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Civil War Series

The Campaign for Pea Ridge

   

A half-mile east of Elkhorn Tavern, along Huntsville Road, the Missourians had an equally tough time driving off the stubborn Yankee defenders. Price had gotten about 2,000 men and eleven guns around the Union right flank and onto the high ground of Pea Ridge. He advanced westward along Huntsville Road toward Rufus Clemon's farm, hoping to roll up the right flank of the Union line while everyone's attention was fixed on Little's attack at the tavern. But Dodge responded quickly to the threat. He bent his line back at a ninety-degree angle so that the 4th Iowa, 8th Indiana, and 3rd Illinois Cavalry faced east and blocked Price's approach. Many of the Union troops crowded behind a rude breastwork of tree trunks and branches piled up along the western edge of Clemon's recently cleared cornfield. Not only were the Union troops sheltered, but they also had a clear field of fire.


(click on image for a PDF version)
THE CONFEDERATES CAPTURE ELKHORN TAVERN, LATE AFTERNOON, MARCH 7, 1862
The final Confederate assault at Elkhorn Tavern. The three Missouri Confederate brigades overwhelmed Vandever near the tavern, while the Missouri State Guard drove Dodge away from Clemon's Field. Carr retreated a half-mile under heavy pressure and established a final line in Ruddick's Field.


The sun was setting and the roar of battle at Elkhorn Tavern was reaching a crescendo. . . Like it or not, Price had to make a head-on attack across an open field against the only field fortifications at Pea Ridge.

Instead of catching the Yankees by surprise and winning a quick victory, Price found himself in a tactical jam. To make matters worse, he had no more time to maneuver. The sun was setting and the roar of battle at Elkhorn Tavern was reaching a crescendo. Like it or not, Price had to make a head-on attack across an open field against the only field fortifications at Pea Ridge.

Price gave the necessary orders and the Missourians went forward, but because of poor staff work or simple exhaustion the State Guard forces attacked in a piece-meal and halfhearted fashion. Colonel John B. Clark's regiment-sized 3rd State Guard Division twice advanced alone and unsupported against the Union line and twice was repulsed with heavy losses. Eventually, however, the Iowans were outflanked by superior numbers of Missourians and forced to withdraw toward the chaotic scene at the tavern.

CAPTAIN HENRY GUIBOR'S MISSOURI STATE GUARD BATTERY IN ACTION IN FRONT OF ELKHORN TAVERN AFTER CARR FELL BACK TO RUDDICK'S FIELD. (THE BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE, ARKANSAS BY HUNT P. WILSON. COURTESY MUSEUM OF THE CONFEDERACY)

This was a bitter moment for Carr. "I was constantly expecting re-enforcements," he later explained to Curtis, "and if they arrived in time we could hold the ridge." But there simply were too many Rebels and not enough time. Determined "to hang on to the last extremity," Carr ordered a general retreat only after the Confederates threatened to engulf his entire command. As the sun set, Union troops fell back through the thick woods on either side of Telegraph Road. Every few minutes they halted to fend off persistent but poorly organized Confederate attacks. The Yankees even managed to launch a few weak counterattacks. About a half-mile south of the tavern Carr regrouped his command in Benjamin Ruddick's large cornfield. Only a few hours earlier the field had been filled with the Army of the Southwest's supply trains, but Carr's remarkable fight at the tavern gave Curtis time to move the wagons to safety near Little Sugar Creek. Now, with darkness falling and a clear field of fire in front, Carr was determined to make a final stand.

BRIGADIER GENERAL DANIEL M. FROST, MISSOURI STATE GUARD (MISSOURI HISTORICAL SOCIETY)

GENERAL ASBOTH AND STAFF (FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED HISTORY)
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