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An Account of the BATTLE OF PEA RIDGE

Robert S. GrovesThis report comes from a descendant of Robert Shields Groves, who was a private in the Civil War in Bowen's Cavalry Battalion. This Battalion consisted of Company A commanded by J. A. Stevens, who had been a writer or a reporter; Company B commanded by John B. Ing, who was a Methodist circuit rider; Company C commanded by F. W. Benteen, afterwards a major in the 7th US Calvary; and Company D commanded by Captain Milton R. Flint whose company was especially detailed as General Curtis' escort. The picture of Pvt. Groves, taken in Corinth, MS. 1863, and the below letter written by him, while he was living in Philadelphia, PA., was sent to me by Ed Groves, the grandson of Pvt. Groves. Ed said that his ancestor wrote this Civil War account of the Battle of Pea Ridge, and sent it to the Philadelphia Evening Telegraph in 1911. Some of the text was not readable, indicated by a solid line, even sometimes including a string of several words:

Reading the article signed F. J. P., in your issue of the Evening Telegraph, March 7, your description of the battle of Pea Ridge on the 7th and 8th of March, 1862, was such a vivid one, the writer who participated in this battle concluded that you were also in it, and he now proposes to write a little as he remembers, what occurred of Price's retreat from Springfield to the Boston Mountains.

General Franz SigelLong before dawn, on the morning we entered Springfield, possibly, two or three miles from the town, we were formed on a line of battle. The writer was a member of Bowen's Cavalry Battalion. From the different companies were detailed orderlies, to act on the staff of Gen. Curtis. The writer was in this detail, and acted under the special order of Capt. Stark, one of the staff. At day-light we were in line of battle. Curtis and his staff were assembled on the state road facing Springfield, when from Springfield rode a citizen scout, who addressed Curtis, and after a short conversation with him, he called Capt. Stark, and they entered into a conversation for a moment. Possibly I was thirty feet away when Curtis dismissed Stark, and he rode to where I was mounted, and gave the writer the following order. "You are to ride to Gen. Sigel". As near as I can remember, I found Gen. Sigel in a corn field mounted in front of his division, in line of battle, and gave him the following message, "with the compliments of Gen. Curtis, Springfield evacuated during the night" - Sigel replied, "My compliments to Gen. Curtis", and say to him, "I am aware of it". When I returned to Capt. Stark, the staff were standing almost in the same position as when I left. In a few minutes Gen. Curtis and his staff started towards Springfield, and as we rode toward Springfield coming out of the town in the middle of the road came a lady running towards us, swinging a sun-bonnet in her hand and apparently very much excited - Curtis stopped his horse. It seems that she knew Curtis, and in an excited voice said, addressing Curtis by name, "The Rebels commenced to evacuate through the night; they can't get much further than Wilson Creek, follow them and cut them to pieces." This lady it appeared was the wife of John S. Phelps, who commanded the 26th Missouri, and afterwards became governor of the state. Our little army soon got into marching column, and entered Springfield, and then we commenced to follow Price. Sigel took, I believe, the same road he had marched over before when the battle of Wilson Creek was fought to the right. We moved to the left on state road. The heads of these two divisions met each other at a point very near where the battle of Wilson Creek was fought on August 10, 1861. If my memory is correct, we over took Price's rear guard a few miles below the old battlefield of Wilson Creek.

