Volume 1, Number 6
The Civil War in the Upper White River Valley
Following the Battle of Pea Ridge the dispirited, confused and scattered Confederates withdrew from the battle area unmolested by enemy forces. The Union forces, bleeding and licking their wounds from the terrible encounter, made no concerted effort to pursue them. For a time there were conflicting reports as to the whereabouts of the Rebel armies. The month that followed the Pea Ridge engagement found Brig. General Samuel R. Curtis and his army in the vicinity of Cassville attempting to repair the damage wrought by the Confederates and evaluate his position. The Pea Ridge battle had pulled a major portion of the Union forces from the vicinity of Springfield, Missouri, leaving it dangerously exposed to an enemy attack from the south.
Within ten days following the Pea Ridge engagement, Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn and his army were some where south of White River considering just such an attack on Springfield. General Van Dorn's intention to attack Springfield was revealed in his communique to Confederate General A. Sidney Johnson when he said, "I send several thousand cavalry off in a few days via Forsyth on White River, to burn up the depots of the enemy at Springfield, and to destroy his immense trains which go to and fro nearly unguarded. They will then join me at Pocahontas."The next day the following orders were issued by the Confederate commander:
"Colonel: The general commanding desires that you will proceed with your brigade and Gates' battalion of cavalry as rapidly as possible to Forsyth, on White River. You will march without tents and with only sufficient wagons to carry the rations of your men. You will leave your wagons at Forsyth, march upon Springfield by a forced march, and endeavor to capture and destroy the stores of the enemy at that place.
Samuel R. Curtis Major General, U.S.A.
Curtis was a Brigadier General when he wrote his report at Cassville to General Halleck on April 6, 1862; two days later, a Special Order issued at Galena was authorized "By command of Major General Curtis". In a few month's he was commander of the Department of Missouri with a policy of administering martial law with severity.
Earl Van Dorn Major General, C.S.A.
Gen. Van Dorn's fancy strategy at the Battle of Pea Ridge was too complicated for some of his units to carry out effectively, and allowed the enemy to cut him off from his supply train. After his defeat in Arkansas, he returned to his native Mississippi and a few months later, he had captured a Federal supply base, forcing Grant to abandon his overland approach to Vicksburg.
"Should you not be able to accomplish the seizure of Springfield you will nevertheless endeavor to destroy the trains of the enemy north or south of that point.
"After accomplishing all that you can against the enemy in that vicinity you will rejoin your wagons and proceed by the quickest and best route to Pocahontas.
"While you are preparing your command for this expedition you will take post at or near Horse Head. Send your baggage to Jacksonport to join you at Pocahontas, sending a proper guard with it. It is expected that you will be ready to march on this expedition by the 23rd instant.
I am, Colonel, very respectfully yours, D. H. MAURY, Assistant Adjutant General".
Brig. General Samuel R. Curtis (Union) at Cassville feared just such an attack by the Rebels and moved to thwarth their plans.
The following communication reveals the Union plans to protect Springfield from the Confederates in Arkansas:
Capt. N. H. McLean:
"Captain: The general's dispatch is received. Price has gone below Dover with his main force, at least 60 miles below Van Buren: says he is going to Missouri. I am moving east, keeping north of White River which carries me through Galena, and Forsyth, Missouri.
"No enemy at Huntsville, Van Buren, Fort Smith, or Fayetteville but Price takes with him some 20,000 to 30,000.
"From 8,000 to 10,000 cavalry, under Van Dorn, were opposite Forsyth day before yesterday, but it is said they were ordered to Des Arc.
"I think Kansas troops should move east with me, but I cannot move them anywhere.
"Have had no re-enforcements, and shall try and hold any on their way till Price and Van Dorn are better known or disposed of. I will remain here tonight in easy communication with head quarters.
SAMUEL R. CURTIS Brig. Gen. Commanding".
