Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign , William L. Shea, The University of North Carolina Press, 392 pp., 41 illus., 17 maps, appendices, notes, bibliolography., index, $35.00 release date October 24, 2009.
Reviewed by William C. Davis:
More than 25 years ago millions of Americans who never heard of the Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas, watched a Civil War battle being fought on that battlefield. It was not, as it happens, the Battle of Prairie Grove, but was rather, through the magic of Hollywood, the First Battle of Bull Run. It was the CBS Television mini-series “The Blue and the Gray,” and Arkansas was standing in for Virginia, with the battle scenes filmed on the Prairie Grove state park not far from Fayetteville. Now Prairie Grove stands up for itself to claim the attention of Civil War readers in the first substantial book ever written on the subject, and an outstanding piece of work at that. Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign is written by William L. Shea, already the author of the distinguished Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West, which was a History Book Club selection some years ago. He brings the same exhaustive research to this project, the same crisp pen and the same sound judgments. Arkansas was crucial to control of the region west of the Mississippi River. Confederates needed it as a buffer to protect western Louisiana and as a launching pad for their ambitions of taking and holding Missouri. The Union had exactly the same interest in it for exactly opposite reasons. Not surprisingly, then, two of the three biggest battles of the war west of the river were fought there [the third being Westport, Missouri, in 1864]. At Prairie Grove, Major General Thomas Hindman hoped to drive the Union army commanded by Brigadier General James G. Blunt out of Arkansas for good, thus opening the way for an invasion of Missouri. Blunt was outnumbered and appealed for assistance, whereupon a now unknown officer named Francis J. Herron led 6,000 reinforcements on an incredible push that covered 110 miles in three days to reach Blunt just hours before the battle commenced at dawn. That feat alone would have won Herron the promotion he soon got that made him at the time the youngest major general in the history of the army [only to be outdone later in the war by George Armstrong Custer]. The battle that followed, like all the western battles, was rough and mean. William C. Quantrill’s bushwhackers took part in one of their few regular military actions, and so did several hundred Creek and Seminole Indians on both sides, some of them using the war to continue old clan feuds. The battle hinged on Hindman’s judgment, and with victory in his grasp he made the fatal error so often easily seen in hindsight. Blunt’s victory drove the Confederates out of northern Arkansas for two years and kept Missouri inviolate until the fall of 1864, unquestionably changing the course of the war west of the great river—just as surely as Shea’s Fields of Blood will persuade future filmmakers that the next time cameras roll at Prairie Grove it should be to capture the drama of that battle in its own right.
Source Text: History Book Club
Top Image Source: University of North Carolina Press
Bottom Image Source: painting by Andy Thomas, The Battle of Pairie Grove, The Ozarks' Civil War website