Posts Tagged ‘Arkansas’

Pea Ridge, Ark.
Visited: August 31, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 243 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Site of the March 1862 Civil War battle that “saved Missouri for the Union”.

Peace Returns Again BEAUTY (3/10)
The concepts of “well-preserved” and “endangered” battlefields appear attached to every Civil War Site we visit. Here are the questions we have developed to understand these elusive definitions:

1) Is the battleground land, in its entirety, a part of the battlefield Park?
2) Do statues and monuments honoring the soldiers litter the battleground?
3) Are any modern structures (houses, restaurants, souvenir stands, lookout towers) visible from the battleground?
4) Have all structures within the battleground boundaries been restored to the 1860’s appearance.
5) Are there cannons everywhere? (Not really a criterion, but what is a Civil War Site without cannons?)

A perfectly preserved Civil War park would answer Yes, No, No, Yes and Yes. An “endangered park” would answer No, Yes or No, Yes, No and No.

The wonderfully well-preserved Pea Ridge NMP answers Y, N, N, Y and Y to our questions. We especially enjoyed the lack of widespread white granite monuments. The Park’s only two monuments stand nearby the restored Elkhorn Tavern. Some local advocates even want those monuments torn down, presumably to attain a perfect preservation score.

Is the Park any more beautiful just because it looks almost identical to its March 1862 appearance when, we might add, people died here? Not to us. Pea Ridge remains a humid rural Arkansas expanse surrounded by dense forest and inhabited by many white-tailed deer.

Find the Leg
The statement that the Union’s victory at Pea Ridge “saved them Missouri” is a little bit misleading. Firstly, it is unclear if, during the War, either the North or South wanted Missouri. After Pea Ridge, both armies abandoned the land and marched eastward. Secondly, the Union victory hardly swayed the complicated interests and beliefs of Missourians during the War. Their incomprehensible mixing and matching of Pro-slavery, anti-Union, pro-Union, anti-slavery would continue until the War ended; both the Union and Confederacy saw many Missouri volunteers.

The Missouri/Northern Arkansas theater of battle was a distant third priority for both armies (after the Eastern and Western theaters). Pea Ridge is interesting in that it was one of the Union’s earliest victories of the War, despite their distinct numbers advantage in all fights. By the time Pea Ridge happened, both Lincoln and Jeff Davis deemed Missouri to be an afterthought and were more than willing to see it descend into its own personal guerilla war.

CROWDS (6/10)
A woman with a thick Arkansas accent pulled Gab aside at the Leetown Battlefield overlook. “Hi honey. So aah you intahrested in this stuuff or you just tagging along?” Gab sheepishly said, “No, I like…” Michael interrupted her with a big laugh. “You can tell us the truth.” “OK,” Gab replied, “I don’t much care for the Civil War.” “Me neithah,” the woman revealed, “you should see the books mah husband reads. I couldn’t keep up with ‘im if I trahed. I feel for ya honey but just remembuh: you’ll be out a hiyah in no time.”

It is difficult to say if you will ever be near Pea Ridge NMP, but its rural northwestern Arkansas locale is more accessible than you might think. The Park is located along U.S. Route 62, about 11 miles east of Interstate 540, Exit 86 and the town of Rogers, Ark. Rogers is three miles south of Bentonville, home of Wal-Mart, and less than 20 mile north of Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas Razorbacks.

The darling artsy town of Eureka Springs, home of the famous Great Passion Play, is 25 miles east along Route 62. Country music jamboree capital Branson, Mo. is 80 circuitous miles to the east-northeast.

We are sick of giving perfect scores to Civil War bookstores but even the most cynical grader cannot argue with 30+ books on the Missouri/northern Arkansas field of battle, including at least six on Pea Ridge alone. We find interesting new titles at each Civil War bookstore that we either have glanced over or are stocked only where we are. Pea Ridge NMP’s cool titles include Pulitzer Prize winner Mary Chestnut’s Civil War; Now the Wolf Has Come: the Creek Nation in the Civil War; A Plantation Mistress on the Eve of Civil War and Black Confederates. Civil War buffs and historians must have their fill of reading material.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $3 per person, $5 per vehicle or free with the National Parks Pass.

Few other people in northern Arkansas chose to tour the Battlefield during our visit. It might have been the 100-degree midweek day coupled with high humidity or it could have been the Hurricane Katrina induced $0.50 a gallon gasoline price hike. Whichever it was, we had the Park, its two Visitor Center Rangers, a talkative but knowledgeable costumed volunteer posted at Elkhorn Tavern and his two friendly dogs all to ourselves.

 Elkhorn Inn
The only thing we remember about the Pea Ridge NMP learning experience is that Confederate General Van Dorn was such a poor leader that it is a wonder he was not commanding Union troops in the Eastern theater.

Too geeky an explanation? Prior to battle, Van Dorn hurriedly marched his men for three straight days through snow and sub freezing temperatures, openly questioning why his men couldn’t march as fast as he could ride. On the fourth day, he asked them to fight. The rest of our Battle of Pea Ridge learning, as well as a lesson on the Missouri/northern Arkansas theater came at the nearby Wilson’s Creek NB.

FUN (3/10)
If a Union Army General had won a game of checkers against a Confederate General, the federal government would have honored that location with a Civil War National Park Site. The outcome at Pea Ridge produced negligible, at best, historical impact. A visit here could be fun only to an obsessive completist. Heavens, we think we just described ourselves.

If you like Civil War Battlefields, this could be the best preserved of them all.

TOTAL 36/80


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near Gould, Ark.
Visited: August 29, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 240 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

They’re EverywhereWHAT IS IT?
Site of one of France’s earliest permanent New World settlements. For almost 200 years, from 1686 to 1863, the Arkansas Post was an important city but now nothing remains.

BEAUTY (5/10)
The Park is a murky peninsula, surrounded on its wide sides by the bayou, its tip pointing towards the Arkansas River. The sky shines a hazy grayish blue, reflecting the waters’ dark dingy tint. Trees grow in the water. Fields of lily pads float everywhere amidst lime green algae and yellow lotus flowers add an unseen color and a delicate beauty. Snowy Egrets fly above skulking alligators, multiple dragonfly species hover incessantly, mosquitoes swarm and yearling deer race through the ruins of an early Arkansas town.

It is hard to believe this abandoned bayou backwater could ever have been an important place, but for nearly two centuries, it was the center of European life in the Arkansas region. In 1686, the French built a fort, establishing a trading post and solidifying control of the Arkansas River. The River’s flooding, Chickasaw war parties and British raiders continually forced the fort to be moved.

In 1763, France cedes the region to the Spanish, who soon after establish a presence at Arkansas Post. British soldiers attack the Fort in 1783, during the American Revolution, because Spain has sided with the colonists. France regains the territory in 1800 and sells it to Thomas Jefferson as a part of the Louisiana Purchase. Arkansas Post becomes capital of the Arkansas Territory in 1819 and the Arkansas Gazette (still the State’s major newspaper) begins publication.

Six Flags Over ArkansasIn 1821, Little Rock becomes the capital, the paper moves and the population shrinks from 1830 to only 114. The town is all but dead. The penultimate nail comes in January 1863, during the Civil War, when Union gunboats destroy the Site’s newly built Fort and mercilessly shell the town. Nothing remains. Nature deals the final blow through erosion and the changing course of the Arkansas River. All that remains are alligators, deer, dragonflies, wild turkeys and lotus flowers.

CROWDS (6/10)
Just us. We wish we could have spotted some alligators. Maybe if the sky had not been overcast.

The N MEM is located in the bayou country of southeastern Arkansas, about 60 miles from Pine Bluff and 100 miles from Little Rock.

From Pine Bluff, take U.S. Route 65 southeast until the town of Gould. Wind your way through the back streets of this tiny town along Arkansas Route 212. Once you hit U.S. Rte. 165, turn north (left). In about 5 miles, turn east (right) onto Arkansas Rte. 169. Rte. 169 will lead you through the bayou and to the Park.

If you would prefer to stay on larger roads, continue on 65, past Gould, and to Dumas. From Dumas, take U.S. Rte. 165 for 15 miles until Ark. Rte. 169. Turn right and you will soon be there.

Bayou Country

The bookstore has a sparse, but well thought out and interesting selection of merchandise for sale. Jaw Harps, reprints of the two Harper’s Weekly’s that mention the Arkansas Post Civil War battle, reprints of the first issue of the Arkansas Gazette, a cute canned Alligator (stuffed animal in a can, not a meal) and ceramic mugs stamped with the fleur de lis. Cool books include an Arkansas traveler’s 1819 journal, a book on the Indian gun trade, Alan Taylor’s American Colonies and a history of the Arkansas Post written by a Park Service employee.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

One kind Ranger looked happy to see us; it was a dreary, rainy midweek day and few people were venturing to this bayou ghost town.

There are a few neat displays in the Museum and the film, while superficial and hokey, is watch-able. The Park holds no interesting secrets and no spellbinding historical revelations. The Site does an able job with its limited material. The Site provides a terrific bird checklist that even lists the specific areas of the Park to look for each bird.

FUN (3/10)
We would have had more fun of there were alligators. We cut our pleasant, but humid, walk around the Post Bayou Nature Trail short because the rain started to come down in droves. The thick trees were not going to provide a sturdy canopy for long. The old townsite was anticlimactic, consisting of only one or two ruins. The climate, ruins, scenery and colonial history reminded us of Georgia’s Fort Frederica NM. We did not have much fun there, either.

Photogenic ThreeWOULD WE RECOMMEND? (3/10)
Only if you have a thing for French colonial history. We have heard good things about the newly opened White River National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center located about 30 miles to the north in St. Charles. The White River NWR is close to the Cache River, the place where some ornithologists believe they found the ivory-billed woodpecker, an elusive bird species thought to have gone extinct. We had our binoculars on and ears open at Arkansas Post but saw and heard nothing.

TOTAL 40/80

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