Monday, December 31, 2012

BACK TO BLUE - After 108 Years the US Army Returns to Blue for its Service Uniform

By Mark E. Hubbs

“When a Soldier can be brought to take delight in his dress, it will be easy to mold him to whatever else may be desired, … therefore every method should be pursued to accomplish what may so justly be looked on, as the foundation of order and economy in a Corps.”

The United States Army announced on June 6, 2006 that the suite of Army dress service uniforms would be streamlined to one blue dress uniform to be known as the Army Service Uniform.  The change was begun in 2008 and is expected to be fully instituted in the regular Army, Army Reserve and National Guard by 2014.  The Army green uniform will be phased out and the uniform previously known as “dress blues” will become the new “Class A” uniform.  It will be authorized for wear for any situation where the old green uniform would have been appropriate and will also continue to be worn for formal occasions in a slightly different form.  For many, this may seem like a break from tradition, but the shift back to blue is actually a return to the uniform colors that have been in use in America since before the Revolutionary War.

In the generations leading up to the change, a soldier’s uniform was intended as both a dress uniform and combat uniform.  When most of the European powers began to experiment with green and gray-green uniforms at the end of the 19th Century, the U.S. Army followed their example.  Blue for field uniforms began to be phased out in 1898 for khaki tan.  In 1902 a new olive drab uniform was introduced.  Soldiers began to receive it in 1906 as stocks of the old blue uniforms ran out.  By the time our Doughboys sailed for France in 1917 all blue uniforms for field and dress had been eliminated.  The shade of green has changed through the years, from the olive drabs used until after World War II, to the deeper green used in the current dress uniform.  Also, by the time of World War II, the dress uniform became separate from the more practical garments used for field and combat wear.

The American association with blue as a uniform color began in colonial times when many militia units chose blue for their uniforms instead of the red of regular army British troops.  This was most likely done to ease logistics, as indigo for blue dye was grown in the colonies, where most red dyes were imported from Europe.

The first standardized uniform used by the fledgling American Continental Army was also blue.  In early 1777, the Continental Congress allocated funds to procure 30,000 “ready-made” uniforms from French contractors.  Dr. Benjamin Franklin was part of the American commission in France who made arraignments for the uniforms to be made.  Franklin, and fellow commissioner Silas Deane, designed a uniform equal in quality, but unlike the design used by the French Army.  The American uniforms were built with cold American winters in mind.

The first of the French contract uniforms arrived in March, 1778 and immediately caused a stir in the Continental Army.  A shortage of blue wool broadcloth resulted in the delivery of only half of the uniform coats in blue.  The rest were made in brown wool.  Both were constructed with red lapels and cuffs.  They came only in small, medium and large, with the largest size similar to our medium size of today.  An Army inspector reported, “The greatest part of what I have seen of them are exceedingly good. . . the coats well cut, have a tasty air and that great quality of being at the same time large and warm. . .

Courtesy: Todd Post, 2nd Virginia Regiment
 The troops, however, desired blue uniforms and detested anything other than blue.  As a result, General George Washington,“in order to prevent disputes & jealousy among the Troops of the Main Army. . .  and to give them all an equal chance,” decided that lots would be drawn to determine which of his regiments would receive the blue coats and which would receive the hated brown.  In the end, the allocations were made by state.  Nine states were represented in Washington’s army at the time.  Virginia, Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire were stuck with brown until additional blue uniforms could be made.  Washington later issued a general order in 1779 which standardized all government issued uniforms to be blue, with cuffs and facings of various colors to indicate the home state of the soldier.

Blue became so associated with the U.S. Army and our new nation that The Adjutant & Inspector General's Office on March 27, 1821 stated, "Dark blue is the National colour.  When a different one is not expressly prescribed, all uniform coats, whether for officers or enlisted men, will be of that colour."  
As the uniform evolved throughout the 19th Century, the enduring constant was the color blue for the uniform coat.  The trousers emerged as light blue in the 1820s.  The wool cloth used for trousers was called kersey and was a coarser, cheaper cloth compared to the expensive wool broadcloth used for uniform coats.  The cheap kersey cloth could not take a consistent deep blue dye as the better quality broadcloth could.  As a result, kersey was dyed a lighter shade of blue.

