CHAPTER 6, ELKHORN TAVERN, second day
Victory Turned Sour
Mar. 8th, 1862. At daybreak we were ordered forward with our battery. After going about four hundred yards, came to an open field with low thick bushes bordering the edges. This time I found our Mo. boys in line of battle, lying down and fronting the large field in their front; a rail fence had once enclosed those fields, but it had been used for firewood by the soldiers and the hedges of undergrowth had grown up around the fence. I noticed that the open space had a considerable ridge running horizontal to the bushes and timber, and that the enemies line of battle was on that ridge facing us. Their batteries were in view, just over the ridge, and that they were shielded by this ridge itself, which seemed to be a splendid position.
Capt. Wade was ordered to move along behind our line of battle through the woods which we were in and take a position in the edge of the field, just by the right of the woods. As we moved off we passed Capt. Clark’s battery, in position and ready for action. Capt. Clark seemed to be a boy of twenty years, with a smooth face and happy and gay, as he always was; his men just idolized him. He did look so jolly and happy that morning, with one leg thrown over the pummel of his saddle, laughing and joking with his friends in my battery as we passed.
Immediately after passing the battery, the enemy opened fire, from several batteries, from the ridge in our front; Capt. Clark’s battery replied. We being in the woods, and the limbs and trees began to fall thick and fast; we tried to get out and go into position, so as to aid Capt. Clark in the unequal contest. The shells came by the dozen at a time, and soon every road and way out of that strip of timber was closed by the fallen trees, things got worse every minute, our horses were being killed on every gun, and our men worked hard and faithfully in unharnessing dead horses and rolling them out of the way. The two wheel horses on my gun, driven by Jim Goddard, were killed and Sargent Murphy, Jim Goddard, Johnny Wharton and myself were the only ones of my gun we could find to help do anything. We four had to unharness and roll the two big horses out of the way and put the swing team in their place and work our way out of that timber and I can say, we did wonders in bringing things to pass. I cannot say where the other six or eight boys that belonged to my gun, were at that time, but know they were distressingly absent at that trying moment of need, a polling timber off of our guns and caissons and trying to make a road by removing the limbs from out of the way. We managed to go back the way we came, after losing about thirteen horses and several men. We were ordered to the rear and moved back to the place where we had spent the night without firing a shot. In moving back we passed Capt. Clark’s battery again, two of his guns were still firing, the others were disabled. The brave, gallant Captain was slain, and many of his men. His loss was deeply felt and mourned by the whole Missouri army.
We remained in that place, which was within a few yards of Elkhorn Tavern which was the only hospital. It was but a few minutes before we got orders to continue our backward move, and in so doing, took the wrong road, which led us far away from the main army, and left us exposed to capture, for several days; Capt. Wade piloted us around and back to the army, however, without loss.
Shortly after the battery left the field, the enemy made an advance with their infantry, and attempted to cut their way through Gen. Price’s army of Missouri troops, and open a way for their retreat. They were met by our line and soon driven back to their line on the ridge. It would now seem our time to advance and capture the whole command, as they had made their last effort and failed, but strange to say Gen. Vandorn ordered a retreat, and had old Gen. Price to move away from a defeated enemy, that were ready to surrender on demand, and leave all the fruits of a great victory behind; without a just cause. If we had taken posession of the fruits of that victory, the whole map of the war would have been changed. Vandorn and his army would have had an open road to St. Louis. It meant a hundred thousand Missourians for the Confederate army and permanent possession of that state, south of the Missouri river; it meant war material enough to equip twenty-five thousand soldiers, as fast as they enlisted, and it is believed that number would have joined Price’s army in thirty days; if he could have advanced and taken possession of the Capital.
