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Old December 7th, 2012, 05:09 PM   #1

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Dec. 7, 1862-- Battle of Prairie Grove


Following the resounding Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Confederate general Earl Van Dorn had fled the state of Arkansas, taking everything of military value with him. It seemed that Arkansas would be effectively abandoned to the Union. But a unlikely hero emerged for the Confederate cause in Arkansas, in Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, a native of the state who was assigned to command in the Trans-Mississippi. Hindman proved to be an organizational genius; he managed to cobble together a considerable Confederate army out of practically nothing, and reoccupied western Arkansas. Meanwhile, Hindman sparred with Union forces in the state, initially under the overall command of Union Maj. Gen. John Schofield. These forces consisted of the Kansas Division, under Brig. Gen. James Blunt, and the Missouri Divisions, under the command of Francis J. Herron, who had distinguished himself at Pea Ridge. Blunt was a politician, not a professional soldier, but quickly proved to be a hard-driving and aggressive fighter.

The Battle of Prairie Grove was precipitated by a smaller engagement at Cane Hill. Receiving word that a Confederate division under John Marmaduke was encamped at Cane Hill, Blunt and his Kansas Division charged south and chased them off after a light skirmish. Union forces in the Trans-Mississippi were being transferred east; consequently, Blunt's maneuver placed him within thirty-five miles of Hindman and his army, and more than a hundred miles south of Herron's Missouri Divisions, which were near Springfield. Hindman recognized the opportunity, and devised a plan to attack Blunt. He would advance at a moderate and stealthy pace to disguise his intentions, and with his main body, attack Blunt from the front. Meanwhile, Marmaduke's cavalry would move around Blunt's left and strike his rear, and whatever Confederate forces could be mustered from Indian Territory would attack from the west, though this force never materialized.

Blunt was reckless, but he wasn't a fool; he realized he was inviting an attack, and kept careful watch while making preparations for battle. Blunt asked the Missouri Divisions to join him, and made preparations for battle. Blunt made one error in not watching the Cove Creek Road; he didn't anticipate that Hindman would be so reckless as to expose his own lines of communication by going all the way around Blunt, and indeed, Hindman did not intend to do this. However, what neither general anticipated was the impressive forced march that the Missouri Divisions under Herron would undertake. Herron began drawing close to Blunt in time to spoil Hindman's envelopment plans. Where a less determined man would have given up however, Hindman sensed another opportunity; he would slip around Blunt, get in between him and Herron, and defeat Herron before turning on Blunt. It was a good plan; Hindman's over 11,000 Confederates well outnumbered the Missouri Divisions, which had suffered heavy attrition due to their forced march.

Hindman's opening moves were largely successful; Moving on Cove Creek Road, he reached the battlefield of Prairie Grove, where his forces seized the high, wooded plateau that gave the battle it's name. Hindman's aggressive instincts finally gave out however; he had been leading with his largest infantry division, Frost's, 6,300 men. Nervous about Blunt, who was aggressive and unpredictable, Hindman placed Frost's division in a defensive posture, and moved Marmaduke and Shoup's divisions to confront Herron. Hindman reduced the crushing blow he had planned at Herron to a mere jab.

Herron opened the battle with an artillery duel on early December 7th, which the Union got the better of. Herron then attacked the steep hill of Prairie Grove with his infantry of the Third Division; however, he lacked the numerical strength to dislodge the Confederates, and his attack was repulsed. The Confederates launched a spontaneous counterattack, which was repulsed with heavy casualties by canister fire from the Union artillery. Undaunted, Herron tried again with the Second Division; this effort too, faltered under the Confederate numerical superiority and strength of their position. The Confederates launched another counterattack, which was again beaten off the by the Union troops. Herron's men were battered, exhausted, and outnumbered, and it looked as if another Confederate attack might finish the job.

Fortunately however, Blunt's First Division arrived on the battlefield. Upon hearing the sound of Herron's artillery barrage at Prairie Grove, Blunt realized the Confederates had given him the slip, and marched to the sound of the guns. In their haste, Union regiments started abandoning the roads and marching across the countryside; Blunt quickly endorsed the maneuver. The route Blunt chose took him around Frost's division, and he approached the battlefield from the northwest with two of his three brigades, having left one to protect his supply trains at Rhea's Mill. Blunt promptly launched his own attack on the ridge, but probably sabotaged any chance of success it had by holding his largest regiment to protect his artillery. Like previous Union attacks, it was repulsed, with the help of Frost's division this time, and again a large Confederate counterattack was mounted. The Union artillery and infantry wreaked bloody havoc on the Confederates, and they were driven back onto their hill. The day's engagement ended in stalemate, with 1,251 Union casualties, and 1,483 Confederate casualties. Hundreds of Arkansans in the Confederate ranks deserted following the battle, raising the effective Confederate casualty total. There were possibly 8,000 Union soldiers engaged, against up to 11,500 Confederates.

While both sides held the same ground following the battle, Hindman's position was dire. His enemies were united, and Blunt still had a fresh brigade, while all of Hindman's troops had been engaged. Furthermore, Hindman was critically low on ammunition; for the campaign, he had only been able to scrounge enough for about one day of sustained combat. For the Confederates, stalemate spelt disaster. Hindman personally arranged a truce with Blunt for the alleged purpose of retrieving the dead and wounded, and promptly used it to flee the field. Blunt later expressed indignation as his opponent's cowardice and dishonorable behavior, but in fact, when he met with Hindman, he had already received information that the rebels were withdrawing, and was probably happy to let them go. The battle had been brutal; several Union veterans of Pea Ridge thought that the former engagement had nothing on the intense musketry and artillery barrages of Prairie Grove. Neither side was prepared to deal with the carnage of the battle, and the rebel dead, due to their comrades' flight, were largely left to the care of the wild hogs that roamed the prairie.

Following the battle, Hindman's command experienced severe logistical shortages and were soon forced to abandon their positions in northwest Arkansas, and were sent off after a humiliatingly successful Union raid on Hindman's stronghold at Van Buren. The verdict of Pea Ridge was confirmed; no Confederate force would threaten Missouri again for nearly two years.
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Old December 7th, 2012, 05:37 PM   #2

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Thanks for the info on this interesting battle.
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Old December 8th, 2012, 12:54 PM   #3
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Nice info. Viperlord
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