Cathy Barton, Dave Para and Bob Dyer—vocals; Dave Wilson—fiddle

Early in 1862 General Curtis and his Union Army of the Southwest chased the Confederates under General Sterling Price out of Springfield, Mo., and into northwestern Arkansas. There Price's men joined with the Confederate regiments under the former Texas Ranger General Ben McCulloch, who disagreed with Price over the merits of fighting for Missouri. Both these armies were under the overall command of General Van Dorn, who promptly led his 13,000 men on a forced march back north from the Boston Mountains in the cold and ice hoping to defeat Curtis and march on to St. Louis.

The armies clashed on March 7 at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, a few miles from the Missouri line and not far from Oklahoma Indian territory. According to Van Dorn's bold scheme, Price's men split from McCulloch's men to envelop the 10,000 Union troops. The prompt killing of both McCulloch and General McIntosh precipitated a bloody rout of the confused and weary Confederates at Leetown, while two miles to the east Price's men gained the ground at Elkhorn Tavern late in the day. Van Dorn, however, neglected to resupply his troops with ammunition and they were forced to retreat. Casualties numbered 1,300 for the Union and approximately 2,000 for the Confederates.

The song comes from Ozark song collector Max Hunter who got it in 1958 from Mrs. Allie Long Parker of Pleasant Valley, Arkansas, who probably learned it from her father. It is an Ozark variant of a song called "St. Clair's Defeat," about an Indian attack on Fort Jefferson in the Ohio country in 1791, and is said to have hung on the walls of many Ohio homes in the early 1800's. Some of the phrasing from the original song is strangely both relevant and inaccurate when applied to the Civil War battle. Pea Ridge was not far from the Indian Territory, and the disorganized fighting by Cherokee, Creek and Choctaw Indians under Confederate Gen. Albert Pike is a legendary aspect of the battle. But the number of Confederate casualties at Pea Ridge was nowhere near ten thousand; “Pap” Price was wounded, but not fatally; and it was Van Dorn who supposedly ordered the retreat of March 8 with tears in his eyes, not Price.

It was on March the Seventh in the year of sixty-two.
We had a sore engagement with Abe Lincoln's crew.
Van Dorn was our commander as you remember be.
We lost ten thousand of our men near the Indian Territory.

Pap Price come a-riding up the line, his horse was in a pace.
And as he gave the word "retreat" the tears rolled down his face.
Ten thousand deaths I'd rather die than they should gain the field.
From that he got a fatal shot which caused him to yield.

At Springfield and Carthage many a hero fell.
At Lexington and Drywood, as near the truth can tell.
But such an utter carnage as ever I did see
Happened at old Pea Ridge near the Indian Territory.

I know you brave Missouri boys were never yet afraid.
Let's try and form in order, retreat the best we can.
The word "retreat" was passed around, it caused the heathen cry.
Helter-skelter through the woods, like lost sheep we did fly.

© Big Canoe Records, 1993