Saturday, December 31, 2011

Off the Beaten Track

On Thursday the temperature was fairly mild, the wind wasn’t too strong…what better time to go on a day trip and visit the gravesite of Stand Watie!

Watie, a Cherokee Indian, was born in Georgia in 1806. In the 1830s he was one of the signers of the Treaty of New Echota, in which the Cherokees agreed to cede their lands in the southeast in exchange for a new homeland in the Indian Territory. Approved by the U. S. Senate, the treaty was controversial in part because principal chief John Ross was not a signatory. Many of the signers of the treaty were eventually targeted for assassination but not all were actually attacked. However, Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Elias Boudinot were assassinated; Stand Watie escaped the attempt on his life.

When the Civil War started, Watie cast his allegiance with the Confederacy, and eventually became the only Indian to achieve the rank of general during the war. His wartime career mostly occurred in the Indian Territory where he achieved a reputation as a rather daring raider. For example, he led a force that captured a valuable Union wagon train at 2nd Cabin Creek in September 1864, and his men even captured a steamboat on the Arkansas River. Watie did not surrender his small force until June 1865 giving them the distinction of being the last organized group of Confederates to surrender. Watie survived the war for only six years, dying in the Indian Territory in 1871.

Watie’s gravesite is not near an interstate highway or close to any large urban centers. Perhaps he would appreciate the fact that Polson Cemetery is still in the midst of a rural area in Delaware County, Oklahoma. Tyson Foods trucks rumble along, though, on a state highway several miles to the east. Driving to the cemetery from my hometown of Pryor, Oklahoma, involved traveling on state highway 20 to the Arkansas state line, then heading north on state highway 43 to the town of Southwest, Missouri, and then west into Oklahoma about three miles. Googling “Polson Cemetery” will yield an accurate and helpful map.

Two photographs of Watie’s gravesite:

And, close to Watie's final resting place are markers for John Ridge and Major Ridge, assassinated signers of the Treaty of New Echota:

Monday, December 26, 2011

Wire Road

Unlike the Eastern and Western Theaters, the trans-Mississippi only had a rudimentary transportation network. This lack made it much more difficult for armies to maneuver and helps to explain why armies in the trans-Mississippi were smaller than their counterparts further east. With such a limited transportation network, authorities on both sides found it much more difficult to supply a large army.

Wire Road (also known as Telegraph Road) was one of the most significant byways in the trans-Mississippi. Constructed in 1838 by the federal government, the road stretched from Springfield, Missouri, to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Part of the road eventually became part of the Trail of Tears, and it became one segment of the Butterfield Overland Mail route. Since it was such an important road, it is not surprising that major campaigns occurred near it. In fact, three major battles of the trans-Mississippi occurred either directly on or near Wire Road. These were the battles of Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove.

Wire Road runs through the Pea Ridge National Military Park with the best section near Elkhorn Tavern. Here is a photograph depicting the Wire Road about 200 feet northeast of the Tavern.

You can almost hear a Butterfield Overland Mail stagecoach rolling along or the sounds of soldiers marching down the road. Do you have an interest in retracing the route of Wire Road? If so, consult the following guidebook:

Hess, Earl J., Richard W. Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston, and William L. Shea. Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge & Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide with a Section on Wire Road. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2006.

In the spirit of disclosure, the guidebook was also used to provide the background about Wire Road. And, if you have an interest in learning more about the logistical challenges of campaigning in Arkansas and Missouri then the following article will be of interest to you:

Piston, William Garrett. "Struggle for the Trans-Mississippi." North & South. Vol. 11, No. 5. 14-21, 67.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Elkhorn Tavern

Situated near the intersection of the Huntsville Road and Wire Road, Elkhorn Tavern is one of my favorite places at the Pea Ridge National Military Park. Every time I visit the park, I have to take a photograph of Elkhorn Tavern. Why I feel compelled to do this is anyone’s guess but maybe it speaks to the photogenic nature of the old tavern. Actually, the structure that stood during the battle burned in 1863, but Mr. Joseph Cox rebuilt the tavern in the 1880s closely modeling it after the wartime structure. The current tavern is a reconstruction of the 1880s era building.

Soldiers in Colonel Henry Little’s Missouri Brigade saw this view of the tavern while advancing along the Wire Road.

The tavern as viewed from the Huntsville Road:

And one final photograph of the old tavern. Note the set of antlers on top of the building. Union Colonel Eugene Carr took the original antlers as a souvenir, but returned them when the tavern was rebuilt in the 1880s. At some point, the antlers again were liberated or loaned out and their current home is uncertain.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The 26th Missouri Volunteer Infantry: One of the 300 Fighting Regiments

It’s about time that I get back to posting items on my blog! The end of the semester, followed by my Christmas preparations, have filled my days over the last two weeks. This afternoon I attended an interesting event at a friend’s house: I joined in with about twenty-two other people for the singing of the entire Messiah! My contribution was minimal, but nevertheless it was fun to be with friends for a cultural event.

Several weeks have gone by since I last highlighted one of the 300 fighting Union regiments from William F. Fox’s Regimental Losses in the American Civil War, 1861-1865 (1898). All of the regiments that I have featured served at some point in the trans-Mississippi, and many of these, like the regiment spotlighted today, were small units. The 26th Missouri Infantry saw some action in their native state and then engaged in campaigns in Mississippi (most notably the Vicksburg campaign) before heading east to Tennessee, Georgia, and the Carolinas.

The 26th Missouri Volunteer Infantry Regiment website created by Greg A. Wall has lots of helpful information including rosters, biographical sketches, statistics, regimental losses, and even Recollections of the 26th Missouri Infantry by Benjamin Devor Dean (1892).

