Tour: Van Dorn Assumes the Offensive
Just as the Federals were deciding to pull back and assume the defensive, the Confederates were preparing to go on the offensive. Confederate Major General Earl Van Dorn left Jacksonport, Arkansas to join Price and McCulloch on February 24th:
“Price and McCulloch are concentrated at Cross Hollow, 12 miles from enemy's advance, on Sugar Creek, near Missouri line. Whole force of enemy from 35,000 to 40,000; ours about 20,000. Should Pike be able to join, our forces will be about 26,000. I leave this evening to go to the army, and will give battle; of course, if it does not take place before I arrive. I have no doubt of the result. If I succeed I shall push on.”
The Southern forces would spend he next several days in preparation. Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch sent the following message to Van Dorn on March 1st:
“I have ordered the command to be ready to march as soon as you arrive, with six days cooked rations, and will notify General Price to be ready also. We await your arrival anxiously. We now have force enough to whip the enemy.”
Van Dorn arrived at the Southern encampment in the Boston Mountains on March 3rd to take personal command of the Confederate Army of the West.
When Van Dorn learned that the two portions of Curtis's army was separated by more than 10 miles, he quickly put together a plan to defeat the Federals. He would move north immediately to Bentonville, Arkansas, putting his army in between the two wings of Curtis's army and defeat Curtis in detail. Van Dorn sent orders to Brigadier General Albert Pike to move his command north and join up with them at Elm Springs, Arkansas. Van Dorn's combined army would put 16,000 troops into battle against the Federals. They reached Elm Springs and set out for Bentonville on March 6th.
Leaving Elm Springs on March 6th, Confederate Major General Van Dorn was confident that the Federals was unaware that they were being flanked by the Southerners.
“On the 6th we left Elm Springs for Bentonville, and from prisoners captured by our scouting parties on the 5th I became convinced that up to that time no suspicion was entertained of our advance, and that there were strong hopes of our effecting a complete surprise and attacking the enemy before the large detachments encamped at various points in the surrounding country could rejoin the main body. I therefore endeavored to reach Bentonville, 11 miles distant, by rapid march”