Pea Ridge National Military Park

Pea Ridge National Military Park


History & Culture

On March 7 & 8, 1862, the Federal Army of the Southwest, under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Ryan Curtis defeated the combined Confederate Army of the West commanded by Major General Earl Van Dorn. The battle would decide whether Missouri would remain in the Union or would join the Confederacy. Along with the capture of Forts Henry & Donelson in Western Tennessee, the decisive Federal victory at Pea Ridge set in motion the Federal campaigns in the West that would lead to the eventual Northern victory in 1865. The story of Battle of Pea Ridge is not just about Generals, Leaders and Tactics, it is also about the soldiers who fought here, from both sides. It is about the civilians who lived here and had a battle in the fields.

Brigdier General Samuel Ryan Curtis, Commander, Army of the Southwest

Samuel Curtis was born in New York in 1805. He attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, NY, graduating in 1831, but left the Army soon after. He moved to Ohio, where he worked as a lawyer, a civil engineer, and a railroad promoter. Publicly, he was methodical, precise and formal; in private, however, he enjoyed long walks, collecting wildflowers and writing to his family.

During the Mexican War, he served as a military governor of several occupied cities. After the war, Curtis moved to Iowa and, in 1856, was elected to Congress as a Republican. He was a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln and was considered for a cabinet position in the new administration. When war broke out, he raised the 2nd Iowa Infantry and was assigned to organizing the chaotic affairs in Saint Louis. General Halleck gave Curtis command of the Army of the Southwest on Christmas Day, 1861.

After Pea Ridge, Curtis continued the campaign, eventually capturing Helena, Arkansas on July 12th, 1862. He was promoted to Major General for his successes at Pea Ridge. In September, 1862, Curtis was given command of the Department of Missouri, although President Lincoln was soon forced to reassign him because of a bitter dispute between Curtis and Missouri's governor over Curtis's abolitionist views. He took to the field once again in 1864 against Sterling Price's invasion of Missouri. He ended Price's plans at the Battle of Westport (near present day Kansas City, Missouri). Curtis ended the war as commander of the Department of the Northwest, dealing with issues on the frontier.

After the war, he returned to Keokuk, Iowa where he promoted the transcontinental railroad. He died on December 26, 1866, after an inspection of the Union Pacific Railroad line. Although largely forgotten by history, Curtis was the Federal Army's most successful general throughout the first two years of the war.


Close to 23,000 soldiers fought at Pea Ridge on March 7 and 8, 1862. Throughout the years that have passed the park has come into possession of diaries, letters and notes from the soldiers who fought at Pea Ridge.

Isaac Smith
In 1861, Isaac Smith joined the Missouri State Guard Company E, 3rd Missouri Infantry, 1st Missouri Brigade (CSA) in the first enthusiastic rush of volunteers. Forty-one years later he wrote his remberances.

"It was a very cold night and it was pitiful to hear the wounded calling all through that night in the woods and alone for some water or something to keep them warm. I hope I never will hear such pleadings and witness such suffering again. Such cruelty and barbarity ought not to be tolerated by civilized nations. Young men, the flower of the country in the bloom of youth to be shot down and left on the field of battle to suffer untold agony, and die the death of the brave, to be forgotten by their countrymen and all that can be said of him is "He was a brave man and died for the cause he thought was right." Some were buried and some were not; left on the field of battle to be devoured by wild animals. Oh, these things are fearful to contemplate. Yet men will say from the stump and in the Halls of Congress that it is a war of Humanity and that it is a war for humanity. My observations are that humanity has no part in it. Everything that is barbarious and savage is put in full force by all who engage in war."

"In writing these lines forty years after this battle, above referred to, I have been forced to stop in the middle of it and express my feelings with regard to this matter and to let all who may read these lines know that I am utterly opposed to this thing called War, and hope I may never hear of one nation going to war with another nation. No matter what the grievence, these things ought to be settled without blood shed."

