Prairie County Museum
Des Arc Arkansas
While you're in Arkansas drop by and visit
Learn the story of
Arkansas's navigable rivers as a dramatic part of American history.
Exhibits interpret early Arkansas settlement, transportation routes and
the river based economy, including fishing and shelling.
This museum has been completely renovated and reopened in June of 2004. More than 1,000 square feet were added to the original building, making it compliant with the American Disabilities Act and creating storage and a research room. The renovation was funded by the 1/8-Cent Conservation Tax. Cost of the total renovation is estimated to be more than $259,000.
Prairie Grove is recognized nationally as one of America's most intact Civil War battlefields. The park protects the battle site and interprets the Battle of Prairie Grove, where on December 7, 1862, the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi clashed with the Union Army of the Frontier resulting in about 2,700 casualties in a day of fierce fighting. This marked the last major Civil War engagement in northwest Arkansas.
Walk along the ridge and in the valley where the heaviest fighting took place. Take the one-mile Battlefield Trail or travel the park's five-mile Driving Tour. Visit the Battlefield Museum. Tour the historic structures in the Ozark village.
Park exhibits, tours and programs describe the battle and its local effect here in the Ozarks.
The park hosts Arkansas's largest battle reenactment biennially in even-numbered years during the first weekend of December. Commemorating the 146th anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove, this year's reenactment will be held December 6-7. Activities include guided tours through Union, Confederate and civilian camps; military drills conducted by reenactors; cooking, spinning and lace-making demonstrations; and living history programs. Beginning at 1:00 p.m. each day, battle demonstrations will feature charges and counterattacks by Union and Confederate infantry and cavalry on the actual battlefield near the historic Borden House.
Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park (840 Acres in Washington County) preserves the site of the Civil War Battle of Prairie Grove in northwest Arkansas. Established in 1908 as a park where old veterans held reunions, it became a state park to help visitors understand the battle and its place in Civil War history as well as how the war changed the lives of the civilians in the Arkansas Ozarks.
The Battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862, was the last time two major armies of almost equal strength faced each other for supremacy in northwest Arkansas. The Confederate army withdrew from Prairie Grove on the night of December 7, leaving Missouri and northwest Arkansas in Federal hands.
The battle was actually named after the Prairie Grove Church, which was used as a hospital after the battle. The town of Prairie Grove was established in 1888, years after the battle.
In 1908, the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) bought nine acres at the site to create a commemorative park. Annual veteran reunions at the park featured political speeches, dinner on the grounds, foot races, and carnival games, as well as a place for the aging soldiers to talk and reminisce. Following World War I, the reunions included the veterans of that conflict, too. Even during the Great Depression, the reunions continued with the last surviving Confederate veterans in the area attending the August, 1938, event. Afterwards, the ladies of the UDC discussed discontinuing the reunions. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on the anniversary of the Prairie Grove Battle effectively ended the reunions. Following World War II, the park went through a new era of development under new leadership.
Citizens interested in the future of the park met in 1957 and established the Prairie Grove Battlefield Memorial Foundation, taking over operations at the park from the UDC. The foundation also sought the passage of Senate Bill 278 in 1957, creating a state-appointed Prairie Grove Battlefield Park Commission with a state appropriation of $50,000 for development. This money and future funding enabled the commission to purchase fifty additional acres and relocate several historic structures of the area to the park: the Morrow House, the Latta House, and a smokestack from nearby Rheaís Mills.
A donation of $100,000 was bequeathed in 1965 from the estate of Biscoe Hindman, son of Major General Thomas C Hindman, who commanded the Confederate troops at Prairie Grove. Architect Kenneth Cockram designed Hindman Hall and used the gift for the construction budget. The Prairie Grove Battlefield Park Commission dedicated the structure in 1965, which houses the parkís museum.
Governor Dale Bumpers signed the legislation creating Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park in 1971, which allowed state funding for the staffing needs as well as other projects. The park continued to expand with the 1980 addition of the Borden House property east of the existing park, where some of the heaviest fighting occurred. This acquisition brought the parkís total acreage to 130, where it remained until a new effort to expand the park began in 1992. The United States government established the American Battlefield Protection Program to help private, local, and state efforts to preserve historic battlefields through federal funding and other assistance. The National Park Service worked with the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism and the Department of Arkansas Heritage in preparing a Battlefield Protection Plan for Prairie Grove in 1992. The result was that a mixture of state, federal, and private funds was used to purchase more land. Today, the park includes about 838 acres of the battlefield and provides even more than a reunion grounds for old veterans.
The park offers guided tours of the battlefield, interpretive exhibits in Hindman Hall, a walking trail, and a six-mile driving tour. There is a nominal fee to enter the museum and take a guided tour of the historic homes and structures of the pioneer village. Visitors can watch videos about the battle and the Civil War in the parkís audio-visual room. The visitorsí center has a gift shop and bookstore. The park also contains pavilions, a picnic area, and a playground.
Special events at the park include a December reenactment of the battle, with a two-day schedule of activities; a yearly Memorial Day tribute; and the Prairie Grove Clothesline Fair over Labor Day weekend.
Battle of Prairie Grove
The Battle of Prairie Grove was the last time two armies of almost equal strength faced each other for control of northwest Arkansas. When the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi withdrew from the bloody ground on December 7, 1862, the Union forces claimed a strategic victory. It seemed clear that Missouri and northwest Arkansas would remain under Federal protection.
