Sometimes called "the Gettysburg of the West," the Battle of Pea Ridge, or Elkhorn Tavern, was fought on March 7-8, 1862, just below the Missouri border in Arkansas. Initial Confederate victories in Missouri in 1861 had given way to reverses, and by early 1862, Generals Ben McCulloch and Sterling Price were retreating into the Boston Mountains of Arkansas before the advance of Union General Samuel R. Curtis.
On March 3, General Earl Van Dorn assumed overall command of the 16,000 Confederates (including 1,000 Cherokee Indians) and began an advance northward to crush Curtis' 10,500 troops. Three days of hard marching through rain and snow on scanty rations brought them into contact with Curtis on the 6th, near a place called Bentonville. Curtis hurriedly drew his forces together along Little Sugar Creek, fighting off attacks by Wheeler's Confederate cavalry.
That night Van Dorn put into operation a plan suggested by McCulloch. Van Dorn and Price's Missourians took the Bentonville Road, detouring around the Federals to come in on their rear by way of the Telegraph Road. McCulloch was to move five miles eastward to link with Price's right and take the Federals in flank and rear. Warned in time by an escaped Union prisoner, Curtis faced his army about to meet the attack. But delays in both Confederate winds obliged Van Dorn to fight two separate, uncoordinated battles.
On the Confederate right, McCulloch's attack went well for a time, and his Indians overran a Union battery, scalping and mutilating the gunners. But when McCulloch and his successor, Colonel McIntosh, were killed and Herbert's brigade was captured, the demoralized attackers retreated. On the left, Price was successful, driving past Elkhorn Tavern against stubborn resistance and seizing the ground the Federals had held in the morning.
About 7 o'clock the next morning Sigel's Union guns opened with a tremendous cannonade. Then all along the Union line the infantry advanced in a pincers movement which caught the Confederates in a murderous crossfire. By 10 o'clock Van Dorn, out of ammunition and suffering heavy losses, knew he was beaten and began his retreat.
The Confederates had not only lost three good generals and too many irreplaceable line officers, they had now lost Missouri to the Union and left Arkansas defenseless against Federal occupation.