Occupation of Fayetteville (February 23–26, 1862)

Location: Washington County
Campaign: Pea Ridge Campaign
Dates: February 23–26, 1862
Principal Commanders: Brigadier General Alexander Asboth (US); General Benjamin McCulloch (CS)
Forces Engaged: Third Illinois Cavalry, Third Iowa Cavalry, Portions of the First, Fourth, and Fifth Missouri Cavalry, First Missouri Flying Battery (US); Two unidentified companies (CS)
Casualties: 1 wounded (US); 1 killed, 2 wounded, 30 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

Following the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, on August 10, 1861, the Southern troops began to stream into Arkansas. The Arkansas state troops were disbanded and were then recruited for service in the Confederate army, and rallying and enlistment began again in Fayetteville (Washington County). During the last few months of 1861, numerous companies were organized in and around Fayetteville.

During the months after its defeat at Wilson’s Creek, the Union army rebuilt its strength. Early in February 1862, the Union army began to move into northwestern Arkansas. The Confederate forces withdrew southwardly as the Union advanced. The Confederate forces under General Benjamin McCulloch had accumulated abundant supplies in Fayetteville. McCulloch determined that not all the supplies could be moved with his retreating troops, and, on February 20, 1862, he told his soldiers to take whatever food they could carry with them.

The soldiers began to take other things, and general looting broke out. Civilians with Confederate leanings fled south with their slaves and animals. The Confederate officers tried to stop the looting, but businesses were looted and left standing open.

On February 21, as the last of the Confederate infantry marched out of town, bands of Confederate cavalry returned to town on orders from McCulloch and began burning the buildings in Fayetteville. One building that was set on fire was used to store bombshells, which exploded and scattered fragments around the town. On February 22, the town was a smoldering ruin, and the civilians who stayed sat between two armies, the Union on the north and the Confederate on the south.

The next morning, the long blue battle line of the Union army marched into town. The pickets of the Confederate army fled along with two companies of cavalry, but they were followed by the Union cavalry and a few were captured. One Confederate soldier was killed and two were wounded, one mortally. One Union soldier was wounded. Brigadier General Alexander Asboth, in charge of the Federal forces, turned the Tebbetts home into his headquarters and had the U.S. flag raised at the courthouse.

Asboth reported to Brigadier General Samuel Curtis, who was camped outside the town, that he wanted to hold Fayetteville for the Union and that the loyal civilians deserved protection and order. Asboth issued a proclamation to the loyal citizens of Fayetteville that he would protect them and establish order in the town. Curtis reported of the problems with maintaining the army so far away from the supply lines in Missouri and said he was not sure if enough wheat could be obtained in the area for the Federal troops. Asboth was not permitted to hold Fayetteville, and the Union army was withdrawn by February 26, 1862.

For additional information:
Christ, Mark K., ed. Rugged and Sublime: The Civil War in Arkansas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1994.

Mahan, Russell L. Fayetteville Arkansas in the Civil War. Bountiful, UT: Historic Byways, 2003.

Shea, William, and Earl Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1992.

The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 8. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1883.

Carolyn Yancey Kent
Jacksonville, Arkansas


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