Battle of Prairie Grove

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Battle of Prairie Grove
Part of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War
Croquis of the Battlefield of Prairie Grove, Arkansas. December 7th, 1862. Drawn by T. W. Williams, - NARA - 305669.jpg
Sketch of the Battlefield
DateDecember 7, 1862
Location Washington County, Arkansas
35°59′35″N94°18′28″W / 35.99306°N 94.30778°W / 35.99306; -94.30778 Coordinates: 35°59′35″N94°18′28″W / 35.99306°N 94.30778°W / 35.99306; -94.30778
Result Union victory [1]
Flag of the United States (1861-1863).svg  United States Flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863).svg  Confederate States
Commanders and leaders
James G. Blunt
Francis J. Herron
Thomas C. Hindman
Units involved
Army of the Frontier First Corps, Army of the Trans-Mississippi
9,216 engaged 11,059 engaged
Casualties and losses

The Battle of Prairie Grove was a battle of the American Civil War fought on December 7, 1862, that resulted in a tactical stalemate but essentially secured northwest Arkansas for the Union. [1]

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The Civil War is the most studied and written about episode in U.S. history. Primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people, war broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Arkansas State of the United States of America

Arkansas is a state in the southern region of the United States, home to over 3 million people as of 2018. Its name is of Siouan derivation from the language of the Osage denoting their related kin, the Quapaw Indians. The state's diverse geography ranges from the mountainous regions of the Ozark and the Ouachita Mountains, which make up the U.S. Interior Highlands, to the densely forested land in the south known as the Arkansas Timberlands, to the eastern lowlands along the Mississippi River and the Arkansas Delta.

Union (American Civil War) United States national government and the 20 free states and five border slave states

During the American Civil War (1861–1865), the Union, also known as the North, referred to the United States of America and specifically to the national government of President Abraham Lincoln and the 20 free states, as well as 4 border and slave states that supported it. The Union was opposed by 11 southern slave states that formed the Confederate States of America, also known as "the Confederacy" or "the South".



In late 1862 Confederate forces had withdrawn from southwest Missouri and were wintering in the wheat-rich and milder climate of northwest Arkansas. Many of the regiments had been transferred to Tennessee, after the defeat at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March, to bolster the Army of Tennessee.

Confederate States of America (de facto) federal republic in North America from 1861 to 1865

The Confederate States of America, commonly referred to as the Confederacy and the South, was an unrecognized country in North America that existed from 1861 to 1865. The Confederacy was originally formed by seven secessionist slave-holding states—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—in the Lower South region of the United States, whose economy was heavily dependent upon agriculture, particularly cotton, and a plantation system that relied upon the labor of African-American slaves.

Missouri State of the United States of America

Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States. With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union. The largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City. The state is the 21st-most extensive in area. In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals, and recreation. The Missouri River, after which the state is named, flows through the center of the state into the Mississippi River, which makes up Missouri's eastern border.

Battle of Pea Ridge major battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Pea Ridge, also known as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, was a major battle of the American Civil War fought near Leetown, northeast of Fayetteville, Arkansas. Federal forces, led by Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, moved south from central Missouri, driving Confederate forces into northwestern Arkansas. Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn launched a Confederate counter-offensive, hoping to recapture northern Arkansas and Missouri. Curtis held off the Confederate attack on the first day and drove Van Dorn's force off the battlefield on the second.

Following Pea Ridge, the victorious Union Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis pressed his invasion of northern Arkansas with the aim of occupying the capital city of Little Rock. Curtis's army reached the approaches to the capital, but decided to turn away after a minor yet psychologically important Confederate victory at the Battle of Whitney's Lane near Searcy, Arkansas.

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general. A major general typically commands division-sized units of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Major general is equivalent to the two-star rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, and is the highest-permanent rank during peacetime in the uniformed-services. Higher ranks are technically-temporary ranks linked to specific positions, although virtually-all officers promoted to those ranks are approved to retire at their highest earned rank.

Samuel Ryan Curtis Union Army general

Samuel Ryan Curtis was an American military officer, and one of the first Republicans elected to Congress. He was most famous for his role as a Union Army general in the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War, especially for his victories at the Battles of Pea Ridge in 1862 and Westport in 1864.

Little Rock, Arkansas Capital of Arkansas

Little Rock is the capital and most populous city of the U.S. state of Arkansas. It is also the county seat of Pulaski County. It was incorporated on November 7, 1831, on the south bank of the Arkansas River close to the state's geographic center. The city derives its name from a rock formation along the river, named the "Little Rock" by the French explorer Jean-Baptiste Bénard de la Harpe in the 1720s. The capital of the Arkansas Territory was moved to Little Rock from Arkansas Post in 1821. The city's population was 198,541 in 2016 according to the United States Census Bureau. The six-county Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is ranked 78th in terms of population in the United States with 738,344 residents according to the 2017 estimate by the United States Census Bureau.

