Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas 2007

Dear Family and Friends,

Greetings! It is this time of year again! The decades just seem to run together. We hope your year was happy, safe and fruitful. Here is our latest news…

Spring break in March took us to Virginia and Hank’s folks. We toured the US Capitol with a staffer from our Congressman, visited Chinatown and became separated half-a-dozen times in the Smithsonian. We managed a romantic getaway (for 2) in mid-week to Strasburg in the Shenandoah Valley.

Rachel is a teenager – turning 13 on June 15. She is in 8th grade at Thomas Jefferson Junior High (interestingly, Jefferson is well-represented in Missouri, not quite as much as Lewis and Clark, though). She stays busy throughout the school year with soccer, band and church youth group. Despite Hank’s tutoring she manages to do well in honors Algebra and shop and make the honor roll. She plays the piano and is playing baritone in the marching band which marched downtown in the MU and local high school homecoming parades and the Christmas parade. She plays in the city’s under-16 soccer league. Hank coached the team this year and Rachel was the leading goal-scorer. Luckily the team had great defense ;)

In July we vacationed at Cape Hatteras on the Outer Banks of North Carolina with Hank’s family. The surfing was good and the food was excellent. We celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary there on July 20th.

Jessica turned 9 on October 1. She is in 3rd grade at Rock Bridge Elementary. Her teacher does a great job with Jessica’s energy and temperament. Jessica played ‘up’ a league in soccer, in the 4th-6th grade league in Upward soccer. The field is longer and the action a bit more intense.

Mary’s father, Richard, celebrated his 80th birthday on October 2nd. Friends and relatives congregated for a shindig at the local winery. He is doing well within the limits of Parkinson’s and a small stroke he had in November and with the help of Mary’s mom, Sue. They are always up on the latest Wisconsin Badger and Green Bay Packer sports news.

Hank’s mom, Elise, broke her kneecap in October. After a month in a brace, she is into physical therapy, which sounds good for all of her, not just the knee ;) Hank’s father, Chuck/Charlie/Charles (depending on whose phoning) gets out on the golf course, into the ledgers and onto the church landscape. He and Hank give each other golf lessons during every visit. Eventually, they’ll improve.

Mary works MWF at the University‘s Thompson Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders adding numerous publications to her CV. Hank is working at the University computer department providing e-mail to the students, paychecks to the faculty and football for the alumni (well two out of three anyway).

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Mary, Hank, Rachel and Jessica

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Springfield re-re-re-taken

After his victory at Lexington, Price leisurely marched his men southward through the mostly pro-Southern tier of Missouri’s western border counties. The march’s lack of resistance gave Union general, and department head, John C. Fremont cause for grief, mostly in the person of his political nemesis, Frank Blair, and the powerful New York newspapers.

Fremont yearned for a smashing military victory. He began moving his 5 divisions of 40,000 men south and west to intercept Price’s 12,000. Hunter’s division went to Versailles; Pope’s to Boonville; Sigel’s to Sedalia; Asboth to Tipton and McKinstry to Syracuse. Senator-General Jim Lane had another 5,000 in western Missouri.

Price had easily pushed Lane’s force aside in his northern movement to Lexington. Since then, Lane had captured supplies, burned Osceola and executed men accused as secessionist traitors while hoping for some measure of revenge to assuage his wounded pride.

The converging northern force had plenty of men to confront Price, but except for the foreign generals Sigel and Asboth, all the others were working to cross-purposes of personal ambition.
Moving ever southward, replacing burned bridges along the way, Fremont’s columns finally converged just south of ruined Osceola and moved toward Springfield where the rump rebel legislature was said to be in session.

On October 24th, Fremont sent his elite ‘Jesse Fremont guard’, commanded by Hungarian Major Charles Zagoni, to capture the assembly. Zagoni lead his 350 men west of Springfied and then in toward the town. Meeting resistance just a quarter mile from the town limits, Zagoni formed ad charged ahead. A solid rank of Confederates fired a volley and then gave way. Zagoni’s men galloped into vacated Springfield, raised their banner at the courthouse and found no evidence of the rump legislature after an eighty-five mile ride and five-minute skirmish. On the anniversary of Balaclava, Zagoni declared his men heirs to the Light Brigade. Two days later Fremont’s main force entered Springfield.

Despite Frmont's heroic dispatches announcing Springfield’s capture as a tonic for Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek, Lexington and Ball’s Bluff, President Lincoln was unimpressed. Price had scampered back into Arkansas, ready for further resistance. On November 2d, the aged David Hunter temporarily replaced Fremont. Hunter, feeling overextended 125 miles from the Rolla railhead, ordered a withdrawal to that point and Sedalia.

Volunteer officers proposed the ‘Lane treatment’ – leave a US flag flying in each town and if it came down their town would be burned at the next opportunity. Fortunately, the regular officers could not accept such harsh medicine. For the fourth time in 1861, citizens of southwest Missouri saw their country change hands but the seesaw state of affairs was gaining traction with the upper echelons in both Washington and Richmond.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Sterling Price

Sterling Price was born in Virginia in 1809. He studied law at Hampden-Sydney and moved with his family to Missouri in 1831.

Price prospered as a tobacco planter and served in the legislature from 1836-1838 and for four more years beginning in 1840 as speaker of the general assembly. In 1844 he was elected to the US Congress, served for 2 years and resigned to become colonel of the Second Regiment, Missouri Mounted Volunteer Cavalry in the war with Mexico. He advanced to Brigadier General and was appointed military governor of Chihuahua. Returning to Missouri he was elected governor in 1852.

A conditional Unionist, he was elected presiding officer of the Missouri State Convention which voted against secession. "Old Pap" threw his lot with the South after Fort Sumter and Lincoln's call for troops.

He was given command of the Missouri State Guard and lead them, first in retreat, then to victory at Wilson's Creek and a successful campaign resulting in the capture of a 3300-man federal force at Lexington. Price's force was then mostly incorporated into the Confederate army and saw action east of the Mississippi. From 1862 on, as a Confederate Major General, he suffered defeats as both a subordinate and a commander at Iuka and Corinth in Mississippi and Helena Arkansas.

His raid across Missouri in 1864 left him in retreat in Texas and Arkansas. He expatriated himself for a brief time in Mexico but returned to Missouri where he died in St. Louis in 1867 from chronic dysentery contracted during the Mexican War.