The next day General Curtis sent General Halleck the following communique
"Headquarters Army of the Southwest, Cassville, Mo. April 6, 1862
"General H. W. Halleck:
"General: I will try to form a junction with General Steele and he should try to unite with me. Together we would repel Van Dorn's combination, but I have a long rough road before me, and the matters of supplies may retard me.
"My advance is 15 miles east of this place. This accords with my views. My force is too small to divide and leave a large force here, although I admit tne good results of holding on at Pea Ridge would be further realized by remaining steady farther west. The trouble is my rear, threatened by forces through Forsyth and Yellville; and General Steele could not where he now is, check a dash down on Springfield, which my movement is designed to effect; besides forage is so exhausted I must shift west or east.
"There is no doubt of Price having gone down east. I should have moved through Carroliton if I could have crossed White River, but I shall send spies and a force these as soon as possible.
SAMUEL R. CURTIS Brig. Gen. Commanding"
General Curtis' army moved east over the old Forsyth-Galena Cassville road authorized by the state legislature in 1855 and constructed prior to the war by the three county courts from funds derived from the sale of certain government lands by the state for public improvements. It is interesting to note the movement of the army along this road from Flat Creek, on James River, to Forsyth as disclosed in Special Order No. 138:
"Headquarters, Army of the Southwest, Galena, Mo. April 8, 1862
"Special Order No. 138
1.Order and hours for marching April 9, will be as follows:
First Division, at 6 a.m., and proceed to the mouth of Bear Creek, 16 miles. The transportation wagons belonging to this division, now forming a part of the brigade at James Fork, will be left in such brigade, and one regiment of this division remain and bring up the rear, with the trains. Fourth Division, immediately after Bowen's battalion and train have crossed James Fork, will cross and camp on the east bank, move at 7:30 a.m. of the 10th in rear of Third Division. Bowen's Battalion, immediately after the First Division has crossed James Fork, and proceed with the same to the mouth of Bear Creek. Wyman's Brigade, immediately after Fourth Division camp on east bank, move at 8 a.m. of the 10th instant rear of Fourth Division, and camp at the mouth of Bear Creek. Third Division, move from camp on east bank of Flat Creek at 7 a.m. 9th, cross James Fork at Galena, camp on east bank, and move at 5:30 a.m. of the 10th, and camp at the mouth of Bear Creek. Second Division, will bring up and protect the rear.
By command of Major General Curtis.
H. Z. CURTIS Assist. Adjutant General"
A study of the above communication indicates that the advance guard of the army would leave their camp ground on the east side of James River (referred to then as James Fork) at or near the mouth of Railey Creek on the 9th and arrive at Forsyth on the afternoon of the 10th. The third Division camped on Flat Creek near Cape Fair, would leave their camp on the 9th and arrive at Forsyth on the 11th.
On the morning of April 9, 1862, General Curtis' army began moving eastward up the flood plains of Railey Creek on the old Galena-Forsyth road. At the upper fork of Railey Creek, they followed the road up the point to the main divide where present day U. S. Highway 65 runs. Crossing the divide they descended the east slope of the divide to the West Fork of Bear Creek and down its watercourses to Bear Creek proper about a mile above the later site of the Antioch School house. From that point they followed the old Bear Creek road to its mouth at Walnut Shade were they camped. The Walnut Shade post office, established by Samuel T. Weatherman in June of 1860 had probably been discontinued by the time the Union army camped there due to the war, no mention being made of it.
From Walnut Shade the road over which they marched ran along or adjacent to the present
A soldier's account of the march from Cape Fair to Forsyth might prove of interest at this point. J. A. Folsom, a soldier in General Curtis' army who made the march from Flat Creek to Forsyth, made the following entries in his diary:
"April 7, 1862, Rain, laid over at Cape Fair for completion of bridge over creek.
April 8, Warm, Marched 12 miles over the mountains to Galena on James River. Crossed the river after dark and camped without tents.
