Print this page

Morgan's Woods

Tour Stop

Directions: The fighting in Morgan's Woods [ Waypoint = N36 26.596 W94 03.024 ] took place just east of the Park's Tour Road near the Leetown Battlefield Tour Stop.

  • Save The Cannon! Interpretive SignAfter walking back to the Leetown Battlefield Tour Stop parking area, stop and read the "Save The Cannon" Interpretive Sign [ Waypoint = N36 26.694 W94 03.144 ]. It's located in the narrow grassy island between the parking area and the tour road. Its text reads as follows:

“Like maddened hornets, Confederate infantrymen boiled out of Morgan's Woods, crossed Leetown Road, and swarmed towards the six Federal cannon that had unlimbered in this corner of Oberson's cornfield. Captain William Black stood in front of the cannon and fired his Colt repeating rifle to single-handedly delay the fierce assault until he fell wounded. Black bought the artillerymen time to save four of the six guns from being captured.”

“William Black was 19 years old when he fought here with the 37th Illinois Infantry Regiment. Years later he received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his valor at Pea Ridge, one of four men so honored. Black survived the war and practiced law in Chicago.”

“'I saw two rebel officers rush toward Captain Black with drawn swords and demand his surrender...he struck the nearest with his sword...and leaping over his prostrate form with the agility of a tiger, he struck the other full in the face with his already empty revolver, and he fell like a stone.' - Samuel McKay, private, 37th Illinois Infantry Regiment”

  • Now cross to the east side of the Park's Tour Road and walk south past the artillery pieces marking the location of the Federal Battery.
  • After you pass the battery, walk around to the far side of the snake rail fence and turn left and walk east along the south side of the snake rail fence towards Morgan's Woods.
  • A Fierce Tangle in Morgan's Woods Interpretive SignNear the corner of the fence is the "A Fierce Tangle in Morgan's Woods" Interpretive Sign [ Waypoint = N36 26.659 W94 03.097 ]. This interpretive sign is located on the old Leetown Road. Its text reads as follows:

“Four regiments of volunteers from Arkansas and Louisiana, moving 'with all the vim and vigor [of] regulars,' ran headlong and unawares into two Illinois regiments near here. The close-range fighting was so intense that men from both armies threw themselves flat on the ground to survive the hurricane of flying lead.”

“Military order dissolved. Squads of soldiers rushed from stump to log to tree in the thick, tangled undergrowth, kneeling to fire. An Illinois soldier later said he could not see even 20 feet ahead. Chaos and combat raged through Morgan's Woods all afternoon, as dense smoke from thousands of muskets obscured the darkening forest.”

  • Just about 40 feet south of the interpretive sign is a path leading east into Morgan's Woods [ Waypoint = N36 26.648 W94 03.097 ]. Follow this path about 0.1 miles and stop.
  • When you have finished, retrace your steps back to the Leetown Battlefield Tour Stop parking area.

Morgan's Woods Interpretive Sign at Souteast Corner of Oberson's FieldPath Leading Into Morgan's Woods

Description: You are standing near the “high water mark” [ Waypoint = N36 26.596 W94 03.024 ] that Confederate Colonel Louis Hebert's troops reached before being beaten back by the Federals. Turn right and look to the south. Just ahead you should see the terrain sloping down into a ravine. It was in this ravine that the 37th Illinois and 59th Illinois Regiments were waiting. As the Confederates advanced to this point, the Federals opened fire from their hidden positions.

Confederate High Water Mark in Morgan's WoodsFederal Troops Were Waiting for Enemy In This Ravine in Morgan's Woods

After realizing there was a strong Federal force at the southern end of Oberson's Field, Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch had recalled Hebert's Infantry Brigade from its march along Ford Road towards Elkhorn Tavern. As McCulloch deployed his troops, he left Colonel Hebert in command of four regiments from the Brigade east of the Leetown Road on the Confederate left. The 15th Arkansas was in Morgan's Woods on the extreme left (east) flank. Next in line was the 14th Arkansas followed by the 3rd Louisiana and the 4th Arkansas was deployed next to the Leetown Road.

