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Laurinda Joenks

Staff writer

Federal trenches

Federal troops under the command of Brig. Gen. Samuel Curtis dug trenches along Little Sugar Creek. These were the only features built as part of the military battle, but they were not used during the battle. Curtis anticipated that Confederate troops, under the direction of Maj. General Van Dorn, would attack him from the south. But the presence of the trenches led Van Dorn to divide his troops. Some came from the north following Telegraph Road, and others came from the west, attacking Leetown.

In deciding on this tactic, Van Dorn made a mistake. Sending his troops on ahead, he left the ammunition wagons behind. When the first day of fighting was over, Curtis and his troops were able to resupply themselves.


Leetown hamlet was founded in 1840 by John W. Lee, a farmer from Tennessee. During the battle at Leetown, wounded from both sides were brought here, where buildings and tents served as hospitals.

Elkhorn Tavern

William Ruddick and his son-in-law Samuel Burks built the tavern between 1833 to 1840 as a single family dwelling. Within a few years, the family built a tannery nearby. The tavern served travelers on Telegraph Road before the war came to Arkansas.

Union Gen. Curtis used the tavern as part of his supply base, until Confederates caputured and occupied it in the early afternoon of March 7. They turned it into a field hospital, caring for both Union and Confederate wounded. Union troops retook the tavern March 8. The Federals used the tavern as a military telegraph station until Confederate guerillas burned it in 1863.

Ford’s Field

Union troops advanced from Leetown hamlet to clash with Confederates along Ford Road on the morning of March 8. Area residents continued to use the road, and Arkansas Highway 72 eventually took over part of the route. In the park, it is a trace used as part of the trail system.

probably G.W. Ford, later sold to J. Ruddick

Source: Pea Ridge National Military Park

Off the beaten path of the park tour road, beyond the preserved battlefields, behind the brush and brambles of a summer woodland, Pea Ridge National Military Park includes many features unseen by most guests. They tell a story not only of the battle, but of life in the Ozarks before and after those fateful March days in 1862, when Federal forces during the Civil War won control of Missouri for the Union.

Near the Federal trenches along Little Sugar Creek, a land anomaly sits visible from the road.

"It was believed to be an old road bed, or maybe a bridge across the creek," said Kevin Eads, the park's superintendent. "But the recent inventory made us think and rethink its use, and we discovered it wasn't an old roadbed after all."

When Eads and others crawled into the space a few years ago, they discovered it was massive, with double bricks, hewn logs purposefully placed and even wagon axles (now rusted through) added as supporting structures.

"We may never know for sure," Eads said, "but it looks similar to pictures of known ice houses.

"Even though it was built later than the early 1900s, it's still important to know it's here. Even though it's not battle-related, it's still history, and we'll still manage it.

"And it's cool. It's really cool," the history buff said.

Time passages

A few years ago, park officials released several reports as part of the park's management plan, with alternatives for preservation, conservation and park use. The report included not only man-made structures but topography, views and vistas.

National Park Service officials are working to identify and document sights of human habitation that lie above ground level at the park -- in excess of 100 different features, Eads said. Part of the process will include updating the information of structures listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"They transcend time," Eads said of the park's "bonus" features, with some constructed before the battle and some after.

"We know what was here for the battle, but we don't know what else was on the landscape," Eads continued. "Was it a family home? Was it battle-related? How has the landscape changed over time?"

"We realized there has never been a survey overlaying the deeds of ownership with a found feature, such as a well," said Juile McGilvray, a landscape historian and archaeologist based in Omaha, Neb., with the National Parks Service. She spent time at the park, documenting known structures of the park. "If we can determine the general time it was built, we might be able to figure out who it belonged to."

Not only did the region see the height of the Civil War, but Reconstruction, the Depression and World War II also affected how people in northwest Arkansas lived. The Trail of Tears, the Butterfield (Overland Mail) stagecoach route and the telegraph lines before the war crossed through land now part of the park, too.

"Twenty-seven thousand (27,000) troops came here on that road in February and went back in March," Eads said.

