restricted access Chapter 10. High Tide at Elkhorn

From: Pea Ridge

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10 HighTideat Elkhorn T he all-out Confederate assault on the thin Federal line at Elkhorn Tavern brought the fighting in Cross Timber Hollow to a terrible climax. Price's Missourians knew they had to drive the stubborn Federals back and gain a foothold atop Pea Ridge. Carr's midwesterners understood they had to hold their position until promised reinforcements arrived from Little Sugar Creek. With daylight slipping away and officers and men on both sides grimly determined to succeed, the resulting struggle at Elkhorn Tavern was the bitterest fighting of the battle. The rebel attack was painfully slow in getting under way. After Van Dorn left Price in Williams Hollow and returned to Telegraph Road, he told Littleto advance "so soon as the heavy firing on our left should give the signal of the attack under General Price." VanDorn spoke as ifhe expected the action to commence immediately, but for what must have seemed an interminable length of time, nothing happened. While Price's column on the left slowlypushed up Williams Hollow, hundreds of exhausted soldiers on the right fell asleep on the cold,rocky ground. Others, too keyed up to sleep, noticed that, except for scattered firing along the skirmish lines, the battlefield had become oddly silent.After a while they realized why:the sound of fighting at Leetown had faded.1 At 4:30 EM. artillery fire erupted from the direction ofWilliams Hollow This was the signal from Price that Little had been waiting for,and he gave the order to advance. Shouted 186 H I Pea Ridge commands and rolling drumbeats brought the weary rebels to their feet and sent them moving up the slope on both sides of Telegraph Road. The pall of smoke prevented them from knowing the exact location of the Federal line; they would simply plow ahead until they struck something solid.2 The Missourians pressed forward in increasing disorder as fatigue,foliage, and the difficult terrain played havoc with military precision. The long line gradually separated into its component parts, each regiment and battalion advancing at its own pace and on its own course. It did not really matter, however; as long as the rebels kept going uphill, they were heading in the right direction with enough strength to compensate for their lack of organization . When only about one hundred yards apart, the opposing forces came into full view through the haze. Vinson Holman of the 9th Iowa was startled at how suddenly the enemy appeared; one moment the steep slope in front of his position was empty, the next it was "covered with Rebels."3 Volleys rippled along the edge of the plateau as one Confederate unit after another encountered the Federal line. A Missouri staff officer said the musketry "was extremely heavy and surpassed in severity anything our men had as yet experienced." Another Missourian,a company officer in the very thick of the action, reported that "the firing was terrible" and that "the enemy shot well, for our wounded fell on every side." Asa Payne of Rives's regiment recalled those moments in vivid detail: "The Federal line was in full view and I could hear something going zip,zip all around and could see the dust flying out of the trees and the limbs and twigs seemed to be in a commotion from the concussion of the guns I remember that I was in the front rank that day, and as soon as we came in view of the Federal lines the boys in the rear rank fired their guns on each side of my head." Payne survived the fire of both friend and foe but heard a ringing in his ears for days afterward4 From the opening volleys the intensity of the battle was terrific. "Such fighting as was done here by the Missourians was hardly ever superseded," declared one rebel. On the Federal side, Alonzo Abernethy of the 9th Iowa stated that the battle "raged with a fury which exceeded our worst apprehensions ." Indeed, Jacob Platt, an officer in the 9th Iowa, went so far as to testify, "I charged the battlements of Vicksburg... and assisted in driving the Confederates from their almost impregnable position on Missionary Ridge ... but in all my army experience I did not see any fighting compared with the plain open field conflict that occurred in and around the Elkhorn Tavern on March 7, 1862."B The hill was so steep and Federal resistance so determined, the weary High Tide at...


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