Sunday, December 8, 2013

Civil War Sunday - Prairie Grove State Park in Arkansas

Yesterday was the 151st anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove in Northwest Arkansas.

Today, rather than talking about the battle, I would like to talk about the park that exists where the battle of Prairie Grove was fought on December 7, 1862.  I lived about 15 miles from this park in the early 1980's, I got to see it again during a brief visit to Northwest Arkansas in August of this year.  I am pleased to say that Prairie Grove State Park is a nice example of how battlefield preservation can succeed.  This battlefield is considered one of the most intact in the country, and, to top it off, admission is free. (a guided tour is $5.00).

So many Americans who live in the eastern part of our country don't spend enough time investigating the western theaters of the Civil War.   I hope to be able to visit some more battlefields away from the East Coast next year.

First a little bit about Prairie Grove and the battle.

Prairie Grove, the nearby small city of about 4600 people, did not exist until after the Civil War.  Prairie Grove celebrated its 125th birthday on July 9, 2013.  Rather,the battle was named after the nearby log Prairie Grove Church that sat on high ground.

On December 7, 1862, the Confederate Army of the Trans-Mississippi, commanded at the battle by Major General Thomas C. Hindman, fought the Union Army of the Frontier, co-commanded at the battle by General James Blunt and General Francis Herron, leading to a Union victory.

Arkansans fought in both of these armies, as did soldiers from Missouri. In this battle, Native Americans, notably Creek and Cherokee, also fought.

There were approximately 2,700 casualties (dead, injured, captured, missing) in the battle. The Confederate Army, muffling the wheels of its wagons, retreated under cover of night, leaving northwest Arkansas and also Missouri (a Union slave state with a strong Confederate sympathy) in Union possession, although the battle was a technical "draw".  The Confederacy would never regain control of the area.

View of Union position from Confederate Lines
Today, this battlefield looks so peaceful.

So, how does a battlefield get preserved?

In the case of Prairie Grove, the United Daughters of the Confederacy bought nine acres to create a commemorative park.  Reunions of veterans continued every December 7 (it appears the last reunion with Confederate survivors in attendance was in 1938)  until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and the subsequent World War II, brought the reunions to an end.

But the park continued to grow, little by little.

In 1965, a donation of $100,000. came from the estate of Biscoe Hindman, son of Major General Hindman.    The visitors center and museum on the grounds, dating from 1965 and renovated in 2010, is called Hindman Hall.
When we lived there in the 1980's, the park had just recently experienced an expansion to 130 acres, and that was the park we used to pass twice a day in our commute to and from work.  The park, along U.S. Highway 62, was bordered with redbud trees.  Their bloom every April was a delightful sign of spring.  We would visit the Clothesline Fair held on the park grounds every Labor Day weekend.  I still have art work and other items I purchased over the years at the Clothesline Fair.

When we returned in August of this year, we had already been amazed at the population growth in Northwest Arkansas.  When we saw the park, for the first time in 27 years....

...the park had grown to some 838 acres.

We spoke to park staff (very helpful, and knowledgeable), and we were told that when we lived there much of the present battlefield park was privately owned, but the owners were elderly, and were dying.  The park was fortunate to be able to get a mixture of state, federal and private funds to buy more land from the families involved, which brought the park to its present size.

It was so hot the day we were there that we only spent an hour or so at the park.  We returned several days later for the Clothesline Fair, which still exists and is just as good as ever.

I will share more about the Clothesline Fair in the near future, and also hope to share more of my battlefield photos with you.

Next Sunday, Civil War Sunday will be on hiatus as it is the 15th of the month, and time for Garden Bloggers Bloom Day.


  1. They were fortunate to be able to grow the park. Hopefully that will keep any future growth from altering the peacefulness of the orig 9 acres.


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