Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Yankee Cavalryman Views the Battle of Prairie Grove

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

A Yankee Cavalryman Views the Battle of Prairie Grove

Article excerpt

The battle of Prairie Grove, December 7, 1862, has commanded the attention of many writers. As one of the most sanguinary conflicts in the Trans-Mississippi during the Civil War, it has fascinated military scholars. As an event greatly affecting the political, economic, and military situation in Arkansas and Missouri during 1863, it has been closely studied by other historians. It has even figured as the locale for romantic fiction.

But all such writing has been, for the most part, largely secondhand. The primary recountings of the engagement too often are reminiscences penned many years after the battle when memories were dim and confused, or are meager jottings of trivial details with little value. The account of the battle and its aftermath found in the journal of Lt. Charles DeWolf, Seventh Missouri Volunteer Cavalry, U.S.A., is an exception. It is unusual in several respects. In the first place, it is an on-the-spot account. Each day's entry in the journal was carefully written at the close ofthat day or on the morning immediately following. It is the work of an articulate man, a rural schoolteacher fairly well trained for his day and with a feeling for historical detail. It is the product of a sensitive man, dedicated to a cause he thought right. In his account of Prairie Grove, he conveys "the splendors and horrors of a battlefield."

Lt. Charles W. DeWolf was born in Lima, New York, February 2, 1834, and while still a young man moved to Iowa. By 1858, he had found a position in a rural school in Saline County, Missouri. On May 20, 1859, he married Elizabeth Wesley Newton of Keokuk, Iowa, the beloved Libbie of his journal. With the outbreak of the Civil War, DeWolf answered Abraham Lincoln's call for volunteers. He joined the newly organized Black Hawk Cavalry as chief bugler. This organization was later consolidated with several unattached companies and became the Seventh Missouri Cavalry Volunteers. At the time of the battle of Prairie Grove, this regiment was part of the First Brigade, Second Division, Army of the Frontier. DeWolf rose from private in Company E to first lieutenant and was honorably discharged for physical disability on March 12, 1864.

After the war, he moved to Lawrence, Kansas, and from there to Garnett, Kansas, where he died March 23, 1927. Always interested in the battle of Prairie Grove, DeWolf was instrumental in engineering the reunion of Prairie Grove survivors on the occasion of its forty-fourth anniversary. This reunion, held on December 7, 1906, was one of the most successful and gained a great deal of publicity in midwestern and southern newspapers.

The journal of Lieutenant De Wolf is written in fine script in a notebook eight by thirteen inches containing forty-eight leaves (ninety-six pages). It covers a period from December 1, 1 862, through May 29, 1863, and was obviously one of a series of such notebooks. The other books, in all probability, have been destroyed. The text appears here largely as it does in the manuscript. Spelling and grammar have not been corrected. Punctuation has been added only where it was thought necessary for clarity. Paragraphs have been introduced in each entry. Words omitted in the original have been inserted in brackets.

Lieutenant DeWolf begins his account of the battle of Prairie Grove with the movement of Gen. Francis J. Herron 's two Federal divisions to meet Gen. Thomas C. Hindman's Confederates as they advance north from Van Buren. DeWolf was determined not to be left behind although he had been suffering from an acute attack of dysentery.

Dec. 3rd 1862

Marching orders were received this afternoon to move at 2 o'clock tomorrow morning. I am at a loss what to do but will try and keep along rather than be sent back to Springfield. Had my things all packed for a move. Keeping still myself so I might be fresh for the ride.

December 4th 1862

This starting at 2 o'clock in the morning is a beautiful thing. …

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