Nathanial Lyon

Nathanial Lyon was born in Ashford Connecticut in 1818 and graduated 11th in his class from West Point in 1841. Assigned to the 2nd Infantry he fought in the Seminole Wars and the Mexican War. After the war, Lyon participated in the controversial ' Clear Lake Massacre' in California and was reassigned to Fort Riley Kansas where he was accused of hounding an enlisted man to death.

'Bleeding Kansas' turned Lyon into a fanatical abolitionist, writing "It is no longer useful to appeal to reason, but to the sword.". Lyon transferred to St. Louis, used his friendship with the powerful Blair family to gain command of the St. Louis arsenal and captured pro-secessionist Missouri troops at camp Jackson outside of the city. Marching the captives back through the city, fighting broke out and over 100 people were killed or wounded.

Promoted to Brigadier General Lyon was given command of all Union troops in Missouri and began pursuing Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson's forces across the state which he defeated at Boonville and chased southwest past Springfield. Meeting a combined force of Missouri State Guard and regular Confederate forces at Wilson's Creek, Lyon was killed on August 10, 1861. Lyon's quick, perhaps rash, action in the early days of the war neutralized Confederate ambitions in Missouri, allowed Union forces to dominate the state and laid the groundwork for the bloody guerilla war for the next 3½ years.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Lexington - the battle of the hemp bales

After the battle of Wilson's Creek on August 10, 1861, General Sterling Price slowly marchs the Missouri State Guard north. At Dry Wood Creek he brushs aside Kansas militia lead by Jims Lane and Montgomery. His destination is Lexington, the wealthy little town on the Missouri River that had served as an embarkation point for border ruffians during the days of bleeding Kansas.

Lexington contains a Masonic college, large houses, a columned courthouse and sturdy bank filled with gold. It also bases a Union force of about 2800 men lead by Colonel James A. Mulligan.

Alerted to Price's advance, Mulligan was ordered from Jefferson City by John C. Fremont, head of the Department of the West. Mulligan moved slowly west searching for Price's vanguard. After 9 days, he arrived in Lexington and was joined by Colonel Thomas A. Marshall with a regiment of Illinois cavalry and 350 Missouri militia. Other forces commanded by John Pope and Samuel Sturgis are on the way.

On September 11, Price's lead regiments appears in front of Lexington. After being chased southwest across Missouri, winning a skirmish at Carthage and the battle of Wilson's Creek and marching north, the Missouri State Guard is a veteran, disciplined, if not a crack, force of 12,000.

Price camps on the fairgrounds, deploys the Guard's 16 artillery pieces and exchanges rounds with Mulligan's 5 cannon. As more Guard regiments arrive, the federal position is slowly surrounded. Mulligan, already low on food, depends on the river for his water supply.

On the 18th, Price's extends a skirmish line along the river bank, cutting the Union troops off from the water and completely encircling them. Their entrenchments on the college's high ground are yet formidable.

Price's men capture a three-story hospital building . Realizing it provides an excellent view into his position, Mulligan launches a counter-attack and retakes it. A Confederate counter-counter-attack secures the position for good and denies the federals their desparately needed water supply in the scorching weather.

On the 19th, Price tightens his lines and continues a slow exchange of artillery. The heat and lack of water in the defending camp are his allies.

The well-protected US position must be approached across open fields. Discovering a warehouse full of large hemp bales in the town on the 20th, Price has them carted to the river, soaked and then brought to the front line. Soon a long movable breastwork moves is levered toward the Union line from the west. The slow, steady advance is sometimes interrupted as a cannon ball sends a hemp bale tumbling, but the soaked bales stop a bullet and refuse to burn. A brief, hand-to-hand attack from the defenses fails to halt the Guard's advance.

Hungry, and now thirsty, a number of defenders show the white flag. Mulligan refuses to acknowledge them. Finally, he calls for a vote of his officers - they vote 4-2 to surrender.

On September 20, the Union forces stack arms and march out of their trenches. Prics allows them to keep their side arms, personal property and horses. Price hosts Mulligan and his officers at a champagne dinner that evening, and toasts their valor.

Price captures 1000 horses, 100 wagons, 5 cannon and 3000 muskets which aid in supplying his troops. Pope and Sturgis, in separate columns are less than 15 miles away and unaware of Mulligan's predicament.

Price's Missouri State Guard lost about 100 killed and wounded; in addition to the captured, Mulligan counted 160 battle losses.

On the heels of the debacle in the east at Bull Run, and the Confederate victory and death of General Lyon at Wilson's Creek, the battle of Lexington and the loss of some 3300 men was another blow to the Union cause.

End note: The Lexington courthouse still contains an artillery shell fragment in it's portico.

End note: Col. Mulligan was exchanged in October, returned to Chicago and received as a hero. Given command of the 23rd Illinois and charge of Camp Douglas, a prisoner-of-war camp, he reformed the poor management system at the camp and granted the prisoners much more humane treatment than had his predecessor.

In June 1962, he and his regiment moved to Maryland for field service and played a small role at Antietam. Ordered to western Virginia they spent two years warding off guerilla raids, ambushes, and night attacks.

In July 1864 the 23rd moved into the Valley of Virginia. They helped turn back Confederate General Jubal Early's attack on Washington. Fighting under General Philip Sheridan, the 23rd met Early's troops at Winchester.

Here Colonel Mulligan was shot from his horse, and when his men offered to carry him from the field, he rebuked, "Lay me down and save the flag!" He was captured where he fell and died two days later in Confederate hands. The position of his fatal wounding is now marked on the battlefield.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Missouri State Guard

In response to Lyon’s capture of Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861, the Missouri Legislature created the Missouri State Guard from the Missouri State Militia. The Guard is to ‘defend the state, maintain public tranquility, suppress riot, rebellion or insurrection, or repel invasion’ in the early stages of the Civil War. Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson openly professes that the Guard will aid his pro-secessionist aim of withdrawing Missouri from the Union.

The ‘Military Bill’ creates nine military districts based on Congressional districts. Each district is to organize, train and arm a division of troops. Overall command was given to popular former Governor Sterling Price. On June 12, Jackson issues a call for 50,000 to join the Guard and thousands do.

However, Lyon seizes the initiative, pushes Price and Jackson out of the capital, Jefferson City, and west to Boonville. Giving his adversaries little time to organize, Lyon defeats the Guard at Boonville on June 17, forcing it into the far southwest corner of the state. A small victory over Colonel Franz Sigel’s Union Missouri troops at Carthage gives the Guard some breathing room and precious time for training at Cowskin Prairie. Most men wear their own clothing and carry their own arms mostly shotguns and muskets; of the 9,000 men present only about 5,000 are armed.