This tradition in the difference in shades of blue between the coat and trousers is carried on in the modern Army blue service uniform.

So, in the near future when you begin to see our young soldiers in their blue uniforms, don’t think of it as a break from tradition.  Consider it instead, a return to our heritage of the “National Color.”

I originally had this article published in the Spring 2011 issue of The Infantry Bugler, the journal of the National Infantry Associaiton.

Courtesy: US Army


Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Pyramid on the Prairie

For almost ten years, I was the primary historian who worked preservation issues for a very unusual historic site in North Dakota. No battles occurred there, no pre-historic remains lie beneath its surface and no famous person was born there. In fact, this military installation was only operational for less than one year in the mid 1970s. What made this Cold War era site so important is what it accomplished without firing a shot. The highly advanced technologies that made it a success also doomed its existence as an operational system.

Now this site has been declared surplus and is being auctioned off to the highest bidder.


Photo by author


As a result of the USSR’s successful testing on August 26, 1957 of an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) and subsequent orbiting of the Sputnik I satellite, defense of the United States against ballistic missiles became a national priority. Following a decade of technology development and system tests, a Safeguard Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) site was authorized by Congress to be constructed near Nekoma, North Dakota to defend Minuteman ICBMs based near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Construction started in the late 1960s.
The Stanley R. Mickelsen Safeguard Complex (SRMSC) lies in extreme northeast North Dakota, scattered across four counties. The SRMSC consisted of two phased-array radars, the Missile Site Radar (MSR) and the Perimeter Acquisition Radar (PAR). Both the MSR and PAR sites were considered small, self-contained communities. The four Remote Sprint Launch (RSL) sites, clustered about the MSR at varying distances, were manned by personnel garrisoned at the MSR.

Location of the SRMSC in North East North Dakota

The SRMSC became operational on October 1, 1975 and was inactivated on February 10, 1976. It was the only operational ABM system ever deployed in the free world. It is generally recognized that its construction and activation were instrumental in successfully negotiating the ABM and Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) Treaties with the Soviet Union. The PAR was leased to the U.S. Air Force (USAF) in September 1977, and currently remains operational as an early warning and surveillance radar for the North American Air Defense Command and Satellite Surveillance Network. The USAF redesignated the PAR Site as Cavalier Air Station. The remainder of the SRMSC was dismantled and placed in a caretaker status until December 1991, when the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command (USASMDC) reacquired accountability for the property in preparation for possible future ABM deployment. Although there was great hope in the local community that a deployment would bolster the sagging agricultural economy, SRMSC was not chosen as a home to the new Ground-Based Midcourse Defense site. Fort Greely, near Fairbanks Alaska received that honor. The 49th Missile Defense Battalion operates a new missile defense system at that remote installation.
The four RSL sites, located within 20 miles of the MSCB, were in the general area of the Minuteman missiles which they were to defend. Each occupied from 36 to 45 acres of land. The sites were composed of security stations, heat sinks, fuel storage tanks, waste stabilization ponds, and a Sprint missile launch area containing 12 to 16 launch stations. They also contained a hardened, buried, reinforced-concrete Remote Launch Operations Building (RLOB) - a single-story structure that controlled and monitored the RSL sites as the signals from the MSCB directed. The RLOB connected to the surface through a hardened concrete tunnel, 11 feet wide and 90 feet long.

Jerry Greenwood (center) long time site manager at SRMSC, discusses preservation options
with representatives from the North Dakoka Historic Preservation Office. This is inside the tunnel
leading to the Remote Launch Control Building at RSL-3. Photo by author.

