Pea Ridge cam­paign dis­cussed at mu­seum

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - FRONT PAGE - KEITH BRYANT

The Pea Ridge Cam­paign, a se­ries of civil war ac­tions that led to the Bat­tle of Pea Ridge, was the topic of a talk pre­sented by Troy Banzhaf, Na­tional Park Ser­vice Chief of In­ter­pre­ta­tion and Vis­i­tor Ser­vices at the Pea Ridge Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park, at the Bella Vista His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum Thurs­day, Feb. 8. Banzhaf led the dis­cus­sion about the move­ments that led to the bat­tle at Pea Ridge, which saw an es­ti­mated 22,000 sol­diers fight­ing over Mis­souri.

It started with the bat­tle of Wil­son Creek, he said, in 1861 near Spring­field, Mo., where Ma­jor Gen­eral Ster­ling Price — a for­mer Mis­souri gov­er­nor who led a pro-con­fed­er­acy mili­tia — scored a vic­tory. His mili­tia, the Mis­souri State Guard, gained mem­bers and headed for Lex­ing­ton, Ky.,

only to be pushed back to­ward Spring­field and fur­ther south near Neosho, Mo.

“He’s suc­cess­ful, he ac­tu­ally gets thou­sands of young men to join his cause,” Banzhaf said.

But while the gen­eral was able to get troops, weapons and uni­forms were more scarce, caus­ing his forces to dwin­dle.

The Union gen­eral John Freemont was un­pop­u­lar with the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, he ex­plained, and was soon re­placed by Henry Hal­leck in Novem­ber 1861. Hal­leck fo­cused on lo­gis­tics and or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“His nick­name was ‘Old Brains,’ he was a very, very smart man,” Banzhaf said.

Hal­leck was in­ter­ested in get­ting rid of Price, Banzhaf said, be­cause he was ha­rass­ing troops who could be use­ful in other parts of the war.

A com­pe­tent, me­thod­i­cal gen­eral, Sa­muel Cur­tis, was sent in to deal with Price, he said. He gath­ered troops and set up a base of op­er­a­tions in Le­banon, Mo., with sup­plies rolling out of a rail sta­tion at Rolla, Mo.

Price, not ex­pect­ing a win­ter cam­paign, tried to dig in in Jan­uary 1862, only to be pushed south. By the time Con­fed­er­ates in North­west Arkansas got word, it was too late.

Those in Arkansas were led by Ben­jamin McCul­loch, a Con­fed­er­ate with a rep­u­ta­tion as a more pro­fes­sional of­fi­cer. He and Price did not get along.

“McCul­loch was very much an in­tro­vert, he was not very out­go­ing,” Banzhaf said. “Felt that Ster­ling Price was ac­tu­ally a wind­bag of a politi­cian.”

Earl Van Dorn, a young West Point grad­u­ate ea­ger to prove his worth, was sent in to lead them both.

“Very good as a cav­alry of­fi­cer,” Banzhaf said, “but ap­pointed well above his po­ten­tial here at the Pea Ridge cam­paign.”

Van Dorn, he said, had a plan for a two-pronged at­tack once win­ter ended, but Union forces mak­ing an un­ex­pected win­ter push put an end to that.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion — with couri­ers tak­ing as long as five days to de­liver mes­sages from one por­tion of the cam­paign to an­other — proved to be the big­gest is­sue.

Price’s fight­ing re­treat against a mas­sive force led by Cur­tis, which ul­ti­mately led to a se­ries of mis­steps through North­west Arkansas, even­tu­ally re­sulted in the Con­fed­er­ates’ loss at Pea Ridge March 7 and 8, 1862, Banzhaf ex­plained.

“In the end, es­sen­tially, that was the largest and best chance the Con­fed­er­ates had to take the state of Mis­souri,” he said.

Banzhaf said he’s worked with the park ser­vice since 1991, and he’s been in­ter­ested in his­tory since he was a stu­dent on a field trip in the fifth grade. Now, he said, he’s glad to have a job that keeps him im­mersed in it.

The mu­seum, he said, has been on his list of places to visit for some time, though this was his first time head­ing into it.

“I’ll be back as a mem­ber,” he said.

Bella Vista res­i­dent Mike Phillips stopped in to lis­ten to the pre­sen­ta­tion. He’s been to the bat­tle­field, he said, and he’s ea­ger to learn more.

“When I heard that one of the park rangers was go­ing to be here, I thought it’d be a good time to come out and lis­ten,” he said.

He learned a lot, he said, about the buildup to the bat­tle and he ex­pects to come back for the next pre­sen­ta­tion.

Bella Vista His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety pres­i­dent Xyta Lu­cas said these meet­ings will con­tinue. The meet­ings will be held at 7 p.m. the sec­ond Thurs­day of each month. The March meet­ing, she said, will be Thurs­day, March 8, with a pre­sen­ta­tion on World War II era Ja­panese in­tern­ment camps in Arkansas.

Staff pho­to­graph by Keith Bryant

Troy Banzhaf, Na­tional Park Ser­vice Chief of In­ter­pre­ta­tion and Vis­i­tor Ser­vices at the Pea Ridge Na­tional Mil­i­tary Park, dis­cussed the mil­i­tary ac­tion in Mis­souri that would ul­ti­mately lead to the bat­tle at Pea Ridge at a pro­gram at the Bella Vista His­tor­i­cal Mu­seum re­cently.

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