Monday, December 7, 2009

Prairie Grove: A Prisoner’s Reminiscence

"Prairie Grove: A Prisoner’s Reminiscence," National Tribune, October 30, 1884

To the Editor: I think Comrade S.S. Cain, 7th Mo. Cav., is mistaken as to Marmaduke commanding the rebel army there. My impression is that Hindman was at the head, with headquarters at Van Buren, on the Arkansas River, where he was afterwards assassinated. My regiment (7th Mo. Cav.) received orders on the evening of the 5th to be prepared to move at a minute’s warning. “Boots and saddles” was sounded at daybreak on the 6th; we were then at Keithsville, Mo. We moved off at a trot, keeping that gait the greater portion of the day, passing infantry, artillery and cavalry on the way, going through Cross Hollows, Pea Ridge, Mud Town and Fayetteville, Ark., about dusk, stopping some six miles below the town, where we dismounted to rest. We remained there some three hours, and were again ordered to move. About daylight on the 7th we stopped between two large corn-fields to feed the horses and rest ourselves; and I remember, distinctly, after being in the saddle that length of time, it was equally as comfortable standing as it was sitting. I am satisfied that at this time the commanding officers perfectly unconscious of the proximity of any force of rebels, as we could not have been placed in a more unfavorable position to repel an attack; it was Lone Jack over again. Just after daylight, three men of Co. C went to the end of the lane, in them timber, to get one or more of several pigs that had been seen there, when they were fired upon and two of them killed; the third, Balaam Fox, ran back to the command, shot through the hand. It was but a few minutes before the bullets were coming from the corn on either side of us and the end of the lane south. Several attempts were made to form us for a charge, but as the lane was filled with horses and men there was much confusion, and finding it impossible to do so, a retreat was ordered. No sooner had this commenced than the lane in our rear was filled with rebel cavalry, who used their revolvers to good advantage at short range and we were compelled to surrender. The killed in this part of the fight were nearly all stripped naked and tramped under foot by the horses. After being captured I, with a number of other prisoners, was marched back some half-mile, meeting some 20 brass field pieces hurrying to the front. Two of these were the ones taken from the 3 Ind. Battery by the rebels at Lone Jack, Mo., Aug. 16, 1862. We were told here that rebel force present was between 25,000 and 30,000. The prisoners were kept from a half mile to a mile in the rear of line of battle all day, moving about occasionally to escape the shells from our batteries that would sometimes cut the limbs from the trees over our heads, and sometimes lying flat on our faces. About noon we were marched to a frame house, where our names, rank and regiment were taken by a rebel officer. There were present at this time, as prisoners, 29 of the 6th Mo. Cav., 123 of the 7th Mo. Cav., 14 of the 8th Mo. Cav., and 73 of the 1st Ark. Cav.

In the door of the house stood an old gray-haired lady clapping her hands and crying: “Thank God! Thank God! that I have lived to see this day.” But her joy was short-lived, as the house was burned within a few days, and the rebels in full retreat.

Comrade Beatty says that the last cannon of the rebels was disabled before 4 o’clock p.m. In this he is mistaken, as a battery passed us leaving the field about 6 p.m., which was the first move I saw indicating a retreat. We could hear Blunt plainly when he opened fire about 4 o’clock p.m. It turned quite cold during the night and the prisoners suffered considerably, as their overcoats and blankets had been taken from them and they were not permitted to build fires, although the guards outside had fires. We were started south about 1 o’clock a.m. of the 8th. We received nothing to eat until about 1 o’clock a.m. of the 9th, when we received about a pint of meal each. From the time we were captured, at daylight on the 7th, to this time we lived upon the grains of corn picked from the dirt where the rebel cavalry-men fed their horses and slippery elm bark gathered from the trees near by the roadside, which was pretty thin food for a long tramp. I believe some of the prisoners were successful in begging a piece of corn “pone” from the guards occasionally. We were taken across the Boston Mountains to Van Buren, thence to Fort Smith, where we were kept in an old tobacco warehouse. Our rations here was about one quart per Yankee of cornmeal (more like hominy than meal) with considerable cob in it. Sometimes with our corn we would get about two tablespoonfuls of brown sugar each; at others, a small piece of fresh beef and a tablespoonful of salt. My mess had an iron kettle holding, perhaps, two gallons. When we drew sugar we would first make a mush and then stir in the sweetening. When done, each with a little wooden paddle, would “gather by the kettle” and eat as fast as could be expected under the circumstances. When we received meat it would first be boiled and removed from the kettle and the meal stirred in. One thing that could be said of our rations is that we had a variety, and not meal “ad nauseum,” like the boys at Andersonville.

A.H. Worthen, Jr., 1st Serg’t, Co. E., 7th Mo. Cav., Warsaw, Ill.

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