Graphic Engagement Walktrough


Contemporary video of how the system worked

The total area of the MSR site is 433 acres, and is 102 miles northwest of Grand Forks, and 12 miles south of Langdon, close to the tiny agrarian town of Nekoma. About 25 air miles separate the MSR and PAR sites. The MSR saw little or no use after closure. A non-tactical portion of the MSR (274 acres) was acquired by the General Services Administration (GSA) in 1977. During the period after closure, the GSA made little provision for maintenance and repair for many of the buildings. As a result of the low maintenance program and the harsh environmental conditions during the winter season, many of the structures were significantly damaged with some becoming irreparable. All of the family housing units and many of the other non-tactical buildings have been removed. MSR site facilities included an associated partially-buried, earth-mounded Power Plant (MSRPP), a heat sink, fuel storage tanks, two test towers, the Universal Missile Building (UMB), the Warhead Handling Building (WHB), security stations and Sprint and Spartan launch areas with over 100 missile launch tubes. Non-tactical buildings included: an industrial building; water storage ponds; waste water stabilization ponds; enlisted men’s quarters and dining complex; Bachelor Officers’ Quarters complex; a community center; a dispensary; a chapel; a gymnasium; outdoor recreational facilities; family housing; and miscellaneous support structures.

The Missile Site Radar (MSR).  The Spartan and Sprint launch silos are in the foreground.  The edge of the non-tactical area is seen
top right.  It included housing, HQ building, maintenance buildings, motor pool, chapel, dining hall, PX, bowling and alley. 
Everything need to support a small community. Photofrom:


 The Missile Site Control Building (MSCB) is the focal point for the MSR and is a landmark that is visible for miles around the complex. “The Pyramid,” as it is known locally, was flooded in the years after closure, as a result of seeping groundwater. A salvage effort, shortly after closure, resulted in debris left hanging from walls and ceilings and heaped on the floors. Through a mammoth effort it has subsequently been drained and the vast interior of the structure has been cleared of the tangled debris that had covered its floors. The MSCB has approximately 127,000 square feet of floor area, two subterranean main floors housed a computer rooms, radar control stations, tactical operations centers and a massive power plant with five 7,000 horsepower diesel generators. Two above-ground floors which housed Tactical Support Equipment (TSE) and contained the four phased array radar faces for providing hemispheric coverage.

Photo from the Historic American Engineer Record on the MSR.  The Missile Site Control Building and its exhaust stacks from its
underground power plant.  Some have called these stacks the "North Dakota Stonehenge."  The pyramid can be seen for miles around and is a local landmark.  It has become part of the cultural landscape. Photo from the Historic American Engineering Record for SRMSC.

In 1993, the USASMDC made the decision to prepare Historic American Engineering Record (HAER) documentation for the tactical areas of the SRMSC in preparation for a possible new deployment of an ABM system. I was one of a team of historians who were involved in writing the report, gathering primary sources and getting the finished product accepted by the National Park Service and the Library of Congress. The SRMSC HAER is one of largest and most comprehensive recordations of its type ever prepared. The data is presented in several parts. First, it provides a detailed historic context for the complex as a whole. Second it provides historical background, construction drawings and photographs on over 60 buildings. And finally, the most significant and complex buildings, such as the MSCB, PAR and RLOBs have multiple photographs, drawings and enhanced historical information. Representative information for both a Sprint and Spartan Missile launch silo is provided to record all of the Spartan (30) and Sprint (70) silos. The SRMSC HAER has been deposited at the Library of Congress, and the North Dakota State Historical Society, where current and future Cold War scholars may have access to this important historical resource.
Much of the information in the HAER has been made available on this excellent website:
I also prepared a Cultural Resource Management Plan in accordance with Army Regulations. This book-length document provides details on the setting in North Dakota, an extensive history of the area from pre-historic to modern times, and preservation options for the buildings. The GSA has placed my Cultural Resource Management Plan on line, I suspect for the benefit of potential bidders. You can access it here:
As a result of the important part that SRMSC played in the Cold War victory over the former Soviet Union, and the unique technological and architectural features it includes, USASMDC recognized the fact that certain key SRMSC facilities could be eligible for the National Register of Historic Places (NR) as being of“exceptional importance."
When the US Army decided not to deploy its new anti-ballistic missile system at the SRMSC I prepared a white paper for the National Park Service in an effort to entice them into acquiring the property for preservation and interpretation as a Cold War Heritage site. The white paper described the properties, their significance in history and some interpretation ideas on how the properties could be adapted for visitation and interpretation. The idea gained traction at the NPS regional office, but alas, did not make it to the national level for consideration. The NPS was already working on a shoestring, it could afford to take on new historic properties.
The properties are now being auctioned off by the General Services Administration (GSA). I wish one of my friends would buy the MSR, and invite me to visit once in a while!