Lyon moves south, joins with Sigel and takes Springfield. Meanwhile, a Confederate brigade under Brigadier General Ben McCulloch and a division of the Arkansas State Guard under Brigadier General Nathan Bart Pierce move from Arkansas and join Price with McCulloch assuming overall command.

After the victory at Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861, McCulloch and Pierce return to Arkansas. The federal defeat brings new recruits into the Guard and Price moves north with 10,000 troops.

Brushing aside Kansas jayhawkers under Senator Jim Lane at Big Dry Wood Creek on September 1, 1861, Price moves to the Missouri River. At the rich, frontier trading town of Lexington on September 20, he captures 3,600 Federal troops in the ‘Battle of the Hemp Bales’.
The federal Department of the West’s commander, John C. Fremont, finally begins to move some of his 25,000 men toward Price who withdraws back into southwest Missouri at Neosho. Hearing that Fremont is removed from command and his army is in winter quarters, the Guard moves north to encamp at Osceola and Price enrolls his troops into regular Confederate service. Despite many of the men’s reluctance, Price organizes a 2,500-man Confederate brigade.

Fremont’s replacement, Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, leaves his quarters and moves against Price. The combined Guard and Confederate Missourians withdraw into Arkansas and reunite with McCulloch’s force under the overall command of Major General Earl Van Dorn. At the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) on March 6-8, 1862, McCulloch is killed, the Confederates defeated and forced to retreat farther into Arkansas.

Eventually most Guardsmen join the Confederate service and Price leads them east of the Mississippi. The Guard continues for the duration of the war, but reaches in zenith in the first 12 months of the conflict. 15,000 men served in the Missouri State Guard during the Civil War.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wilson's Creek - postscript

The Confederate tactical triumph at Wilson’s Creek, General Nathaniel Lyon Lyon’s death and the subsequent Union withdrawal to Rolla, coupled with the federal fiasco at 1st Manassas in the east, forced the North into a more serious attitude towards planning, supplying and fighting the war.

The Union reinforced Missouri with soldiers and weapons during the ensuing fall and winter; the Confederacy rested on its post-battle laurels and applied scarce resources in other places. The exiled pro-Confederate state government voted to secede and sent delegates to Richmond, but Missouri remained firmly in the Union.

Many of the soldiers at Wilson's Creek ‘saw the elephant’ for the first time. The regulars, who typically look down on volunteer soldiers, found the volunteers at Wilson's Creek battling courageously, if unskillfully. Well-directed cannon fire proved decisive at key moments. Cavalry was less useful in the stand-up fighting – the infantry of both sides determined the outcome. Green soldiers lead by inexperienced officers fought for six bloody hours. Wilson’s Creek recorded some of the highest casualty rates of the Civil War. Nearly 1 in 4 Union troops and 1 in 8 Confederates were casualties.

Most of the volunteer regiments are low-numbered, filled with the most enthusiastic of those enlisting early in the conflict. Some of these regiments, the 1st Kansas, 3rd Arkansas, 1st Missouri and 3rd Louisiana, will form a veteran backbone for nearby operations over the next 3½ years and meet on future fields of battle.

The Union order of battle reveals names familiar to the Civil War buff: Sigel, Schofield, Osterhaus, Sturgis, Granger, Gilbert, Herron, Stanley, and Steele went on to Union high command.

Lyon’s plan was innovative and bold. Like Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville two years later, he found himself outnumbered more than two to one with an aggressive, offensive-minded opponent. His choices were to attack or withdraw. He did both – with difficult tactics. He divided his forces into two columns - using one to hold the enemy in place and the other to sweep around his flank.

The Confederates were initially surprised but soon recovered and, mixing Missouri militia and Confederate volunteer troops, withstood the flank attack and Lyon’s assault. Sigel's flanking force was routed, Lyon was killed and the Yankee Army began to withdraw to Rolla the next day.

Order of Battle - Wilson's Creek - 10 August 1861

UNION - Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon

1st Brigade - Maj. Samuel D. Sturgis
1st U.S. Infantry
2d Missouri Infantry Battalion
Company I, 2d Kansas Mounted Infantry
Company D, 1st U.S. Cavalry
Company F, 2d U.S. Artillery

2d Brigade -Col. Franz Sigel
3d Missouri Infantry
5th Missouri Infantry
Company I, 1st U.S. Cavalry
Company C, 2d U.S. Dragoons
Backoff 's Battery

3d Brigade - Lt. Col. George L. Andrews
1st Missouri Infantry
2d U.S. Infantry
Du Bois' Battery

4th Brigade -Col. George W. Deitzler
1st Kansas Infantry
2d Kansas Infantry
1st Iowa Infantry
Home Guards

CONFEDERATE - Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch

Pearce's Brigade - Brig. Gen. N. Bart Pearce
1st Arkansas Cavalry
Carroll's Cavalry
3d Arkansas Infantry
4th Arkansas Infantry
5th Arkansas Infantry
Woodruff's Battery
Reid's Battery

McCulloch's Brigade - Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch
3d Louisiana Infantry
Arkansas Infantry
1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles
2d Arkansas Mounted Rifles
South Kansas-Texas Mounted Regiment

MISSOURI STATE GUARD - Maj. Gen. Sterling Price

2d Division-Brig. Gen. James S. Rains

Infantry Brigade - Col. Richard H. Weightman
1st Missouri State Guard Infantry
2d Missouri State Guard Infantry
3d Missouri State Guard Infantry
4th Missouri State Guard Infantry

Cavalry Brigade - Col. Cawthorn
Peyton's Cavalry
McCowan's Cavalry
Hunter's Cavalry
Bledsoe's Battery

3d Division -Brig. Gen. Charles Clark
Burbridge's Infantry
Major's Cavalry

4th Division - Brig. Gen. William Y. Slack
Hughes Infantry
Thornton's Infantry
Rives' Cavalry

6th Division - Brig. Gen. Monroe M. Parsons Kelly's Infantry
Brown's Cavalry
Guibor's Battery

7th Division - Brig. Gen. J.H. McBrideWingo's Infantry
Foster's Infantry
Campbell's Cavalry

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wilson’s Creek

After the battle of Carthage, Union General Nathaniel Lyon’s troops join Colonel Franz Sigel at Springfield. The combined forces contain seven volunteer regiments from Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, several companies of regular infantry and cavalry and 3 batteries totaling 6,000 men. However, the men are 140 miles from the Rolla railhead depot, running low on supplies and many of the volunteers 90-day enlistments are running out. General John C. Fremont, ‘Pathfinder of the West’ and former Presidential candidate, takes command of the Department of the West with headquarters in St. Louis but his attention is focused on the Ohio and the Mississippi and not southwest Missouri.

Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price has camped one large and four small divisions of the Guard southwest of Springfield along the Telegraph Road (none locally as the Wire Road) and is reinforced by Confederate General Ben McCulloch with nine regiments of infantry and cavalry from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and 2 batteries of artillery. Hoping to capture Springfield and drive Lyon out of southwest Missouri, the southern forces number 12,000. McCulloch’s arrival instills a greater level of discipline in the Guard who have pretty much been chased across the state from the capital at Jefferson City.

On August 1st, Lyon advances out of Springfield and the armies skirmish at Dug Springs the next day. Lyon returns to Springfield. McCulloch slowly follows and camps in the valley of Wilson’s Creek.

Outnumbered and over-extended, Lyon decides to launch a quick strike to confuse the Confederates and then withdraw to the railhead at Rolla. McCulloch hopes to surround and destroy Lyon’s force. On August 9th, both sides draw up attack plans.

Lyon strikes first on August 10th, sending Sigel, with 1200 men, east and south in a turning movement through the rainy night to catch the Confederate forces in the rear while his main force attacks the Confederate front.

Lyon’s force overruns the Confederate camp at the Ray House, but Sigel’s attack fails as his men allow blue-clad Confederates too close and are routed, leaving Lyon’s men to fight alone.

Momentum shifts to the numerically superior Confederates. Three attacks fail to break the Union line on Oak Hill (now known as Bloody Hill), but Lyon is killed early in the battle.

The tired Confederates halt their attacks and Lyon’s successor, Major Samuel D. Sturgis decides to withdraw his exhausted men. 1300 Union and 1200 Confederates are casualties on the field of battle, including Lyon, left behind at the Ray House. General Price send the corpse to Union forces in Springfield under a flag of truce.

Sturgis withdraws to Rolla and McCulloch takes Springfield. Lyon’s body is *again* left behind but is buried by a union sympathizer – the wife of a former local Congressman. The victory allows Price and the Missouri State Guard to regain control of southwest Missouri and eventually advance as far north as Liberty; but lack of serious pursuit to Rolla costs the Confederates the fruits of victory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the battle of Carthage

As Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson’s men retreat south from Boonville they are joined by Sterling Price’s troops at Lamar. Other recruits join the column which grows to 6,000, poorly drilled and armed, if at all. Ironically, Jackson's southward retreat is through more pro-Union territory than in northern Missouri.

Union general Nathaniel Lyon’s smaller force is unable to keep up after the battle of Boonville, but Colonel Franz Sigel’s well-drilled and fully-armed division of volunteers and 8 cannon, move from St. Louis to Jefferson City, then southwest to Springfield and west in an attempt to cut of Jackson’s withdrawal. Along the way he places detachments at Mount Vernon, Grand Falls and Neosho.

Sigel camps at Carthage and Jackson plans to attack the smaller, but better armed, Union force. On the morning of July 5, Jackson leads his men forward. Deploying 10 miles north of Carthage, both sides open with artillery.

One of Jackson’s artillerymen, Lieutenant W. P. Barlow, later wrote in his memoir:

The affair at Carthage hardly rose to the dignity of a respectable skirmish, but it was impressive and grand to us then. I remember feeling the beauty of the scene as our mules maliciously wheeled the pieces into battery, and we looked down from our slight ridge and saw the bright guns of the federal battery and their finely uniformed infantry deploying on the green prairie about 800 yards distant. Both sides formed in silence and stood looking at each other. As soon as we were ready [battery chief] Guibor galloped over to Gen. Parsons’ and asked permission to open the fight. It was given. I carefully pointed the right piece, Guibor nodded his head, bang she went, and the first shot we ever saw fired in earnest - the first gun for Missouri - went flying through the air.

The two forces skirmish along Dry Fork Creek and Buck Branch and then Spring River as Sigel is slowly forced back eventually into the town itself. Jackson sends a large body of unarmed troops toward the Yankee far left. Sigel, seeing the threat, fearing a turning movement, and unaware the troops are all unarmed, orders a retreat.

The Confederates slowly pursue and Sigel returns to Carthage . That night he retreats to Sarcoxie.

Lacking better news, Jackson claims a victory though he lost 200 men compared to Sigel’s 50. As Barlow recalled years later:

I well remember that we all thought this contemptible little skirmish a great battle and a great victory, and when our last shot was sent rolling over the prairie, about a half mile beyond Carthage, after dark, and the pursuit ceased, we were very glad the awful battle was ended, and went into camp thoroughly tired out. Our reward was the following in Gen. Parsons' official report: ".....and also Capt. Guibor and Lieut. Barlow of the artillery. I might recount several instances of personal valor of the two last mentioned officers which came under my own observation, but it is sufficient to say that by their prowess the artillery of my division won a position on the field."

After an experience of real fighting in real battles this high praise will sound ludicrous by the old soldier, but the general was in earnest, and we accepted the compliment as well earned, honestly feeling that we had participated in a decisive engagement, with perhaps, a mental reservation that we were heroes on a small scale.

Monday, November 12, 2007

the battle of Boonville

Leaving Jefferson City, Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and Missouri State Guard General, and former governor, Sterling Price move toward the river town of Boonville, 30 miles north and west. Price falls ill and continues on to Lexington. State Guard Colonel John S. Marmaduke takes over at Boonville and State Guard General Mosby S. Parsons is in position at Tipton 15 miles south of Boonville and 15 miles west of Jeff City. Jackson is eager to fight, but Marmaduke, knowing the men camped at the old state fair grounds are poorly armed, is more reticent.

Union General Nathaniel Lyon leaves a small detachment at the capital, embarks a company of regulars, 2 volunteer regiments and battery of artillery on the river steamers Yatan, McDonald and City of Louisiana, and lands 1700 men eight miles downriver from Boonville on June 17. Observing the landing, Jackson orders Parson’s men to Boonville but it’s too late.

Little more than a skirmish, the ensuing action has far-reaching consequences for Jackson’s hopes of a Confederate Missouri.