CavalryIn our company A, we had four mountain howitzers, which we opened with. We kept them close to the advancing cavalry column - were frequently brought into action each and every day during Price's retreat. The cavalry only being to the front, Price's rear guard was so strong that they would hold us in check for awhile and then quickly retreat before the infantry could be brought up. Taking a position a little further on where the country would permit it strong enough to again hold us in check, they continued these tactics all through the day and for several days. Each army going into camp at night. The Rebel army pulling out during the night after a little rest or very early in the morning to get a good start a head of us and we following. This kind of fighting continued until we reached the little valley just before coming to the table land, Pea Ridge, where the battle of Pea Ridge was fought afterwards. The Rebels in this little valley cut down a number of large trees and threw them across the road, this prevented us from bringing up our artillery, but we moved through the timber leaving our artillery and came up on the ridge passing over the ridge to Sugar Creek, and coming down into the valley of Sugar Creek we halted here for a few minutes. On the other side of the valley on the hill, Price had spread a line of battle. The 1st Missouri Cavalry commanded by Col. Ellis, and the 3rd Illinois commanded by B. A. Carr and Bowen's Battalion commanded by W. D. Bowen. These regiments and the battalion stood along the road in a column of twos making six abreast. Curtis and his staff mounted on the right of the column facing us possibly a half a mile away, and maybe not that far off was a Rebel line of battle, and a battery on the opposite ridge. Their battery opened and fired one or two shots I think, then Gen. Curtis gave us the order to charge - Col. Ellis rather hesitated - Major W. D. Bowen commanding our battalion asked Curtis to give him the honor of leading the charge, but Ellis hearing Bowen's remark gave the order to charge, and all three commands went forward against the hill. The Rebels opened and began firing on our column killing and wounding quite a number of us, and we spreading on a line of battle drove them from the field. This was the last fight we had with Price's army until we fought the battle of Pea Ridge. Here we discontinued the pursuit of Price's retreating army. We moved ten or twelve miles further south - - going into comp at Cross Hollows. Sigel's division went into camp at Bentonville, Jefferson C. Davis' division went into camp at Sugar Creek, on the side of the valley nearest the battle field of Pea Ridge. We must have remained in camp here for a couple of weeks. Curtis and his staff were encamped on the left knoll of Cross Hollows and our battalion on the right knoll looking south, and here we continued until the night of the 5th of March. On this night say about eight o'clock, while we were gathered around our camp fires, into our company came a citizen scout. (The most of our company was raised in and around this neighbor-hood or with in a radius of forty or fifty miles.) He took a seat on a camp kettle and he looked to me as though he had gone through some pretty hard work. His name was Pearce. He was one of Curtis' citizen scouts. He had made his report to Curtis and come over among us, his personal friends who were some of his neighbors at his old home, and we commenced to question him. We knew his business, and all we could get out of him was, "we would have all the fighting we wanted in the next few days." He reported to Curtis that Van Dorn and Price were then marching around us. After he had talked with us a little the bugles blew the orderly call. The orderlies got their orders, four days ration and extra ammunition. We had hardly received these orders when boots and saddles sounded and five or ten minutes afterwards the assembly _______ and our little battalion commenced to assemble on the road. While we were assembling, Curtis and his Staff rode to where we were and calling Major Bowen to him had some conversation then Bowen rode to the front of our company and asked for four volunteers. The four volunteers answering the call were: John King, Patty McDonald, Phillip Dorn and the writer. Curtis then asked for a volunteer officer, and our First Lieutenant, D. W. Ballou volunteered. Curtis, Bowen and Ballou then had some conversation and in a few minutes Ballou rode to us and gave us the order, and by two, forward march, we rode down the road toward Sugar Creek. It now seems that from the information Curtis got from Pearce he was trying to concentrate his army at Sugar Creek. Sugar Creek was twelve or fourteen miles from Cross Hollows. Curtis was sending one courier after another, both to Davis and to Sigel. If one failed out of all those he was sending he certainly expected one to get through with orders to the different division commanders to concentrate at Sugar Creek. Our orders was to reach Gen. Davis at all hazards. As our little column reached the outside picket line, the picket demanded from us the countersign before he would allow us to go through the line. We gave him the countersign as we supposed it to be, and he claimed it was not correct, and while he was arguing with Ballou on this point, Curtis rode up and wanted to know what was the matter. Ballou turned and said to him, "I have not the correct countersign." Curtis then turned to his son who was chief of staff and wanted to know what was the correct countersign - he gave it to him as Sugar Creek Valley. We got our way, and all of us heard the countersign given to Ballou as "Sugar Creek Valley". With the correct countersign, we commenced to ride for Davis and possibly we had ridden three or four miles, a horseman came on us from our rear, and as he passed us he said, "good evening gentlemen" and rode on. He had ridden maybe fifty or sixty yards ahead of us when one of us remarked, we wouldn't let him go by without investigation. Ballou then ordered John King and the writer to over take him, and we both stated for this horseman to halt. When he found he was being pursued he increased his speed to get away from us. John King's horse gave out and the writer being a little better mounted gained on him, and when within twenty feet ordered halt, and as he refused to stop, then fired. My shot fortunately missed him. He came to a sudden halt and we were into each other in a mix up and both jumped from our horses to the ground, and instantly the writer held a pistol to his hand and demanded the countersign. With some little hesitation he gave the correct countersign, and by that time Ballou and the other three came up and after some little questioning, we found he was the first or second Lieutenant of the Dubuque Battery - attached to the 9th Iowa Infantry - and on the same errand as ourselves. In a course of about an hour we met at Davis' headquarters with the ______ instruction. Our little party of five waited around the headquarter's fires of Gen. Davis, until our command came up, and then we went into camp on the side of the hill. We had all concentrated in the night, except Sigel. On the 6th he fought his way from Bentonville to Pea Ridge. On the morning on the 7th, the battle of Pea Ridge opened and continued all that day, we lying in line of battle through the night - the Rebels also in line. We each held both these lines during the two days fighting, with very little change. We could see their camp fires and they could see ours, but not a shot was fired until the battle opened again the next morning, a little after day-light, by the Rebels, a signal gun on their right - then came the roll of musketry fire, and continued until about ten o'clock. When the firing on the Rebel line ceased very suddenly then they retreated from the field. Curtis directed the battle from a point, possibly, a quarter of a mile back of our fighting line looking north in a little hollow on the left of the state road. Through this little hollow ran the road to Bentonville. On both sides of this road our Battalion camped near Curtis' Headquarters. Towards evening on the last day of the battle the Rebels sent in a "flag of truce". Possibly there were thirty or forty in the party. They stood mounted in the road, maybe for a half hour during this time their commanding officer was in consultation with Curtis. Our boys came from both sides of the road, to talk and joke with each other. Many were acquainted with each other on both sides, and only a few months before they were neighbors and friends now engaged in a struggle never equaled in history.

