KNWA Today: History of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park

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Northwest Arkansas is chalk full of history. From interesting characters to actual sites of war.

One of the more popular state parks actually shaped the outlook of the Civil War and Northwest Arkansas.

What was once 2500 acres of Prairie Grove Battlefield, is now 900. The history of Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park still remains intact, but fighting to preserve the past wasn’t easy. Laura Jennings who is an interpreter with Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park says despite the growth of Northwest Arkansas, the growth has been slow to move to Prairie Grove. “When you get out here, aside the street noise, you can’t really see the cars. The land has pretty much been undisturbed, it’s not developed.” Jennings goes on to say,  “We were on the list for most endangered battlefields for a while, but we’ve been blessed that Prairie Grove has been slow to develop.” The organization, The Civil War Trust, was able to secure close to 300 acres as protected land. Still, keeping yesterday in its present state will continue to be difficult.

On November 28, 1862, nine days before the Battle of Prairie Grove, Union General James Blunt and his 5,000 troops fought with 2,000 Confederate soldiers for nine-hours. The fight came to be known as The Battle of Cane Hill. But the battle left the Union badly exposed and isolated, giving an advantage to the Rebel army. In a desperate move, General Blunt changed the outcome with the stroke of a pen. Jennings says, “On December 3 of 1862 he sent a telegram up the Springfield, MO and said he needed help as soon as possible. And General Herron, because of his heroic efforts, actually got here before Blunt did and his men marched 125 miles in three and half days…that’s one of the greatest marches in the Civil War.” 

An advancement that led to the start of the Battle of Prairie Grove on the morning of December 7. Union General Francis Herron wasted no time before attacking. Meanwhile, in the middle of total war, the Borden family of 13 were forced to take cover. “They just saw a lot of devastation. This was a Confederate supporting family, so like many people, not only is their front yard becoming the scene where many people are going to die, but their houses burn the day after battle. So their lives were never the same.” says Jennings.

During the carnage, the Borden’s and other families offered help to the wounded Rebel soldiers, who took more than what was offered. Laura Jennings says, “Whenever the soldiers were hungry, they went to the homesteads and the people who were here gave their food, they had their fence rails taken for firewood, their blankets were taken. And it got so bad for some of the civilians… they actually started burying their supplies in the cemetery plots to try and make sure that they could survive the winter.”

Survival on the Prairie Grove Battlefield was a reality. Coincidentally, another significant event of survival took place, three decades prior. A portion of the battlefield was also the site where several thousand Cherokees pass through the area as part of the Trail of Tears and forced removal.

From war and suffering, to now peaceful surrounding. While the Prairie Grove Battlefield serves as a reminder of a different time, it also shows the evolution of the changing landscape in Northwest Arkansas.”This is very much part of our local history and the families remember what happen to them during the Civil War and I think it’s still shaping us today.” 

History says the Battle of Prairie Grove was considered a draw, but it was the Union army that eventually took control of Northwest Arkansas. The numbers show that over 20,000 troop participated in the Battle of Prairie Grove. 11,000 Confederate troops to 9,000 Union soldiers. In all, the Confederates lost over 1,200 soldiers, while the Union lost just over 1,300 troops.

To learn more about Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park, click HERE.

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