Leaving 100 men guarding the steamers, Lyon moves rapidly toward Boonville. Bluff-top pickets are easily brushed aside on the cloudy, showery morning. Marmaduke deploys 500 Missouri State Guard on the next ridge. Lyon arranges his men and artillery and advances through fields of corn and wheat. The cannon fire on a brick house full of troops and then on one MSG strong point after another, routing them in turn. Lyon’s regular company's discipline takes over. They close in and fire several volleys, causing the Guard to retreat in confusion. An attempt to rally fails as the Guard’s line is easily outflanked. After 20 minutes the battle is over, retreat quickly turns into rout (gaining the nickname of ‘the Boonville races’) and Lyon occupies the town by noon as the sun breaks out clear and bright.

The battle at Boonville kills perhaps a dozen men and wounds 20 to 30. Eighty State Guardsmen are captured. The political results are much greater. Price cannot hold Lexington and also moves south.

The heart and soul of Missouri’s pro-Confederate forces is ejected from the richest, most populous and pro-Southern area of the state. Jackson and his cohort are pushed south, demoralized, unsupplied and dejected, into virtual exile. The area is now secure Union territory, occupied by substantial forces with Nathaniel Lyon, a no-nonsense leader, at their head.

Endnote: New research is being conducted at the battle site.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Missouri 1861 - the Lyon and the Fox

By February 1861, 7 Deep South states had seceded and formed the Confederate States of America. President Buchanan’s administration was in its last lame-duck days. The upper South, Virginia, Maryland, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri, tottered between North and South, union or rebellion.

Missouri governor Claiborne Fox Jackson was a southern sympathizer. He argued for secession at the State Convention convened in Jefferson City and chaired by former governor Sterling Price. Missourians tended toward moderate Unionist views and did not support war against the Confederacy. The powerful Blair family, lead by congressman Frank and postmaster-general-designate Montgomery, supported a Republican organization opposing secession known as the ‘Wide-Awakes’ who managed to arm themselves with weapons from Illinois. On March 21, the convention voted 98-1 against secession.

In St. Louis sat the Arsenal, containing 60,000 muskets, 45 tons of gunpowder and 1½ million cartridges, the largest supply of arms and ammunition in the West – invaluable to Union and Confederate alike. The arsenal was commanded by General William S. Harney and supervised by Major Peter Hagner. Into this fractious, albeit balanced situation, was transferred Captain Nathaniel Lyon.

Lyon’s reputation was one of a stern disciplinarian, outspoken political radical, Blair ally, and hothead. Lyon, wishing to secure Missouri for the Union, hoped to muster the Wide-Awakes into federal service and arm them from the arsenal. Hagner denied this request. After Lincoln’s inauguration on March 4th, Lyon implored Frank Blair to exert his influence and have Lyon appointed the Arsenal’s commander. Blair did so and also arranged to have Harney called east for ‘consultations’. One week after Fort Sumter, on April 21, Lyon armed the Wide Awakes, sent all but 10,000 muskets across the river into Illinois and prepared to neutralize the Confederate Missouri State Guard encampment at Camp Jackson.

On May 10, Lyon surrounded the CSA Camp and bloodlessly disarmed the 700 men. Refusing to take the oath of allegiance, Lyon marched the prisoners through the streets of St. Louis before paroling them. The captured men’s public humiliation provoked pro-Southern civilians into throwing insults, fruits and cobblestones at Lyon’s, mostly German, forces. Then shots rang out, killing 3 of Lyon’s men. A return volley killed 25 men, women and children and wounded another one hundred. Scattered rioting and violence continue for 2 days and another seven civilians died.

Returning to St. Louis on May 12, Harney hoped to calm the situation. He met with Price on May 23rd and they issued a truce, reading in part:

“General Price, having by commission full authority over the militia of the State of Missouri, undertakes, with the sanction of the governor of the State, already declared, to direct the whole power of the State officers to maintain order within the State among the people thereof, and General Harney publicly declares that, this object being thus assured, he can have no occasion, as he has no wish, to make military movements, which might otherwise create excitements and jealousies which he most earnestly desires to avoid”

The truce stabilized the political situation but did not calm Lyon. On May 30, Blair had Harney dismissed and replaced by Lyon, now promoted to General. On June 11, Governor Jackson, suffering from stomach cancer, and Price and their staff met with Blair and Lyon and several aides. Jackson offered Lyon a position of Unionist neutrality in exchange for Lyon’s forces leaving the state.

After a day of fruitless discussion, Lyon’s temper got the best of him. He leapt to his feet and ranted, “Rather than concede to the State of Missouri the right to demand that my government shall not enlist troops within her limits, or bring troops into the State whenever it pleases, or move troops at its own will into, out of, or through the State; rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter, however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and you, and you and every man, woman and child in the State, dead and buried. This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines.”

Jackson returned to Jefferson City where he reminded Missourians to “obey all the constitutional requirements of the Federal Government" but there was "no obligation whatever to obey the unconstitutional edicts of the military despotism" and its "wicked minions," in other words, General Nathaniel Lyon.

Lyon moved his forces toward the capital and Jackson and Price retreated to Boonville. Lyon occupied Jefferson City on May 14, assembled a new State Convention and formed a pro-Union State Government under Governor Hamilton R. Gamble. The 'other' Governor Jackson and his associates and sympathizers retreated west and south.

Friday, October 26, 2007


General Pleasanton, deciding the Union pursuit had gone far enough, took his 2 remaining brigades and marched toward Fort Scott. Blunt, believing Pleasanton was acting on Curtis' orders, also began moving in that direction. Curtis, seeing his entire force marching off corralled Pleasanton and a heated argument ensued. Pleasanton, noting that *he* reported to Rosecrans kept moving. Curtis kept Blunt on Price’s trail.

Price’s retreat continued into Missouri. Stopping to rest and forage south of the tiny village of Newtonia, he was surprised by Blunt’s advancing Yankee troopers on October 28th. Shelby’s Confederate division, including the crack but severely weakened Iron Brigade, deployed and engaged the federals while Price pushed his retreat southwest.

In turn, Shelby’s stronger force attacked both federal flanks, but Sanborn’s US brigade arrived, turned the tide and forced the butternut troops into a fighting retreat. Blunt had again caught up to but failed to capture or destroy Price.

Curtis, however, was elated. He felt that Price was within his grasp. He ordered Blunt and Pleasanton to hurry the pursuit. However, William S. Rosecrans was simultaneously ordering all troops in the Department of Missouri to return to their home bases. Four brigades began moving back through southwest Missouri withdrawing from the pursuit.

