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A Stubborn Fighting Retreat

Tour Stop

Directions: Walk back across the Park's Tour Road, past Elkhorn Tavern and get headed south on the Wire Road. Stop at the interpretive sign [ Waypoint = N36 27.277 W94 00.879 ] about 150 yards south of Elkhorn Tavern.

“A Stubborn Fighting Retreat” Interpretive Sign text reads as follows:

A Stubborn Fighting Retreat Interpretive Sign“Imagine a thin, 200-yard long line of bluecoats going into action in the woods overlooking Tanyard Ravine ahead. The ground was rough and visibility poor or soldiers of both armies.”

“Rather than wait at Elkhorn Tavern to be hammered by 3,500 Confederates coming up the Telegraph Road, the Union Division Commander ordered his two regiments from Iowa and Missouri to attack. Their disciplined volleys stung and slowed down the advancing Missouri State Guard regiments for most of the afternoon.”

“'I charged the battlements of Vicksburg, climbed...Lookout Mountain an drove the Confederates from their almost impregnable position on Missionary Ridge...but in all my army experience I did not see any fighting that compared with...Elkhorn Tavern...' Jacob Platt, sergeant, 9th Iowa Infantry Regiment.”

“Francis Herron was 25 years old when he fought here, leading the 9th Iowa Infantry Regiment. Years later he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at Pea Ridge, one of four men so honored. Herron was wounded and taken prisoner on March 8, 1862. He survived the war and practiced law in New Orleans and New York.”

Union General Eugene CarrDescription: You are currently standing in an area where there was intensive fighting. After hearing Major Weston's report of enemy skirmishers in the rear of his army, Union Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis gave orders to Colonel Eugene Carr to take Colonel Grenville Dodge's First Brigade of the Fourth Division to the support of Major Weston. Colonel Carr described the layout of the area in his official report:

“Elkhorn Tavern was about a mile and a half north of our camp, the ground being smooth and gradually ascending, with open fields on each side of the road from about three-quarters of a mile from camp to within about a hundred yards of the house. The house is situated on the west side of the Springfield and Fayetteville road, at the head of a gorge known as Cross Timber Hollow (the head of Sugar Creek), through which the road runs about 7 miles north towards Keetsville. Behind the house to the west is a rocky hill about 150 feet high, running off in a ridge towards the northwest. In front of the house is a level ridge, on which a road runs towards the east, having on the south side the smooth slope, mostly timbered, and on its north side the heads of rugged gorges running down into Cross Timber Hollow. About a half a mile from the tavern on the north side of this road is Clemens house, with a field mostly on the south side of the road of about 20 acres. About the Elkhorn Tavern is an open space of about 10 acres. With these two exceptions the ground is mostly covered with trees and underbrush, which comes up close to the tavern on the north side.”

Elkhorn Tavern Looking North Along Wire RoadLooking North Along Wire Road North of Elkhorn Tavern

General Curtis was still unaware that Van Dorn had moved the entire Southern army to the rear of the Federal army. He believed the enemy forces skirmishing north of Elkhorn Tavern to be relatively small in number. Carr remembered that Curtis had told him “that I would clean out that hollow in a very short time.” Curtis could not have been more wrong. The Union First Brigade of about 1,400 men would be facing Van Dorn's right wing of about 5,000 men.

Union General Grenville DodgeCarr deployed Colonel Grenville Dodge's First Brigade on the high ground along the Huntsville Road heading east from Elkhorn Tavern. The 35th Illinois Infantry Regiment was east of Elkhorn Tavern with the 4th Iowa Infantry Regiment next in line. The 3rd Illinois Cavalry was protecting the right flank of the Union line. The 1st Iowa Battery was deployed in two areas – two 6-pounder guns and two 12-pounder howitzers were deployed just north of Elkhorn Tavern and two 6-pounder guns were deployed north of the Huntsville Road near the Clemens farm. Major Weston's 24th Missouri Infantry Regiment was deployed on the Union left flank just to the west of Elkhorn Tavern.

Carr decided to take the initiative and ordered his forces to move north toward the enemy, leaving the high ground. Although the Federals were outnumbered by more than 3 to 1, Carr's gamble paid off because it checked the advance of the Southerners. But the Federals took heavy fire. When the Federal artillery opened fire, the Southern batteries returned fire and quickly found the range sending “ a perfect storm of shot, shell, and grape” against the Federals. The Federals pulled back and Carr send a request back to Curtis to send up the Fourth Division's Second Brigade commanded by Colonel William Vandever.

“I sent word to the general that I had need of re-enforcements, having become satisfied that it was no small party merely to annoy the road with whom I was contending, but a very considerable force – perhaps his main body.”

Union General William VandeverColonel Vandever came up and deployed his troops on the Union left to the west of Elkhorn Tavern. The 25th Missouri an the 9th Iowa moved forward between Big Mountain and the Tanyard Ravine and attacked the Confederate right. They were attacking the 2nd Missouri Brigade under the command of Colonel William Y. Slack. During this fighting, Slack was mortally wounded and Colonel Thomas H. Rosser had to assume command of the brigade. The Confederates easily pushed back the Federals. Union Colonel Vandever ordered another movement against the Southerners but this was repulsed as easily as the first and Vandever had to pull back to the area near Elkhorn Tavern.


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