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Welfley's Knoll

Tour Stop

Enfilading Fire By Welfley's Battery From Welfley's KnollDirections: There is no path, but it is a short walk from the western most gun carriage [ Waypoint = N36 27.070 W94 01.708 ] to the top of Welfley's Knoll [ Waypoint = N36 27.072 W94 01.794 ]. Just head west up the hill for about 100 yards until you reach the snake rail fence. You should be able to tell when you are at the high point on the knoll. Turn around and look to the east / northeast.

Description: You are standing at the spot of great tactical importance discovered by Union Colonel Peter Osterhaus in he early morning of March 8th. This should be fairly obvious when you look towards the Confederate batteries in front of the Skirt of Timber. If the Federals could deploy their artillery batteries to this point, they would be able to send enfilading artillery fire into the Confederate positions.

Union General Peter OsterhausJust after dawn on March 8th, Union Colonel Osterhaus had been scouting the area west of the Wire Road when he rode across a ridge that provided a commanding view looking east towards the Confederate position. Osterhaus reported this back to Brigadier General Franz Sigel, who requested and received permission from Union Commander Samuel Curtis to deploy his forces on this ridge. Around 7:00 A.M. Sigel was moving his divisions into position when there was the sounds of artillery fire.

Union General Jeff C. DavisAbout this time, Brigadier General Jeff Davis observed enemy movement and ordered his artillery to open fire. Sigel and Osterhaus knew they needed to move quickly. They had not yet completed their division's deployment on the Federal left. Under fire from the Confederate batteries, Klauss's 1st Indiana Battery and Davidson's 2nd Illinois Battery quickly moved and deployed on the hill in the fields west of Wire Road. The Confederate batteries responded to Davis with artillery fire on the 3rd Division's infantry and caused Davis to pull back into wooded area for better protection from this firing. In response to Davis's movement, Carr ordered 4th Division to pull back.

Union General Samuel CurtisAt sound of the initial artillery fire, Union General Samuel Curtis reacted by riding to the front. He quickly ordered Sigel to deploy the 1st and 2nd Divisions behind the rail fence to the left (west) of Davis's 3rd Division. These deployments were completed by 8:00 A.M.

Confederate General Earl Van DornVan Dorn observed the Federal line of battle and ordered Good's Texas Battery and Wade's Missouri Battery to open fire on the Federal left. The artillery barrage had little effect on the Federals. Now Sigel ordered six Federal batteries to open fire on the Confederate batteries. There were 21 Federal artillery pieces facing 12 Confederate artillery pieces. The higher ground on Welfley's Knoll was a decisive factor. Sigel personally directed the Federal artillery. The Confederate Batteries had to fall back because the effective Federal artillery barrage.

The Federal 1st and 2nd Divisions continued to move forward deploying their batteries on the left up onto the ridge that Osterhaus had discovered earlier that morning. From this position, Captain Martin Welfley ordered his Independent Missouri Battery pour fire into the Confederate positions. The ridge would come to be known as Welfley's Knoll. Captain Martin Welfley in his official report:

“On Saturday the 8th instant, at 6 o'clock a m., the battery being ready, was ordered to the left wing, where I occupied with all five pieces the center of our division. Here my battery suffered most, being exposed to a terrific fire from the enemy. After two hours continuous firing I ordered the three howitzers to advance, and sent the 12-pounder guns to the left, where they occupied a slightly elevated ground, and opened a very successful fire on the then retreating forces of the enemy. The three howitzers then went forward and struck the Cassville road near the Elkhorn Tavern.”

Captain Louis Hoffman also had his 4th Ohio Battery deployed on the ridge and described what happened in his official report:

“The battery was placed on the left wing of the First Division, on a high plateau, and has not changed its position, firing without interruption during nearly four hours. After having compelled the enemy to stop the firing of his batteries, Hoffmann's battery turned its whole attention to a high rocky hill opposite our plateau, occupied by the strongest force of the enemy, for the support of our infantry, which at that timer commenced its marching up the said rocky hill. At 11 o'clock a. m. when the enemy left his position and commenced to retreat, the battery; on order, left the battle ground, and pursuing the enemy in northern direction on the Telegraph road and firing upon his rear guards.”

