Friday, December 7, 2012

What Battlefield is this? Answer to Quiz #1

This battlefield is the site of the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas.  Today, December 7th, is the 150th anniversary of the battle.  It was a battle that due to very poor performance by the Confederate Generals and sheer aggressiveness of the Union forces prevented what should have been a major defeat to the Union's Army of the Frontier as the Confederate forces initially outnumbered the Union almost 2:1 until reinforcements arrived.  It is one of those battles that is hard to game because the players would never allow the historical hindrances to handicap them so. 

To read a good account of the battle, visit the following thread at this blog, The Civil War Daily Gazette.  I also suggest the excellent book
by William Shea, Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign.  I also suggest reading Civil War Arkansas 1863: The Battle For A State by Mark Christ to really understand how the stalemate and following retreat by the Confederate forces assured a Union strategic victory for the Union and basically caused the almost complete collapse of the Confederate Arkansas troops immediately after reading William Shea's book.

The picture of the orchard from yesterday is the Borden's apple orchard where the 19th Iowa Infantry and the 20th Wisconsin Infantry (936 men) charged multiple times against a much larger force.  In the first charge, the commander of the 19th Iowa, Lt. Col. Samuel McFarland (whom picture is in the first part of the quiz), a former member of the Iowa General Assembly, was killed when struck by nine bullets.   He death is mention in song written about the battle, "Prairie Grove" by a member of the 19th Iowa, John Wyatt.  This song was later recorded by Bob Dyer, featuring the vocals of Judy Domeny and is found on the soundtrack for John Tiller's Ozark Campaign computer game. 

In the second part of the quiz, I show a picture of where
Blocher's Arkansas Battery overlooked the Union's position of Herron's command.  Due highly aggressive maneuvering by Herron to place his artillery in well in front of main force, and their excellent shooting, the cannon crews of the Confederates were force to abandon most of their guns, denying their use when the 37th Illinois Infantry and the 26th Indiana Infantry (846 men) charged up this hill. 

When both assaults (of less than 1000 men each time) which actually impacted at different times failed against a combined Confederate strength of 3466 men, of the total 11,000 in the field.   Finally battered, they fell back.

Shortly after this, the Confederate generals finally decided to do something, which up to this point the battle most of Confederate generals were no were near the action and there was no one to direct their men except the initiative of their regimental officers.  The decision was decided to launch a major attack against the 20th Iowa Infantry which was all by itself at the right flank of Herron's command.  As the Confederates surged forward, two cannons fired off sounding a notice the command of Union General James Blunt had finally arrive in the nick of time, much in the style of an old Hollywood Western to save the day. 

It was this rush to the rescue by Blunt's command that the individual from our last picture from yesterday comes in to play.  That man was Thomas Ewing, Jr.  At the time of Prairie Grove, Ewing was the regimental colonel of the 11th Kansas Infantry.  Following the standard procedure of day by only using road movements until contact was made, Blunt's forces were slowly making their way to battle.  As the sounds of cannons increase in volume and density, the need to get to action was becoming critical. Out of desperation, Ewing ordered his men to throw down the rail fencing along the road and immediately started moving in a very direct way overland towards the fighting.  Blunt seeing what Ewing did started to direct the rest of his command to follow suit.  In performing this action, Ewing probably saved Herron's command.  

After being promoted to Brigadier General, Ewing was to be placed in charge of the District of the Border in west Missouri.  It was during this time that he would become infamous in deeds, like arresting the mothers, sisters, and wives of known southern guerrillas.  The most notorious of these deeds would be issuing Order Number 11, which made him one of the most hated Generals in Missouri.  Order Number 11 was issued after the Lawrence Massacre by pro-southern guerrillas to remove pro-southern civilian supporters from four counties in western Missouri.  Whole families and communities where forced to leave their homes and businesses and many burn to the ground to deny the southern guerrillas their use.  So hated was this order, that a pro-Union painter, George Caleb Bingham, would memorize this order in a famous painting.   

But probably Ewing greatest military feat was his action at Fort Davidson.  At the time, Ewing was the Deputy Commander of St. Louis and was sent to Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob, Missouri, when word came out about Confederate General Sterling Price raided in to Missouri in 1864 to destroy St. Louis (the 8th populated city in 1860) and Jefferson City.  Commanding a force of roughly 1500 men, including civilian volunteers, Ewing decided to defend the fort against  a force of 12,000 men.  When asked to surrender, Ewing refuse as part of his protecting the black civilian volunteers fearing that the Confederate troops would murder them as was done at Fort Pillow.  When Price decided to finally attack, the battle lasted only about three hours with an estimate of 1500 casualties within the Confederate ranks for a 180 casualties, and of which only 28 were killed, among Ewing's command.  That night, surrounded by Confederate encampments, Ewing successfully evacuated the fort with all of his cannons, blew up the fort, and fought six running battles all the way to Leasburg, 66 miles away in an amazing 39 hours.

Below is slide show of Prairie Grove Battlefield.


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