Asa Payne
Asa Payne Company E, 3rd Missouri Infantry, 1st Missouri Brigade (CSA)

In 1911, Civil War veteran Asa Payne wrote his remembrances of the Battle of Pea Ridge after revisiting the now peaceful battlefield.

"After a lapse of forty nine years, I again visited the Pea Ridge battle ground and it may not be out of place here to give my memories of that historic field on that occasion."

"I was, yet I was not the beardless boy that marched away, but an old, gray bearded man. I was surprised to find how little it had changed, what seemed to be the same old tavern with its elk horns was standing there still, but the barn was gone and in its place an apple orchard grew. There was nothing to remind me of the treacherous days in March of '62 but two monuments about twelve feet high which stand about a hundred yards southwest of the tavern, inscribed on one of them are the names of General Schlack and of General McIntosh and General Ben McCullough; the other one is in memory of the Federal commanders."

"I stayed all night in that old tavern but all was quiet, the booming of cannon and the wails of the wounded were hushed forever. While seated on its porch beyond the eastern hills the full moon rose like a copper disk and shed its light just as fifty years before over the bloody field. I was lulled to sleep by the tinkling of cow bells in the near by mountain and was awakened only by the hoot of owls which seemed to me were hooting their last long hoot in memory of the past."

Vinson Holman
Private Vinson Holman enlisted in Company C, 9th Regiment, Iowa Volunteer Infantry on August 23, 1861. For Holman and his comrades of the "Iowa 9th", Pea Ridge was their first taste of battle. The following excerpts are from his diary, and describe the soldier's experience of the wounded on the battlefield, and the pain felt by all who went through the conflict.

March 7, 1862: Isaac Arwine was wounded very bad in the Sholder. the ball entered the right sholder and lodged in the left sholder. now at present he is in very bad misery and is thought that he wont live. he said he thought he was a dead man. 

March 9, 1862: I am still in Camp waiting on Arwine and the Boys that is wounded. There is any amount of legs, arms, hands lying around in Damp that had to be cut off on account of thair bones being broken. the Doctors are taking off arms, and legs and hands evry day. it is nothing to see them cut a mans arm off or a leg. I hope to God that I wont have to witness the same again. it is horable to think of. 

March 11, 1862: The wounded has nothing to ly in but leaves and rocks and nothing to eat but some Buisket made with water and some coffee without any cream. 

March 12, 1862: the Doctors are stil taken legs and Arms off everyday. there is no excitement. Arwine is in great misery and isnt expected to live. 

March 13, 1862: this morning is very warm day and Arwine very bad. he was very bad all night and to day about eleven oclock Arwine died. we laid him on a hard board out of doors and Buried him about three oclock. We put a cople of Blankets around him and put him in a big grave and covered him up. it looks hard but cant be helped. there wasent no Man that suffered any more. while he lived his pain was so great that it gave him the lock jaw. he was in his rite mind all the while. half of his breath cam out of the wound on his back. he smelt awful. it was enough to make any bady sick to be around him. He wanted the Doctor to give him something to ease him and put him to sleep so he would never wake up again. he said he was sorry that he could not get home once more. but he said it was the fate of War and his time has come and he must go.

March 25, 1862: only last night we discarded our close and found out that the Hospittle was full of Body lice. they had got on most of us. I hear every Hospittle in town are full of them. how they got here God only knows. I don't.

Private Isaac Arwine is buried in Section 2, Grave 20, in the Fayetteville National Cemetery, Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Private Vinson Holman, Company C, 9th Iowa Volunteers, died of jaundice December 7, 1862. He was 20 years old.

Henry Dysart
Henry Dysart enlisted as a Private in Company D, 3rd Iowa Cavalry. He kept a diary of his service throughout the war, which gives a deep insight into the daily life of the Civil War soldier. The following are excerpts from his diary. The original diary is in the collection of Pea Ridge National Military Park.

