Samuel Ryan Curtis, born February 3, 1805, was the overall commander of Federal forces here at the Battle of Pea Ridge. In 1832, a year after graduating West Point, Curtis resigned his commission.
Ardently pro-Union and a founding member of the Republican Party, when the Civil War broke out Curtis resigned his seat in Congress and formed the Second Iowa Volunteers. By late 1861, Curtis was in St. Louis supervising all military activities there. In November, Major General Henry Halleck took command of the Department of the Missouri and by December, placed Curtis in command of the Military District of Southwest Missouri. Curtis left St. Louis for the railhead at Rolla and took charge of the Federal Army of the Southwest. Although faced with issues regarding the movement of supplies and men during winter and personality clashes with fellow officers, Curtis managed to move his Federals towards Springfield, Missouri. This movement forced the Missouri State Guard to retreat towards Arkansas with the hope of uniting with Confederates under Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch.
When the Federals arrived in Arkansas, they encountered some resistance but forced the Southern armies southward. Curtis entrenched his Federals at Little Sugar Creek and spread his 10,500 men out to hold Northwest Arkansas.
Confederate Major General Earl van Dorn arrived in Northwest Arkansas to take command of the Confederate and Missouri State Guard troops. Van Dorn’s ultimate goal was to defeat the Union forces in Arkansas and then liberate Missouri of Federals. Curtis believed the Confederate attack would be from the south, but Van Dorn moved around the Union to the west, split his forces in two and attempted to attack Curtis from the north. During the Battle of Pea Ridge, Curtis managed to turn the Federal front 180 degrees to face the Rebel threat from the north, defeat the largest Confederate force ever assembled west of the Mississippi River and save Missouri’s vital natural resources and strategic waterways for the Union.
After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Curtis was promoted to major general and given command of the Department of the Missouri. In May of 1863, President Lincoln removed Curtis due to rivalries between Curtis and Missouri Governor William Gamble. Curtis was then given command of the Department of Kansas and remained there for the rest of the Civil War. After the Civil War, Curtis was appointed to negotiate treaties with many Plains Indians tribes and later, he was given the duty of reporting on the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad. Curtis died in 1866 at Council Bluff, Iowa and is buried in Keokuk, Iowa.