Curtis reestablished his supply lines at Helena, Arkansas, on the Mississippi River and ordered his subordinate, Maj. Gen. John M. Schofield at Springfield, Missouri, to drive Confederate forces out of southwestern Missouri and invade northwestern Arkansas.

Helena, Arkansas City in Arkansas, United States

Helena is the eastern portion of Helena-West Helena, Arkansas, a city in Phillips County, Arkansas. As of the 2000 census, this portion of the city population was 6,323. Helena was the county seat of Phillips County until January 1, 2006, when it merged its government and city limits with neighboring West Helena.

Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the largest river in the United States and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Springfield, Missouri City in Missouri, United States

Springfield is the third-largest city in the state of Missouri and the county seat of Greene County. As of the 2010 census, its population was 159,498. As of 2017, the Census Bureau estimated its population at 167,376. It is the principal city of the Springfield metropolitan area, which has a population of 462,369 and includes the counties of Christian, Dallas, Greene, Polk, Webster.

Schofield divided his Army of the Frontier into two parts, one to remain near Springfield commanded by Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron, and the other commanded by Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt to probe into northwest Arkansas. Schofield soon fell ill and overall command passed to General Blunt. As Blunt took command, the two wings of his army were dangerously far apart.

The Army of the Frontier was a Union army that served in the Trans-Mississippi Theater during the Civil War. It fought in several minor engagements in Arkansas, Indian Territory, and Kansas. In June 1863 the Army was discontinued but many of its regiments were formed into the District of the Frontier.

Brigadier general (United States) one-star general officer in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps

In the United States Armed Forces, brigadier general is a one-star general officer with the pay grade of O-7 in the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. The rank of brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed services. The NATO equivalent is OF-6.

Francis J. Herron United States Army Medal of Honor recipient

Francis Jay Herron, was a Union general during the American Civil War.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman was an aggressive commander who had just been relieved of overall command of the Trans-Mississippi District. Hindman had issued a series of unpopular, but effective, military decrees which gave political opponents ammunition to have him removed from overall command.

Thomas C. Hindman Confederate States Army general

Thomas C. Hindman was a lawyer, United States Representative from the 1st Congressional District of Arkansas, and Major-General in the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War.

Hindman maintained a field command of Arkansas troops and, becoming aware of the Union Army's precarious tactical position, convinced his replacement to allow him to mount an expedition into northwest Arkansas. Hindman hoped to catch the Union army in its divided state, destroy it in detail, and open the way for an invasion of Missouri.

Opposing forces



Maneuvering to battle

Map of Prairie Grove Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program. Prairie Grove Battlefield Arkansas.jpg
Map of Prairie Grove Battlefield core and study areas by the American Battlefield Protection Program.

Hindman's force gathered at Fort Smith, Arkansas, and sent out approximately 2,000 cavalry under Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke to harass Blunt's forces and screen the main Confederate force.

Unexpectedly Blunt moved forward with his 5,000 men and 30 artillery pieces to meet Marmaduke. The two clashed in a nine-hour running battle known as the Battle of Cane Hill on November 28, 1862. Marmaduke was pushed back but Blunt found himself 35 miles deeper into Arkansas and that much farther from the remainder of his army.

On December 3 Hindman started moving his main body of 11,000 poorly equipped men and 22 cannon across the Boston Mountains toward Blunt's division. Blunt, disturbed by his precarious position, telegraphed Herron and ordered him to march immediately to his support from Springfield. Blunt did not fall back towards Missouri but instead set up defensive positions around Cane Hill to wait for Herron.

Hindman's intention was for Marmaduke's cavalry to strike Blunt from the south as a diversion. Once Blunt was engaged, Hindman intended to hit him on the flank from the east.

At dawn on December 7 Hindman began to doubt his initial plan to move on Cane Hill and instead continued north on Cove Creek Road with Marmaduke's men in the front. Why Hindman changed his mind is not known, but it is believed that he began to doubt his initial strategy. Little did Hindman realize, though, that this move would prove useful and allow his cavalry to strike an early deadly blow to the 7th Missouri and the 1st Arkansas.

Meanwhile, Herron's divisions had performed a forced march to come to Blunt's rescue and met Marmaduke's probing cavalry south of Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Hindman's characteristically aggressive nature seems to have failed him at this moment. Afraid that Blunt would be able to attack his rear, and facing Herron to the north, Hindman chose instead to set up a defensive position atop a line of low hills near Prairie Grove, Arkansas.


