If you’ve never experienced the sound and smells of black powder, then this is a good place to do it – the Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park Battle Reenactment at 1 p.m. on Dec. 1 and 2.
It’s fascinating to see the cannons off in the distance, a puff of smoke, then hear a sudden crash of thunder from the cannon. The battle reenactment starts with about 10 minutes of cannon fire from both sides. Seeing the battle unfold before your eyes on the ground the men fought and died for is one of the best ways to obtain a true sense of the Civil War and the Battle of Prairie Grove.
The Battle of Prairie Grove was the last time two armies of almost equal strength faced each other for supremacy in northwest Arkansas. When the Confederate Army withdrew from the bloody battlefield at Prairie Grove on the night of Dec. 7, 1862 it was clear Missouri and northwest Arkansas would remain in Federal hands.
The battle reenactment on some of the same ground the armies fought over during the skirmish, which includes the Borden House and valley below. The hillside is used as a natural amphitheater for viewing it. Most of it takes place in the valley, but there are two charges up the hill toward the Borden House.
Union and Confederate troops will be dressed in uniforms and accouterments of authentic style and material. Weaponry used will include black powder rifles or muskets, carbines, shotguns, revolvers, swords, sabers, pistols and cannons. Infantry, artillery and mounted cavalry units will take part in the battle demonstration, which lasts about one hour and 15 minutes.
Authentic Confederate, Union and civilian camps will be set up, and the public is welcome to walk through them. Even medical personnel reenactors immerse themselves in the staged demonstrations, tossing fake amputated limbs to the ground after operations. In addition to the battle reenactment, there will be many activities throughout the weekend, including various military drills, cooking, spinning, and lace making demonstrations and other living history programs. Some of these events will take place in the park’s Ozark Pioneer Village, which represents life in the Ozarks during that era. All the activities are free. The only cost associated with the event is $5 per vehicle for parking.
“Sutlers Row” will feature a number of vendors selling 19th century reproduction items such as uniforms and weapons, as well as books, and souvenirs. William L. Shea, author of “Fields of Blood, The Prairie Grove Campaign,” will hold a book signing both days. Cox adds that there will be a lot of memorabilia for the 150th anniversary available for people to purchase.
This year the park commemorates the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Prairie Grove. The park is recognized nationally as one of America’s most intact Civil War battlefields. It hosts a battle reenactment every even-numbered year. Attendance by re-enactors and the public is expected to be large this year because it is the sesquicentennial celebration.
There are usually about 750 reenactors, but the park anticipates 1,500 this year. About 3,500 spectators usually show up, but this year around 5,000 are expected. The public is encouraged to get to the park at least an hour in advance if not earlier. There are lots of activities to enjoy before the reenactment, plus it takes time to park and walk to the site.
Camps will open at 9 a.m., closing at 5 p.m. on Saturday and 3 p .m. on Sunday. Concessions will be provided. Local Boy Scouts serve breakfast of coffee and donuts and lunch consisting of something like soup and/or chili. There will also be a barbecue vendor.
The park’s Hindman Hall Visitor Center will open at 8 a.m. and contains exhibits, a gift shop and a book store. Recently renovated, Hindman Hall opened with new exhibits in June of last year. The exhibits give a timeline of Arkansas seceding to battles in this region to an overview of the Battle of Prairie Grove.
In this one-day battle, there were about 22,000 men almost evenly divided between sides. There were about 2,700 casualties.
Aside from special events such as this reenactment, the park has a self-guided walking tour and a driving tour with a CD guide. There is a nominal fee to take a guided tour of the historic homes and structures of the pioneer village. Self-guided tours of the Hindman Hall exhibits are free. It also has a playground.
Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park closes one hour after sundown and the park museum is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Today, the park is a beautiful and serene setting, a stark contrast to the events that took place there. It is located on U.S. 62 in Prairie Grove. For more information, visit arkansasstateparks.com or call (479) 846-2990.