The Sprint missile launch area with the MSCB "Pyramid" in the background. Photo by author.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

5,000 Visitors!

Eras Gone tallied its 5,000th visitor today! 

A humble "thank you" to all of my readers.  When I started this project back in July 2012, I had no idea that so many folks would ever find the blog or take the time to read my stories.  Thanks again.  I hope to continue to add topics on history, archaeology and travel each week.

Stay tuned, and Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Dead of Influenza, Far From Home - An Arkansas Mystery

Last November we observed the end of World War One, the War to end all Wars.  Not all casualties were on the battlefield on foriegn shores, however.  This is a tale of men who died supporting the War in the United States, a shore that was just as foriegn to them.  Their story was all but forgotten until a recent discovery in Little Rock, Arkansas.

By Evin Demirel


Re-Blogged From:

Sculptor Shep Miers likes riding his Vespa around Little Rock. He easily zips from his home, to the Arkansas Arts Center, where he teaches furniture design, to his warehouse off Asher Street. Hard-to-reach places don’t present a problem to his motor scooter, and the field of vision it allows can’t be beat.

Which means, on four wheels, he might have never seen it.

A month ago, Miers had just turned off Asher and was heading north on Woodrow Street when he glimpsed something to his left. There, in the official cemetery of the Diocese of Little Rock, he noticed a small granite marker, by itself under a cedar tree.

Miers entered Calvary Cemetery to inspect the marker. On the tombstone, he read, “In Memoriam of the Porto Ricans who died at Picron, Ark. 1917-18.” A mass grave.

Shep Miers discovered this forgotten marker at Calvary Cemetery in Little Rock

“Well, that’s a story,” he recalled thinking. “I wonder what that’s about.”

He told his wife, Kaye, who told a historian friend. From there, the mystery was forwarded to historians all around the state, but only scant details were found to fill the gaps. A long-forgotten corner of Arkansas’ past, it seemed, had been illuminated. Guy Lancaster, editor of the Arkansas Encyclopedia of History & Culture, agrees: “This is one of those things that has somehow evaded historical consciousness for quite some time, so it’s gonna take some rediscovering.”

The path begins almost 2,000 miles to the southeast, in Puerto Rico, in 1917.

It was a watershed year for the 100-mile-long Caribbean island, which 19 years before had come under United States control following the Spanish-American War [the U.S. renamed it “Porto Rico,” a spelling lasting 34 years]. On March 2, 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed an act granting U.S. citizenship to all Puerto Ricans. The islanders didn’t assume all U.S. citizenship rights, such as the right to vote in presidential elections, but they did inherit most citizenship obligations, such as serving in the military if drafted.

That same spring, the United States officially entered World War I. Around 18,000 Puerto Ricans were drafted to serve its military. This helped alleviate some of the surging unemployment afflicting the island’s rural economy, as corporate-financed sugar plantations had emerged in the preceding years, displacing thousands of subsistence farmers from their own land.

