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March 07, 2004

Today's history tidbits... now that Hosting Matters is done migrating stuff around.

1862 Battle of Elkhorn Tavern, ends: Pea Ridge is an interesting fight. For those of you in the midwest, where larger-scale Civil War battlefields are scarce, it's a good one to visit. Trivia note - according to the Missouri Historical Society, there are more 'named Civil War engagements' in Missouri than any other state except Virginia. The Civil War was tough out here in Missouri and Kansas. But nothing like the bloodbath in Northern Virginia and Maryland. [Ed. Note - as Dr. Funk notes in his comment - it may not have been as bloody in absolute terms, but it was sure probably meaner!]

Anyway - as the military history instructor at Fort Sill, I used to conduct Staff Rides to Pea Ridge. It's a nice small battlefield, well maintained and a good fight to study. It pretty much is a textbook example regarding the Principles of War, as published in US Army Field Manual FM 100-5. My view of the principles is a little skewed... when I look at winners and losers, what I usually find is that the side that screwed up the least wins. Not always - mass can have a gravitas all it's own... ask the Finns. In this fight MG Curtis, the Union commander, screwed up the least. The mnemonic I use for the Principles is MOSSMOUSE. For a good slideshow on the subject, I direct you to the Berkely Army ROTC site.

Mass
Objective
Surprise
Simplicity
Maneuver
Offensive
Unity of Command
Security
Economy of Force.

In this fight, Confederate Commander MG Earl Van Dorn moves his forces out of winter quarters in northeastern Arkansas to attack MG Curtis' troops, who are gathered on the ridge south of ElkHorn Tavern (though that ridge is NOT Pea Ridge, which is just to the north). Van Dorn wins Offensive, Maneuver and Surprise as he makes a daring flank march (see Stonewall Jackson at Chancellorsville) to get behind Curtis' force. Due to chain of command issues - i.e., Missouri Militia General Sterling Price's forces are not yet assimilated officially into the Confederate Army, and MG Ben McCulloch feels he should be in command and not Van Dorn, Van Dorn splits his forces - with McCullochs' troops attacking on the west side of Pea Ridge, Van Dorn and Price's troops attacking from the east side of the ridge, at Elkhorn Tavern. McCullochs forces include the formation of Native Americans, commanded by then-Colonel Stand Watie - who later rose to Brigadier General and commander of the First Indian Brigade - the last Confederate General to surrender his forces at war's end. However, Curtis has scouts out as he should, and detects the movement - score Security for Curtis.

Union Commander Curtis, even though his command includes a large number of ethnic Germans from the St. Louis area who don't speak good english under the command of MG Franz Sigel, wins Unity of Command hands down over Van Dorn. Sigel has his best day of the Civil War at Pea Ridge under Curtis - and it wasn't that good a day. Curtis did have the leadership challenge of pulling his troops out of prepared positions to turn around and face an enemy coming at them from the rear - just about the most difficult thing you can do and not induce panic - he had the advantage of a unified command with no real quarrels about who was in charge - and he had interior lines, so that he could control both sides of his fight with little movement between them, unlike Van Dorn who was trying to synchronize two separate fights miles apart. In this, Curtis also gets the nod for Simplicity, Van Dorn a big fat 'F'.

Early on, Curtis recognized that the most serious threat to his position was McCulloch's attack on the left. He left the Iowan, Col. Grenville Dodge and the 1st Brigade, 4th Division, supported with artillery, to bear the brunt of the fight that first day at Pea Ridge, while Curtis managed to defeat in detail McCulloch's disjointed attacks on the left. Dodge would later achieve fame as the Chief Engineer of the Union Pacific railroad - and the opening of the West. This act wins for Curtis the Economy of Force laurel - not trying to be everywhere at once. Accepting risk and dealing with the greatest threat.

By his economy of force choice at Elkhorn Tavern, Curtis also wins Mass - something the Confederates never achieved, piecemealing in as they did on both sides - though it's a very close fight at Elkhorn Tavern that first day. It's a good thing for Dodge that the Confederates didn't have sufficient ammunition for their guns - they were reduced, by the end of the days fighting, to shooting rocks and scrap iron from their cannon - and the Union artillery was knocking off the Confederate batteries. Van Dorns chain of command problems, lack of mass, and exterior lines of communication in effect allow Curtis to swipe maneuver back from Van Dorn as during the night he shifted his forces to the east side of the battlefield and counter-attacked at the Tavern, knocking Van Dorn fully out of the fight, and making it a win for Curtis.

Pea Ridge is not a battle you hear much about - I suggest precisely because Curtis won the fight. The battle of Shiloh was a month away. If Curtis had been badly defeated and his small army dispersed or captured, the threat to Missouri would have been immense. Missouri was a strategically significant source of lead (for bullets), mules, and food, clothing, and fodder for whoever held the state. The great concentration of forces for Shiloh might not have happened, if General Halleck decided to pull significant forces back to protect St. Louis and the west bank of the Mississippi. A rousing confederate victory at Pea Ridge and significant inroads into the State of Missouri, with the pro-Southern Governor Sterling Price at the head of the Missouri State Guard, the Union would have had to respond. Alternatively, Van Dorn's 10,000 troops, fresh from a victory at Pea Ridge might have made a decisive difference on the first day at Shiloh. But because MG Curtis won - we'll never know, and so there is a very nicely maintained, if not all that easy to get to, Civil War battlefield in northeast Arkansas that's worth a visit!


84 years later...

1945 The Remagen Bridge is captured by the 9th Armored Division. Interesting tidbit about the 9th Armored. The division was originally an element of Patton's FUSAG, First US Army Group, the 'ghost' army created as a part of the pre-Overlord deception plan. Two of those units did in fact get stood-up. The 108th Infantry Division and the 9th Armored. Most armored divisions named themselves and incorporated that name into their shoulder insigia. 1st Armored, "Old Ironsides", 2nd Armored "Hell on Wheels", 3rd Armored, "Spearhead", etc. The 9th tooks it's name from it's origins, "Phantom". Another interesting bit about the deception plan was the level of detail undertaken to underpin the story. To the point that shoulder insignia were designed (in case there were spies who would note the absence of such things) and as the story relates in the link - the fact that patches were produced. I have a relatively extensive patch collection I inherited - and I have examples of all of those patches.