PEA RIDGE, Ark. (AP) — Patrons of a Civil War battlefield park expect certain elements to be unchanging. The problem at Pea Ridge was that it was the exhibits and facilities that were stuck in time, and in the wrong century.
Pea Ridge National Military Park near the border with Missouri in northwest Arkansas marks the Battle of Pea Ridge, one of the largest Civil War encounters west of the Mississippi River.
“We’re trying to move the 21st century out of parts of the park and restore the Civil War battlefield to the way it was when the battle was fought March 7 and 8, 1862,” Chief Ranger Steve Black said.
The park opened in 1963, something that is evident to visitors.
“Our museum is the same today as it was in 1963 with a few minor exceptions,” Black said, “but that’s going to change.”
The museum will close early this summer for a complete renovation and is scheduled to reopen in the fall with new displays and artifacts.
“It will be more interactive than it is now and we will have several more exhibits and displays,” Black said.
The 4,300-acre park, 10 miles north of Rogers on U.S. 62, is also devoting work to the battlefield itself.
Using historical records and accounts of Union and Confederate soldiers who fought the battle, park officials are removing trees that weren’t on the grounds and planting new trees to re-establish the battlefield as it was in 1862. More than 16 miles of split-rail fence already has been pieced together by volunteers.
An apple orchard was planted last year near Elkhorn Tavern because records indicate the orchard was there in 1862. Five hundred peach trees were planted on acreage that was the G.W. Ford farm in 1862. More will be planted; records indicate there were 1,500 peach trees on the farm.
To return grassland to a hardwood forest similar to that which stood on the battle site, more than 2,500 oak trees have been planted.
A parking lot and asphalt road at the tavern is scheduled to be removed as part of the renovation. Visitors will walk down a dirt path to reach the site later this year.
Plenty of deer roam the battlefield as they did in the 1800s, giving 69,000 visitors a year a look at Arkansas wildlife.
“We want to enhance the experience of our visitors, let them see what it was like when thousands soldiers fought and died on this ground,” Black said.
Black isn’t sure how much the renovation cost. The contracts for the work are being handled by the National Park Service in Washington, D.C., and renovation figures were not immediately available from the park service.
In the battle, about 10,500 Union troops, under the command of Gen. Samuel Curtis, fought about 16,000 Confederate troops, who were commanded by Gen. Earl Van Dorn. The Confederate troops kept the Union soldiers in retreat March 7. The death of two Confederate generals and reinforcements for Union troops turned the tide on March 8 giving victory to Union forces. About 1,384 Union soldiers and about 2,000 Confederate soldiers were wounded or killed.