Masard Priarie cemetary of fallen soldiers
The American Civil war (1861-65) was fought between the southern states and the Union. It lasted 4 years and was marked by some bitter battles. In India not many will know that this year (2011) was the 150th anniversary of this war which at that time changed the face of America. Popular notion is that the war when Abraham Lincoln was the President was fought on the issue of slavery. But that is a simplistic reason and there were deeper reasons that brought about this war. The issues involved were economic independence and the right to chart a separate course from the union.
The Scenario of the battle
But I will now refer to one battle of this civil war and that is the battle of Masard Prairie. Prairies as we know are vast grasslands of America and this battle fought on 27 July 1864 is important as it was fought in the grasslands of America with the cavalry in full cry. The vast grass fields gave excellent topographical support to the deployment of cavalry. The cavalry in those days consisted of soldiers with sabers who pressed forward on horses
In another few days we will be witness to the 147th anniversary of this battle. The battle was fought between the Confederates and Unionists and is one of the few battles where the Confederates had the upper hand. We all know that in the final analysis the confederates were defeated and the economic scenario of the south changed after the civil war.
The South had vast sugar and tea plantations, whose owners were reduced to penury after the war. But that is another story and we must see this battle in a different light. It was one of the few confederate victories of the civil war. Masard prairie is a vast land with many grassy fields on the outskirts of Fort Smith in Arkansas. Fort Smith is thus a hallowed ground in America and Americans will remember it as part of their military heritage. The significance of this battle from the military point of view is use of cavalry in a decisive charge against the union soldiers. The battle brought out the brutal environment all around at that time and many union soldiers who had died in battle were scalped like what the Red Indian did to the white men. It was a barbaric act but perhaps it was inevitable, given the animosity that existed between the South and the north at that time. The battlefield is still preserved as a reminder of this battle and many soldiers and men visit this place.
In 1864 all the construction which we see all around was not there and the prairie field stretched for miles and miles. It was virgin grass land and was used as a grazing ground for their horses by the Union cavalry. One of the reasons to use this area as grazing ground was the shortage of fodder in Fort Smith which was the military encampment of the union force which was commanded by Brigadier general John Thayer.
Brigadier Thayer thus had allowed the horses of his regiment to be allowed to be grazed. In addition he had entrusted the guarding to 4 companies puff the 6th Kansas cavalry. This cavalry unit had earlier taken part in some hard battles during the civil war. The Confederate force received intelligence report of the units of the union army at Fort Smith being out in the open in the priairi field and their commander Brig General R Gano planned an attack.
The Confederate Attack
Thus on 26 July the stage was set for the Confederate attack. He made his plans for an attack before the run rises. The federal troops should have been on guard, but somehow they with misplaced confidence did not take the necessary precautions.
The confederate attack began ere the first rays of the sun had hit the earth. In this Gano achieved total surprise and satisfied a basic principle of war, element of surprise. The confederate was aided by Choctaws who were Native American Red Indians who originally hailed from the Southeastern United States. The Choctaws had thrown in their lot with the Confederates as all their treaties with Union were not honored. These men entered with their war cries and that had an effect on the union troops.
A three-pronged attack was mounted by the confederates under Gano and the Union lines quickly gave way. There was some bitter fighting but with Gano himself lading the charge, the fate of the union troops was sealed. A large part of the federal force was hemmed in a small old mansion and was surrounded. The surrendered and were made POWS. Some of the troops escaped into the vast prairie field. The confederates suffered very light causalities and lost only 33 dead, while the union force suffered heavy causalities.
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This battle was the launching pad to the capture of Fort Smith by the Confederates, hence it was an important battle.
This battle marks one of the most comprehensive victories of the confederates and gave them much confidence. But the tide was turning against the confederates and they finally lost the war. For students of military history the battle is studied as an example of the use of cavalry regiments in a limited engagement. The battlefield is still there, a tribute to American arms. For further details of the battle excellent exhibits are preserved at the museum at Fort Smith