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Disastrous Retreat Down Huntsville Road

Tour Stop

Directions: Walk over to the “Disastrous Retreat” Interpretive Sign [ Waypoint = N36 27.196 W94 00.916 ] located about 50 yards east of Elkhorn Tavern along the Huntsville Road.

“Disastrous Retreat” Interpretive Sign text reads as follows:

Disastrous Retreat Interpretive Sign“It took weeks for the stunned survivors of the Confederate Army of the West to make their way from here to the rendezvous on the Arkansas River. In late March 1862 General Van Dorn was ordered to take his army east to Mississippi. This left northern Arkansas in the hands of the Union.”

“'[Our] regiment straggling squads, tired, hatless, barefoot, hungry, dirty, and ragged. They had been in rainstorms, climbed steep mountains along narrow and rugged foot-paths, waded deep and cold mountain streams, starved, slept without tents or blankets on the wet and frosty ground...The retreat was more disastrous than a dozen battles.' – William Tunnard, private, 3rd Louisiana Infantry Regiment”

Confederate General Earl Van DornDescription: Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn used the Elkhorn Tavern as his headquarters during the night of March 7th and on the morning of March 8th. It was on the morning of March 8th that Van Dorn decided to withdraw from the battlefield.

Van Dorn wrote about his decision to withdraw in his official report:

“The enemy's position was a strong one [on Friday, March 7th], but we drove him from it and slept on our arms on the field of battle, night closing the first day's battle. The second day we found him at daylight in a new and stronger position to the rear of his first, about 2 miles off. From all the circumstances which surrounded me I determined to withdraw. I therefore made a demonstration in front to cover the movement and put the army on the road towards Huntsville,towards the east,and retired with a heavy heart, but with a determination to recover as soon as possible and fight again.”

Brigadier General James S. Rains wrote about the disappointment of withdrawal when they felt victory was at hand:

“Our troops bivouacked upon the ground they had so nobly won, and the morning of the 8th instant found them, though exhausted and fatigued, flushed with the victories of the day previous, anxious to renew the fight. The enemy had not been idle, but during the night had planted batteries of heavy artillery in a commanding position, which soon opened upon our lines. Our battery, with others, promptly replied and dealt destruction to the advancing columns of the foe. At this time I was ordered to take position in the field which had been won the night before, and consequently drew off my forces for that purpose. The movement was reluctantly obeyed by the whole of my command, as the enemy were then in sight and almost within reach. On arriving at the old field and reporting to Major-General Van Dorn I was ordered by him to march on the road towards Huntsville. For the first time I realized the fact – the fight was over; the victory within our grasp was lost.”


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