Benton Barracks, January 1st, 1862. "Time flies" and it is indeed true that it "waits for no man". Today We may be at home in peace, tomorrow at war, to-day happy, to-morrow sad, to day rich tomorrow poor. As Time revolves, new eras open up marked sometimes with dark events. The past is open to view but the future is always uncertain, sometime bright sometimes dark. This first day of January 1862 finds Me about entering upon a year which is likely to be very different from last in its events, wherefore from to day I shall endeavor to keep a record in my Own style giving each day a representation believeing that time spent in this way will not be lost but will be to My improvement, and pleasant to turn back too in the future. Saturday Jan 4th 62 Disese in the army strikes down more than the sword. Were our armies made up of old men whose heads were white for the tomb this would seem more natural. death from old age is scarcely known in the army, at least in Ours. Sunday Jan 12th '62 Some of the boys wishing to take a side the lieu. took Us around through the city treating to lager beer of which all drank freely except one or two and myself. Though urged I refused to indulge having resolved to "touch not taste not handle not", and more, it seemed inappropriate it being the Sabbath and We just having buried one of Our comrades.

Saturday Jan 18th '62 Everything covered over with ice. The night has been spent in an interesting and boisterous discussion as to whether the Earth is round or flat. Sunday Jan 19th '62 A day in the army does not seem like a day spent at home. before one is aware of it night comes, a blank is all that is to be seen on which can be traced no mark of improvement. How fleet is time and how misspent! We mark time in the army not by weeks or sundays (for there is no sunday) but by the space intervening between one letter and another from home. Dr. Eliott preached in Co. D's quarters this afternoon. His sermon was very plain and interresting and his advice good, "Say Your prayers and keep Your powder dry."

Sunday Feb. 2nd '62. Dr. Elliot preached in Co. I's quarters this evening. "Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night showeth knowledge" Each day I realize more and more the necessity of strong resolution in resisting the many foul temptations which I find too daily increase as the men with whom We are associated give way to immorality. Some who make pretentions, who were well raised and know what is right "because they are in the army" seem to give way to and make no resistance to wrong, become offended if the Chaplain makes the least refferrence to their conduct. "Is'ent that wrong"? "not for a soldier". "Are you not breaking the sabbath?" "There is no sabbath in the army were I at home I would not do it." The result of this instability is that We become so accustomed to a looseness of character, Our consciences become so siered that We do daily what We would be ashamed of at home. indecent expressions in our conversation are unnoticed and become habitual. What to Us is unnoticed would seem to a parent or any other one from home rediculous. Monday Feb. 3rd '62. Lost a button off My coat. Wednesday Feb. 12th 62. About sundown one of Co A whilst carelessly handling his pistle shot his comrad through the leg.

Lebanon. Feb. 14th '62 Last night was the coldest We have experienced this winter. Whilst I journalize the ink freezes on My pen. in a minute I will crawl closer to the big camp fire by the light of which I now write.

Tuesday Feb 18th 62. Moveing on from Springfield We crossed Wilsons' creek at the battle ground but did not stop to look over it as I would have liked. I saw enough to cause a shudder. I saw bullet holes in the wood, I saw the hill from which Gen. Seigle played his cannon. the hill where Gen Lyon fell. I saw dead mens' bones. I saw soldiers graves. I saw the pool where the dying soldiers quenched their thirst and then I passed on.

Benton Co. Arkansas Saturday Feb 22nd 62. Woke this morning in the midst of a large and bustling camp stuck my head from under the "kiver" and in a kind of a trance witnessed 7 or 8000 troops pass by my "Sty."

Friday Feb. 28 - 1862 This time last year I had no thought that I should ever pass a night under such circumstances, so far from home as last and every night now is spent. A nights rest here is just as sweet as then at home. After marching all day over Arkansas mountains and rocks it is pleasant to spend an Arkansas night in an Arkansas thicket as last night was spent with an Arkansas rock for a pillow and an Arkansas sky for a covering. Sugar Creek. Ark.

Wednesday March 5th '62. Charles W. Gordon private of Co. C. 9th Missouri was drummed out of service to day in the presence of his brigade to the tune of "Pop goes the weasel."