A noncombatant's eyewitness account of the Civil War and its destabilizing effects on northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri.
With the goal of sketching "at least some of the bright lights and dark shadows of the war;" William Baxter authored his regional classic, Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove, in 1864, before the actual end of the Civil War.
Primarily focusing on the civilians of the region, Baxter vividly describes their precarious and vulnerable positions during the advances and retreats of armies as Confederate and Federal forces marched across their homeland. In his account, Baxter describes skirmishes and cavalry charges outside his front door, the "firing" of his town's buildings during a Confederate retreat, clashes between secessionist and Unionist neighbors, the feeding of hungry soldiers and the forceful appropriation of his remaining food supply, and the sickening sight of the wounded emerging from the Prairie Grove battlefield.
Since its original printing, this firsthand account has only been reprinted once, in 1957, and both editions are considered collectors' items today. Of interest to Civil War scholars and general readers alike, Baxter's compelling social history is rendered even more comprehensive by William Shea's introduction. Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove is a valuable personal account of the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi West which enables us to better comprehend the conflict as a whole and its devastating effect on the general populace of the war-torn portions of the country.
"Baxter's Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove should help readers understand the human dimension of the Civil War. His story is not about the strategy of generals and the movement of armies on maps, but rather about the destructive power of warfare."
William Baxter was the president of Arkansas College and a clergyman in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when the Civil War started in 1861.
William L. Shea is a professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Monticello and coauthor of Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West (1992, University of North Carolina Press).