The battle of Pea Ridge - Gen. Samuel R. Curtis and the boys who fought the battle get very little space as far as history of our country is concerned, but a victory like Pea Ridge cut a pretty good figure and had far reaching influence in the early days of the struggle of the Civil War. Our country at this time wanted a victory - we gave it.

The above is written entirely from memory. There maybe many errors so let it go with ______. R. S. G.

Here is another interesting letter sent by Ed Groves, grandson of Robert Shields Groves who signed his letters RSG.

31 May 1911

The writer notes the article written a few days ago, in reference to Alfred Price and the part that the Indians played in the battle of Pea Ridge. Having taken part in the Battle tries to recall from memory what the Indians did.

I believe Pike's Indians were in Ben McCulloch's Division. They faced us on their right line of battle near Leetown. The Indians were opposed by the 36th Illinois. They were organized into companies just the same as the rest of the confederate troops, when the 36th Illinois opened on them they only stood their fire a few minutes then broke in every direction. Their behavior in battle-the Confederates never had any use for them and afterwards were disbanded and sent home. They scalped some of our dead. We were so bitterly against them it was hard work for our officers to keep us from shooting our Indian prisoners.

Gen. Ben McCulloch, who commanded the Indians was killed on the evening of the first day's fight. He passed beyond his own lines to reconnoiter and he was shot and killed by one of the 36th Illinois, who name if I can remember correctly was Pettigill, or something like it. The next day his body was viewed by quite a number and we particularly noticed his dress -- a close fitting velvet suit. A little to the right where he was killed were two twelve pound iron Confederate guns laying on the ground -- one of our batteries had dismounted it by their fire.

Recalling a little of the battle on the morning of the last day's fight, the 4th Iowa Infantry commanded by Col. G. M. Dodge, the only one of the two army corps living, his regiment was formed, in the field, on the right of the State Road opposite the Elkhorn Tavern. I can remember distinctly when the firing ceased Col. Dodge was standing leaning on his saber wounded and near him laid several of the dead and wounded of his own regiment. Back of the 4th Iowa Infantry, close to the firing line, was our little battery of 4 mountain howitzers in position, supported by three companies of our Battalion dismounted. We expected every moment to go into action, but with the sudden cease of firing and the retreat of the Confederates we had no occasion to use these guns.

Quite a number of stragglers were coming off the firing line and I can very well remember Gen. Asboth, in a towering rage, in the middle of the state road, with drawn saber and forcing stragglers back on the firing line. The cuss words he was using, to keep the men up to their work had better not go on paper.

There was one incident in the battle and it may be this did not often occur, the Dubuque Battery lost two of their guns in a desperate charge made by the Confederates. In the field left of the state road, directly facing Elkhorn Tavern the firing of a Confederate Battery struck one of these guns in the mouth and when were attempted to load the gunners could only force the shell part way in the muzzle and in this condition the gun was taken off the field disabled. It may be possible that some of the members of the Dubuque Battery are still living and maybe they have talked of this little incident for all the writer knows.


Robert S. Groves was born November 23, 1843 and died 1912 in Philadelphia, PA. He enlisted in St Louis to serve with the Union Army on 19 November 1861 and was discharged in St Louis, MO on 18 November 1864. His discharge states: he was 5'7" blue eyes , brown hair. His photo, shown at the top of this page, was taken c1863.

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