In the last charge we captured a colonel and several other officers of lower rank, and some private soldiers. As they marched along with us from day to day, the Colonel and the others laughed and expressed their astonishment at our army running away from the field of victory and all of its great and valuable fruits. The Colonel told us that, that was their last effort to open a way of retreat, and if that failed they were ready to surrender, but that they had intended to burn their baggage train. Price and all of the Missouri soldiers and officers were mad at the unaccountable weakness of Gen. Vandorn, if not real cowardice. No pen can express the feelings of these Missourians, at this uncalled for movement, for they had suffered untold misery, given up home and their loved ones, had their property destroyed and appropiated to the use of the invader, without compensation, because the owners dared to think for themselves, and defended the state in upholding the rights guarenteed to her and to all the states, by the Constitution of the Federal Government.
Yes, they had been driven from their homes, carrying only their guns with them, leaving loved ones, and all else, to the mercy of an angry invader, who were devoid of mercy or concience, in most cases they were known as the Missouri Home Guard. What a terrible travesty on a name. In 1861-2 they were generally organizing and lurking in every neighborhood, and meeting in squads at night and go from house to house, doing their felonous and murderous work, to the helpless inmates because they believed the South was fighting for her just rights, and now when the hour for which they had prayed and suffered, for the redemption of their state and homes had come, by the great victory of Elk Horn; to be ordered to leave the golden opportunity alone, and turn our backs upon our state and home with all its sacred ties, and leave them to insult and shame unspeakable; it was too much for the Missourians, and they wept, from the highest to the lowest in rank, and were compelled to say many hard things about their leader, Gen. Vandorn.
But we were soldiers, and had to obey even when we saw no excuse for such a course, as we had plenty of ammunition; notwithstanding Gen. Vandorn’s assertion to the contrary. My battery had at least twenty rounds to a gun, and we had fired more than any battery during the battle. By this move, our brave Arkansas boys were also called upon to give up most of their homes and state. How sad, how sad.
Gen. Vandorn places our losses at six hundred and we received and carried away, for the sacrifice of the six hundred; three hundred prisoners, four cannons and three wagons, and gave back to his helpless enemy; the state and homes and loved ones of the six hundred, to possess, mistreat, and misuse, and the mercy and seared concience of the so called “Home Guards,” may dictate. We will say no more of the failure of Gen. Vandorn to reap the fruits of this easy victory; and commit our loed ones to the mercy of a merciful God and pray that he may be as He has said He will be, “A Father to the fatherless, and a husband to the widow.”
Well in leaving the battlefield, I suppose Capt. Wade was instructed or at least, as I have stated, we took the wrong road and were three days in joining the main army. But as our enemy was whipped and willing to surrender to us, he could not believe we were running away from our victory, so stood on the defensive and made no persuit, until fully convinced of that very fact, and then it was too l ate to persue; if indeed it would be advisable, at any time to persue a victorious army.
Our road soon led down a rocky hollow, very much like the one on which we entered the battlefield, and we moved up in a trot. I noticed one of the sacks of sugar tied on to the caisson ahead, was partly untied at the mouth and the sugar was pouring out, and sweetening the rocky road for a mile, to the amusement of us boys who were noticing it.
Well after traveling some four of six miles, over a rough road and coming out of a rocky valley into an opening, which was a level space containing about fifty acres, we noticed on the opposite side along the edge of the woods, a body of men, some six hundred, with their flag floating at their head, and as we drew near the officer in command, met Capt. Wade and after a minute conversation, our battery moved past the line and took position immediately to the right, and quietly awaited developments. A few stragglers were coming down the road in our front, in a walk, there was three or four of them on horse-back, and about the same time, about half a dozen shots from small arms were heard up the road in the hills in our front, they appeared to me to be on the same road we had just traveled. I have never heard what caused the firing, as no enemy came into view.
