Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign
Simpson, Brooks D., The Arkansas Historical Quarterly
Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign. By William L. Shea. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009. Pp. x, 358. Preface, maps, illustrations, epilogue, appendix, notes, bibliography, index. $35.00.)
Military accounts of the American Civil War traditionally give short shrift to operations in the trans-Mississippi West. To the general reader, the campaigns seem as exotic as they are unfamiliar, with comparatively small forces moving over larger expanses of terrain than one encounters in more well-studied areas. That observation should come as no surprise to specialists in the field, who have in the last several decades added much to our understanding of what went on west of the Mississippi and why it was important. Among those scholars who have led the way in this endeavor is William L. Shea. In the past, he has collaborated with other authors on studies of Pea Ridge and Vicksburg as well as a battlefield guide to several trans-Mississippi battlefields. Now he returns to the site of one of those battles, Prairie Grove, located southwest of Fayetteville, Arkansas, along the very same route that one follows to visit the battlefields of Pea Ridge and Wilson's Creek. Although Prairie Grove may not be as well known, Shea's study reminds us that momentous events hung on the outcome, and it proved to have more significant long-term results than some of the better- known battles that soon followed, including Fredericksburg and Stones River.
For much of 1862, while Union forces occupied eastern Missouri, they enjoyed far less success in the western part of the state, and they had not been able to move far into Arkansas, largely because of their failure to exploit their triumph at Pea Ridge to lasting advantage. That they were unable to do so, Shea reminds us, was largely due to the generalship of Thomas C. Hindman, who took charge of the disorganized and defeated Confederates, refashioned a fighting command, and set out to bring the Yankees to battle once more. Hindman successfully countered Union advances in northern Arkansas, stemmed demoralization among the Confederate population, and moved north into Missouri before being turned back at Newtonia. Undeterred by that setback, Hindman continued to contest Union operations in Northwest Arkansas. …