The History of War in Northwest Arkansas

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA) — Northwest Arkansas has a rich history of battlegrounds and landmarks dating as far back as the Civil War. 

Northwest Arkansans can still feel and celebrate deep ties to our history this independence day.

On May 6, 1861, Arkansas declared its secession from the union. During the civil war, the Natural State became became a strategic target for both the north and south because of its location on the Mississippi River.

That’s why a great deal of fighting happened here.

Many of the historical battlefields and landmarks are preserved right here in Northwest Arkansas.

“Battle of Pea Ridge March 7th and 8th of 1862 was probably the most significant battle west of the Mississippi River,” said Troy Banzhaf, Chief of Interpretation at Pea Ridge.

Over 23,000 men fought from union and confederate forces in Pea Ridge, otherwise known as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern.

“March eighth of 1862 was highlighted with the largest artillery bombardment up to that point in the Civil War. We had 21 guns start the bombardment then six more jumped in. For two hours we had union artillery out here raking the confederate line with artillery projectiles,” Banzhaf said.

The artillery was so loud, it could be heard 30 miles away in Fayetteville.

“It was a precursor for allowing the federals to continue their river campaign. It was a very important victory to the federal government,” Banzhaf said.

Union forces, led by General Samuel Curtis, were successful in recapturing territory lost during an initial confederate offensive. The victory on March 8 played a pivotal role in securing Missouri for the union.

Eight months later in November 1862, the confederates, led by General Thomas Hindman, traveled to Cane Hill during a drought in Fort Smith.

“The confederate soldiers knew the union soldiers were in the area, but were not planning to actually fight that day. They were coming here just for food so they were really surprised,” said Laci Shuffield, Director of Parks and Recreation at Historic Cane Hill.

Union General James Blunt, upset with this attempt to take their food, started a running battle.

“It started up by the cemetery and the confederates were facing the wrong direction. The union came in behind them and surprised them, so they had to get all their artillery turned around and by the time they got it turned around it was way too late,” Shuffield said.

The battle itself lasted only fifteen minutes and destroyed the state’s first institution of higher learning, Cane Hill College.

“People thought this battle was to try to get Missouri back and this battle was just strictly over food,” Shuffield said.

Cane Hill was a prelude to the Battle of Prairie Grove, and several months later, tensions between the union and confederates led to the battle of Fayetteville on April 18, 1863. The confederates attacked.

“They spread all across the hill here real early in the morning, like before six o’clock. They were here under General Cabell and they put canons over on about Olive and Spring somewhere in there, taking shots at the Headquarter’s House. That’s where the union was set up with Colonel Harrison,” said Jerry Hogan, Author and Local Historian. 

The confederates made two charges that day.

“They made a recovery charge up Dickson Street right in front of Headquarter’s House and the union met with a barrage of gun fire. Just splintered the confederate troops who made a u-turn if you will,” Hogan said.

Resulting in a union victory and the City of Fayetteville being burned to the ground. Hogan estimates there were around 50 casualties, brought here to the Confederate Cemetery for final burial.

“The soldiers here are from Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Missouri. Those guys fought in this area and died here,” Hogan said.

The cemetery contains around 800 graves. Many of the soldiers fell in the Battle of Pea Ridge or at the Battle of Prairie Grove. 

“The confederate Cemetery is a result of the activities of the work of the Southern Memorial Association of Washington County and it was founded on June 10, 1872.” Hogan said.

Pea Ridge National Military Park offers guided tours, hiking trails, a bike bath and horse trails. For more information, visit https://www.nps.gov/index.htm or the Facebook Page.

Historic Cane Hill offers a full tour of Cane Hill College and other historical properties, as well as a Civil War tour, education tour, orchard tour, and Edmiston Family Tour. For more information, visit http://historiccanehill.wixsite.com/canehill or the Facebook Page to get involved.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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