"One piece of the history of the place is the battle," McGilvray said. "But what about the families that lived there before and after the war? We know a lot of people left before the battle -- as was typical in many places -- but what about the people who still lived there through the battle? And how were their families changed?

"There were a lot of houses out there from the 1880s to the 1920s," she continued. "There was a lot of growth in the 1900s -- maybe there was land speculation. "The area was full of farms, and the settlers might have cleared the land."

Park officials can confirm many features throughout the park thanks to first-hand accounts left by settlers. And they have found most identified on maps surveyed by noted historian Edwin Bearss in the 1950s and 1960s.

Mysteries remain

Nearly a decade ago, park officials discovered a native stone retaining wall, built into a mountain, running about 100 yards following the stream bed of Lee Creek. A lower wall crosses the creek. The wall terminates at a spring cistern, and dates probably to the 1920s or 1930s.

"We don't know anything about it, but members of the older generations might have the clue," Eads said. He imagined the hillside behind it cleared, yet filled with gardens and animals. A partial foundation on the hill might have been a school, he added.

And he wondered, if settler children caused trouble, would their punishment include picking up rocks for the fence line?

Eads finds this wall the most interesting of the hidden features in the park.

"Just because it's so substantial," he said. "The ingenuity it took for somebody to built it, the amount of work it took to build it. It was done by hand. They cut the bank and filled in behind it, so its part of the natural features. In a later time, water was piped to a house on the hill."

"The park's at least 50 years old. (The wall) has been here a long time. It's held up with no upkeep ... through floods.

"There are things like this all over the park," he continued. "But you see it, and you don't have time to stop and think about it."

At the top of the park's Elkhorn Mountain, two adjacent wells were found just three or four years ago. An early park ranger likely found the wells and fenced them, but did not document them, Eads noted.

The water in them sits just 2 or 3 feet below the ground surface.

"And I've never seem them dry," Eads said. "They predate the park."

Near the wells, lie the foundations of several structures. Eads pointed out bunches of daffodils growing in a straight line, perhaps lining a walkway. Such plantings can extend the boundaries of a structure and account for its use as a homestead, he said.

Park officials don't share the locations of most features because of their preservation efforts.

New discoveries

Pea Ridge National Battlefield celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2016, and the on-going goal of the National Parks Service is to restore the land to its condition on March 6-8, 1862. Forest land might have covered what today is an open field, McGilvray explained.

"It's not only the pieces (of found structures)," McGilvray said, "but how do they relate to the physical area and what's left to take care of. The small archaeology does start to tell the story comprehensively."

Of the 4,300-acre park, the battle action centered around the hamlet of Leetown and Elkhorn Tavern, according to the park's website. But members of both armies "occupied private structures and farmers' fields and woodlots," reads the Cultural Landscape Report and Environmental Assessment of the park written in 2014. "Agricultural fields were converted to battlefields as they provided clear fields of fire for artillery. Road systems were used for movement of cavalry, artillery and wagons full of ammunition. Fence lines became shelters for fighting soldiers."

Among the features documented are cemeteries at Ford's (a local farmer's) Field and the Leetown settlement, Eads said. The Ford cemetery is fenced, and two-thirds of the known burials are visible with their sandstone markers, he said. Other sites throughout the park include foundations of homes, a site park historians think was a school and a multitude of wells, Eads said. A partial log cabin has been found, and around Leetown, several trees that survived the battle survive today.

The park service staff follows two masters in park planning. One is features -- such as roads and fences -- that help visitors enjoy the park.

"But why is the park here?" Eads asked. "Because an important Civil War battle was fought here. We are trying to restore the landscape to its condition at battle time, and still maintain access to visitors."

"One thing that's reinforced to me time and time again is that (the early settlers) were just as smart as we are -- maybe smarter," Eads said. "It's so creative what they did without technology.

"It's really neat to go find stuff and theorize," he continued.

"We're constantly learning about the place as we take care of them," McGilvray said. "We learn more everyday."

Community on 06/13/2018

Print Headline: Hidden History researched

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