The Civil War, Day by Day

Battle for the Shenandoah (detail)

Battle of Pea Ridge

The fighting began March 7, 1862 near Elkhorn Tavern in Pea Ridge, Arkansas, as Confederate General Earl Van Dorn engineered a surprise attack on Samuel Curtis' Union troops.

Up to this point, the border state of Missouri was controlled mostly by the Confederacy, despite its large number of Union sympathizers. To ensure Missouriís Southern status, Van Dorn devised a bold plan to sweep through Missouri from northern Arkansas - thereby countering the Unionís advance on the west. He combined the troops of Sterling Price and Ben McCulloch with some 5,000 pro-Confederate Indians to form an army of over 20,000 - vastly outnumbering the Unionís western forces.

Van Dorn began the first phase of his plan by positioning his troops near Fayetteville, Arkansas on March 5. He later moved his men to Pea Ridge after a period of limited fighting, and attacked Curtisí army on March 7. Confident of his supremacy, Van Dorn split his troops into two flanks to attack the Unionís front and rear. Undaunted, Curtis inflicted heavy losses upon the right flank. The Indians added to the ensuing chaos by scalping some of the white fighters regardless of whether they were friend or foe.

The next day, Curtis wrapped his line around both Confederate flanks, killing McCulloch and forcing the rebels to retreat. Although Confederate casualties numbered about 800 to the Unionís 1,384, the Battle of Pea Ridge was a clear Union victory which saved Missouri from Southern rule.

Mort Künstler painted this dramatic battle scene, a detail from Battle for the Shenandoah, which typifies the fighting which took place at the Battle of Pea Ridge.

March's Archived Features:

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All illustrations by Mort Künstler. Text by Michael Aubrecht, Dee Brown, Henry Steele Commager, Rod Gragg, Mort Künstler, Edward Lengel, James McPherson, and James I. Robertson, Jr. - Copyright © 2001-2019. All Rights Reserved. No part of the contents of this web site may be reproduced or utilized in any form by any means without written consent of the artist.