Tonight’s meeting of the Arkansas Archeological Society is an online lecture from Dr. Douglas Scott. He’s going to talk about the bullet claimed to have been the one that killed Gen. Benjamin McCulloch at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in March of 1862. This should be a fascinating talk, and I hope people log in to watch. There are a couple of things that I want to point out:
Archeology of a Single Bullet
Archeologists LOVE big datasets. We can do some really interesting analyses on artifact collections to tell stories about the past. What is sometimes harder to do is tell really important stories from single artifacts. This should be an object lesson (see what I did there) about the explanatory of these smaller finds.
It’s Doug Scott
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is Doug Scott. For the field of Conflict Archaeology, this is about as prominent a scholar as you’re going to find. He was key to the work at the Little Bighorn battlefield in the 1980s, and has since worked on numerous battlefields and other conflict sites literally all over the world.
He is also known for his work in forensic archeology, having worked in the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and Iraq excavating mass graves.
The Society for Historical Archaeology gives the J.C. Harrington Award to those whose work is of great import and influence. Doug is one of those people.
I will admit my bias. As a Conflict Archeologist, it’s always fascinating to see Doug talk. He’s been a friend and mentor, too.
How Can One Bullet Win the War?
Admittedly, this is a bit of tongue-in-cheek, as there were so many things that contributed to that outcome, but stick with me. Here’s my old spiel:
1. Ben McCulloch dies during the first day of Pea Ridge, likely killed by Private Peter Pelican of the 36th Illinois Infantry.
2. McCulloch’s death and the resulting cascading set of calamities immobilizes half of the Confederate forces at the battle, opening the door to the U.S. Army’s victory.
3. The U.S. victory at Pea Ridge secured the city of St. Louis in U.S. hands for the foreseeable future.
4. St. Louis is used as a base of operations for U.S. operations down the Mississippi River that results in the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in July of 1863.
5. The campaigns for Vicksburg establish the reputations of generals Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman.
6. Grant and Sherman lead the campaigns that ultimately decide the outcome of the war.
So… this one bullet started this chain of events.