An unknown Union soldier, killed in the battle of Prairie Grove, wrote these words in a diary hours before his death: Battlefield 10 miles from Fayetteville, Dec. 7, 1862. Left camp at day light and after proceeding some 5 miles heard the booming of cannon in the distance which made us think there was fun ahead in which we must soon participate a few miles farther on a considerable number of the Arkansas 1st Cavalry came rushing by at the top of the speed of their horses some without hats or coats in fact they were perfectly panic stricken and rushed in pell mell haste past us. . .
Since 12 o’clock the battle has raged with fury the Artillery opened from either side and the Infantry poured forth its incessant volleys in quick succession. The 19th 20th & 94th are put in battle array our company acting as Skirmishers took position in a corn and stubble field directly opposite one of the enemies batteries. We lay low for bullets flew thick around us and we seemed to be fair targets for their sharp shooters but we returned their fire with an energy and determination that must have convinced them we were at least soldiers. We had advanced nearer to the foe than we should have done and were in danger of being cut off from the main body of our army by rebel Cavalry and the 20th Iowa was ordered. . .
Here the diary ends. I picture this man hiding and recording his final minutes with the stub of a pencil in this diary that was later recovered from the battleground. He smells the acrid smoke from rifles, many of which are black powder guns, the ground shakes beneath his feet as cannon are fired and strike. Debris fills the air, raining down upon men who squint to see through the flying dirt and rocks, hasten to find an enemy target. Cringe at the cries of the mortally wounded lying in their own blood.
That day 22,000 soldiers marched into battle, 2,568 were struck down by flying bullets, cannon and shrapnel. Stories of the aftermath are almost as terrible as that day itself. The men the unknown soldier wrote about meeting in retreat were Confederate soldiers, and by the end of the battle those soldiers had retreated, though there would be skirmishes for weeks between scattered remnants of both sides all through the Boston Mountains as those tattered men headed south.
Official Army records read like this: Principal Commanders: Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron and Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt [US]; Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman [CS]
Forces Engaged: Army of the Frontier [US]; I Corps, Trans-Mississippi Army [CS]
Estimated Casualties: 2,568 total (US 1,251; CS 1,317)
Description: Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman sought to destroy Brig. Gen. Francis Herron’s and Brig. Gen. James Blunt’s divisions before they joined forces. Hindman placed his large force between the two Union divisions, turning on Herron first and routing his cavalry. As Hindman pursued the cavalry, he met Herron’s infantry which pushed him back. The Rebels then established their line of battle on a wooded high ridge northeast of Prairie Grove Church. Herron brought his artillery across the Illinois River and initiated an artillery duel. The Union troops assaulted twice and were repulsed. The Confederates counterattacked, were halted by Union canister, and then moved forward again. Just when it looked as if the Rebel attack would roll up Herron’s troops, Blunt’s men assailed the Confederate left flank. As night came, neither side had won, but Hindman retreated to Van Buren. Hindman’s retreat established Federal control of northwest Arkansas.
Result(s): Union strategic victory
Today is the 150th anniversary of that battle. May these brave men and all those who have died in battle rest in peace.