Sunday, November 6, 2016

Plans made for dig at Pea Ridge's Leetown hamlet; analysis of artillery site continues

Foundations are all that remain in Leetown (NPS photo)

The few Leetown residents who stayed after the Battle of Pea Ridge didn’t stick around a whole lot longer. The 1881 building of a railroad line a dozen miles away in Rogers brought new opportunities and the end to this northwest Arkansas community.
Nature reclaimed the area that once held about 15 one-story, log-frame houses and a small store. Leetown was only a half mile from the pitched fighting of March 7, 1862. Homes were used for hospitals, woods and fields were filled with battle debris, and the stench of death permeated the air, according to the National Park Service.
The Arkansas Archeological Survey, a part of the University of Arkansas system, is in a four-year project examining up to nine areas in Pea Ridge National Military Park.
Carl Drexler, a battlefield archaeologist with the Survey, said the University of Arkansas Global Campus will host a multi-week field school at Leetown in summer 2017. The site contains some foundations. The hamlet witnessed a major part of the first day's fighting and was the site of a U.S. Army field hospital.
(NPS photo)

Two Confederate generals died near Leetown
 (above) during assaults after their units were separated during a flanking movement. The Confederates were forced to withdraw.
The Picket has published posts about spring 2016 excavations in Ruddick’s Field, a couple miles to the east of Leetown. Archaeologists recovered 540 artifacts – the largest a 6-pound solid artillery shot – from the cornfield and in wooded areas.
“These have all been analyzed, at least on a preliminary level, and plotted in mapping software,” Drexler said recently. “More analyses of the items, including what their locations can tell us about gun positions, troop movements, etc., are still in the pipeline.”
NPS' Alex Swift with piece of case shot or musket ball at Ruddick's Field.

One aim of the project is to ascertain, by analyzing artillery fragment locations, just where the guns were located, the distance from targets and perhaps even the trajectory of the shots. 
An artillery duel at Ruddick’s involving 40 Federal and 30 Rebel guns speaks to the psychological and morale toll of artillery. “The smoke and the explosion of the cannonballs created such an overwhelming assault on the senses that the cumulative effect … was often greater than just what the bodily destruction was,” Drexler said earlier this year.
About 3,000 of the Confederate Missouri State Guard charged a Union position late on March 7, 1862. Union canister and shells and infantry fire ripped through the Rebel lines in the cornfield. It was over in 15 minutes, the survivors limping back toward Elkhorn Tavern.
The March 6-9, 1862, Battle of Pea Ridge (Elkhorn Tavern) has been called by some historians “the Gettysburg of the West.”
Forces under Union Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis defeated the men of Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, whose leadership has been faulted by historians. On March 7, the Rebels controlled Elkhorn Tavern, but the failed attack at Ruddick’s Field presaged the next day, in which consolidated Federal troops made a counterattack, sweeping Van Dorn’s brigades from the field.
The Union won control of Missouri and weakened the Confederate hold in Arkansas.
Those taking part in next summer’s excavations at Leetown, which was established in the 1840s, know it was a humble community.
An Iowa surgeon wrote after the battle: "In all, the windows were few and very small, admitting little light and an insufficiency of air, even when the sash frames were entirely removed.....They contained but few of the ordinary domestic appliances, and were wholly wanting in the usual necessaries found in more settled regions."

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