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The Desperate Battle for Elkhorn Tavern in Pea Ridge Arkansas, 1862

Mark Caruthers holds a Bachelor's degree in Geography and History from the University of Arkansas (Fayetteville).

The Eve of the Battle

On the eve of the battle in a late winter snowstorm, Confederate General Van Dorn led his 16,000-man army north from the rugged Boston Mountains on a grueling 55-mile forced march to Pea Ridge near Bentonville.

Van Dorn correctly reasoned that General Curtis and his Union army had a long and vulnerable supply line that led all the way back to central Missouri. He intended to take advantage of that weakness by conducting an elaborate envelopment of the Union army. He would take his rebels on a wide flanking march to the west of Curtis's position atop Pea Ridge.

Van Dorn hoped to avoid detection as he attempted to cut the Union supply line, and attack the left rear of the Union position on top of Pea Ridge near Elk Horn Tavern.

Confederate troops left their campfires burning near their base camp in the Boston Mountains on the night of March 6, 1862, to deceive Yankee outposts as they trampled north through the dark of night in the heavily wooded countryside.

Just after sunrise on February 7, 1862, rebel troops arrived near Pea Ridge and then made a sharp turn south into Cross Timber Hollow in order to strike the Union's left rear. Eugene Carr's 4th division was chosen to guard the Union rear at Elk Horn Tavern along Telegraph road on March 6, 1862.

His division would play a crucial role in the unfolding clash near Elk Horn Tavern. Carr positioned his troops on either side of the road and sent out his mounted troops to reconnoiter Cross Timber Hollow north of his position.

At 10:30 a.m. on March 7, 1862, Carr's mounted scouts informed him that a Confederate force of unknown size was entering the hollow. He was convinced that the threat from the north was a diversionary attack.

On the assumption it was a small Confederate force, Carr held one of his brigades (half of these troops) in reserve. This decision left Carr with just 950 infantrymen and 310 cavalrymen to fight Price's rebel division of around 5,000 soldiers.

Soon Price's commanders formed a long battle line and advanced up Cross Timber Hollow toward Elk Horn Tavern. Van Dorn accompanied Price's Missourians to ensure the success of his attack.

Elk Horn Tavern as the Confederates would see as they marched from the north into the rear of the Union line

Elk Horn Tavern as the Confederates would see as they marched from the north into the rear of the Union line

The Black-Bearded Cossack

A New York native Eugene Asa Carr graduated from West Point in the class of 1850. He had considerable experience before the Civil War fighting Indians out on the frontier in the western plains of the United States.

At the Battle of Diablo Mountains in Texas his force of 40 mounted rifles attacked a force of over 200 Lipan Apache warriors as they attempted to steal cattle from ranchers in the area. Carr was wounded by an arrow and cited for his "gallantry and coolness" in the battle. His intense expression while in the heat of battle prompted his fellow officers to nickname him the "Black-Bearded Cossack." His commanders found him to be an ill-tempered and difficult subordinate. Yet they respected his leadership and the courage he demonstrated in battle.

At 11:30 a.m. the roar of battle increased dramatically as Price and Carr's troops battled for control of Elk Horn Tavern along the crest of Pea Ridge. In the thick of the battle, Carr decided upon a bold tactic. He led a small force, which included four cannons, 300 yards down into the hollow.

Carr's cannons were squarely pointed at Price's Confederate troops advancing up Cross Timber Hollow toward Elk Horn Tavern. The Union artillery fire prompted Van Dorn to rush forward his Confederate batteries. Within an hour Confederate counter-battery fire dramatically grew in intensity as more batteries went into action on a shelf on the north end of the hollow.

The Confederates eventually had 21 guns in action against Carr's four artillery pieces. Confederate shells inflicted horrific wounds on Carr's artillery crews. One had his left leg sheared off, another was struck by a ball in the groin, and yet another was struck in the mouth by shrapnel.

Despite the chaos surrounding Carr's artillerymen, they maintained a brisk fire as he watched from a position nearby. Confederate cannons soon scored two direct hits on two Union caissons, which produced enormous explosions. Carr was wounded three times while leading his troops against the rebel attack. Although not life-threatening, the three wounds were exceedingly painful. He was struck in the wrist, neck, and ankle.

By 12:30 p.m. rebel gunners had silenced Carr's cannons in the hollow. It soon became imperative for Carr to withdraw his troops, and take up positions behind Elk Horn Tavern before they were cut off from the rest of the army.

Not long after capturing Elk Horn Tavern, many of Price's rebels were so exhausted and hungry that they stopped advancing toward Union positions to raid the tavern for food. This break in the action gave Union commanders the time they needed to bring up reinforcements to block the rebel attack.

As darkness set in, both sides formed their battle lines and waited in the cold darkness for sunrise. Confederate troops suffered from the cold since they left their tents behind at their base camp in the Boston Mountains before their march toward Pea Ridge.

It was too late for Van Dorn and his rebel army; they had lost the valuable element of surprise. Now every rifle and cannon the Union army had in the field was now pointed at Van Dorn and his rebels.

Running low on food and ammunition, Van Dorn was forced to withdraw from the battle the next day in order to save his army. After the battle, Carr was promoted to brigadier general for his heroic stand at Elk Horn Tavern on March 7, 1862. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor many years later for his actions at the Battle for Pea Ridge.

Aftermath

General Carr would go on to command the Fourteenth Division of the XIII Corps at the battle at Vicksburg in 1863. In the final stages of the war, commanded Union troops in the occupation of Arkansas.

After the war, he returned to Indian fighting on the western frontier. He retired from the army with the rank of brigadier general in 1893. The following year, Congress decided to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor for his outstanding performance at Pea Ridge.

It was the most deserved and fitting tribute to one of the Union army's best generals during the War Between the States. At the age of 80, Carr passed away in 1910 in Washington D.C. He was buried with honors in West Point Cemetery.

Bloody Pea Ridge March 7 and 8 1862

Over 800 Native Americans fought for the Confederate forces at Pea Ridge under the Command of Albert Pike

Over 800 Native Americans fought for the Confederate forces at Pea Ridge under the Command of Albert Pike

Sources and Further Reading

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Mark Caruthers