Confederate General Louis HebertAfter deploying his four regiments southwest of Little Mountain, Colonel Louis Hebert waited for McCulloch's order to move forward. Hebert was unaware that both McCulloch and McIntosh had been killed by enemy fire and that he was the senior commander for McCulloch's Division. Visibility was very poor because of the dense woods, and around 2:00 P.M. Hebert ordered his troops to move forward and attack. Hebert believed the sounds of battle to his right was a signal that the attack had been launched by McCulloch. Hebert did not realize that the Confederate units west of the Leetown Road had been routed and that his four regiments were the only ones mounting this attack.

Union General Peter OsterhausEarlier that morning, Union Colonel Peter J. Osterhaus knew that the Confederates had him outnumbered. As soon as he realized this, he had sent a call for reinforcements back to General Curtis. His right flank was vulnerable, as Osterhause described this in his official report:

“The safety of our position was dependent upon the securing of our right flank and the keeping back of the enemy until I was re-enforced. ”

Sometime after 10:30 A.M., Union Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis was listening to the sounds of battle, both from the Union right up near Elkhorn Tavern and the Union center north of Leetown. After personally observing the fighting by Colonel Eugene Carr's Fourth Division, Curtis returned to his headquarters and order Colonel Jefferson Davis to move with his Third Division and support Carr. But just then, Curtis received an urgent message from Osterhaus for reinforcements. Curtis reconsidered and decided to recall Davis and sent him over to support Colonel Osterhaus. As we shall see, Carr was under extreme pressure from the Confederate right wing under Major General Sterling Price, but Curtis felt the Union center was at greater risk. Curtis described this decision in his official report:

“I considered the affair so imminent that I changed my order to Colonel Davis, and directed him to move to the support of the center … I did not err in sending Colonel Davis to this point, although Colonel Carr, on the right, also needed re-enforcements.”

Davis reached Osterhaus's position in the southeastern corner of Oberson's Field around 2:00 P.M. After consulting with Osterhaus, Davis ordered his Second Brigade, commanded by Colonel Julius White, into Morgan's Woods to fend off the Confederate attack from the right. The 37th Illinois and 59th Illinois Regiments moved into the woods. He deployed the 2nd Illinois Artillery Battery just left of the Leetown Road in the southeastern corner of Oberson's Field.

Neither side could see well enough in Morgan's Woods to maintain much control over their regiments. The fighting was furious and at close quarters. The Confederate 4th Arkansas Regiment was able to push forward and overtook the Federal 2nd Illinois Battery capturing two of their guns. Confederate Colonel Evander McNair described the events in his official report:

“[We were] ordered, with the rest of the brigade, to take a battery which was directly in front, but at some distance, and in the rear of an open field and a strip of woods of dense undergrowth and filled with fallen timber, intervening between us and the field and extending around on the left of the field. Ordering a charge, my men obeyed with alacrity and cheerfulness; but after advancing some 200 yards they were, owing to the nature of the ground and obstacles in the way, thrown into disorder and were halted, and reformed as well as the ground would permit. The enemy discovering us, immediately opened upon us a heavy fire of shell and grape. In a few moments the order was given to renew the charge. I accordingly moved my regiment forward, obliquing, however, to the left, keeping in the skirt of woods that extended around the field, in order to protect my men from the enemy's fire.

“While making this movement, however, another portion of the brigade, moving by the flank, cut off two companies and a half on the left from the main body of my regiment, which did not rejoin it during the day, but, connecting themselves with other troops of the brigade, as I am credibly informed, fought most gallantly through the day. Continuing to move forward, we came upon a body of the enemy's infantry in ambuscade; attacked and drove them back until they were reformed on a second body in the rear. We attacked the whole body and repulsed them again; but, rallying upon their reserves, they made a stand, but were soon driven back again by our brave troops. In this last charge one of the enemy's batteries, at a distance of 200 yards, opened upon us, but we charged and took it in a very short time.”

