structure in the park located on its original site. Archibald Borden built the present house to replace the one destroyed by fire the day after the battle.
This Battlefield Monument, is actually the chimney from Rhea's flour mill, which was just 6 miles away from this site. The mill was operated by the Union Army both before and after the Prairie Grove battle. It is 55 feet high, and weighs 200,000 pounds. The chimney was taken down at Rhea's and re-erected here as a memorial to those who fought here December 2, 1862.
Some of the other buildings brought to this site include the Latta Farm, with its main house, kitchen, cellar, and spring house.
The garden area was recreated with vegetables, herbs and flowers that would have been planted during that time.
Another building brought in was called a "dog trot cabin." There were two rooms, separated by a breezeway. It would be cooler in the breezeway during the summer, and the family dog would trot into that area to rest in the shade. That's the story, anyway.
Prairie Grove marked the last major Civil War engagement in northwest Arkansas. Never again would a southern army attempt to use the area as an avenue of invasion to Missouri.
Missouri will be the next stop for us. Not far from Kansas City is the small town of Holden, where my father grew up. We’ll look for names of family members in the local cemetery, a meaningful visit helping to define … Our Life on Wheels