They Came Like Demons – The Battle of Prairie Grove


Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindman’s Army of the Trans-Mississippi with 12,000 men marched north from Fort Smith…

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The battle of Prairie Grove on December 7, 1862, was the last time armies of almost equal strength fought for supremacy in northwest Arkansas. When the Confederates withdrew from the bloody battlefield at midnight due to a shortage of ammunition, it became clear that Missouri would remain under Union control and that northwest Arkansas would soon be occupied by Federal forces.

Confederate Major General Thomas C. Hindmans Army of the Trans-Mississippi with 12,000 men marched north from Fort Smith to attack the Kansas Division of the Army of the Frontier with 5,000 men under the command of Brigadier General James G. Blunt, who were at Cane Hill. Responding to a cry for reinforcements was Brigadier General Francis Jay Herron, whose 5,000 men made a furious march of over 130 miles from Springfield to Fayetteville in three and a half days, arriving in Fayetteville at midnight on December 6th.

Hindman decided to attack Herron’s exhausted men before the two Union columns could unite. The Confederates moved north and positioned themselves on Prairie Grove ridge. An artillery duel was followed by two Union attacks and two Confederate counterattacks, all of which met with bloody repulse.

The arrival of General Blunt’s Union troops later in the day shifted the heavy fighting to the west end of the ridge. After the two sides had fought to a stalemate, Confederate General Mosby M. Parsons led his Missouri Brigade in one final attack to try and win the day. The Missourians swept past the Morton house and root cellar, where local civilians were huddled, and advanced into the valley below.The artist has captured this pivotal moment on the west end of the battle. Captain H.C. Palmer of the 11th Kansas Infantry wrote The rebels came sweeping out of the timber in solid column lifting their guns with fixed bayonets above their heads. They came on with a yell, like 7,000 demons as they were, and were within 300 yards of us when the command “Fire!” was given and twelve guns, double shotted with grape and canister swept great holes through their column.

Following the failed Confederate attack a truce was established to care for the wounded during the night. Neither army gained an advantage but both suffered heavy casualties numbering about 2,700 in five hours.

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