Union Colonel White described the events in his official report:

“The enemy taking position in a dense thicket on our right, this command was moved in and formed in line of battle in perfect order within 150 yards of the enemy's front. Both lines then advanced slowly, not a gun being fired until the distance between them was reduced 60 or 70 yards, when the fire opened almost simultaneously from both sides, and was maintained for about three-quarters of an hour with very little intermission at very short range. At this time, finding that the enemy was outflanking our right, notwithstanding I had deployed this command to an extent which was of itself hazardous in the effort to prevent such a result, and desiring to execute a change of front corresponding to the requirements of the emergency, I threw back the Thirty-seventh Illinois in good order to the corner of the field on our left, where it was again formed. While in the execution of this movement a fresh regiment of the enemy made a sudden charge from the brush-wood, and after disabling a number of horses by a volley succeeded in capturing two guns of the light artillery. Their triumph was short-lived, however, for the Thirty-seventh Illinois immediately fired upon them and charged, routing their right wing at the same time that the First Brigade, under Colonel Pattison, came into action on our right, driving the left wing of the enemy in confusion from the field and retaking our guns.”

Union General Jeff C. DavisWhile the fighting was going on in Morgan's Woods and the Federals were slowly being pushed back towards his position, Union Colonel Davis ordered Colonel Thomas Pattison's First Brigade into Morgan's Woods to outflank the Confederates. Pattison took the 22nd Indiana and the 18th Indiana and headed east before turning north to get around the Confederates. Colonel Pattison described what happened in his official report:

“Colonel White's brigade being warmly engaged with the enemy in the woods on the right of the clear land, I was ordered to his support. Moving in double-quick time by the right flank and passing through the timber to a small hill I found the Fifty-ninth Illinois retiring in disorder, having been overwhelmed by vastly superior numbers and a murderous fire from the Louisiana, Arkansas, and Cherokee troops. I closed up my lines as soon as the Fifty-ninth passed through, and, advancing through the field, changed my line of battle by wheeling to the left until I got about parallel with the right side of the large field first mentioned. Then pressing forward I found the enemy rushing upon Davidson's battery, having taken two guns. Here they received a full volley from us, which threw them into the utmost confusion, when they abandoned the guns taken and retreated from the field.”

When Union Colonel Pattison began his flanking attack, Confederate Colonel Hebert moved his regiments left to counter this. Hebert was able to repel the Federal attack by the 22nd Indiana and the 18th Indiana Regiments. The commander of the 22nd Indiana, Lieutenant Colonel John A. Hendricks, was killed during this fighting.

The fighting continued at close quarter and the participants from both sides became disoriented and confused. The Confederate soldiers became separated from their leaders. Hebert, himself, became separate from the main part of his brigade during the fighting.

Union General Peter OsterhausBecause he did not have any threat from the Confederate forces to his north, Union Colonel Osterhaus was able to reform his forces and press the attack on the Confederates in Morgan's Woods from the west. Osterhaus ordered the 4th Ohio Battery (Hoffmann's) and the Independent Missouri Battery (Welfley's) to fire on the Confederates in Morgan's Woods. This was devastating to the Confederates. Osterhaus described this in his official report:

“In double quick I threw the Twelfth Missouri on this exposed flank, supported them by Captain Welfley's battery, who had wheeled to the right, and forming the Thirty-sixth Illinois in close column on the extreme left of this new position, to be ready for any cavalry attack, protecting at the same time Captain Hoffman's battery. The enemy's plan being defeated by a raging fire from the Twelfth Missouri Volunteers and Captain Welfley's artillery, they made a feeble attempt to cut off our line of retreat, which was frustrated by skirmishers thrown out from the Thirty-sixth Illinois Volunteers.”

Confederate General Louis HebertHaving become separated from his command, Confederate Colonel Hebert was later captured along with Colonel William C. Mitchell, who had been in command of the 14th Arkansas Regiment during the fighting in Morgan's Woods.

The Muse South African