During the next year, the United States ratcheted up its involvement in the war’s European theater. The government and private businesses entered into numerous agreements to fortify American forces, as well as aid allied nations like France. The U.S., for instance, often paid the French for artillery and ammunition not in cash but picric acid, which was used in making explosives, and the war gas chlorpicrin. Demand was high; monthly U.S.-based picric-acid production soared from 53,000 pounds in May 1917 to nearly a million pounds by November 1918. U.S. officials, expecting even more to be needed, had contracted in spring 1918 with chemical companies in Georgia, Michigan and Arkansas to build three plants, each of which was projected to monthly produce 14.5 million pounds of picric acid.

Of these three projects, manufacturing only got off the ground at the one located by what’s now the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport.

There’s not much left of the pop-up community formed around the Little Rock area’s picric acid plant. It’s not clear where the roughly 400-acre site was, although we have a few clues: a Picron Street by the airport, a Picron Hill behind the Holiday Inn off Bankhead Drive, government documents stating the site was two miles from the Arkansas River. We do know in the summer of 1917 the New York-based Everly M. Davis Chemical Company cleared off an area full of cotton, corn, sorghum and sweet potato patches, and $7 million was spent on the plant, 25 dwelling homes, a clubhouse and a bunkhouse for 500 workmen. About 1,500 unskilled laborers were needed. Without enough available local workers, some Texans and Oklahomans were brought in. But the turnover rate was extremely high, and demand persisted. Help was sought from Washington, D.C., and soon it arrived.

That summer, the U.S. Department of Labor released numbers estimating 75,000 unemployed Puerto Ricans were available for work in the United States — an untapped resource expected to provide good, cheap labor. Pay for some islanders on the East Coast was set at 35 cents an hour, with time and a half for overtime. Housing was free, and meals cost 25 cents each, according to a 1918 U.S. Employment Service Bulletin. The War Department agreed to import islanders who had signed up for factory work via the home trips of transport ships carrying supplies to a San Juan base.
This, apparently, is how the Department of Labor secured 1,436 Puerto Ricans to work at Picron. According to a 1918-19 document from the U.S. Ordnance Department, though, the experiment proved “unfortunate.”

These island workmen were barefoot, thinly clad, poorly fed, unable to speak or understand English; they reached the scene in the early fall, just ahead of the influenza epidemic. At first they were housed in tents with wooden floors, but later they were barracked at Liberty Hall, a temporary auditorium in Little Rock. The contractors bought them winter outfits, and their organizer testified that they were considerately treated. But they were unable to work effectively, homesickness seized them, and influenza, following, reaped a harvest of death among them. It was two months before a vessel could be had to return them to their native land, and when they embarked, they left 176 of their number in the graveyards of Little Rock.”

On Dec. 3, 1918, less than a month after Armistice Day, the government suspended Picron’s picric-acid production. Less than a year and a half later, it sold the plant, along with the water and gas supply systems, to H.C. Couch, president of the Arkansas Light & Power Co., who represented a group of local businessmen.

For the most part, the Picron site disappears from the pages of public history after this, until one of Couch’s descendants stumbled upon a mass grave in the southwestern corner of Calvary Cemetery. Maybe it’s divine fate that Shep Miers, Couch’s great-nephew, brought this story — which he’d never heard within his own family — to the public. Or maybe it’s simply a reflection of how small and interwoven Arkansas still is, despite tens of thousands of immigrants arriving in recent decades.

As in past eras, many came for work. Many stayed.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Other December 7th - The Confederacy's Last Hurrah to Retake Missouri

To every American December 7th will always live in infamy as the day the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.  But until 1941, the history books told another story for that day.  Despite the strategic importance of the fight, and the intense combat that occured there, Battle of Prairie Grove is little remembered now, except for those folks who study the American Civil War west of the Mississippi River.  The battle ensured that Missouri and North West Arkansas were remained firmly in Union Control for the remainder of the War.

This is the Story of the Battle of Prairie Grove, fought 150 years ago today.

