My second favorite battle is another small scale battle with large strategic implications. The Battle of Pea Ridge was fought on the Trans-Mississippi Theater of operations during the American Civil War.
Missouri is a state with divided loyalties. At the battle of Wilson's Creek (August 10, 1861) union forces led by General Nathaniel Lyon is defeated by rebel forces from Missouri and Arkansas. General Lyon is killed in this battle and union forces are forced to retreat to the railhead at Rolla, Missouri.
Missouri is now cut in half with Union control of the northern half and the southern half under controlled by the CSA. With Missouri still up for grabs Union general U. S. Grant begins an offensive on February, 1862 to capture Forts Henry and Donaldson on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers. By the middle of February both forts fall into Union hands. With the capture of the two forts Grant opens the route for an invasion of Tennessee and northern Alabama thus forcing the evacuation of the strategically situated Mississippi River town of Columbus, Kentucky and Nashville, Tennessee.
Grant's next move is to drive south but Western Theater commander Henry Halleck is worried about Grant's left flank in CSA controlled southern Missouri and Arkansas. In Missouri General Samuel L. Curtis is in command of Union forces and he plans an attack to drive all CSA forces out of Missouri.
With a small army of 10,000 Curtis sets out from the Missouri railhead at Rolla until he reaches a good defensive position at Pea Ridge on the north west corner of Arkansas. Here Curtis sets up a defensive position and waits for the new CSA commander Earl Van Dorn and his small army of 14,000 to attack.
Curtis arranges the defensive position to block an advance northward on the expected route of attack along Telegraph road. The routes along the northern and western perimeter of the defensive position are blocked with logs to delay any advances by scouting parties and to serve as pickets.
Van Dorn decides on a bold plan of attack. He plans to outflank Curtis defensive position and attack from the north, or rear, thus cutting off the supply route and bagging the entire Union force. Van Dorn's plan is risky though as the entire attacking army is sent with only three days supply of food. The baggage train is left several miles to the southwest, too far away to be of any use during the battle.
On the night of March 6/7 Van Dorn sets from the baggage train on a 12 mile march to outflank Curtis defensive position. After hours of a night and early morning march tired rebel troops reach the first of Curtis blocking positions. Hours are spent clearing the logs and by noon on the 7th Van Dorn decides to split his attacking force.
Half the army is to move south into Leetown and the other half under Van Dorn is to continue the march northeast and then south with the goal of the two columns meeting at Elkhorn Tavern, just north of Curtis and the Union troops.
By late afternoon of the 7th the two columns are held up by small but well protected defensive positions just north of Leetown and Elkhorn Tavern. The Leetown column is forced to retreat when the exhausted troops loose their commanders to Union fire. Half of the troops head for the baggage train while the other half move northwest to reinforce Van Dorn, On the Union right Van Dorn manages to flank the defenders after a tough fight and forces the defenders to retreat but the attackers are too tired, and also short of ammo to pursue.
While Van Dorn dithers during the night, failing to deploy his troops or of sending a runner to move the baggage train closer to the battle Curtis redeploys all his troops for a morning attack. On the morning of the 8th Curtis outnumbered force attacks Van Dorn's position. The rebels initially put up a strong defense but low on ammunition Van Dorn decides to abandon the battlefield and breaks out eastward, away from his baggage train but in an unexpected direction and his move is able to foil Curtis.
The battle is an overwhelming Union victory. Casualties for both sides are 1,350 for the Union and around 4,800 for the confederates. Missouri is cleared of organized CSA troops and will remain firmly in the Union while Grant's left flank is secure. due to the overwhelming defeat Van Dorn's little army is not able to participate in the upcoming Battle of Shiloh.