Curtis, shocked and disappointed, realized there was nothing to do but turn north and call off the pursuit. Even a telegram from Henry W. Halleck in Washington stating, “General Grant desires that Price be pursued…” could not reverse the course of the campaign. Attempts were made to restart the pursuit but all momentum had been lost.

The chase was over but not the retreat. Price sent 3 brigades to their home counties in Arkansas and furloughed two others. His greatly reduced force crossed through the Indian territory and into Texas. Finally, on December 2nd they reeled into Laynesport, Arkansas. The retreat was over.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mine Creek

Sterling Price’s defeated Army of Missouri moved south after the battle of Westport. It divided into two columns protecting the army’s huge wagon train – mostly full of plunder and of little military value other than the wagons themselves. Price’s destination was indeterminate: the Indian territory (present-day Oklahoma), Arkansas or even Texas. One thing was sure – a line of Union forts and units lay in his path, perhaps ripe for plucking or maybe strong enough to delay his retreat and ensure his destruction.

The army crossed into Kansas in the rain on the 24th and continued moving south. Price sent Jo Shelby’s division to test the defenses of Fort Scott , a U.S Army district Headquarters, quartermaster supply depot, training center and recruitment station, and perhaps capture the garrison and it’s supplies.

Meanwhile, the various Union commanders met to plan their response. Kansas governor Carney and militia chief Deitzler both wanted their local forces to return to their homes in Kansas. The fall election was fast approaching and the troops could not vote from the field. General Curtis assigned Blunt and Pleasonton (who actually reported to Rosecrans) to continue the pursuit.

On October 25th the federals caught up to Price’s strung-out rearguard, Marmaduke’s division, south of Trading Post, Kansas. A running fight ensued from the Marais des Cygnes river through Mound City. Reaching Mine Creek, the way south was blocked by the rebel wagon train. Union artillery began shelling the crossing while Fagan’s Confederate division joined the defense on the north bank. The Confederates numbered over 7,000 tired men on tired horses. Pleasonton’s Yankee advance, lead by Col. Fredrick W. Benteen, counted 2,500, armed mostly with revolvers and 7-shot Spencer carbines, crushed the rebels in a furious mounted charge. Marmaduke was captured along with General Cabell and 600 men.

Total destruction loomed for Price’s men. In the nick of time, Shelby, recalled from his Fort Scott expedition, counter-attacked and saved the butternut forces. Price managed to withdraw his men and wagons across the creek and decided to burn and abandon most of his wagons to speed his withdrawal to friendlier territory. The only major Civil War battle fought in Kansas, and the last big battle west of the Mississippi, was over.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The greatest American cavalry battle

Sunday October 23rd 1864, the day of the greatest cavalry battle ever fought in America, dawned still and cold. Water in Brush Creek had a film of thin ice; smoke snaked upwards from a thousand bivouac fires.

General Blunt deployed his forces south of the town of Westport along the north bank of Brush Creek and then south along the state line road. Jennison’s brigade faced south and Moonlight’s brigade east at the right angle of the line. To the east of Jennison was Ford’s brigade; to the south of Moonlight was the Kansas militia. The federal line formed a large upside-down L.

Price’s Confederate divisions of Shelby and Fagan were about a mile south of the union line. Their task was to protect the road from Byram’s Ford on the Blue River that the CSA wagon train and beef herd was moving over. The area was neatly tended farmland, criss-crossed by stone fences and lanes.

As darkness receded, Yankee skirmishers moved south and rebels moved north. These lead elements met and opened fire; artillery began a slow shelling and a steady volume of sound and smoke rose in the misty air. Slowly the federal line was pushed back; regaining their horses they retreated to the creek’s north bank. His ammunition running low, Shelby did not push brief advantage.

Curtis ordered Blunt to engage with his artillery, but not to attack until the rest of the Kansas militia had reinforced him from Kansas City. For an hour the cannon banged away, the skirmishers fired at any available targets and the main lines waited. Blair’s Kansas militia brigade arrived and word went out that Curtis himself would lead the next attack. At first, the advance progressed well, but then it bogged down against Shelby’s resupplied and reinforced line. Once more, the federals withdrew to Brush Creek.

Then, a local farmer informed Curtis of a narrow gorge leading south to the left and rear of the rebel line. The movement caught the Confederates by surprise. Simultaneously the Yankees along Brush Creek surged forward. Twice they were thrown back only to regroup and attack again. Thirty Union and ten Confederate cannon blasted away for an hour. By noon, the bluecoats had moved a mile south of Brush Creek within earshot of firing to the southeast at Byram’s Ford. A mounted counterattack by Dobbins’ rebel brigade was broken by Jennison’s Yankees in a wild hand-to-hand melee. Once again, the Union line moved forward.

Meanwhile, Pleasonton had forced a crossing at Byram’s Ford, placing the Confederate supply train in deep jeopardy. The Confederate position at the ford was strong and well defended but the woody, rocky, bushy terrain protected the attackers as well. Eventually enough federal troops swarmed on the rebel positions, making numbers count more than the bluecoats 200 casualties. Marmaduke’s butternuts resisted but were steadily pushed back. Once out of the timber and onto the prairie, their retreat quickened and the men began to panic.

Shelby sent Jackman’s brigade to Marmaduke’s assistance leaving only the Iron Brigade facing Curtis’ entire force. Jackman counterattacked and checked Pleasonton’s advance, throwing one brigade into abject confusion. Benteen’s federal brigade counter-counter-attacked and it was the Confederates turn to again retreat. Pleasanton now found himself on Shelby’s right flank.

With the sounds of Pleasonton’s advance approaching, Curtis ordered a general assault. Again there was the terrific shock of a mounted charge. Shelby’s Iron Brigade was flanked, frayed and fled to a high stone fence where Shelby and Thompson rallied the remnants in an obstinate stand that bought time for Fagan, Marmaduke and the wagon train to escape to the south. Only then did Shelby withdraw.

Pleasanton and Blunt joined forces at the state line road. Jennison’s brigade and the 2nd Colorado cavalry were sent in pursuit of Price’s beaten Army of Missouri marching south along the Kansas-Missouri border.

The opposing forces had fought a three-day running battle from Lexington through Independence to Byram’s Ford and Westport. Evidence of the fight was all about: broken guns and wagons, dead horses and 3,500 dead and wounded soldiers. They were scattered in woodlots and fields, in fence corners, on hills and in ravines. The wounded were collected and transported by wagon and river steamer to general hospitals. The dead were left for the local citizens to bury. The Union army pressed on after Price’s confederates.

