Today, the 7th March, in 1862 the Confederates met a smaller Union army at Pea Ridge in NW Arkansas with the aim of wresting back control of the region and moving back into Missouri.
The Confederate force of 16000 was led by a diminuitive Mississipian, formerly a US Army Captain of Cavalry by the name of Earl Van Dorn. His forces were divided into two Divisions, one of Missourians and the other of mostly Texans, but including a Brigade of Indians under the only native to rise to the rank of General, Albert Pike.
The plan was sound, except in wanting to give his army speed, by making them travel light and on three days’ rations, he was to find himself commanding a thirsty and hungry one by battle’s end. Van Dorn sent both Divisions on a flanking march of the Union army under Sam Curtis, a New York former West Point soldier turned lawyer, then Republican Congressman. Curtis had chosen good defensive ground and decided to await the Confederate attack. Unfortunately for Van Dorn, his flanking move was detected and his army found itself fighting the front of Curtis’ army as he redeployed to face the threat. Worse was to come for the Confederate army as the Texan Division commander,Ben McCulloch, was killed early on as was his replacement, McIntosh. The smaller Union army was forced to retreat on more than one occasion, but was never routed.
Van Dorn could have sealed victory, but cautiously decided not to rush his 5000 man Missouri Division into the fray prefering an artillery duel. The Union forces held on, even counterattacking before night fell.
The battle was rejoined on the 8th.