Pea Ridge Leadership Experience

Pea Ridge National Battlefield Park is one of the best preserved of the Civil War battlegrounds in the country and is conveniently located to the Bentonville, Arkansas area. In late 1861, keeping Missouri in the Union was a primary objective for the Federal government and Confederate troops and state militia there had been increasingly pressuring pro-Union forces and raising support for the secession of Missouri.  As Union troops under Generals Curtis and Sigel swept southwest following the telegraph lines bordering the main road connecting St. Louis and San Francisco at the time, Confederate forces under Generals Mc Cullough, Price and Van Dorn converged from the south and moved north, intending to strike into Missouri and capture St. Louis.

 Under Van Dorn’s command, this 16,000 man force, containing elements of regular Confederate troops, state militia, and Cherokee Indian regiments, encountered Curtis’10,500 man army firmly entrenched on the bluffs of the Pea Ridge plateau above Little Sugar Creek on March 6, 1862.  In the two days of fighting that followed, the Rebel forces were defeated and withdrew to East of the Mississippi, leaving Missouri and Northern Arkansas in control of the Union and southern Arkansas virtually undefended and open to Union occupation. One of the largest battles fought West of the Mississippi, Pea Ridge was one of the few contests in the Civil War in which Confederate forces outnumbered the Northern armies.

Case Studies

Case studies will focus on: the adept use of competitive intelligence by Union commanders, the role of overconfidence and underestimating competitive capability in Sigel’s decision to delay departure from his separated position, Mc Cullough’s abandonment of mission focus and diversion to a secondary and unexpected obstacle, McIntosh’s assumptions and lack of validation of  his adjacent troop movements, Van Dorn’s inability to align and coordinate his units for a surprise dawn attack, the inattention to detail and lack of attunement to developing circumstances in Price’s decision to pursue an advantage gained quickly, and Colonel Osterhaus’ example of adaptive leadership in reacting to unexpected enemy movements and thinking strategically to halt McCullough’s advance against Curtis’ flank.

Leadership Lessons

The above cases will especially highlight and develop the following dimensions of leadership:


  • Forging alignment for execution
  • Engaging and motivating staff
  • Balancing strategic and operational/tactical focus
  • Ensuring timely and effective communication across units
  • Instilling urgency appropriate to the situation
  • Differentiating between critical and important priorities
  • Fostering innovation and improvisation
  • Adaptive leadership and organizational agility