The Battle of Prairie Grove was a battle of the American Civil War fought on this day in 1862, that resulted in a tactical stalemate but essentially secured northwest Arkansas for the Union.
The battle opened on the morning of 7 Dec with Union general Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron crossing the river and deploying his footsore troops on Confederate Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman’s right (Hindman had chosen to set up a defensive position atop a line of low hills near Prairie Grove, Arkansas). Herron opened an intense two hour artillery barrage on the Confederate position singling out individual Confederate cannon and concentrating on taking them out of action one at a time. By noon, the devastating barrage had disabled most of the Confederate artillery and forced many of the Confederate troops to shelter on the reverse slopes.
Seeing the effect of his artillery, Herron ordered an advance on the hill rather than waiting for Blunt to arrive. His troops first encountered Confederate cavalry in the Borden wheatfield at the base of a ridge overlooking the prairie. Herron took these advanced troopers to mean that Hindman was planning to attack and capture the Union artillery. So Herron sent forward two regiments from his own 3rd Division to assault a Confederate battery near the Borden house. When his men arrived on the hill they found themselves under a fierce Confederate counterattack from three sides by Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke and Brig. Gen.Francis A. Shoup. Half of the attacking Federals were wounded or killed within minutes, most near the Borden house.
As the surviving Federals rolled back down the hill toward the safety of Union lines, Confederate soldiers spontaneously pursued and attempt to break Herron’s lines. Herron’s artillery loaded with canister caused terrible damage to the unorganized Confederates and repulsed their attack.
Herron feared the Confederates would make another rush at his artillery and preemptively ordered another charge. This time two regiments were selected from Col.Daniel Huston’s 2nd Division. Again near the Borden house, hand-to-hand fighting ensued. The Federal troops repulsed one counterattack before falling back towards Herron’s artillery. Again the pursuing Confederates rushed the Union guns but were repulsed by troops from Col. William W. Orme’s brigade.
Meanwhile, Blunt realized that Hindman had gotten past his flank and intercepted Herron. Furious, he ordered his men to march to the sound of the guns. Not knowing the precise location of the fighting, the Federal troops ignored roads and traversed through farm fields and over fences straight toward the sound of battle at the double quick. This movement was probably initiated by Col. Thomas Ewing and the 11th Kansas Infantry. While Blunt did not order the maneuver he quickly endorsed it even chastising a regimental commander for not showing enough initiative when he failed to follow the unorthodox procedure. Blunt’s forces arrived on the field just as Hindman was ordering another attack on Herron’s forces. Blunt’s division slammed into the surprised Confederates and drove them back onto the hill. The heaviest casualties of the battle were felt during this attack by the 10th Missouri Confederate Infantry, which was caught in the open, at the flank of the Confederate forces. Blunt aligned his two brigades and sent them forward toward the Morton house on the same ridge to the west of the Borden house. Blunt’s forces fought somewhat sporadically until being recalled off the ridge. Brig. Gen. Mosby M. Parsons’ Confederate brigade swept across the farm fields of prairie toward Blunt’s artillery. Once again the Union soldiers and artillery repulsed the attack and darkness put an end to the fighting.
During the night of 7-8 December Blunt began to call up his reserves. Hindman on the other hand had no reserves remaining, was low on ammunition and food, and had lost much of his artillery firepower. Hindman had no choice but to withdraw under cover of darkness back towards Van Buren, Arkansas. The Confederates reached Van Buren on December 10, demoralized, footsore, and ragged.
By 29 December Blunt and Herron would threaten Hindman at his Van Buren sanctuary and drive him from northwest Arkansas permanently.