Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Bloody Corner: A look at the Battle of Fayetteville

Posted By on Wed, Aug 18, 2010 at 10:31 AM

Some may enjoy this story about Fayetteville's major Civil War engagement. It is included in my book, Ozark Mosaic.

Bloody Corner: A look at the Battle of Fayetteville

It has been claimed that during the Civil War, Fayetteville was the "Bosnia of its day," exchanging hands five times after its initial occupation by Southern troops. The first occupation was largely uneventful until April 16, 1863, when Confederate troops attacked. At dawn, 900 troops entered Fayetteville, and, with the crashing boom of artillery, awoke the sleeping town.

And so Fayetteville joined the list of so many towns - battlefields in a war that has been known by several names, including the War for Southern Independence and the War of Northern Aggression. Those in the Union saw the war as both an effort to free the slaves and to preserve the Union. Those on the Confederate side viewed the war as a defense of states' rights.

Essentially, the two sides of the conflict were two different cultures living in the same country, bringing to a bloody conclusion something many felt had been brewing for years. As the history of the war has shown, men and women were fanatically loyal to their own particular regions.

Fayetteville itself had the dubious distinction of being a major town on a major road to Missouri. Confederate forces felt they had to retake Fayetteville for a number of reasons. Chief among these was the fear that Fayetteville was to be used as a reinforcement and supply line for troops stationed in Indian territory.

In addition, many of the Confederate troops under the command of Brig. Gen. W. L. Cabell had relatives living in the Union occupied town. While the treatment of the citizens under Col. M. LaRue Harrison was no doubt harsh, many exaggerated their treatment, so that some were convinced that true atrocities were occurring.

Also, Southern sympathizers in Fayetteville tended to downplay the actual strength of the Union troops, so anxious were they to be liberated.

At any rate, the Battle of Fayetteville began with shots fired from two cannons placed on what is now Mount Sequoyah. Soon after, a cavalry charge came down Dickson Street from the top of the hill toward the home of Jonas Tebbets - what is now known as Headquarters House, the home of the Washington County Historical Society. Union troops were headquartered in this house.

According to a report written after the battle by Col. LaRue Harrison:

"Headquarters was made the ‘bone of contention,' and was repeatedly charged by the rebels, who were gallantly repulsed by our men."

Facing the charging cavalry were members of the 1st Arkansas Infantry. They faced a particularly deadly test that day. The Southern troops attacking Fayetteville that day outnumbered the estimated 500 Union soldiers, and they perhaps could be forgiven for feeling that at the end of the day Fayetteville would once again be in their hands.

Riding only six to eight abreast down the narrow street, Cabell's cavalry descended down upon the waiting 1st Arkansas Infantry, fully expecting them to bolt and run, after which they might draw sabers and pursue the retreating troops. If the infantry troops stood their ground, however, the attempted charge would not work, but that was probably not considered as a real possibility.

After all, the troops had a well-deserved reputation for cowardice; only a few months before, at the December, 1862, Battle of Prairie Grove, they had turned and run in the opening minutes of the battle. The Confederate troops had no reason to assume that they would do any differently today, as not many had confidence in their ability to fight. It was Cabell's sincere belief that the large mounted force would break their spirit, and they would run as they had in December.

But today was different; today the line held. With pride and honor at stake, they faced the charge and, unable to rout the Union troops, the horses turned aside and the Union soldiers, armed with superior weapons, fought the Southern soldiers until 11am when the Confederate troops gave up the fight and retreated toward the Arkansas River.

Writing of the attack, Harrison's dispatch stated:

"At about 9a.m., or a little before, Col. Monroe led a gallant and desperate cavalry charge upon our right wing, which was met by a galling cross-fire from our right and center, piling rebel men and horses in heaps in front of our ordinance office, and causing the enemy to retreat in disorder to the woods." By noon, the Confederate troops were in full retreat, but Harrison was unable to pursue. He only had a few horses, and those he had were already on duty with picketing and reconnoitering parties. And so the two forces met, at the intersection of Dickson Street and College, the principal crossroads of Fayetteville. At the end of the engagement, nine Union soldiers, and 20-30 Southern soldiers would be dead.

And the fierce fighting at "Bloody Corner" would forever be a part of Fayetteville's history. Even though the Union troops had beaten back the Confederate forces, a week later orders came to abandon the town; the troops were removed, and Fayetteville was returned to Confederate control. Months later, LaRue Harrison returned to take the town for the Union once more.

Harrison later became the first elected post-war mayor of Fayetteville

Ozark Gazette - April 5, 1999



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