Endnote: After the war, Benteen was assigned to the 7th Cavalry. His battalion, along with Reno's, survived the battle of the Little Big Horn.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Order of Battle - The Westport campaign

Army of the Border - Major General Samuel R. Curtis
Blunt’s Division
Jennison’s Brigade
Moonlight’s Brigade
Blair’s Brigade
Ford’s Brigade

Dietzler’s Kansas State Militia
Grant’s Brigade
Sherry’s Brigade
Fishbeck’s Brigade
Scott’s Brigade (not engaged)

Department of the Missouri - Major General William S. Rosecrans
Pleasanton's Provisional Cavalry Division
Brown’s (Philip's) Brigade
McNeil’s Brigade
Sanborn’s Brigade
Winslow’s Brigade

16th Army Corps detachment - Major General A. J. Smith
First Division - Joseph J. Woods
2nd Brigade - Hubbard
3rd Brigade - Hill

Third Division - David Moore
1st Brigade - Kinny
2nd Brigade - Gilbert
3rd Brigade - Wolfe

Army of Missouri - Major General Sterling Price
Fagan's Division
Cabell's Brigade
Dobbin's Brigade
Slemon's Brigade
McCray's Brigade

Marmaduke's Division
Clark’s Brigade
Freeman's Brigade

Shelby's Division
Thompson’s “Iron Brigade”
Jackman's Brigade
Tyler's Brigade

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Action on the Little Blue and Independence

Early on the morning of October 21st, 1864, Marmaduke’s division moved west from Lexington and quickly collided with Moonlight’s pickets just east of the Little Blue River and pushed the company of skirmishers back toward the defenses along the riverbank. Here the Union response stiffened and Marmaduke lost dozens in the advance.

Eventually, numbers began to tell and Marmaduke’s division pushed Moonlight’s brigade back to the bridge. Crossing and firing the bridge temporarily halted the Confederate advance. Locating fords both upstream and down, Marmaduke continued his advance and further dispersed Moonlight’s force, who ordered his men to dismount, take cover and begin a slow withdrawal.

Reaching a low ridge a mile west of the river, Moonlight was relieved to find Blunt leading a brigade to his assistance. Five regiments, backed by three batteries, were soon dismounted, aligned and moving toward the Confederates. The battle lines quickly collided in a wild, vicious, hand-to-hand melee, surging in advance and retreat. Shelby’s Rebel division joined the fray, but after an hour of close fighting with greater artillery support, the Federals had pushed forward a half-mile. Realizing he had over-extended and the greater Confederate force was overlapping his flanks Blunt withdrew to his original line on the ridge, well protected by his batteries.

At this moment, a confused order moved the left-most Yankee battery to the right and into a more exposed position. More importantly it uncovered the left-flank 11th Kansas cavalry regiment. Shelby’s next attack was aimed right for the weakened part of the line. Rather than waiting for the attack, the 11th charged forward and were joined by the 2nd Colorado cavalry.

The fight was short and mean; as quickly as it started, it ended. Both sides drew back - the federal line preserved.

Both sides were exhausted and short of ammunition. The 11th was almost entirely out of ammo; they held the line with "cheers and song".

The fighting to the south was equally desperate. Jennison’s Union brigade was hard pressed by the rest of Marmaduke’s division. Much of the fighting was within 25 paces.

As the fighting ground to a halt, Bunt organized a fighting withdrawal. While one line held position, the other fell back to a new position and then swapped roles. The artillery was evenly divided between the two. In this way, four successive positions were maintained and abandoned, back through Independence and on to Curtis’ position on the Big Blue.

Shelby now led the Confederate advance. Moving through Independence he was contested by the 16th Kansas supported by the ubiquitous 11th. A wicked firefight developed in the town streets, smashing windows, awnings and sidewalks and wounding and killing men and horses. Shelby’s men pushed the Yankees out of town to the railroad bridge where the fight petered out in the total darkness of nightfall.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The battle of Lexington

As Confederate General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri moved west across Missouri, it was pursued by the forces of Union General William S. Rosecrans and slowly closed on the United States Army of the Border in the Department of Kansas commanded by General Samuel R Curtis.

Curtis had 4,000 men in portions of 5 volunteer cavalry regiments to oppose Price’s 14,000. Curtis needed the Kansas State militia. There were 2 problems with calling them out: first, many vehemently opposed leaving the state, and, second, the Governor, Thomas Carney, wanted them home as well, for the fall election was approaching. On October 9th, As Price approached, Carney called out the militia. His military shortcoming was more than matched by his stirring address:

The State is in peril. Price and his rebel hosts threaten it with invasion. Kansas must be ready to hurl them back at any cost… Kansans, rally! You will do so, as you have always promptly done when your soil has been invaded. The call this time will come to you louder and stronger because you know the foe will seek to glut his vengeance upon you. Meet him, then, at the threshold and strike boldly; strike as one man against him. Let all business be suspended. The work to be done now is to protect the State against marauder and murderer. Until this is accomplished we must lead a soldier's life and do a soldier's duty. Men of Kansas, rally! One blow, one earnest, united blow will foil the invader and save you. Who will falter? Who is not ready to meet the peril? Who will not defend his home and the State? To arms then! To arms, and the tented field until the rebel foe shall be baffled and beaten back!

By October 15th, 15,000 militiamen were assembled. Curtis dispatched some militia and his most veteran volunteer shock troops, 3 brigades under James G. Blunt into Missouri to delay Price. Most of the militia was placed along the state line near Shawnee. Due to a shortage of uniforms, the militia were all ordered to wear a piece of red flannel on their coats.

Finally organized, Curtis moved east. Blunt hoped to link up with Rosecrans forces commanded by Smith and Sanborn and then move to attack Price. Blunt reached Lexington on the morning of the 18th and occupied the town. Curtis moved the militia to the Big Blue River a few miles behind Blunt but could persuade them to go no farther. Blunt’s 2,000 men and 8 cannon were on their own.

Early in the morning of October 19th, Price’s men moved in 3 columns to Lexington. Shelby’s division advanced in the middle and made first contact just before noon. Blunt’s pickets were slowly pushed back to his main line. Confederate attacks swarmed forward time and again. Three times the Union cavalry drove them back.