Brigadier General James G. Bluntís Union command remained in the Cane Hill (Washington County) area after the engagement there on November 28. This encouraged Major General Thomas C. Hindman to attack the Federal troops with his Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) thirty miles away. The Southern army crossed the Arkansas River on December 3 and marched north into the rugged Boston Mountains. Learning of the Confederate threat, Blunt requested assistance from the two divisions of the Union Army of the Frontier under the command of Brigadier General Francis J. Herron camped near Springfield, Missouri, about 120 miles away. Immediately, Herron ordered a forced march in hopes of joining Bluntís command at Cane Hill before the Confederates could attack.
On December 6, Confederate cavalry drove in Bluntís pickets on Reedís Mountain while the rest of Hindmanís Southern forces arrived and camped near the home of John Morrow on Cove Creek Road. During the night, the Southern commanders learned that Herronís men in blue had arrived at Fayetteville (Washington County). They decided to march north past Blunt and intercept and attack the Union reinforcements somewhere between Fayetteville and Cane Hill. It would be at Prairie Grove (Washington County).
The battle began at dawn on December 7, with the defeat of Union cavalry by Confederate mounted soldiers a mile south of the Prairie Grove church. Federal troops retreated toward Fayetteville with the Southern cavalry in pursuit. The panicked Union soldiers stopped running when Herron shot a soldier from his horse. The Confederate cavalry skirmished with Herronís main army before falling back to the top of the Prairie Grove ridge, where the Confederate artillery and infantry were already in line of battle in the woods.
After crossing the Illinois River under artillery fire, Herron positioned his artillery and exchanged fire with the Confederate cannon. The superior range and number of Union cannon soon silenced the Southern guns, allowing the Union infantry to prepare to attack the ridge. Before the infantry advanced, the Union artillery pounded the Southern position on the ridge for about two hours.
The Twentieth Wisconsin and Nineteenth Iowa Infantry regiments crossed the open corn and wheat fields in the valley before surging forward up the slope, capturing the Confederate cannon of Captain William Blocherís Arkansas Battery near the home of Archibald Borden. The Union soldiers continued their advance until suddenly the woods erupted with cannon and small-arms fire. The Confederates surrounded the Federal troops on three sides and quickly forced them to retreat to the Union cannon in the valley. A Southern counterattack went down the slope into the open valley, where it was met with case shot composed of small lead balls inside exploding projectiles. Herronís artillery also used canister shot, consisting of tin cylinders filled with iron balls packed in sawdust which, when fired, turned a cannon into a giant shotgun blast, leaving gaping holes in the Confederate ranks and forcing a retreat to the cover of the woods on the ridge.
Seeing Confederate movement on his flank, Herron decided to attack again. The Thirty-seventh Illinois and Twenty-sixth Indiana Infantry regiments went up the hill into the Borden apple orchard. Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Black of the Thirty-seventh Illinois led the way with his right arm in a sling because of a wound he had sustained at Pea Ridge (Benton County) nine months earlier. Outnumbered, the Federal soldiers fell back to a fence line in the valley, where they stopped another Confederate counterattack using Colt revolving rifles carried by the men of Companies A and K of the Thirty-seventh Illinois. Black sustained a serious wound to his left arm but remained with his command until it was out of danger. Black received the only Medal of Honor awarded for this battle.
With only two fresh infantry regiments left, Herronís command was in peril even as Confederate troops began massing to attack the Twentieth Iowa Infantry, which served as the Federal right flank. Before the attack, two cannon shots rang out from the northwest at about 2:30 p.m., signaling the arrival of Bluntís command; he quickly deployed and attacked the Confederate left flank. Bluntís division was at Cane Hill the morning of December 7 expecting to be attacked by the Confederates. Hindman left Colonel James Monroeís Arkansas cavalry on Reedís Mountain to skirmish with Bluntís Federal troops while the rest of the Confederate army marched past the Union position. The ruse worked, as Bluntís command remained in a defensive position at Cane Hill until it heard the roar of battle at Prairie Grove. Marching to the battlefield, the Union soldiers under Blunt arrived in time to save Herronís divisions.
The Confederates responded to the Union advance on their left flank by skirmishing in the woods with the Federal troops until Blunt gave the command to fall back to his cannon line in the valley. Believing this was an opportunity to win the day, Brigadier General Mosby M. Parsons, in command of the Confederate Missouri Infantry brigade, launched an attack across the William Morton hayfield at about 4:00 p.m. As the Southern soldiers advanced, a devastating fire from all forty-four cannon in the Union army tore into the Confederate ranks, which fell back to the cover of the wooded ridge as darkness fell.
Nightfall ended the savage fighting, but neither side gained an advantage. The opponents called for a truce to care for the wounded and gather the dead. During the night, the Confederates wrapped blankets around the wheels of their cannon to muffle the sound and quietly withdrew from the ridge because of a lack of ammunition and food. Federal troops slept on the battlefield with few tents or blankets and without campfires even though temperatures were near freezing.
Hindmanís command had about 204 men killed, 872 wounded, and 407 missing with several of the missing being deserters. The Federal Army of the Frontier had 175 killed, 808 wounded, and 250 missing. The Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi consisted of about 12,000 troops from Arkansas, Missouri, Texas, and the Cherokee and Creek nations, with about twenty-two cannon. The Union Army of the Frontier had about 10,000 soldiers from Arkansas, Missouri, the Cherokee and Creek nations, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Wisconsin, with about forty-four cannon.
The battle was a tactical draw, with the casualties about the same in each army. But the Southern retreat during the night gave the Union a strategic victory, as a full-scale Confederate army would never return to northwest Arkansas, and Missouri remained firmly under Union control. This savage battle was probably the bloodiest day in Arkansas history.
Directions to Park
The museum is at the western end of Main Street in Des Arc.
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