Little did I know that the battle at Pea Ridge was a huge factor in keeping my home state in the Union; though Missouri did remain neutral throughout the war, providing men and supplies to both the Union and the Confederates.
The battle at Pea Ridge began in 1861, Christmas Day. Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis had one goal in mind…. to drive the Confederates and anyone aligning themselves with the Confederates, out of Missouri. By mid-February 1862, this goal was met with Maj. Gen. Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard (pro-Confederate), forced south into Arkansas where they met up with Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch. Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn took command of all of these Confederate troops (16,000 men) in March of 1862, determined to take St. Louis by the time all was said and done. Of course, this was not meant to be; the battle raged, taking many lives, wounding many.
I won’t give away the entire history of the battlefield, but I will say that it’s quite the story. One image that has stayed with me since we toured the battlefield is that of a memorial created by veterans and survivors from both sides of the battle. In the end, they came together to mourn for those who were lost and to preserve this battlefield as sacred ground.
Touring Pea Ridge National Military Park
As we entered the park, our first stop was the Visitor’s Center, where we needed to pay to enter the battlefield. Of course, we couldn’t resist a crazy photo opp with the cannon. The Visitor’s Center includes a museum, with exhibits and stories, personal belongings, photos and more. They also show a 28-minute film about Pea Ridge Battlefield.
Making our way down the 7-mile self-guided tour route, we definitely got a good taste of the outdoors; it’s easy to get close to nature in a place like this. A map points out all the different exhibits along the way. The Trail of Tears, formerly Wire Road, goes through the battlefield. This road was used by both sides during the Pea Ridge Campaign.
The Leetown village site is quite haunting, walking through tall grass under huge, beautiful trees. Leetown served as a hospital site, where wounded from both sides could be brought. Of course, there are no buildings, but huge trees remain, and split-rail fence surrounds part of the area.
Leetown Battlefield was beautiful in and of itself, with grasses swaying in the wind. We were fascinated by the story of 19-year-old Captain William Black, who singlehandedly delayed an assault on six Federal cannons. His defense gave the artillerymen enough time to save four of those cannons before he was wounded. Thankfully, he survived and went on to live in Chicago where he practiced law. Can you just imagine the courage and bravery in his 19-year-old heart? He deservedly received the Congressional Medal of Honor. The following is a quote from an exhibit that told his story:
I saw two rebel officers rush toward Captain Black with drawn swords and demand his surrender…he struck the nearest with his sword…and leaping over his prostrate form with the agility of a tiger, he struck the other full in the face with his already empty revolver, and he fell like a stone. – Samuel McKay, private, 37th Illinois Infantry Regiment.
After leaving Leetown Battlefield, another battlefield lies ahead where Indian troops fought for the Confederates. We also made our way out to the West Overlook and the East Overlook, both of which give beautiful views of Northwest Arkansas. The East Overlook’s shelter gives a spectacular view of yet another battlefield below, with rocky outcroppings and trails jutting out beneath the shelter.
Finally, Elkhorn Tavern…. Though the original structure is gone (burnt down by Confederate guerrillas), the reconstructed building is still a very interesting stop along the way. Notice a pair of elk antlers smack dab in the center of the roof, hence the name Elkhorn Tavern. Used by General Curtis as a supply hub, it was eventually turned into a field hospital by the Confederates. Awhile later, it was recaptured by the Union, who turned it into a telegraph station.
From Elkhorn Tavern, visitors can walk to the sites of the Williams Hollow Hospital and Clemens House. The foundation of Clemens House still exists; unfortunately, the family who occupied the house had to flee from their home due to impending war.
A few things have stayed with me since our visit…. So many people lost their homes and livelihoods because of the war. I just can’t even imagine how difficult and horrible that must have been. Settling a piece of land back then was 100 times harder than it would be today. The fact they had to fear what the soldiers would do, whether it was being robbed of everything or even being killed…. so, so sad. Just as Elkhorn Tavern served as a resting stop for travelers before the war, during the war it was destroyed. If only the trees could talk, oh the stories they would tell.
As you make your way out of the park, you’ll see another battlefield with cannons along the way, as well as the Federal Line.
One last part of the park that visitors may not experience is the Little Sugar Creek Trenches, a bit off the beaten path but still worth a visit. Separate from the rest of the battlefield, visitors can hike up to a bluff that overlooks Little Sugar Creek, to visit eroded Federal Trenches that still rest there.
Details for Your Visit to Pea Ridge Battlefield
Pea Ridge National Military Park is open every day, 8 am to 5 pm, except major holidays. The park has a picnic area, hiking trails and horse trails. We’ve considered taking our bikes over to the park, as they’re allowed on the main tour road. The tour can take anywhere from half a day to a whole day, depending on how much you hike and explore at the different exhibits along the tour route.
Things to think about before heading to the park: The only restroom I noticed was in the Visitor’s Center. Venomous and non-venomous snakes are also quite prevalent in the park, though we didn’t see any this trip. Cost to enter the park is $5 per person or $10 per vehicle ($5 per motorcycle). You can also get an annual pass for $20 per person.
Have you visited any Civil War battlefields/museums? What is something you’ve learned that has stayed with you since your visit?