Pea Ridge: The Battle for Missouri
Following the Battle of Wilson Creek on Aug. 10, 1861, during the opening months of the Civil War, the victorious Confederate forces swept north and east from Springfield, hoping to capture St. Louis. Of course, they met opposition—but they also faced one of the worst Missouri winters on record.
By mid-winter, everyone was cold, tired and hungry. The task of pushing them back into Arkansas and keeping Missouri a Union state fell to Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis. This 56-year-old veteran was a West Point Class of 1831 graduate who had served as a colonel during the Mexican War of 1846. A decade later, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Iowa’s First District. When the Civil War broke out, Curtis immediately resigned his congressional seat and was reactivated into the Union Army. He was named commander of the District of Southwest Missouri and its Union “Army of the Southwest” on Dec. 28, 1861. at Rolla.
His first order of business was to recover the territory lost to Gen. Sterling Price and his pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard unit. With over 12,000 troops under his command, Curtis left Rolla on the Wire Road and headed for Springfield. In the meantime, Price had decided to retreat into northwest Arkansas.
Curtis met delaying encounters along the way, but Springfield was retaken without a major battle. Near the Boston Mountains in Arkansas, the Confederates regrouped by drawing together all of their regional forces. Their Army of the West met and attacked Curtis and his Army of the Southwest at Pea Ridge on March 7, 1862. The ensuing battle is often referred to by historians as the “Gettysburg of the West.” In recognition of his role in the decisive Union victory, Samuel Curtis was promoted to major general. Many historians today consider him the most successful Union general west of the Mississippi.
For those in Ozark County who lived through it, or today have a penchant for history, this was more than a battle between armies of the North and the South. Pea Ridge was a very personal moment in the long and brutal conflict. Many of the combatants of all ranks, on both sides, were residents of Missouri and a number of them were from Ozark County. Perhaps one day we can honor all those who battled at Pea Ridge who came from or are now buried here. Irrespective of their personal beliefs, they all fought desperately – and some died – for what they truly believed in. In this journey, we will recognize two combatants who had an Ozark County connection.
The 1st Missouri Cavalry, commanded by Col. Elijah Gates, was one of several Missouri units fighting for the Confederacy under General Price. Pvt. William Franklin Davis (no relation to the William Davis family at Noble, described in earlier Ozark Journey stories) was assigned to Company E of that unit.
Although military records of individual troops rarely exist from that era, we can learn much from their personal diaries or letters and the occasional government document. A surviving post-war pension application suggests that Davis was transferred at some point from the 1st Missouri to Company B of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. Both of these units fought for the Confederacy at Pea Ridge and moved east after that defeat. The 1st Missouri Cavalry was almost immediately “dismounted” and became an infantry unit. It may have been at this point that Davis was transferred to the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. If so, he undoubtedly suffered through many subsequent engagements and was fortunate to survive.
Post-war life as a Confederate supporter was not easy. Although Davis and his wife Nancy were living near Udall after the war, his veteran pension application was filed in the state of Arkansas. William Davis died in 1901 and was originally buried in the Mitchell Cemetery north of Udall. His grave was relocated to Udall Price Cemetery in 1943 during the building of Norfork Dam. His relatives are still living in the Udall area today.
Across the battlefield from Davis, serving under General Curtis at Pea Ridge, was 23-year-old Pvt. Brison T. Scott in Company M of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry. Scott was born in Illinois in 1838. The family moved to a farm in Decatur County, Iowa, at a place called Nine Eagles. There, at the age of 5, he lost his mother and 12-year-old sister. Scott grew up there and enlisted in the Iowa Cavalry three months after the war broke out in 1861. His baptism by fire came at Pea Ridge.
Scott was captured on the first day of the battle at Foster’s Farm amidst a carnage beyond imagination. One of his fellow cavalrymen, Henry Dysart wrote in his diary, “I could see my comrades falling. Horses, frenzied and riderless, ran to and fro. Men and horses ran in collision crushing each other to the ground. Dismounted troopers ran in every direction. Officers tried to rally their men but order gave way to confusion. The scene baffles description.”
Another 3rd Iowa comrade, Pvt. Albert Powers, earned the Medal of Honor in this action.
Scott was returned to his unit three weeks later in a prisoner exchange and served until the end of the war.
The 3rd Iowa fought in more than 70 engagements during the Civil War, many of them in Missouri and Arkansas, but also in Kansas, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. Although none of these were fought in Ozark County, the regiment crossed near or through the county on more than one occasion during their campaigns. Private Scott apparently liked what he saw during this Ozark journey and settled here shortly after the war. A son and daughter were born here in 1879 and 1887 respectively. His death date is uncertain, but probably before 1889. Brison Scott is buried at the Scott Cemetery near Rockbridge at the northwest corner of the Highway 95 and County Road 143 intersection sometimes called Crossroads.
The marriage of Scott’s widow, Margaret Jane Thomison Scott, to Sampson Dukes was recorded at Gainesville on Sept. 17, 1889.
As we look back at the Civil War from our perspective today, it’s easy to draw a line between North and South at the Arkansas/Missouri state line. That comes partly through a subconscious tendency to see a distinct dividing line. In fact, Ozark County was very badly torn internally by battles of a different kind that had no boundaries. As we dust off the footsteps of time, we can begin to grasp an inkling of what those before us had to face.