October 21, 1862 (Tuesday)
Confederate President Jefferson Davis understood that his western armies had experienced some setbacks. Braxton Bragg’s invasion of Kentucky netted little, while Earl Van Dorn and Sterling Price, even combined, were defeated at Corinth, Mississippi, and netted even less. With Bragg in retreat back into Tennessee, and the Van Dorn/Price army reorganizing under the new command of John C. Pemberton, Davis turned to Theophilus Holmes, newly appointed commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department.
To Holmes, Davis promised arms, and laid out for him the Confederacy’s plans for the coming campaigns. He warned Holmes not to try to enter Missouri. With Bragg and Pemberton having problems of their own, they could not come to his aid. Davis was disappointed that hardly any Kentuckians had flocked to the Souther Cause during Bragg’s campaign and he was beginning to realize that they’d have to do best with the troops they already had.
Most important was the recapture of Memphis and Nashville. By working with Pemberton and Bragg, Davis hoped that this could be accomplished before winter. Once those cities were held, moving into Missouri and Kentucky, liberating both for the Confederacy, might be easier. There would need to be complete co-operation between the three commanders. He wanted two and, if possible, all three columns to fall upon each of the Federal armies, destroying them in detail.
It was a tall order. Both of the retreating armies under Bragg and Pemberton had Union armies under Buell and Grant, respectively, to deal with.
The Trans-Mississippi Army, commanded in the field by Thomas Hindman (under the departmental command of Holmes), was also in a bit of retreat. Hindman had led the army into Missouri, but was recalled to Holmes’ side in Little Rock, over 200 miles away. The army, left in the less-than-capable hands of James Rains, had fallen back into Arkansas. They were pursued by the Union Army of the Frontier, which had encamped on the old battleground at Pea Ridge, Arkansas.
Hindman was finally released by Holmes’ grasp and rejoined his command, meeting them at Cross Hollows, just south of Pea Ridge. There, he decided to divide his already small force of 6,000. While Hindman moved south, the other Confederate wing, commanded by Col. Douglas Cooper, dodged west into Indian Territory.
The Union Army of the Frontier had tarried at Pea Ridge for three days. There, the commanding general, John Schofield, along with James Blunt, a division commander, tried to figure out what to do next with their 14,000 men. They had both wanted to force the nearby Confederate Trans-Mississippi Army into a battle, but it was soon discovered that the enemy force had split and moved off in two different directions.
To pursue the Rebels, the Federals divided themselves as well. Schofield, with two divisions, would follow Hindman, while Blunt, with his Kansas Division, went after Cooper, who was heading into Indian Territory for an eventual move into Kansas.
Schofield hoped to fall upon Hindman and began the chase just after dark on the 20th. They marched south through the night and all through the next day, with a short rest stop near dawn. Unprepared for such a forced march, the men had not cooked rations prior to leaving. The day long hike turned into an all night trod, as Schofield’s command finally stammered into Huntsville at dawn on the 22nd.
Hoping to find the Rebels in Huntsville, Schofield instead found only stragglers and sick. The Confederate column had struck whatever tents they had and made for the Boston Mountains, roughly twenty miles south – where Schofield refused to follow.
While Schofield had little luck, Blunt’s luck would soon turn odd. His pursuit of Cooper’s Confederates had taken him west from Pea Ridge towards Bentonville. The command, marching through the night of the 20th into the morning of the 21st carried no baggage. No supply trains accompanied the regiments. Whatever the men could carry was all the comforts they needed.
Blunt’s force halted for rest along the Little Osage Creek. On the afternoon of this date, word came into their camp that Cooper’s Rebels were at Old Fort Wayne, just across the border, about twenty miles south.
As lit up as he could possibly be, Blunt decided to march through the night and attack at dawn the next day. When the sun went down, he began his trek west along Spavinaw Creek and through the little town of Maysville. After eight hours of near constant marching, he halted his force just across the border, ready to strike at dawn. His men collapsed from exhaustion and slept away the rest of the darkened hours.1
- Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 53, p830-831; Fields of Blood by William L. Shea; The American Indian in the Civil War, 1862-1865 by Annie Heloise Abel. [↩]