Winter in the Ozarks is harsh. The soldiers and citizens in the northwestern Arkansas Ozarks suffered mightily through the early winter of 1862, and their plight was exacerbated in the Battle of Prairie Grove, December 7, 1862.

The Union Army had secured the bulk of the state of Missouri against the Rebels by mid 1862. In St. Louis, General Samuel Curtis had relocated from Helena, Arkansas, to take overall command of the Federal Department of the Missouri. He oversaw General James Blunt’s Department of Kansas and Brigadier General John M. Schofield, who had given up command of the District of Missouri to take charge of Union field operations in the Ozarks of Missouri and Arkansas. The primary charge to Blunt and Schofield was to eliminate rebel activity from the Ozarks.

BG James Blunt
This was a complicated order. Rebel activity came by way of night raids on Union encampments, bushwhacked homesteads, supply depot plundering and telegraph line cutting. Bushwhacking was a veritable hydra of hostility. It was not for lack of vision that the triumvirate of Union military leaders in the Ozarks set out to achieve peace through rebel suppression. The secessionist tactics were simply too clandestine and too persistent for long term, measureable success.

Blunt was the man for the job. His regard for guerrillas and anti-Union activities would become notorious. Believing any campaigns unnecessary through the winter, Schofield returned to St. Louis to recover from illness. Two divisions were ordered to winter camp in Springfield, Missouri, leaving Blunt and his one division in northwestern Arkansas.

The Confederates, for their part, were scrambling to send troops across the Mississippi to secure Vicksburg in that ongoing siege. Major General Thomas C. Hindman, commanding the Army of the West, was convinced that his men could take out Blunt before moving troops east. His plan centered on attacking Blunt, encamped near Cane Hill, before Federal reinforcements could arrive from Springfield.

MG Thomas C. Hindman
Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke commanded a federal force of nearly 2,500 men, and his initial orders from Hindman were to gather subsistence for the larger army, by way of procured flour and meal from regional mills, and fruits and vegetables from area farms. The presence of his adept cavalry, too, was believed to divert Blunt until Hindman could bring his full force in.

Blunt and his 5000 men attacked Marmaduke on November 28. Retreat and counterattack followed, with a truce finally being called by Marmaduke to collect their dead and wounded. The Confederates returned to Hindman’s camp at Dripping Springs, near Van Buren. Blunt remained at Cane Hill, and only briefly savored his victory.

MG Francis Herron

On December 3, he received word that Hindman, with over 11,000 men and 22 cannons, was en route to attack him again. Now outnumbered by more than two to one, Blunt sent word to Curtis for reinforcements. Curtis then telegraphed Major General Francis J. Herron in Springfield to hurry his two divisions toward Blunt. Herron’s 6000 men covered over 100 miles in three days, arriving in Fayetteville, on December 6. Hindman was now nearly matched, if not outnumbered, and he was forced to form a new plan.

Instead of a frontal attack on Blunt, Hindman decided to take out the Union reinforcements. He would defeat Herron’s men before they could reach Blunt, and then turn his massive force on Blunt’s rear. He told his men to keep their campfires burning, and left an Arkansas cavalry regiment in the hills opposite Blunt’s front line, to keep the Yankees in place with diversionary skirmishing. Herron learned of the Confederate assault in the early hours of December 7. His men moved to repel the Rebel surge on a horseshoe shaped wooded hill on the Illinois River, known as Prairie Grove.

After crossing the Illinois River under artillery fire, Herron positioned his artillery and exchanged fire with the Confederate cannon. The superior range and number of Union cannon soon silenced the Southern guns, allowing the Union infantry to prepare to attack the ridge. Before the infantry advanced, the Union artillery pounded the Southern position on the ridge for about two hours.

