Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Confederate Encampment at Cross Hollow, Benton County

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Confederate Encampment at Cross Hollow, Benton County

Article excerpt

THE SCIENTIFIC INVESTIGATION OF AMERICAN BATTLEFIELDS and military camps is a relatively recent endeavor for professional archaeologists, at least compared to the study of other types of historical sites. Such studies have yielded a phenomenal amount of detailed information not contained in the archival record. Given how thoroughly the documentary record has been mined by historians, the archaeology of Civil War sites may be the primary source of further information about well-known battlefields and encampments. It also offers an opportunity to learn about past conflicts without relying exclusively on the accounts or reminiscences of the participants, which can be shaded by the stress of war. For example, in Arkansas, troop movements and battlefield lines at Prairie Grove and Pea Ridge have been more precisely located by analyzing the distribution of artillery ordnance.1

Unfortunately, for countless encampments, skirmish sites, and minor battlefields, time may be running out for archaeologists. Every year many sites are damaged or destroyed by development, relic hunters' unsystematic and ill-informed excavations, or, in some cases, both. What is lost-although relic hunters often claim that they are "saving the past" by digging these threatened sites-is a large part of Civil War history. Relic hunting, the goal of which is to find valuable or rare artifacts, is a far cry from archaeology, where the goal is to learn something new about the past by careful excavation, mapping, and thorough documentation of all recovered materials.

Since 1999, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville Research Station of the Arkansas Archeological Survey has been conducting an archaeological resources survey of Cross Hollow, an area in Northwest Arkansas extending for two miles from the intersection of Old Wire Road and Cross Hollows Road east to Monte Ne on Beaver Lake in Benton County. Over the years, development has affected elements of the Civil War landscape at Cross Hollow. Examples include the early twentieth-century lime-works known as Limedale, Coin Harvey's Monte Ne Railroad, and the impoundment of White River to create Beaver Lake. A number of Civil War features still remain intact, but the future of the historic landscape of Cross Hollow is uncertain. Situated between Lowell and Rogers, in an area of immense population growth and a consequent need for residential housing, it seems inevitable that the bucolic rural landscape will become suburban. Cross Hollow is therefore considered one of the most significant and threatened Civil War sites in Arkansas.2

In their seminal book on the battle of Pea Ridge, William Shea and Earl Hess note the significance of Cross Hollow in events leading up to this great battle in March 1862. In fact, it is mentioned a total of eighty-eight times in the official military records of the Civil War.3 Why was this crossroads strategically significant and how did it come to play such a role early in the war? The Confederate hierarchy needed a base of operations in Arkansas after the campaign in the summer of 1861 that culminated in the Rebel victory at the battle of Wilson's Creek. While Sterling Price's militia tentatively held Union forces at bay in southwest Missouri, Confederates realized they could not afford to lose Arkansas, with its plentiful food and forage resources so necessary to support a large army. Establishing a winter quarters safely inside the Confederacy but not too far from the Missouri line seemed to be imperative to Confederate success in the west. Cross Hollow fit these criteria in that it was only eighteen miles from Missouri, located at east-west crossroads, and also along Telegraph Road, the major north-south route from Fayetteville to Springfield, Missouri. In addition, there were two mills, a number of large springs, and adequate forage to support large numbers of troops. Viewed from a military perspective, Cross Hollow had another advantage for its defenders: at its intersection, Telegraph Road transects a deeply dissected ravine or hollow. …

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