Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Junior Civil War Historians: Pea Ridge National Military Park

How fortunate for us that two of the participating national parks required for the children to earn their Junior Civil War Historian patches were both right there on our holiday road trip!

I've long been wanting to visit Prairie Grove Battlefield, because that's where my great-great-grandfather fought (on the side of the Confederacy, sigh), but Pea Ridge National Military Park is the one that's included in the Junior Civil War Historian program, which only runs through this year, AND it's covered under our national park pass, which expires in July, so that's the one that we detoured to on our way home from Christmas with my family.

Guess we'll just have to review the Civil War and visit Prairie Grove on another trip down south!

The Battle of Pea Ridge has too much back-and-forthing for me to summarize here; suffice to say that northwest Arkansas was a tactically advantageous location to control, so the Union drove down into it, the Confederacy attempted to counter-attack, and the battle? Well, there was a whole lot of fleeing on both sides, if you ask me. A whole lot of getting lost in the woods. A whole lot of bad decision-making. Most of the bad decisions--soldiers being force-marched away from their back-up wagons with no rest and few supplies; a commander shot dead, his second-in-command choosing not to share this with the troops so that when he, too, is shot dead, the soldiers are left without a commander but they don't know this, and so hang around all day in the woods waiting for orders--were made by the Confederate side, and so they're the ones who lost the battle.

Nevertheless, the Union side made a lot of bad decisions, too. I imagine that this is a great battle to replay on the tabletop gaming circuit.

The children studiously plugged away on their Junior Ranger books, which were, I was pleased to see, very academically rigorous (especially Will's--even the Ranger had to fetch the answer key to help her with the couple of answers that she couldn't find!), although less cross-curricular than some other Junior Ranger programs that they've completed:

This display played re-enactments of the various engagements, while highlighting the location of each one on the map below. It was great.
I shouldn't let the kids write over the displays, but it's hard to enforce that rule when there are no other writing surfaces around. 
Fortunately, the car audio tour that we'd purchased also spent time discussing the area's geology and geography and flora and fauna, so we came away with a thorough introduction to Pea Ridge.
Another Trail of Tears site! This one belongs to a different forced emigration route than the one that we visited in Ft. Smith.

This is the site of a former town, one that was actually still in existence during the battle. Here in winter, with the ground covered in leaves, it's impossible to see the footprints of any structures--

--except for this one small grave:

Look at us not climbing on the cannons anymore! Yay, Us!

Here's the place where the Confederate Commander McCulloch was killed. He just kind of wandered out from those trees to check the lay of the land, and the Union soldiers who happened to be hanging around right here shot him. If his second in command McIntosh had just TOLD the soldiers what had happened, then an entire contingent wouldn't have spent the whole day just hanging around in the woods, waiting for McCulloch to magically appear again and give them orders after McIntosh, too, was killed.

Below this plateau, which looks out onto much of the battlefield, a bunch of soldiers got pinned down on the rocky cliffs and slaughtered.

Will recounts it all in great detail:

As per usual, the unlucky inhabitants of this tavern got caught up in the middle of the battle, and then had to deal with its aftermath:

We did this entire tour in the sleet, by the way. Those are the weird little shapes that you keep seeing in the photos. It was unpleasant, yes, but you know how we feel about having a place all to ourselves!

Great was the joy that the children felt when they turned in their books and earned their Junior Ranger badges for Pea Ridge, and then even greater was their joy when they also turned in their completed Underground Railroad books and also earned their Junior Civil War Historian patches!

So great was this joy, apparently, that a few days ago, when an adult asked Will how her Christmas vacation was, she replied, "Great! I earned two new Junior Ranger badges!"

There were also Christmas presents and feasting and family, of course, but Junior Ranger badges?

Nothing can compare to that.

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