The Twentieth Wisconsin and Nineteenth Iowa Infantry regiments crossed the open corn and wheat fields in the valley before surging forward up the slope, capturing the Confederate cannon of Captain William Blocher’s Arkansas Battery near the home of Archibald Borden. The Union soldiers continued their advance until suddenly the woods erupted with cannon and small-arms fire. The Confederates surrounded the Federal troops on three sides and quickly forced them to retreat to the Union cannon in the valley. A Southern counterattack went down the slope into the open valley, where it was met with case shot composed of small lead balls inside exploding projectiles. Herron’s artillery also used canister shot, consisting of tin cylinders filled with iron balls packed in sawdust which, when fired, turned a cannon into a giant shotgun blast, leaving gaping holes in the Confederate ranks and forcing a retreat to the cover of the woods on the ridge.

“…The Bayonet or Retreat” by Andy Thomas.  Union Troops Fighting at the Bordan House

Seeing Confederate movement on his flank, Herron decided to attack again. The Thirty-seventh Illinois and Twenty-sixth Indiana Infantry regiments went up the hill into the Borden apple orchard. Lieutenant Colonel John Charles Black of the Thirty-seventh Illinois led the way with his right arm in a sling because of a wound he had sustained at Pea Ridge nine months earlier. Outnumbered, the Federal soldiers fell back to a fence line in the valley, where they stopped another Confederate counterattack using Colt revolving rifles carried by the men of Companies A and K of the Thirty-seventh Illinois. Black sustained a serious wound to his left arm but remained with his command until it was out of danger. Black received the only Medal of Honor awarded for this battle.

With only two fresh infantry regiments left, Herron’s command was in peril even as Confederate troops began massing to attack the Twentieth Iowa Infantry, which served as the Federal right flank. Before the attack, two cannon shots rang out from the northwest at about 2:30 p.m., signaling the arrival of Blunt’s command; he quickly deployed and attacked the Confederate left flank. Blunt’s division was at Cane Hill the morning of December 7 expecting to be attacked by the Confederates. Hindman left Colonel James Monroe’s Arkansas cavalry on Reed’s Mountain to skirmish with Blunt’s Federal troops while the rest of the Confederate army marched past the Union position. The ruse worked, as Blunt’s command remained in a defensive position at Cane Hill until it heard the roar of battle at Prairie Grove. Marching to the battlefield, the Union soldiers under Blunt arrived in time to save Herron’s divisions.

The Bordan House as it appears today.

The Confederates responded to the Union advance on their left flank by skirmishing in the woods with the Federal troops until Blunt gave the command to fall back to his cannon line in the valley. Believing this was an opportunity to win the day, Brigadier General Mosby M. Parsons, in command of the Confederate Missouri Infantry brigade, launched an attack across the William Morton hayfield at about 4:00 p.m. As the Southern soldiers advanced, a devastating fire from all forty-four cannon in the Union army tore into the Confederate ranks, which fell back to the cover of the wooded ridge as darkness fell.

Captain H.C. Palmer of the 11th Kansas Infantry wrote “The rebels…came sweeping out of the timber in solid column … lifting their guns with fixed bayonets above their heads. They came on with a yell, like 7,000 demons as they were, and were within 300 yards of us when the command "Fire!" was given and twelve guns, double shotted with grape and canister swept great holes through their column”.

"They Came Like Demons" by Andy Thomas
By mid morning, the full brunt of fighting had commenced. Blunt finally received word of the battle and arrived to support Herron at nearly 2 p.m. Hindman’s extended line, weary and stretched thin, barely held out against the converging Union fronts. Back and forth, each side surged and fell back, and the fighting continued without any measureable gain for either side, unless casualties were considered.5 After twelve hours of unproductive fighting, Hindman finally retired.

Yet again, he deceived Blunt. Leaving campfires lit and Marmaduke’s cavalry in position, as if to resume fighting at daybreak, Hindman sent his army south during the night, wrapping the wheels of the artillery pieces in blankets to muffle the sound.6 Though Blunt was decidedly irritated, he met with Hindman the next morning to arrange for the care of the Confederate wounded that the Rebel Army could not transport.