Battle of Prairie Grove Battle of Prairie Grove - History of Iowa.jpg
Battle of Prairie Grove

The battle opened on the morning of December 7 with Union general Herron crossing the river and deploying his footsore troops on Hindman's right. Herron opened an intense two-hour artillery barrage on the Confederate position, singling out individual Confederate cannon and concentrating on taking them out of action one at a time. By noon, the devastating barrage had disabled most of the Confederate artillery and forced many of the Confederate troops to shelter on the reverse slopes.

Seeing the effect of his artillery, Herron ordered an advance on the hill rather than waiting for Blunt to arrive. His troops first encountered Confederate cavalry in the Borden wheatfield at the base of a ridge overlooking the prairie. Herron took these advanced troopers to mean that Hindman was planning to attack and capture the Union artillery. So Herron sent forward two regiments from his own 3rd Division to assault a Confederate battery near the Borden house. When his men arrived on the hill they found themselves under a fierce Confederate counterattack from three sides by Maramaduke and Brig. Gen. Francis A. Shoup. Half of the attacking Federals were wounded or killed within minutes, most near the Borden house.

Borden House on the Prairie Grove Battlefield AR Prairie Grove.jpg
Borden House on the Prairie Grove Battlefield

As the surviving Federals rolled back down the hill toward the safety of Union lines, Confederate soldiers spontaneously pursued and attempt to break Herron's lines. Herron's artillery, loaded with canister, caused terrible damage to the unorganized Confederates and repulsed their attack.

Herron feared the Confederates would make another rush at his artillery and preemptively ordered another charge. This time two regiments were selected from Col. Daniel Huston's 2nd Division. Again near the Borden house, hand-to-hand fighting ensued. The Federal troops repulsed one counterattack before falling back towards Herron's artillery. Again the pursuing Confederates rushed the Union guns but were repulsed by troops from Col. William W. Orme's brigade.

Meanwhile, Blunt realized that Hindman had gotten past his flank and intercepted Herron. Furious, he ordered his men to march to the sound of the guns. Not knowing the precise location of the fighting, the Federal troops ignored roads and traversed through farm fields and over fences straight toward the sound of battle at the double quick. This movement was probably initiated by Col. Thomas Ewing and the 11th Kansas Infantry. While Blunt did not order the maneuver he quickly endorsed it, even chastising a regimental commander for not showing enough initiative when he failed to follow the unorthodox procedure. [2] Blunt's forces arrived on the field just as Hindman was ordering another attack on Herron's forces. Blunt's division slammed into the surprised Confederates and drove them back onto the hill. During this attack, the heaviest casualties of the battle were felt by the 10th Missouri Confederate Infantry, which was caught in the open, at the flank of the Confederate forces. Blunt aligned his two brigades and sent them forward toward the Morton house on the same ridge to the west of the Borden house. Blunt's forces fought somewhat sporadically until being recalled off the ridge. Brig. Gen. Mosby M. Parsons' Confederate brigade swept across the farm fields of prairie toward Blunt's artillery. Once again the Union soldiers and artillery repulsed the attack and darkness put an end to the fighting.

During the night of December 7–8 Blunt began to call up his reserves. Hindman on the other hand had no reserves remaining, was low on ammunition and food, and had lost much of his artillery firepower. Hindman had no choice but to withdraw under cover of darkness back towards Van Buren, Arkansas. The Confederates reached Van Buren on December 10, demoralized, footsore, and ragged.

By December 29 Blunt and Herron would threaten Hindman at his Van Buren sanctuary and drive him from northwest Arkansas permanently.


Federal forces suffered 1,251 casualties and Confederate forces 1,317. In addition, Confederate forces suffered from severe demoralization and lost many conscript soldiers during and after the campaign.

Although the battle was a tactical draw, it was a strategic victory for the Federal army as they remained in possession of the battlefield and Confederate fortunes in northwest Arkansas declined markedly from that point on.

Battlefield preservation

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park is nationally known as one of the most intact Civil War battlefields. Active efforts are underway to acquire additional land for the park and preserve its integrity. The park is located just outside Prairie Grove, Arkansas, about 10 miles west of Fayetteville, Arkansas. The Prairie Grove order of battle has been compiled by the historians at the park. The Civil War Trust, a division of the American Battlefield Trust, and its partners have acquired and preserved 350 acres of the battlefield, including 270 acres of the 707-acre battlefield park. [3]

See also


  1. 1 2 "Battle Summary". National Park Service. Retrieved 7 December 2016.
  2. Shea 2009, p. 209
  3. Land Saved by the American Battlefield Trust, accessed May 18, 2018.

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Further reading