I have just about completed the newest Civil War title from William L. Shea, “Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign.” As with other titles, from Shea, “Fields of Blood” is well researched and a very quick read. Written about an often forgotten trans-Mississippi battle, between US Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Army of the Frontier and CSA Major General Thomas Hindman’s Trans-Mississippi Army’s 1st Corps, the Battle of Prairie Grove would have far reaching implications for Confederate strategy in the western frontier.
One particular passage of the book caught my interest as it demonstrates the fighting elan of the field officers of the Confederate army. CSA Colonel Joseph C. Pleasants commanded an Arkansas infantry regiment in CSA Brigadier General James F. Fagan’s Brigade of CSA Brigadier General Francis S. Shoup’s Division. Assigned the unenviable task of holding the north face of the hill, that was Prairie Grove, Fagan’s Brigade was assaulted by two separate Federal thrusts – first by the 20th Wisconsin and 19th Iowa – and then later in the afternoon by 37th Illinois and 26th Indiana. These attacks were brutal, with the fighting devolving to hand-to-hand combat. Supporting the Federal assaults were very well executed artillery bombardments by a superior Federal artillery, with 20 pieces. Fagan’s Brigade was posted on the high ground, south beyond the West Cornfield. Pleasants’ Arkansas Infantry held the right flank of Fagan’s Brigade and received a direct attack by the 19th Iowa. Described by Columbus H. Gray, of Pleasants infantry, the fighting was most severe in an orchard, “We were all laying down and the Federals came up in fifty steps of us when our colonel ordered us to rise and fire.”(i)
During the melee around the orchard, Colonel Joseph Pleasants became one of the many Confederate casualties. Unable to describe the heroism better than Mr. Shea, the following text, from “Fields of Blood,” describes Pleasants’ actions leading his regiment.
“Among the dozens of Rebels who fell in the orchard was Colonel Pleasants. A bullet broke his leg, but he stayed on his horse until the animal was shot out from under him. In excruciating pain, the forty-seven year old Virginia native was dragged clear of his horse and propped up against a tree. When Captain Henry C. Pleasants attempted to carry his father to the rear, the older man would have none of it. He stated that “his place was with the regiment” and that “he would take care of himself.” Others offered to move Pleasants to the opposite side of the tree so he would be protected from enemy fire. “No,” he said, “my boys fight so well I must see them through the charge.” When the fighting ended, Colonel Pleasants insisted that all the other wounded members of the regiment be removed before he allowed himself to be taken to the rear. At the hospital he refused to let surgeons dress his wound until everyone else had been looked after. Pleasants’ selfless behavior may have contributed to his death ten days later.”(ii)
CSA Colonel Joseph C. Pleasants was a brave leader that led his men from the front. Even after his wounding, he refused to be removed from the field until all his wounded men had been taken care of. While Congressional Medals of Honor were never awarded to Confederate soldiers, Pleasants’ gallantry at Prairie Grove would have been deserving of such recognition had he been fighting in a blue uniform. Today we are one country - with fifty separate state flags – flying next to one national flag. I am proud to say that Colonel Joseph Pleasants is a true American HERO, who fought bravely, and selflessly, for what he believed in.
(i) Shea, William L., Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2009, Pg. 177.
(ii) Shea, William L., Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign, published by The University of North Carolina Press in 2009, Pg. 178.