Trail of Tears

Butterfield Overland Mail

Civil War

Cane Hill

cane-hillSettled by Anglo pioneers in 1827, Cane Hill is one of the earliest settlements in Washington County. The community was a witness to both Trail of Tears and Civil War activities. The Cannon detachment of Cherokees passed through here in 1837 on their forced removal to Indian Territory. Still standing and currently undergoing restoration is the Methodist manse. Built in 1834, the building is under review for inclusion as a “witness structure” on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail.

Cane Hill was also the site of a Civil War skirmish in 1862.

Several properties in Cane Hill are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Historic Cane Hill, a non-profit organization currently restoring many historic sites in the community, also operates a museum.

Headquarters House

Headquarters House, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Courtesy Washington County Historical Society

Built in Fayetteville in 1853 by Jonas and Matilda Tebbetts, Headquarters House is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in Arkansas. The house is just a few blocks north of the Butterfield Overland Mail’s Fayetteville Station, which was located at the present-day site of the historic Washington County Courthouse. During the Civil War, the Tebbetts home served as headquarters for both Union and Confederate troops, hence the name “Headquarters House.”

Today the property is owned by the Washington County Historical Society. Headquarters House was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1971. The Archibald Yell Law Office was moved to the Headquarters House campus in 1992. Heritage gardens featuring heirloom plants make the grounds a lovely place for a stroll.

Tours and living history presentations are available by appointment. For more information, visit the Washington County Historical Society website.

Pea Ridge National Military Park


Courtesy Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism

The campaign that would culminate in the Battle of Pea Ridge began December 25, 1861, with the appointment of Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis to command the Union Army of the Southwest. Curtis’s mission was to destroy, or drive from Missouri his main opponent, Major General Sterling Price and about 8,000 troops of the Missouri State Guard, then wintering in Springfield. Hoping to catch Price when he was most vulnerable, Curtis launched his 10,500 troops during the bitter winter cold of early February, 1862. Outnumbered and ill-equipped, Price led his troops out of Springfield, south along Telegraph Road into Confederate held Arkansas, relentlessly pursued by the dogged and determined Federals. Skirmishes erupted daily as the two sides trudged south, often buffeted by freezing winds, rain, sleet, and snow. Reaching Cross Hollow Arkansas, Price united with a larger better supplied regular Confederate force commanded by Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch. On February 17, the pursuing Federals slammed into McCulloch’s rear guard in the first Civil War battle in Arkansas, on James Dunagin’s farm near present-day Avoca. Bloodied, but not deterred, Curtis slowed his advance, allowing the now combined forces of Price and McCulloch to withdraw safely into the Boston Mountains near present day Hog Eye and Strickler. During their retreat, the Confederates burned their barracks at Cross Hollow and then ransacked the military supply depot in Fayetteville, burning several city blocks in the process, thus making Fayetteville the first American city burned during the Civil War.

With the unification of Price and McCulloch, Curtis lost the strategic initiative. Two-hundred miles from his primary supply base, and with the Confederates increasing in his front, Curtis deployed his army to cover the approaches and prevent the enemy from reentering Missouri, then he settled down to wait. By the first week in March, Curtis’s livestock was so weak from food shortages that he feared he might not be able to transport his artillery or ammunition wagons if the Confederates made a sudden movement. Providentially, Curtis ordered the fragmented parts of his army to assemble on the bluffs overlooking the north bank of Little Sugar Creek just north of modern day Avoca. Dirt, rock, and timber breastworks were constructed, further strengthening an already formidable position.

Meanwhile, Major General Earl Van Dorn was appointed to command all Confederate forces west of the Mississippi. Van Dorn assumed command of the newly christened Army of the West including all the troops under McCulloch and Price. Hoping to destroy Curtis’ army while it was still scattered, Van Dorn turned his army northward on March 4 during a late winter storm. Moving north to Fayetteville, and then up the Elm Springs Road, Van Dorn arrived at Bentonville the morning of March 6. There he encountered a small Union force of about 600 troops and cannon led by Brigadier General Franz Sigel. Sigel had been camped near modern-day Centerton, but had received orders from Curtis to consolidate forces along Little Sugar Creek. A running fight began as the rebels chased Sigel east out of Bentonville along modern day Highway 72, across I-49 near the Marriott and down into Little Sugar Creek valley. Sigel’s force rejoined Curtis late in the day, and the Confederate army bivouacked along Little Sugar Creek near Highway 94.

