The Battle of Prairie Grove was one of the most intense battles of the Civil War. It took place in Northwest Arkansas on December 7, 1862.
The massive battle developed when Maj. Gen. Thomas Hindman marched his army of 11,000 men and 22 cannon north across the Boston Mountains from the Arkansas River Valley in a desperate attempt to claim a position between two smaller Union forces. If he could defeat the divided Federal commands of Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron and Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt in detail, he could retake Northwest Arkansas for the Confederacy while opening the door for an invasion of Missouri.
Hindman almost achieved his goal, despite the fact that his army was marching with limited supplies. He had hastily assembled it from scattered existing units and new recruits, many of whom did not have proper shoes, uniforms or weapons.
Using the mountains as a screen, Hindman stole a march on Blunt’s command which was to the west at Cane Hill. Herron responded to the crisis with remarkable energy, driving his men through the night. They collided with the Confederate army at the Illinois River between today’s Prairie Grove community and the city of Fayetteville.
Hindman pulled his men back into a strong defensive position after some initial fighting along the Illinois. The Confederates formed along the top of a commanding ridge that gave them a clear field of fire down the slope and across the fields and prairie below. The position was so strong that Herron and Blunt came to believe that they were facing an army nearly twice the size of Hindman’s actual force.
With the Confederates blocking the road that connected Fayetteville with Cane Hill, Herron deployed his men on open ground below the east end of the ridge and launched a series of ferocious attacks on the Confederate right flank. The Union forces surged up the ridge but were driven back down as the armies battled back and forth around the Borden House and Orchard. Herron’s men overran a Confederate battery but were driven back away. Southern troops drove them back down the ridge but were in turn thrown back themselves by the concentrated fire of Union batteries. Union soldiers then charged again. The fighting flowed back and forth for hours.
As many as 250 men fell on the grounds surrounding the Borden House. The two armies battled savagely for control of the important position but in the end the Confederates held. Herron’s men finally ended their attacks and held their positions in the fields and prairie below the ridge.
The fighting now shifted down the two-mile line to the left flank of the Confederate army. Brig. Gen. Blunt had marched to the sound of the guns and now threw his men against the opposite end of the ridge.
The battle raged back and forth there for hours. Each army attacked and was in turn driven back in an ebb and flow engagement not unlike the morning’s fight at the east end of the ridge. The final attack of the day was made by thousands of Confederate troops who swept down the ridge against Blunt’s men. They were forced back by terrific Union fire as the sun set and the bloody day came to an end.
The two armies had battled to a stalemate in fighting that ranked as some of the bloodiest of the war west of the Mississippi. Hindman’s hastily assembled army had performed remarkably well, but he knew that it could not withstand another day of action. Ammunition supplies were running out and the Confederates would not be able to fire back against the next Union attack.
When the sun rose on the morning of December 8, Blunt and Herron found that the ridge top was empty and the Confederates were gone. Hindman withdrew his army back into the mountains during the night.
The Federal troops were so battered that no attempt at a pursuit was made.
Confederate casualties in the Battle of Prairie Grove totaled 164 killed, 817 wounded and 336 missing or captured. Union losses were 175 killed, 813 wounded and 264 captured or missing. Many of the wounded men from each side died from their wounds over the days and weeks that followed. The Union dead were buried on the field and later removed to Fayetteville National Cemetery. Confederate dead were buried at Confederate Cemetery in Fayetteville.
Much of the site of the Battle of Prairie Grove is now preserved at Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park. Located on Highway 62 in Prairie Grove, Arkansas, the park features a museum, walking trails through key battle areas, a driving tour, historic structures, picnic areas and more. The visitor center is open daily from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. The park is open from 8 a.m. until one hour after sunset daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
The park address is 506 East Douglass Street, Prairie Grove, Arkansas. See the map below for directions.