On This Day in History | The Battle of Pea Ridge/Elkhorn Tavern

Compiled by Museum Staff

On this day in 1862, the Trans-Mississippi theater saw some of its fiercest fighting as the Battle of Pea Ridge or Elkhorn Tavern kicked into high gear in northwest Arkansas. The battle proved to be a serious blow to Confederate ambitions in Missouri and Arkansas. It was also noteworthy for being the largest battle in which American Indian troops took part on a large scale, as members of the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes fought with the Confederates. Today, many consider Pea Ridge National Military Park to be one of the best preserved Civil War battlefields. 

The following description is from the National Park Service's Battle Summary:

"On the night of March 6, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn set out to outflank the Union position near Pea Ridge, dividing his army into two columns. Learning of Van Dorn’s approach, the Federals marched north to meet his advance on March 7. This movement—compounded by the killing of two generals, Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch and Brig. Gen. James McQueen McIntosh, and the capture of their ranking colonel—halted the Rebel attack. Van Dorn led a second column to meet the Federals in the Elkhorn Tavern and Tanyard area. By nightfall, the Confederates controlled Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph Road. The next day, Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, having regrouped and consolidated his army, counterattacked near the tavern and, by successfully employing his artillery, slowly forced the Rebels back. Running short of ammunition, Van Dorn abandoned the battlefield. The Union controlled Missouri for the next two years."

A few years after the war, Sgt. Hunt P. Wilson, a veteran of Pea Ridge, painted a triptych of three scenes from the fighting, which historians regard as “the most authoritative visual documentation of the battle.” If you look at the pictures below, the taller painting depicts the fierce engagement on March 7 around Elkhorn Tavern. Wilson’s own unit, Guibor’s Missouri Battery, faced murderous fire from enemy infantry and artillery. The wider painting (see below) shows Confederate forces preparing for retreat on March 8; the wounded Gen. Price is visible in the left foreground. You can view these two paintings at our White House and Museum of the Confederacy location. The third painting of the triptych remains in storage.

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