Hoping to draw Curtis out of his strong position, Van Dorn led his army on long, difficult night march along the Bentonville Detour toward the Telegraph Road, squarely on the undefended rear of the union army. But as the sun rose March 7, Van Dorn began to realize too late that rapid marching in bitterly cold wet weather, coupled with food shortages had seriously crippled his army. McCulloch’s troops had fallen behind, and were still eight miles to the rear. Undaunted, Van Dorn pushed ahead with Price and the Missouri State Guard to open the battle, at the same time ordering McCulloch to rejoin him by a shorter route following the now obscure Ford Road.

pea-ridge-elkhornResponding to reports of enemy activity behind him, Curtis methodically began withdrawing troops from his earthworks to accept the rebel attack from the north. Union forces encountered McCulloch’s troops, including two regiments of Cherokee Indians, just north of the little hamlet of Leetown about noon. Fighting raged for at least three hours, including a savage and bitter struggle in a densely forested thicket known as Morgan’s Woods. The deaths of McCulloch and his second in command Brigadier General James McIntosh, coupled with the timely arrival of Union reinforcements decided the issue. Tired, discouraged, and beaten, the Confederates retreated in disorder.

Two miles to the east another fierce battle raged as Van Dorn and Price with about 5,000 Missouri State Guard troops collided with about 2,200 young men fresh from the farms and small towns of Iowa and Illinois. Van Dorn had successfully flanked the Union troops by reaching the Telegraph Road to the north of Curtis’s position along Little Sugar Creek. The outnumbered Federals gamely held their ground near a two-story hostelry known locally as Elkhorn Tavern. By nightfall, the Federals were forced back about ¾ of a mile where they spent a cold, wet, cheerless night in a muddy cornfield.

During the night, the survivors of the Leetown fight rejoined their respective armies for another day’s battle in the open fields south of Elkhorn Tavern. Determined to break the Confederate hold on his supply line, Curtis unleashed a massive and well-coordinated artillery bombardment, followed by a dramatic infantry assault reminiscent of Napoleonic grandeur. doug_bagleyBy early afternoon, the attacking Federals had recaptured all the ground they had lost the previous day and chased the last of the Confederate rear guard off the field. Earlier in the day, Van Dorn ordered the army to retreat after realizing that he had failed to order his supply train forward, and was unable to re-supply his artillery with much needed ammunition. Acknowledging the many errors in planning at all levels, one Confederate officer said “We have fought a battle and been whipped. Or rather we whipped ourselves.”

The Battle of Pea Ridge, often erroneously referred to as the largest battle west of the Mississippi, was in fact the most strategically decisive Civil War battle ever fought west of the great river. It crushed the best efforts of the Confederates to reestablish a presence in Missouri, guaranteeing that state’s political loyalty to the Union. From a military standpoint, it permanently shifted the balance of power in the region to the Union, making possible other larger campaigns for control of the strategic Mississippi River.

For more information, visit the Pea Ridge National Military Park website.

Pipe Springs

pipe springsOn March 10, 1862, four Confederate soldiers who had been deserted by their main company after the March 7 Battle of Pea Ridge were making their way home to the present-day Gentry and Siloam Springs areas. Knowing it was unsafe to travel during daylight, the soldiers, John Sager, Samuel Sager, Ned Lovel, and Haywood Pleasant Thomason, took cover in a bluff above Pipe Springs. Shortly, however, they were attacked by members of the Cherokee Home Guard, commonly known as “Pin” Indians. Of the four Confederates, only Samuel Sager managed to escape with his life. Sager made it to his father’s home near present-day Siloam Springs. After relating the sorrowful news, four young women, Lavinia Gunter, Ann Gunter, Mary Culbertson and Sarah Culbertson, hitched up a wagon and set out to retrieve the three Confederate dead, since travel for men was too dangerous. The women managed to load the soldiers into the wagon and brought them home for burial in Hico Cemetery in present day Siloam Springs.

Today, Pipe Springs is part of the Flint Creek Nature Area just south of Gentry. Turn west on Dawn Hill East at Sleepy Hollow Store off Arkansas Highway 59. The Nature Center is less than ¼ mile on the south side of the road.

Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park

By Don Montgomery
Former park historian

The Battle of Prairie Grove was the last time two armies of almost equal strength faced each other for control of northwest Arkansas and Missouri. When the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi withdrew from the bloody ground on the night of December 7th, it seemed clear that Missouri and northwest Arkansas would remain under Federal protection. Cavalry raids and guerrilla warfare continued to plague the region until the war finally ended in 1865.

pg-2Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi attacked the Union Army of the Frontier under the command of Brigadier Generals James G. Blunt and Francis J. Herron on December 7, 1862. There were about 12,000 in the Southern Army from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, as well as the Cherokee and Creek Nations. The Federal Army had about 10,000 soldiers from Arkansas, the Cherokee and Creek Nations, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The battle took place near the Illinois River on a ridge and valley called “Prairie Grove,” named after the small log church which sat upon the high ground.