BG John S. Marmaduke
Blunt’s men remained to bury the Confederate dead, and the Union Army provided rations for the Confederate wounded that were transported by Union ambulance to their field hospitals. Hindman’s army nearly disintegrated on their march south, arriving at their camps near Van Buren and Fort Smith with fewer than 5000 men. Casualties, sickness and desertion claimed the bulk of the Rebel Army after Prairie Grove; the men that remained to face Blunt later that month at Dripping Springs were ill, half-starved, shoeless and without warm clothing or blankets for the Ozark winter.

The losses at Prairie Grove were about even for both armies, with roughly 1300 casualties each. The nature of war is such that orders and plans, on paper or in theory, don’t develop in predictable ways. Leaving the wounded on the battlefield, even in hotly contested ground, is a sacrosanct practice. At Prairie Grove, with both sides gaining and losing ground, the dead and wounded were a present, tangible reminder of the perils of war.

This website offeres several animated videos of various stages of the Battle of Prairie Grove.

The text for this article were taken directly from two sources:

The Encyclopediea of Arkansas - The Battle of Praire Grove by Don Montgomery

Comunity in Conflict - The Impact of the Civil War in the Ozarks

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Power Ball Jackpot - Roman Style!

Bath, England uses the moniker "Roman City of Bath" for its tourist marketing.  My wife Phyllis and I, and friends Tod and Laurie Jordan, had the pleasure of visiting Bath in 2008.  The city is known mostly for its restored Roman baths, although its Georgian architecture and Regency era association with author Jane Austin also draw visitors.
 The town was in its heyday as a resort, spa and meeting place for the rich and famous during the late Georgian and Regency period. The amazing thing is they had no idea what lay beneath their feet in those days. One of the most famous gathering places for the social elite in Regency era Bath was the "Pump House," an meeting hall and tea room. The hot mineral water spring that still flows from a fountain at the Pump House, comes from a vast Roman era bath and spa that was discovered beneath it in the mid 19th Century.

A Fountain in the Pump Room still provides hot mineral water just as it did in Jane Austin's time.
Photo by author

Ruins of a Roman bath house displayed beneath the Pump Room. 
Photo by author

Since that find, other Roman bath houses, villas and wells have been unearthed far below the modern level of the city.  Even as I and my wife visited Bath, another more spectacular find was being uncovered.  During excavations of a new building site on Beau Street, a scant 450 feet from the Roman Baths, a hoard of 22,000 silver coins was discovered under the tiles of a Roman bath house.  That find has been kept secret till June 2012 as the coins were being analyzed at the British Museum in London.

One of the 22,000 Silver Coins of the Beau Street Hoard

The excavation on Beau Street
 This is the fifth largest treasure hoard found in the UK and the largest Roman hoard of its kind.  It also has the distinction of being the largest hoard ever found by a professional archaeologist during a planned excavation.  The find was recovered with the utmost care using the latest scientific methods.

Six leather sacks of coins made up the hoard.  Conservators at the British Museum are slowly removing each coin from the encrusted block for conservation.

Dates on the coins range from about 30 BC to about 270 AD.  The encrusted coins are arraigned to indicate that six separate sacks of coins were deposited together.  Traces on some coins suggest the sacks were made of leather.  The estimated date of the hoard fits nicely with a time of extreme upheaval known as the "Crisis of the Third Century," in which the Roman Empire nearly collapsed as Britain and Gaul broke away to form the short-lived Gallic Empire.  Perhaps someone hid the treasure planning to return for it.  Who knows why they did not return?

The Roman Baths is raising £150,000 to acquire, conserve and display the hoard. If you would like to help with a donation please phone the Roman Baths Administrator on +44 (0)1225 477773 with your credit card details, or send a cheque made payable to ‘Bath & North East Somerset Council’ to:
The Roman Baths
Pump Room
Stall Street
 BA1 1LZ