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3 TheHunterandtheHunted C urtis had no detailed section maps of northwestern Arkansas, but there were numerous soldiers in the Army ofthe Southwest who were familiar with the area. The gently rolling upland of the Springfield Plateau is dotted with occasional hills and ridges and covered by a mix of woods and prairies. It extends south from Missouri to the Boston Mountains and west into the Indian Territory. In 1862 roads were primitive and population was sparse, but it was one of the few places on the Ozark Plateau where armies could be maneuvered as if on a map. The Federal commander intended to take full advantage of the relatively level terrain. Since leaving Springfield he had received reports that the Confederate cantonment in Cross Hollow was heavily fortified against an assault from the north. The reports were exaggerated, but Curtis had no way ofknowing this. He decided against a direct advance down Telegraph Road and cast about for an alternative approach. On February 18,the day after the clash at Little Sugar Creek, Curtis sent scouts fanning across the countryside west of TelegraphRoad to see if Cross Hollow could be outflanked in that direction.1 He also sent a reconnaissance in force toward Bentonville, a small town nine miles west of the Federal position at Little Sugar Creek. Sigel's half of the army had finally arrived, and Curtis chose Asboth to lead this expedition. Asboth, a former Hungarian nobleman, had no formal military training and had gained only a modicum of military experience in the failed 46 H I Pea Ridge Hungarian revolution of 1848, but in the first year of the war in Missouri he demonstrated considerable competence as a cavalry leader. He set out on this expeditionwith portions ofthe 4th and 5th Missouri Cavalryand the 1st Missouri Flying Battery and reached Bentonville at noon on February 18. The Federals captured about thirty men from the 17th Arkansas who were gathering baggage left behind when Hebert called the regiment out from winter quarters. After confiscating the regimental flag flying atop the Benton County courthouse and administering the oath of allegiance to all civilians who presented themselves, Asboth and his command returned to Little Sugar Creek.The operation had a bizarre and tragic ending.Atrooper of the 5th MissouriCavalry rode back into town to fill his canteen with whiskey. He never returned to his regiment. A search party found his body stashed in an outhouse and burned much of Bentonville in retribution.2 By sunset on February 18 Curtis knew with reasonable certainty that the area west of Telegraph Road was empty of enemy troops and that he was free to maneuver as he wished. He decided to shift his command to his right and outflank the "great trap" at Cross Hollow Confidentthat he soon would have the rebels on the run once again,the old soldier turned in for the night. As he slept, another winter storm howled out of the northwest and pelted Federals and Confederates with more freezing rain, sleet, and snow3 Curtis did not know, however, that McCulloch also had concluded that Cross Hollow was untenable. The Texas general reached Cross Hollow that night and found everyone in line of battle awaiting an attack from the Federals at Little Sugar Creek. When McCullochrode among the shivering soldiers , he triggered a tremendous demonstration. At the sight of their longabsent commander, the troops of the Arkansas army cheered wildly and tossed their hats into the air. McCulloch was so moved by this display of affection that tears came to his eyes. As he reached the center of each regiment, he shouted in his laconic fashion: "Men, I am glad to see you!" The response was deafening.4 The joyous reunion turned to sour debate as soon as McCulloch walked into Price's headquarters tent. Aheated discussion erupted over the proper course of action. Price had regained his nerve and announced that the combined armies should stand fast in Cross Hollow and wait for Curtis to attack. McCulloch, aware that Cross Hollowwas no place to make a stand, argued for a retreat to the Boston Mountains thirty miles to the south along the rugged southern edge of the Ozark Plateau. McCulloch pointed out that drawing the Federals deeper into Arkansas—and farther from supplies and The Hunter and the Hunted 1 1 1 47 Alexander S.Asboth (Massachusetts Commandery, U.S. Military History Institute} 48 H I Pea Ridge reinforcements—was the most effective strategy the Confederates could...


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