For those of us with Civil War interests, December 7 also conjures up images of the greatest single march in the entire Civil War, and it didn’t involve Jackson’s foot cavalry. Instead, it was Herron’s Union forces trying to reach an overexposed Blunt who marched 120 or so miles in frigid December temperatures. The result was the December 7, 1862 Battle of Prairie Grove. That’s right, AFTER the march of the war, Herron sent his men immediately into battle. Ultimately, Blunt went from rescuee to rescuer when his forces saved the day as the sun went down. This bloody little affair in northwestern Arkansas is the subject of two very good books, Michael Banasik’s Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862 and Earl Shea’s Fields of Bood: The Prairie Grove Campaign.
by Michael E. Banasik
I picked up my copy (hardback, no dust jacket as published) on a visit to Shiloh National Battlefield in 2003 for $40, a price I was happy to pay. I knew then that this book was already becoming scarce. As I mention in my review of Embattled Arkansas, “Banasik makes clear in his forward that the book is mainly a military history, and he further states that the book is first and foremost a retelling of the military events that occurred in this area and time. He goes on to point out that the book is not meant to analyze these events so much as it is to describe them, saying “with few exceptions, [I] have left the speculation and analysis to others who might follow.” In this and several other ways, Banasik’s book reminds me of Ed Bearss’ masterful 3-volume work The Vicksburg Campaign.” In addition to being mainly a military history with no interpretation of events, Banasik’s book is more than the title might lead you to think. He covers most of the war in Arkansas from just after the battle of Pea Ridge to the end of 1862. This book is a must own for anyone interested in the war in the Trans-Mississippi.
by William L. Shea
William Shea’s newer book from the University of North Carolina Press complements Banasik’s work nicely. Shea provides the analysis and interpretation missing in Banasik’s earlier work, but he focuses mostly on the Battle of Prairie Grove. The biggest problem with analyzing this battle is the lack of reports on the Confederate side, published or unpublished. Shea utilized the new Supplement to the Official Records quite often in the book, not surprising considering he was an editor. His maps are well done, and he blends together a large array of archival sources to in part make up for the lack of “official” information on the battle.
I would recommend both books highly, but the truth is that Shea’s work is readily accessible for a reasonable price while Banasik’s book has become a collector’s item. You’ll pay $100 if you want it. Get Shea now, and either pony up your dough or hope for a second edition of Banasik’s book. And if you are interested in gaming Prairie Grove, be sure to check out Drew Wagenhoffer’s Campaign Ozark from HPS Simulations.