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Pea Ridge Diary

Company E of the Thirty-Seventh Illinois Infantry was mostly raised around Mendota, a small community that lies in north central Illinois, between Peoria and Chicago. The regiment, known as the Fremont Rifles, was organized in Chicago on September 18, 1861, to serve for three years. The company was commanded by Captain Phineas B. Rust. Among the men in Captain Rust's Company E was Edward M. Kelly (Kelley on the Thirty-Seventh's roster). According to Kelly's diary, this was not his first attempt to join, but as he was deemed too young "and being the only son of a widowed mother," Allen had failed to catch on with the Twelfth Illinois prior to being accepted in the Thirty-Seventh. While serving with the Thirty-Seventh, Kelly kept a diary. Here we have his diary entries during the Pea Ridge timeframe, which I have slightly edited and added some annotation. I wish to thank David Canright for sharing the diary with me.

February 17 - Crossed the state line into Arkansas to the tune of Dixie.[1] Marched eighteen miles and camped at Sugar Creek. The Rebs under Col. Martin ambushed our advance just before dark, killing ten and wounding eighteen, but they were speedily routed as soon as we came up. There was some desperate fighting for a short time.[2]

February 18 - Did not march today. Pitched our tents for the first time in two weeks. Cavalry have done some skirmishing today.

February 19 - Still in camp, very much rested.

February 20 - Marched twelve miles and camped at Osage Springs near Bentonville. We found a pile of percussion shells on the prairie that the Rebs had left for some reason. One of the men not know­ing what it was picked one up and threw it back in the pile but luckily the percussion end did not strike so no damage was done. After that a guard was placed over them until we got passed.

February 21 - Infantry in camp all day. Cavalry scouting.

February 22 - Struck tents this morning and started as though we were on a long march but only moved camp five miles.

February 28 - Have been lying in camp all week. There seems to be a delay for some reason I do not understand. Wonder if this is going to be another farce like our Springfield march.

March 1, 1862 - Started north again today. Marched twelve miles and camped on Sugar Creek.

March 2 - Men at work today building breast works along the bluff overlooking the Creek and valley.

March 3 - Still working on breastworks. Gen. Sigal [sic] is still down near Bentonville.[3] He did not come back to Sugar Creek with his command when Gen. Curtis came.[4]

March 4 - Have heard a good deal about a large cave about three miles from here. A party of us went out today to visit it. It is a monster and will probably at some future time be quite a resort for sight seers. Was in there about two hours and did not see all of it then.[5]

March 5 - A private soldier belonging to the 59th Illinois was drumm­ed out of the U.S. service for theft today. It is the first time I ever witnessed the service. It did not seem to trouble him much as he marched cooly along beating time with a corn stalk.[6]

March 6 - Out with a detail cutting down trees and blocking up the road that runs to Fayettesville. There has been heavy cannonading south of us that grows louder and louder. When we got back to the Regiment we learned that Gen. Sigal had been surrounded at Bentonville but had cut his way through and fought his way back to the main army. He brought in some prisoners. I asked one of them how many Rebs were coming up and he said, "Oh, there's enough of them." We had a good deal of trouble finding the Regiment as they had moved the camp up to Pea Ridge. It looks now like a sure thing that we will have a battle tomorrow. The prisoners say that Gen. Price has been reinforced by Gen. McCullough and his Texas Rangers and by Albert Pike and all the Indians in the Indian Territory.[7] They claim that he has twenty thousand men.

The Thirty-Seventh's position on March 7th.

March 7 - I was sent out early with a detail to work on the breast works. Soon we heard artillery firing in the rear. The officer in command told us to report to our regiment at once. Had trouble finding them as when I got back where I left them, I found the tents all struck and no sign of the regiment. I met an officer who directed me, and I joined them just as they were marching onto the battlefield. A few minutes later we were in the thickest of the fight. There was charge and counter charge until dark. Then we lay on our arms on the battlefield without fires, so close [to] the enemy we could hear each other speak. All seemed anxious and uncertain about tomorrow. Officers and orderlies hurrying back and forth. In our company we have Lieut. Powers and John Moore mortally wounded; Wm. Nestin, Isiah Griffin, Geo. Glass killed; John Power, John Agler, Horace Smith, Mike Hornbeck wounded.[8] Our Major Black was wounded, too.[9]

Location of the Thirty-Seventh on March 8th

March 8 - Our regiment took a position along a rail fence to support Capt. Davison's [sic] Peoria Battery who opened the fight this morning.[10] They fired one or two shots when they were briskly answered by the Rebs. The firing was very heavy but as the Infantry could not fire back it was very tedious. When the Rebel cannon balls commenced to knock the top rails off the fence we were ordered to fall back across a little field in our rear. We fell back and formed a line in the timber at the edge of the timber. In a little while the whole line commenced to move forward. At first the fire, both cannon and musketry[,] was very hot but began to slack up and by noon the Rebs were in full retreat, leaving killed and wounded on the field. On counting up, we find our regiment has 118 killed, wounded and missing. The Cavalry have gone after the Rebs and have sent back some February prisoners already.