The battle began at dawn with the defeat of Union cavalry by Confederate horse soldiers a few miles south of the ridge. The Federals retreated towards Fayetteville with the Southern cavalry in pursuit. The panicked Union soldiers stopped running when General Herron shot one soldier from his horse. The Confederate cavalry skirmished with Herron’s troops before falling back to the Prairie Grove ridge where General Hindman’s Confederate infantry and artillery waited in the woods in a line of battle.

After crossing the Illinois River under artillery fire, Herron’s Union artillery exchanged fire with the Confederate cannons near the home of Archibald Borden. The superior range, accuracy, and number of Union guns silenced the Southern batteries, allowing the remainder of the Union army to position themselves for an attack of the ridge. Before charging the high ground, the Federals pounded the ridge with cannon fire for almost two hours.

The Twentieth Wisconsin and Nineteenth Iowa Infantry regiments crossed the open corn and wheat fields before surging forward up the slope, capturing the Confederate cannons of Blocher’s Arkansas Battery. They continued to advance until suddenly; the woods erupted with small arms and cannon fire. The Confederates surrounded the two Union regiments on three sides and quickly forced them to retreat to the safety of the Federal guns in the valley. The Confederates under General James F. Fagan counterattacked down the slope onto the open ground where they were met with case shot and canister fire from the Union artillery and hastily returned to the cover of the wooded ridge.

Again the Union Army attacked sending the Thirty-seventh Illinois and Twenty-sixth Indiana Infantry regiments up the hill into the Borden apple orchard. Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Black of the Thirty-seventh Illinois led the way with his right arm in a sling, caused from a wound received nine months earlier at Pea Ridge, and wearing a red cape. Outnumbered, the Federals fell back to a fence line in the valley where they stopped a second Confederate counterattack using the Colt revolving rifles carried by the men of companies A and K in the Thirty-seventh Illinois Infantry.

The Confederates began massing their troops on the right flank of General Herron’s blue clad troops in order to overwhelm the outnumbered Federals. Before they could attack, two cannon shots rang out from the northwest, announcing the arrival of General James G. Blunt’s Kansas Division who quickly deployed and assaulted the Confederate left flank. Blunt’s Union soldiers were at Cane Hill that morning expecting to be attacked by the Confederate Army. When they heard the roar of battle at Prairie Grove, they marched to the battlefield arriving in time to save General Herron’s command.

The Southern Army responded by stopping the Union advance, forcing the boys in blue to fall back to their cannon line in the valley. Just before sunset, the Confederate Missouri Infantry under the command of General Mosby M. Parsons charged out into the Morton hayfield in hopes of overwhelming their foe. The intense fire from all forty-four cannons in the Union Army tore into the Southern ranks. The gray clad soldiers fell back to the cover of the trees as darkness settled over the field.

The fighting on the western end of the ridge raged near the Morton House where four families huddled in the cellar for shelter from the storm of bullets and cannonballs above. Nightfall brought an end to the savage fighting with neither side gaining an advantage. The Confederate Army retreated during the night by wrapping blankets around the wheels of their cannons. They were short of ammunition and many of the men had not eaten for some time. The Union troops spent the night on the field with no campfires and only a few blankets, coats, and tents despite frigid temperatures.

The two armies lost a total of 2,700 men who were wounded, killed, or missing in action. The battle was a tactical draw, but a strategic Union victory as the Federals would maintain control of Missouri and northwest Arkansas for the remainder of the war. The remainder of the conflict in the region descended to guerrilla warfare with bushwhackers (Southern supporters) and jayhawkers (Union supporters) destroying the countryside and forcing many families to become refugees. It would take many years for the people of northwest Arkansas to recover from the effects of the Civil War.

Take a look at the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park website for more information.

Shiloh Museum of Ozark History


The Shiloh Museum of Ozark History is a regional history museum focusing on the Northwest Arkansas Ozarks. The museum takes its name from the pioneer community of Shiloh, which became Springdale in the 1870s.

The museum is located along the route traveled by the 1837 Cannon detachment and the 1839 Taylor detachment of Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. Nearby is Fitzgerald Farmstead, a registered site on the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail and also a stop on the Butterfield Overland Mail route. Museum exhibits include a small display on the Civil War in the Arkansas Ozarks.

The Shiloh Museum is located on the Razorback Regional Greenway, making it a great destination for bike riders.