In response, Van Dorn ordered his Missouri and Arkansas units to attack, but they received enfilading fire from the Federal batteries deployed west of the Wire Road. The Southerners recoiled from this fire and withdrew in the the cover of the Skirt of Timber.

The artillery fire lasted for over two hours. During these two hours, Sigel continued to move the 1st and 2nd Divisions forward clockwise in a right wheel forward. By 10:00 A.M. the Federal left flank was facing east and extended all the way to Ford's Farm at the base of Big Mountain. Observing the bombardment for himself and hearing Sigel's report from Osterhaus, Curtis decided to attack. Curtis ordered the 3rd and 4th Divisions to get ready for the attack. Around 10:00 a.m., Curtis rode over to consult with Sigel who was located on the Union army's left flank. Curtis ordered Sigel to attack the Confederates.

It was in the middle of the Federal bombardment that Confederate Generals Sterling Price and Earl Van Dorn found out that their supply train was hours aways at Camp Stephens. Colonel Martin E. Green's 2nd Division of the Missouri State Guard had been left to guard the supply and ordnance trains. Van Dorn now realized that his forces could not be resupplied in time, and that he must retreat. Van Dorn also knew he could be easily cut off if he retreated back along the Bentonville Detour. Van Dorn decided to withdraw east along the Huntsville Road. To cover his withdrawal, Van Dorn ordered Colonel Henry Little to make a demonstration in the center of the Confederate line. Some units from Price's Missouri State Guard were ordered to support this demonstration.

At 10:30 A.M., Union General Sigel launched his attack on the Confederate right. His batteries opened fire while the infantry advanced. By this time, the Confederate left had already begun its withdrawal east. Union Colonel Jeff Davis ordered his 3rd Division forward against the Confederate center. The Federal advance caused the Confederates to retreat more quickly. Curtis had decided to hold Carr's 4th Division in a support role on the Union right. Curtis was unaware that the Confederates were retreating from the battlefield along the Huntsville Road just in front of Carr's position.

Confederate Captain Churchill ClarkThe Confederate batteries around Elkhorn Tavern continued to fire on the advancing Federals for as long as their ammunition held out. It was during this time that Captain Churchill Clark was killed. The grandson of famed explorer William Clark, Churchill Clark was only 19 years old. By noon, the last of the Confederates had marched down the Huntsville Road.

Confederate Colonel Henry Little, in command of the First Missouri Brigade astride the Wire Road, described the Federal advance in his official report:

Confederate General Henry Little“The enemy advanced. On, on they came, in overwhelming numbers, line after line; but they were met with the same determined courage which this protracted contest had taught them to appreciate. For more than half an hour our greatly diminished and exhausted troops held their hosts in check. Their intention of turning our flanks by their widely-extended line becoming now clearly evident, we slowly fell back from our advanced position, disputing every inch of ground which we relinquished.

“It was at this critical juncture that the gallant [Colonel] Rives fell mortally wounded, and, as though fortune sought to dispossess our resolutions by multiplying disasters, within a few minutes after the fall of Rives we suffered an irreparable loss in the fall of the young and chivalrous [Captain Churchill] Clark, whose battery kept up a galling fire on the advancing foe as our lines retired; and as we had now fallen back on a line with his position, being ordered to withdraw his guns, he fell, decapitated by a round shot while executing this maneuver; the last battery in action.”

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.”

The Federal artillery barrage had been too much for the Confederates. It had been very effective in hurting the Confederate infantry positions enough so there was little resistance when the Federals advanced. Van Dorn gave the order for his forces two withdraw east down the Huntsville road.

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