Among the few men on horseback, was a horseman coming at a rapid gate, riding a fine looking chestnut sorrel horse, with light tail and mane; passing some thirty yards in front of my battery, in a diagonal line for the head of the column. We all had a good look at him; he was a stranger to us all, was a large fine looking man, red complexion, fine mustache and hair of the same color. He was dressed in Confederate grey, with a fine red silk sash bordered with gold fringe, tied around his waist, high top patent leather boots with spurs that seemed to be gold, his black hat pinned up on one side, with a start and decorated with a large white ostrich feather, his collar band showed that he was either a major general or a brigadier. He seemed to be very much excited, looked neither to right or left, but made straight for the officer in command, at the head of the column near the ensign. As soon as he passed us, some one said it was Gen. Albert Pike, and it was soon repeated by all. When he got within a few yards of the officer in command and just opposite the flag, he stopped his horse for half a minute and gave some command in a loud voice. I could not hear what he said, but was told by those who did hear, that he said, “disperse, and take to the woods, and save yourselves, or you will be captured in a few minutes.” Some say that he said, “throw down your arms and disperse.” Then he continued his flight down the road and disappeared from view. This was the first and last time I ever saw Gen. Albert Pike. He passed out of our great war history after the Elk Horn affair. I am told that he disbanded all of his Indians and told them to take to the bushes and we know that the Indians as soldiers, like their leader were never heard of any more during the war.
Now as the soldiers to whom he gave that uncalled for command, they were a fine looking body of men, dressed in uniform, and they had the most beautiful flag I ever saw. It was our new battle flag, lately adopted by our Confederate Congress; a red field with bars and stars. This one was made of the finest red silk, blue silk cross, with white satin stars, bordered with gold fringe and gold tassels, and the staff was mounted with a bronze spear, and across the face of the flag was written in gold letters; “Rector’s 17th Arkansas Regiment.” They were doubtless as true and as brave a body of men, as we had in the Confederate service, but officers and men were green as to military tactics, and thought they had to obey any command given by superior officers, and they without thinking obeyed. Later on in the war, these same men would have treated with contempt, such a disgraceful order.
Well, as soon as the order was given, the General executed it himself, by continueing his flight, and that fiine looking body of men also obeyed, many throwing down their arms, and despersed without any semblance of order. I have never heard whether any part of the organization ever got together again or not. Their beautiful flag, was thrown down upon the ground and abandoned by its bearer and officers. How strange such language sounds to me; throw down arms and flag and abandon them when no enemy was in sight, at the command of a man who doubtless, from some cause was not responsible for his conduct at the time. Capt. Wade, Lieut. Farrington, Walsh, Kearney and Harris, and every man in my battery, were eye witnesses of the scene. We were astonished and dumbfounded as it was so sudden and unexpected. I know the men acted without thinking, if they could have given the order a second thought they would have scorned it with contempt, to do the thing they realy did do. The command applied to our battery as well as to the infantry, but we made no move to obey, but remained quietly in position, with our battery flag floating in the breeze.
Order was given to limber up and file to the left and get back into the road, and in doing so we had to pass close to the beautiful flag, above described; alone and deserted. Our officers passed by it, but we privates would not leave it thus, the brave young Henry Hughs, whom I thought to be Frank Dey, was the first one of our boys to it, and grabbed it up, and raised it aloft, for an instant, and then ran and jumped back upon his gun, and with some assistance, ripped it from its lovely staff and placed it in his bosom. The staff I think was left behind. So this beautiful emblem of State Rights and Southern Independence, for which the South was fighting, was saved from falling into the hands of the enemy, by the First Missouri Battery of C.S.V., commanded by Capt. Wm. Wade. We know that the pure, patriotic Southern women, who labored so faithfully and bravely, in making that flag, will never cease to thank us for saving it from capture. For after making great sacrifice to get the material and the hours of hard work, in stitching the stars by hand, on to the bars, and the bars on to the red field; then to have it captured and in such a manner, would have been sorrow unbearable; yes, yes, it was the private Missouri soldiers, of Wade’s Battery, that saved the beautiful Battle Flag of the 17th Arkansas Regiment, commanded by Col. Frank Rector, abandoned without cause at the command of Gen. Albert Pike, on the retreat. See Note 1
- 1. I have found no corroboraton of this account.