In March, 1862, in the mountains north of Fayetteville, Arkansas, the Battle of Pea Ridge was fought to keep Missouri in the Union. The two day battle was as much a battle of egos as a battle for control; therefore many errors occurred that caused the tide to turn suddenly for both sides. Touring the Pea Ridge National Military Park near Bentonville, Arkansas is a terrific way to understand the Civil War battle. After viewing the two light-up map exhibits that explain the maneuvers of the armies; and after viewing the informative film in the visitor center, I grab a map and begin the ten stop, driving loop tour.
Although there are a few hiking trails surrounding the driving loop, hiking is not necessary to tour Pea Ridge National Military Park. The one-way road has well marked parking areas, each with plaques detailing the events of the battle. Stop 7 is the one hiking exception. A very short walk leads to the East Overlook with beautiful views of the battlefield, the surrounding Boston Mountains, and several placards explaining Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn’s not very well thought out plan to sneak behind Brigadier General Samuel Curtis’s Union troops for a surprise attack. The Union army was entrenched on the bluffs above Little Sugar Creek expecting a frontal assault by the Confederates. Van Dorn force marched his 16,000-man army for three difficult days. His wagons containing extra artillery, food, and gear could not make the trek and had to be left behind. The Confederates, arriving several hours after dawn on March 7, were successful in pushing the Union army back until the Confederates took over both Elkhorn Tavern and Telegraph and Huntsville roads. However, Van Dorn’s troops were exhausted, hungry, and cold…and running low on ammunition.
Elkhorn Tavern stands at Stop 8 on the driving loop. Although the Tavern is not open for tours, several placards in the nearby surrounding area explain the events of March 8. Curtis and his Union troops return to the tavern area and counter-attacked the weary Confederates. After a two-hour artillery barrage, Van Dorn realized his error of leaving behind the extra supplies. With little ammunition, low spirits, and an exhausted army, Van Dorn ordered his troops to withdraw and the battle of Pea Ridge ended with a Union victory. Missouri remained in the Union.
After completing the driving tour of the Battle of Pea Ridge, I drive the half mile to explore the Union trenches at Little Sugar Creek. Although eroded, the trenches still exist on the bluff above Little Sugar Creek. I grab my hiking sticks and trek the moderate-level trail that climbs a steep bluff before leveling out into a short, loop trail. The hike on top of the bluff is easy with a well-maintained trail; however there are no signs indicating the location of the trenches. Very few people come to this area of the park, and, although I have no idea what I am supposed to be looking at, I enjoy the peaceful, solitary hiking experience.