I have to say that in my opinion this is one of the best reports/accounts concerning the fighting in the Borden Orchard from a Confederate perspective. My only wish is that Col. Hawthorn could have included even more details than he did describing the various attacks. I feel this letter was not fully utilized in the book, "Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862," by Michael Banasik. Since it was cited infrequently during the description of fighting in the Borden Orchard, I figured that the letter didn't have much content. I had written to the Alabama Department of Archives & History and was told the charge was $20.00 to copy the letter, and I put it off for several years. Finally my curiosity got the best of me, and I splurged on it- fully expecting to be disappointed. Instead, I was thrilled when I got it and found it answered several questions I had concerning the fight in the Borden Orchard.
One aspect that is covered in the book by Michael Banasik is the significant role Hawthorn's regiment took in attacking Blunt's flank during the fighting on the left. Prior to reading the book and seeing the letter, the only reference I had seen about this was General Fagan simply mentioning that Hawthorn's regiment moved to the left as "reinforcement". That didn't tell me much, and might have even meant they didn't actually take part in the fighting. This letter shows that they were very involved in the fighting.
There were two other points made in the letter that I found very important. One concerns the position of Fagan's brigade as the infantry fight opened with the attack of the 20th Wisconsin Infantry. The other involves the timing of the attacks by the 20th Wisconsin and the 19th Iowa Infantry.
It is well documented that Fagan's brigade made a secondary movement after being in their first position during the artillery duel. When it was noticed that the Union infantry was preparing to assault the ridge, General Fagan moved along the line ordering each regiment in person to move forward. In Col. William H. Brooks' report, he describes this movement as being about 200 yards. Before reading Col. Hawthorn's letter, I had always been under the impression that this movement by the brigade had been completed prior to the 20th Wisconsin ascending the ridge. So the mistaken image I always had in my mind was of Fagan's entire brigade laying or kneeling down, quietly awaiting the approach of the Union infantry. It now appears that the only regiment of Fagan's brigade that had completed the movement prior to the 20th Wisconsin ascending the hill was Col. Brooks' 34th Arkansas Regiment whose position extended from the Fayetteville Road eastward to the ravine facing the Borden orchard.
Col. Hawthorn's letter vividly describes the frustration he had moving his regiment through a dense thicket trying to reach the vicinity of the Borden orchard. While not stated, it can be implied that King's and Pleasant's regiments were struggling to the right and further behind Hawthorn's regiment through the same dense thicket. It is plainly apparent by Hawthorn's description that the 20th Wisconsin had already ascended the ridge and captured Blocher's battery as he was struggling to get his regiment into line. The letter then describes how the 20th Wisconsin and Hawthorn's regiment saw each other about the same time and opened fire on each other. It is well documented that Hawthorn (with Chew's battalion) and Brooks' regiment alone were responsible for driving the 20th Wisconsin back. Prior to reading Hawthorn's letter, I always wondered why Colonels King and Pleasants didn't join in the fray of driving back the 20th Wisconsin. Since I was erroneously thinking these regiments were already in line with Hawthorn's regiment- I attributed it to them showing remarkable restraint. Now I realize that the reason they didn't participate was because they were still struggling through the same thicket that Hawthorn's regiment had passed through to get into line.
Another point concerns an interpretation of the battle where I disagree with Michael Banasik. His interpretation has the 20th Wisconsin and 19th Iowa attacking en echelon. In other words, while the 20th Wisconsin was still heavily engaged he has the 19th Iowa ascending the hill and moving to the left through the Borden orchard. From the evidence I've seen it appears that these two attacks, while occurring close together, occurred independently. Col. Hawthorn clearly states in his letter that he reformed his regiment after attacking the 20th Wisconsin. Had the 19th Iowa already ascended the hill while Hawthorn was fighting the 20th Wisconsin, he would have had to immediately wheel his regiment around to engage the 19th Iowa. There would have been no time to reform, and it would have been a very chaotic situation. My interpretation is that the 20th Wisconsin ascended the hill and captured the battery. They then moved forward with about half the regiment moving down into the ravine on the west with the other half moving toward the back of the orchard where they engaged Hawthorn's regiment and the 34th Arkansas (Brooks). Sustaining enormous casualties the survivors of the 20th Wisconsin retreated back down the hill without being seriously pursued. There was a lull, during which time Hawthorn's regiment and the 34th Arkansas moved back to their original position and reformed their lines. By now, King's and Pleasant's regiment had made it through the thicket, formed their lines alongside Hawthorn's regiment, and lay down along the backside of the Borden orchard. It was after this lull of a few minutes, that the 19th Iowa ascended the hill and moved directly through the back of the orchard. At this time the fighting erupted again, with the 19th Iowa facing the Pleasant's, King's, and Hawthorn's regiment, and a flanking fire from Brooks' regiment on their right.
I realize this was long-winded. But I felt this letter was a great find and explains a lot about how the fighting in the Borden orchard transpired. I will be gone for the rest of the day, but if no one has posted a copy of the letter I will do so later on tonight.