April 9, Cloudy, Marched 13 miles through very rough country. camped on Bear Creek.
April 10, Pleasant, Marched 15 miles and camped at Forsyth, on White River.
April 11, Rainy, Several Rebel prisoners came in during the day. No special news."
General Curtis no doubt arrived in Forsyth with the advance guard of his army. Here is what he had to say in his communique to Headquarters in St. Louis:
Army of the Southwest,
Forsyth, Mo. April 10, 1862
"Capt. N. H. McLean, Assistant Adjutant General, St. Louis.
"High water detained me so I have only arrived today at 2 p.m. Skirmishing with a rear guard of enemy's cavalry, and some prisioners taken.
"My cavalry is scouring the country down in Arkansas. No force of consequence near. Main force was cavalry, and left some days since. The country is very rough. Roads pass down deep valleys or run on narrow divides. My main force must remove back to more open ground, perhaps near Ozark, for forage and convenience of movement east or west. One division, with cavalry, could hold this point against the world and keep the enemy pressed down. I shall try to alarm the enemy in front, but cannot extend far enough to do much. The taking of Island No. 10 may soon give you the mouth of the river (mouth of White River in Arkansas) which is the key to Arkansas. I am arranging a rope-ferry for convenience. White River is not fordable and rebels come and fire across. Will soon stop that.
"I will try to get into telegraphic communications as soon as I complete arrangements here.
"This is a dilapidated town. It is only important when steam boats are running and commerce safe on the White River. The surrounding country is not cultivated.
SAM. R. CURTIS Major General Commanding"
Apparently General Curtis and his army did not stay long at Forsyth. Official
records are at this time lacking but the further movement of his army to form
a junction with General Steele is revealed in the Folsom diary. A continuation
of the soldier's diary gives some interesting side lights.
"April 12, Rainy, On guard, picket. A prospect for a move.
April 13, Warm. Nothing of importance today.
April 14, Rainy, got a letter from home. Col. Louisal resumes his command as Colonel. Still at Forsyth.
April 15, Marched 5 miles to Beaver Mills to guard it. A very beautiful place to camp. Camp Hawkins.
April 16, Rainy, yet at mill with 1st regt. No news.
April 17, Rainy, went fishing. The report is that we are to return to Rolla.
April 18, Cloudy, Rained all day. No news.
April 19, Rainy, cannot move on account of rivers being so high.
April 20, Yet rainy, Stirns arrested as a joke while at a house out of camp.
April 21, Pleasant, mud drying up.
April 22, Very pleasant, ordered to march tomorrow.
April 23, Very warm, marched 20 miles, camped on Little Beaver River. The report is that we are going to Rolla.
April 24, Pleasant, Marched 20 miles through very rough country. Camped on Cowskin River. (This is thought by the author to be Cowskin Creek in Douglas County.)
April 25, Rainy, Marched on in a northeast course through rough country.
April 26, Cloudy. Marched 28 miles through piney country, Camped at Clark's Mill.
April 27, Warm. Marched 5 miles and had to stop to let a Curtice Division get a start on a southeast course, one of Company "L" men died, was buried under an old pine.
April 28, Pleasant. Marched 20 miles, camped on Brush Creek. Teams nearly given out and no forage, course south.
April 29, Warm. Marched 20 miles, camped at Salem, Arkansas. We are to stop here tomorrow."
We will leave the Folsom diary at this point. The army marched on to Batesville and made junction with General Steele after encountering some Rebel opposition.
The Confederate raid on Springfield, as planned by the Rebels, failed to materialize in the spring of 1862. But it was not forgotten. In early January 1863, Fort Lawrance on Beaver Creek fell, Camp Brown at Ozark was destroyed and Springfield was attacked.
The excerpts and quotations used in the above article were taken from the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and the unpublished diary of J. A. Folsom.
An account of the fall of Fort Lawrence on Beaver Creek will be published in a later issue of the Quarterly.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly