The 4,500-acre Pea Ridge National Military Park near Pea Ridge, Arkansas, commemorates the March 7-8, 1862 Civil War engagement, the Battle of Pea Ridge, also known locally as the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern. The park was created by an act of Congress in 1956 and was officially dedicated in 1963—101 years after the battle took place.
The battle was a culmination of a series of skirmishes that took place in both southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas in the days preceding the larger conflict. Union soldiers, led by Brig. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, had been moving south from central Missouri, pushing Confederate forces out of the state and into northwestern Arkansas. The primary purpose for this maneuver was to eliminate an opportunity for Missouri to secede from the Union. Forced into Arkansas, Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn launched a counter-offensive, which he hoped would give him back control of northern Arkansas and then Missouri. During the two-day battle, Curtis held off the Confederate attack on the first day and drove Van Dorn's force off the field on the second day. When the Battle of Pea Ridge was over, both northern Arkansas and Missouri had been secured for Union control for the duration of the war. This battle is noted as one of the few during the Civil War where the number of soldiers in the Confederate army outnumbered the Union.
Today, thanks to its largely rural setting, the Pea Ridge National Military Park is considered one of the best-preserved Civil War battlefields in the nation. The historic Elkhorn Tavern serves as a centerpiece for the park, and during the battle it served as a hospital and headquarters. The current structure is actually a replica, built in 1865 after the original structure, which survived the battle, was burned down by bushwhackers in the months following the military conflict. Joseph and Lucinda Cox, who owned the tavern and hid in the cellar with their children during the fighting, rebuilt it on the original foundation and using the still-standing chimneys. Their daughter, Francis Cox Scot, who was born in 1865 in the second structure, lived in Elkhorn Tavern until it was taken over by the Park Service in 1959.
Visitors to the park can see the battlefields which have been carefully restored to their 1862 appearance as well as the native Ozark Mountains geography and wildlife. In recent years, local groups have helped in replanting the fruit orchards that were known to exist in the area during the Battle of Pea Ridge. There is an auto tour route, hiking and horse trails, and a year-round visitors center. Elkhorn Tavern is open to visitors for the summer months and features interpreters in period dress who tell the story of what life was like at the tavern both before and during the battle.
Read one NPCA staff member's family connection to this park and the its historic battle at NPCA's blog, the Park Advocate.