I caught it out of the corner of my eye. Passing through the numbing gauntlet of Lowe’s and Walmart, Sonic and AutoZone, a small brown sign announced Prairie Grove Battlefield.
I had two hours before I had to be in Fayetteville. My plan was to sit in a coffee shop, read the paper, and gently start my day, but when I saw the sign, I turned right instead. As the big box stores gave way to open space, a thin mist clung to the ground.
It’s my first full day in the south. Or as my North Carolina friend likes to call it, the South. I prefer craggy peaks to soggy heat, so I haven’t spent much time in this part of the country, but already it’s drawing me in.
Prairie Grove is sacred ground. December 7, 1862 saw a Civil War battle that left 2,700 dead. And on this still morning, 152 years later, I wandered the fields and read the words left by some of the soldiers who survived. Most of words following are borrowed from the interpretive signs and self guided tour of the battlefield.
My guns were worked rapidly, making sad havoc in the ranks of the enemy who retreated to the wood. I gave them a few shells as a parting salute, and we rested upon the field.
One soldier commented afterwards that you could walk a long distance without touching the ground because of the dead bodies in this field and along the slope of the ridge.
The Southern troops suffered heavy casualties from the Union artillery before withdrawing to the wooded ridge. Robert West and his family sat on the hill to the north and watched the entire battle.
The heaviest fighting of the day took place around this house and orchard. After the battle, General Herron reported 250 dead within a 100-yard radius of the house. One soldier stated the ground was “muddy with blood”.
Ordered to lie down in the field, the Illinois troops saw the Confederate bullets and shells go over their heads, resulting in very light casualties for the regiment.
The fire was more terrible than any I had experienced during the present war.
Warned of the approaching conflict, Mrs. Borden took her three children west along the ridge, stopping at the homes of Dr. Hugh Rogers and William Rogers before reaching the William Morton house with the other families. When the fighting got near, the twenty men, women, and children hid in the Morton cellar.
I rode to Colonel Steen and remarked to him that the contest must be closed and that I had determined to charge the enemy with bayonet. – Colonel Alexander Early Steen who died on that last charge of the day.
Ms. Borden’s pony stood hitched close to the cook room, saddled and was not hurt, and after the firing ceased, she with her three children mounted the pony and rode to safety.
General Hindman used the church as his headquarters during the battle. Afterwards, both sides used it as a hospital.