March 9, Sunday. - This morning while we were cleaning up our guns we heard the report of a cannon, The bugles sounded, the long roll beat, the whole command out in line. The alarm was caused by a body of Rebs coming in under a flag of truce to get permission to bury their dead. Yesterday during the fight, the woods caught fire and several of the dead and some of the badly wounded burned. Took a walk over the battle field with Tom Payne.[11] Every building we could find was filled with wounded Rebels and the woods are full of dead and a good many wounded who have not been cared for yet. It rained very hard last night, and this morning and it was a hard sight to see so many dead lying on the ground. The rain had beaten in their faces and driven their hair all straight back into the ground. In one case we found a pig had eaten his way clear up to his eyes in a bullet hole in a dead man's side. When I went to drive him away, he showed fight and charged on me. I was obliged to kill the little beast in order to put an end to his unholy feast. After I got back to camp [I] found that several of the men had had the same experience. Nearly all had seen dead men more or less eaten by hogs. Several of the Union soldiers were found by the burial parties to have been scalped and a great many who seemed to have been brained after they were wounded. Whether it was done by white men or Indians we cannot tell. Gen. Curtis would not believe it when it was first reported to him. He sent some of his staff officers with one of the burial parties and had some of the bodies taken up so as to be satisfied of the truth. We find out by the prisoners that the Rebels had at least 25,000 men during the fight on Friday. They lost Gen. McCullough, MacIntosh [sic], Slack, and Reeves.[12] The two first named were killed in front of our brigade. We have taken 1,000 prisoners and some guns, [and] lost three guns. Lieut. Powers died of his wound today.

March 10 - Moved the camp eight miles south of the battlefield. The cavalry have all returned bringing [in] a few more prisoners.


[1] While Dixie is mostly recognized as the Confederacy’s anthem, the song was possibly written by Ohioan Daniel D. Emmett who was the son of an abolitionist. The song might have been taught to Emmett by Benjamin and Lewis Snowden, free blacks who lived in Emmett’s hometown of Mount Vernon, Ohio. The Snowden family were noted musicians. Regardless of the origin, the song was intended as jibe towards Southerners, making its debut at a minstrel show in New York City. [2] The Confederates were commanded by Colonel Louis Hébert at this encounter known variably as the Battle of Dunigan’s Farm or the Action at Little Sugar Creek. Federal casualties are generally accepted as thirteen killed and twenty wounded, while Union sources claim that twenty-six Confederates were left on the field. [3] Baden native Brigadier General Franz Sigel. For more on the controversial Sigel see Stephen D. Engle’s The Yankee Dutchman: The Life of Franz Sigel. University of Arkansas Press, 1993. For a in depth look at Sigel’s performance at New Market, see David A. Powell’s Union Command Failure in the Shenandoah: Major General Franz Sigel and the War in the Valley of Virginia, May 1864. Savas Beatie, 2019. [4] New York native and later Ohio and Iowa resident Samuel R. Curtis, who commanded the Federal Army of the Southwest. A recent biography of Curtis has been published (William L. Shea’s Union General: Samuel Ryan Curtis and Victory in the West. Potomac Books, 2023). [5] There are several cave complexes in northwest Arkansas, making it difficult to pinpoint the location Allen describes.

[6] I believe this to be Charles W. Gordon of Company C. The roster of the Fifty-Ninth shows him dishonorably discharged on March 6th. [7] Major General Sterling Price of Missouri, Brigadier General Benjamin McCullough of Texas, and Brigadier General Albert Pike of Arkansas. There are two biographies on Pike, both published in 1997. [8] First Lieutenant Orville R. Powers, privates John W. Moore, William H. Neisten, Isaiah Grawfin, George Gluss, John Powers, Horace W. Smith, and Michael Hornbeck. Pea Ridge was tough on Company E and the town of Mendota, Illinois. [9] Major John C. Black. Black had initially served in the Eleventh Indiana Infantry before being commissioned major of the Thirty-Seventh. He would receive the Medal of Honor for his efforts at Prairie Grove, gain a brevet brigadier general rank in 1865, and serve as the National Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of the Republic in 1903. [10] Battery A, Second Illinois Light Artillery, commanded by Captain Peter Davidson. [11] Corporal Thomas H. L. Payne. Payne would be awarded the Medal of Honor by being one of the first to lead his men into the enemy works at Fort Blakely, Alabama. [12] Brigadier General James M. McIntosh of Arkansas, who graduated last in the Class of 1849 from the United States Military Academy. Missourians Colonel William Y. Slack (mortally wounded) and Colonel Benjamin A. Rives (killed), both of the Missouri State Guard.

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David Foote
David Foote
3월 07일

Fighting along side the 37th Illinois was the 59th Illinois with a lot of boys from east central Illinois that had originally enlisted into the 9th Missouri. Their casualties at Pea Ridge numbered 13 dead and 15 wounded. But also of interest about the dishonorable of Charles Gordon of Company C on March 6, was another from the same company being discharge on March 19. A Wm Erens who enlisted from same town as Gordon.

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