“Boomer’s Brigade —Quinby's Division--Seventeenth Corps.

1) Col. George B. Boomer (Killed).

2) Col. Benjamin D. Dean



En. Men.


Killed and mortally wounded




Died of disease, accidents, etc.




Died in Confederate prisons







Original enrollment, 972; killed, 118; percentage, 12.1.






Iuka, Miss.





Guerillas, Miss.




Corinth, Miss.




Jackson, Miss.



Champion's Hill, Miss.




Assault on Vicksburg, May 19th



Assault on Vicksburg, May 22d




Siege of Vicksburg, Miss.




Missionary Ridge, Tenn.





Sherman’s March, Ga.




The Carolinas









Present, also, at New Madrid, Mo.; Island No. 10, Mo.; Tiptonville, Mo.; Farmington, Miss.; Siege of Corinth, Miss.; Raymond, Miss.; Siege of Jackson, Miss.; Lookout Mountain, Tenn.; Savannah, Ga.; Salkahatchie, S. C.; Neuse River, N. C.

Notes.--Recruited in the fall of 1861. In March, 1862, it joined Pope’s expedition against New Madrid, Mo., and participated in the investment and capture of Island Number 10. Its division — Hamilton’s — then moved to Corinth, where it joined the besieging army, arriving there April 22, 1862. Although the regiment was under fire at New Madrid, and also during the Siege of Corinth, yet it sustained little or no loss. But at Iuka it was hotly engaged, its skirmishers opening that battle; the whole regiment was soon under a severe fire, in which Colonel Boomer was seriously wounded. Two weeks later, under Lieutenant-Colonel Homan, it was engaged at the battle of Corinth; it was then in Buford’s (1st) Brigade, Hamilton’s (3d) Division, Army of the Mississippi.

During the Vicksburg campaign it was in Boomer's (3d) Brigade, Crocker’s Division, Seventeenth Corps. At Champion's Hill the regiment encountered some more hard fighting and heavy losses, Major Charles F. Brown being among the killed. Colonel Boomer was killed in the assault on Vicksburg --May 22d--while in command of the brigade. In October, 1863, the division under command of General John E. Smith --now the Third Division, Fifteenth Corps—left Memphis and moved to Chattanooga, where it fought in the battle of Missionary Ridge. This division did not move with Sherman on the Atlanta campaign, but garrisoned Allatoona, Kingston, Ga., and other points on that line. The regiment was mustered out in November, 1864, the recruits having been consolidated into a battalion of three companies, which marched with Sherman to the Sea, and through the Carolinas.

1 Includes the mortally wounded.

2 Includes the captured” (Fox, p. 416).

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Pea Ridge Monuments

Situated near Elkhorn Tavern are two monuments; they are the only monuments at the Pea Ridge National Military Park. This is quite a contrast to the Gettysburg battlefield with its hundreds of granite monuments and vast arrays of metal tablets, markers, etc. Although I enjoyed examining the Gettysburg monuments, they almost make the battlefield seem like an odd sort of monument museum. By contrast, the National Park Service’s administered trans-Mississippi battlefields are nearly monument-less. I guess it is a matter of taste, but I like the less cluttered look of these battlefield parks in the trans-Mississippi.

Both of the Pea Ridge monuments are simply designed. In 1887, a marble obelisk was erected in memory of the Confederate dead.

Three sides are devoted to three prominent Confederates who were killed or mortally wounded at Pea Ridge: Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, Brigadier General James M. McIntosh, and Colonel William Y. Slack.

The following grim poem is carved on the fourth side:

“O give me the land with a grave in each spot,

And names in the graves that shall not be forgot.

Yes, give me the land of the wreck and the tomb;

There’s a grandeur in graves, there’s a glory in doom.”

Union and Confederate veterans dedicated the second monument in 1889.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Civil War in Indian Territory

Recently, Drew Wagenhoffer mentioned on his blog that the next issue of Blue & Gray Magazine would feature the war in the Indian Territory. Today, I received the issue in the mail, and it looks like a winner! The author is Michael J. Manning, and the issue's introduction states that he "is currently Chief Ranger at Fort Donelson National Battlefield in Tennessee. He resided in Oklahoma for a long time and attended college at Northeastern State University in Tahlequah...his first job in the history field was working as an interpreter at Fort Gibson Historic Site near Muskogee."

The issue has the classic Blue & Gray treatment with lots of maps, photographs, and "The General's Tour" of significant sites. Pleasingly, this is part one of the magazine's coverage of the war in the Indian Territory. Part two will be published "near the end of the sesquicentennial period." This issue covers April 1861 to September 1, 1863. The actions discussed in this issue are Chusto-Talasah, Chustenahlah, Bayou Manard, Old Fort Wayne, 1st Cabin Creek, Honey Springs, and Devil's Backbone. Enjoy!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

An Aside

Recently I took down from my bookshelf a classic novel that I had not read in many years. Although many believe it depicts the actions of the 124th New York Infantry at Chancellorsville, The Red Badge of Courage is written in such a way that it could be about the experience of any common soldier in any large-scale battle of the war. Stephen Crane, I think, captured the emotions and experiences of Civil War soldiers in an insightful way. If you’ve never read the novel or have not read it in a long time, then I encourage you to pick up a copy. It’s a short novel, and it might make a nice break from watching football and visiting (arguing?) with family members about politics.

In the spirit of rereading old favorites, I am also enjoying John Keegan’s, The Face of Battle. The heart of the book are his depictions of three battles (Agincourt, Waterloo, and the Somme) from the perspective of ordinary soldiers. There are many thought provoking comments in this book, and you will get a true sense of being with the soldiers in the ranks after reading this book.