Rural Missouri - April 2012 - (Page 14)

Battles of Pea Ridge & Island No. 10 ~ 1862 Confederates lose last chance to reclaim Missouri Squandered opportunity by Jim Denny info@ruralmissouri.coop W Federal high commanders hoped Curtis could keep Van Dorn’s army busy in the Ozark Mountains while Grant continued to move south. This Curtis did with a remarkable victory against a superior foe. hen it came to actually fighting the The Battle of Pea Ridge was fought over two days, enemy, the beginning of 1862 saw the March 7-8, but its outcome did not turn on which West off to an early start. Back in the side had the hardest-fighting soldiers. Brave men East, it would be May before a major were in abundance on both sides, and they fought campaign got underway. By then, four destiny-shapone of the bloodiest battles up to that time. ing battles already had been fought in the West that When the battle ended, the Rebels — not the outwould alter the course of the entire war. numbered Yankees — were in retreat. Rank-and-file The first major offensive, the Pea Ridge camSoutherners didn’t feel defeated; they felt betrayed. paign, began when troops led by Brig. Gen. Samuel “By God, nobody was whipped at R. Curtis left Rolla on Jan. 13, 1862, Pea Ridge but Van Dorn,” proclaimed and marched toward Springfield. Cura State Guard officer. Van Dorn had tis’ mission was to rid Missouri of the indeed squandered the last opportutroublesome Maj. Gen. Sterling Price nity to reclaim Missouri for the South. and his thousands of secessionist MisWith no knowledge of his commandsourians who were encamped there. ers, men or the terrain, he ordered a Six weeks later, Curtis and his army complicated flanking maneuver. If sucreached the banks of Little Sugar Creek cessful, it would block Curtis’ escape in northwest Arkansas. He now had route back to Missouri. 10,250 men and 49 cannons, but he Such a daring march would require had not yet caught up with Price, who perfect timing. However, everything had managed to backpedal to Van that could go wrong did go wrong. The Buren, Ark., and link up with ConfedSoutherners were exhausted and short erate forces. At first, Curtis was the puron rations and ammunition. Along the suer. Now his army was 250 miles from route, Van Dorn’s plodding army his supply base. Suddenly, the divided into two columns that tables were turned. Jim Denny’s column commemorating ended up miles apart when the At that moment, the largest Missouri’s Civil War history will be on a battle opened. Rebel army yet fielded in the brief hiatus. Look for the Co-Mo Electric Curtis was able to fight each West was moving on Curtis. The member’s next tale in the August issue. Rebel column separately. First, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity McCulloch struck the badly outnumbered Federto reverse Confederate fortunes had come at last. als at Leetown with 7,000 men and nearly overran Curtis was about to grapple with a mixed force of them. But McCulloch and his second-in-command, 16,000 Confederate and Missouri State Guardsmen Brig. Gen. James McIntosh, fell dead to sniper bulwith 65 artillery pieces. He was outnumbered 3-to-2 lets, and the next commander, Col. Louis Hébert, in manpower and 4-to-3 in artillery. got lost and was captured. The leaderless ConfederA new commander, Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl ate attack disintegrated. Curtis could now direct his Van Dorn, directed this bold movement; Price and full attention to the vicious fight developing around Gen. Ben McCulloch served under him. Impulsive Elkhorn Tavern. Here, Col. Eugene Carr’s fourth diviand ambitious, Van Dorn pushed to take the field sion managed to stall the Confederate attack and, immediately, crush Curtis and move on St. Louis. at sunset, fall back and establish a position that was Such a Southern triumph would be welcome. strengthened during the night. Three weeks earlier, Gen. U.S. Grant had compelled The next morning, Van Dorn discovered he had the unconditional surrender of Fort Donelson on neglected to order his ammunition wagons to the the Cumberland River in Tennessee and netted front. They were now miles away and only three of 12,000 Confederate prisoners. his 15 artillery batteries were serviceable. The Federal ammunition chests, however, were full. Twenty-one Federal cannons began a furious barrage. Van Dorn had little choice but to lead his sullen men away from a victory they had every right to win. If the Battle of Pea Ridge was, as one observer described, “a sort of French and Indian War fight in the woods, with a great deal of bravery,” then the Siege of New Madrid/Island No. 10 campaign was a complicated geographical puzzle. Once the puzzle was solved, the campaign could be won with minimal bloodshed. At Island No. 10 (the 10th island below the mouth of the Ohio River), the Mississippi River was effectively blockaded by a Confederate gauntlet of 43 heavy artillery pieces emplaced in batteries on both the Tennessee shore and the island. A few miles downstream sat New Madrid, defended by two forts and 24 heavy guns. Protected by swamps and miry lowlands on both sides of the river, no army could approach Island No. 10 by land. Brig. Gen. John Pope of Illinois was given 20,000 men and orders to break the river blockade. On March 3, 1862, he laid siege to New Madrid. After enduring a bombardment lasting 10 days, the Confederate army evacuated New Madrid in the dark of the night. The first piece of Pope’s geographical puzzle was in place. Pope now had to get his army across the Mississippi to the Tennessee side and cut the supply line to the batteries on Island No. 10. His troop transports and gunboats would have to reach New Madrid by river, running past the island’s deadly guns. No alternative to this desperate gamble worked. For two weeks, Federal gun and mortar boats shelled the Rebel batteries with little effect. They spent another 19 days hacking a 12-mile bypass through the swamps to New Madrid. But only light transports could navigate this shallow channel. A last option had to be tried. The Carondelet, built by James Eads of St. Louis, easily ran the batteries on the night of April 6. The next night, the Pittsburg repeated the same feat with equal success. Despite a furious cannonade from the Confederate batteries, both boats pulled up at New Madrid with relatively little damage. The next day, the final piece of Pope’s puzzle was put in place. His troops ferried across the Mississippi where, with scarcely a shot fired, they gathered up 7,000 prisoners, including the gunners on Island No. 10 and 123 pieces of artillery. The middle Mississippi was now a Federal highway. At the same time Pope achieved his victory, the bloodiest battle in American history to date was being waged on the Tennessee River at Shiloh. Gen. Grant won, but at a horrendous price. The frightful butcher’s bill for Shiloh was 23,000 men. Again, the West was pointing the way forward to a vastly more savage and brutal war that would last a lot longer than any person on either side ever imagined. Winning the Battle of Island No. 10 gave the Union control of the middle Mississippi River. Artwork courtesy of the Gary R. Lucy Gallery Inc., Washington, Mo., www.garylucy.com. http://www.garylucy.com

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - April 2012

Rural Missouri - April 2012
Table of Contents
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Rural Missouri - April 2012

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