The battle fought at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, on March 6-8, 1862, saved Missouri for the Union
and brought fame and promotion to several Iowans.
The Confederate commander in the West, General Albert Sidney Johnston, had given Major
General Earl Van Dorn the task of holding Missouri, and under him had placed three veterans of
the Mexican War: Brigadier Generals Benjamin McCulloch and Albert Pike of the Confederate
Army, and Major General Sterling Price of the Missouri State Guard.
The Union troops in Missouri were now commanded by Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis
of Keokuk. In February he moved against Price, forcing him out of Springfield and into
Arkansas. Curtis followed and camped on Sugar Creek, a small stream just south of a high range
of hills known as Pea Ridge. Under his command he had four small divisions. In Colonel
Eugene A. Carr's division, Colonel Grenville M. Dodge of Council Bluffs commanded the first
brigade, which included his own 4th Iowa and the First Iowa Artillery. The second brigade of
Carr's division was under another Iowan, Colonel William Vandever of Dubuque, who had his
own regiment, the 9th, and the 3rd Iowa Artillery. Unassigned in this small army was the 3rd
Iowa Cavalry, Colonel Cyrus Bussey of Bloomfleld commanding. In all, Curtis had about
10,500 men with him at Pea Ridge. The number in Van Dorn's army is hard to estimate. He
claimed about 14,000 while reporting Curtis' army as between 17,000 and 24, 000. In turn,
Curtis reported that Van Dorn had 20,000 to 30,000.
Whatever the numbers, the two armies finally clashed on March 6-8 in the battle known in
the North as Pea Ridge, in the South as Elkhorn Tavern. Curtis had stationed his four divisions
north of Sugar Creek, facing south. To hamper Van Dorn's approach, he had Colonel Dodge's
men fell trees on the roads approaching their position. But Van Dorn avoided a frontal attack
and moved his men to the left, planning to turn Curtis' flank and attack him from the rear at
Elkhorn Tavern. Hearing of this maneuver from his scouts, Curtis reversed his army to face
north and sent his new left wing to cut the Confederate army, marching northward, at the same
time sending Carr's division toward Elkhorn Tavern. In a violent encounter on the left, Pike and
McCulloch were defeated after several hours of fighting during which McCulloch was killed.
Meanwhile, Carr's division on the right, hotly engaged with Van Dorn and Price, was forced
to give ground slowly. By 5 o'clock in the afternoon, after Carr's men had been under almost
constant fire for seven hours, and had suffered severe losses, help arrived when Curtis moved his
victorious left wing to the support of the right. Of the 4th and 9th Iowa, fighting under Carr that
day, Curtis wrote- "These two regiments won imperishable honors."
Night fell on the two exhausted armies, but Curtis gave his men little rest. Again he moved
them into a new line, this time running north and south and facing the Confederates now massed
to his east.
With sunrise the battle resumed, with Curtis directing the Iowa batteries on the left and in the
center. As the batteries roared, the blueclad troops moved steadily forward, and soon the
Confederates were in retreat. By 10 o'clock Van Dorn had abandoned the field. Two weeks later
Curtis was promoted to major general.
The victory was costly. Almost 1,400 Union men were killed, wounded, or missing after the
battle. In all, Iowa suffered 443 casualties at Pea Ridge: 64 dead, 362 wounded, and 17 missing.
Most of this loss occurred in the two infantry regiments: the 4th lost 18 killed, 139 wounded, 3
missing; the 9th, 38 killed, 176 wounded, 4 missing, for a total in both regiments of 378.
Two Iowans won Congressional Medals of Honor at Pea Ridge: Albert Power, a private in
the 3rd Cavalry, who rescued a dismounted comrade; and Lieutenant Colonel Francis J. Herron
of the 9th Infantry, who led his men with great bravery until disabled and captured.
Significantly, Iowa's three major generals fought at Pea Ridge. Curtis was promoted to that
rank on March 21, 1862: Dodge became a brigadier on March 31, 1862, and a major general on
June 7, 1864; Herron, a brigadier on July 30, 1862, and a major general on November 29, 1863.