Eventually Price’s numbers overlapped and overwhelmed Blunt; he gave the order to withdrawal and left Colonel Thomas Moonlight’s brigade to cover the retreat. During the 6-mile withdrawal, Moonlight make 4 successful stands until darkness covered the land and Blunt established a new line behind the Little Blue River. There, Blunt was instructed to continue west to the Big Blue. Again, all day and all night, Moonlight’s men covered the withdrawal of Blunt’s forces.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Price moves across Missouri - Rosecrans reacts

After the battle at Fort Davidson, Price pushed on toward St Louis. Though he never got closer than forty miles his march threw the city into a panic. Luckily for the inhabitants, Price had sent most of his forces after Ewing into central Missouri and he had lost his nerve for attacking the city. He turned northwest and recombined with his other forces on October 3rd at Hermann on the Missouri River. There they captured a supply train containing 400 Sharps rifles, burned depots and ripped up miles of railroad track. Prics supply train was now 500 wagons filled to the gunwales with military necessities and loot.

Price had been marching across the US Department of Missouri commanded by William S. Rosecrans in St. Louis; His most able subordinate was Alfred Pleasonton, recent commander of the Army of the Potomac’s cavalry and a new transfer to the west.

On October 6th the leading Confederate elements under General Jo Shelby reached the Osage River near the capital at Jefferson City. He forced a crossing but the next day ran into a furious firefight that blunted his move though pushed the federal forces back into the city’s entrenchments.

On the morning of the 8th, Price, with Fort Davidson still fresh in his mind, turned his back on Jefferson City and marched west. Particularly chagrined at this move was Thomas C. Reynolds, Missouri governor in absentia, from the Confederate government of Missouri in exile, accompanying Price’s army. Reynolds had hoped to be inaugurated on the steps of the capitol building in the capital city.

As Price moved west, Roscreans ordered A.J. Smith’s division of 4,500 infantry to follow. Smith’s was the only large infantry unit in the entire campaign and would play ‘catch-up’ throughout. Pleasonton was recalled from furlough and things began to happen. He organized 4,100 horse soldiers in Jefferson City under General John B. Sanborn and moved in pursuit. Federal forces had gone from the defensive to the offensive.

Soon Confederate and Union columns were criss-crossing the rolling hills and plains south of the Missouri River and west of Jefferson City. One federal cavalry brigade moved through Versailles to Warsaw, two others through California and Tipton. Price sent Fagan’s division to protect the rear as the main force headed to Boonville. Sanborn was so aggressive in pursuit that Price reinforced the rear guard with Marmaduke’s division. Sanborn retired when he ran out of food for the men and, more importantly, forage for the horses. Luckily he met a supply train in California. Even more luckily, another brigade of 1,500 veteran troopers joined him.

In Boonville, Price picked up 1,400 unarmed, but enthusiastic, recruits. Price also met with guerillas William ‘Bloody Bill’ Anderson and William C. Quantrill. They were ordered north to destroy railroads. In Boonville for 2 days, Price’s men left on the 12th, their horses burdened with plunder and overloaded wagons groaning behind their teams.

Price sent one brigade north to Glasgow in hopes of seizing rifles to arm his new recruits. The rest headed west. On October 14th he dispatched Shelby with an additional brigade to attack Glasgow from the west. The federals there surrendered after a sharp skirmish but were first able to destroy all of the their supplies.

M. Jeff Thompson took another Confederate brigade south to Sedalia to destroy the railroad terminus and hinder Rosecrans pursuit. On the way, Thompson discovered Pleasonton’s column moving west toward Lexington. Smashing into Sedalia, Thompson captured men, horses and supplies, but was now between Union infantry and cavalry. He slipped by Pleasanton and rejoined Price at Waverly along with the brigades from the Glasgow expedition. The reunited Army of Missouri moved on toward Lexington.

Interesting note: In Glasgow, the sides established their field hospitals in two houses catty-corner across from each other. The local physician tended the wounded from both sides, crossing the street as needed.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Battle at Fort Davidson

On September 26th, 1864, General Sterling Price and his Army of Missouri move west toward Pilot Knob, the southern terminus of the St. Louis and Iron Mountain Railroad. Pushing through Ironton the advance skirmishes with Federals on the courthouse square leaving bullet holes in the courthouse walls that may still be seen. Three miles further west is Fort Davidson.

About ¼ mile south of Pilot Knob this is a 6-sided fort with 11 cannon, garrisoned by a bit over 1000 soldiers and 150 armed civilians under US General Thomas Ewing, Jr. The fort is easily dominated by the hills surrounding it. The only veterans in the fort are the 5 companies of the 14th Iowa: about 550 men. Nevertheless, Ewing determines to stall the Confederate advance as long as he can. 2 rifle pits are dug on either side of the fort, stretching 200 yards north and south and facing east toward Price’s advance.

On the 27th, Price attacks the fort with the divisions of Marmaduke and Fagan. Shelby’s division has swept north of the fort and town to cut the railroad and prevent reinforcements from entering the fort or Ewing to leave it. At 2:00 PM the uncoordinated attack begins.

Fagan’s Arkansans run down the slope of Pilot Knob hill in a drizzly rain and into the fields around the fort. They are well ahead of Marmaduke’s Missourians who attack across rocky Shepherd Mountain capturing a dozen Union soldiers and placing 2 cannon to shell the fort.

Fagan’s men are met by a withering fire and most break for the rear. The exception, William Cabell’s brigade, fight their way into the ditch surrounding the fort. There the Federal defenders toss paper-finned hand grenades over the parapet until Cabell’s men are forced to withdraw as well, losing most of his casualties in the retreat. Marmaduke’s men, viewing the carnage in front of the fort, take cover in a dry run at the foot of the mountain and advance no closer.

Ewing has lost 200 men – few compared to the Confederate 1000, but more than he can afford. Knowing that Price will continue his assault in the morning he decides to withdraw overnight. After midnight, muffling the ground with tent canvas, the surviving soldiers and civilians decamp on the Caledonia road to the north passing uninhibited between 2 Confederate bivouacs. At 2:00 am a slow fuse ignites the fort’s powder magazine with a tremendous roar, leaving a huge crater in the center of the fort that is still visible today.

Price’s pursuit does not start until almost noon the next day, September 28th. Finally organized, but far from aggressive, it starts north toward St. Louis. The battle at Fort Davidson has cost 1000 of his best men, shown an aversion to fighting in those remaining and has dropped Confederate morale considerably.

If Ewing decided to hold an untenable position and Price was troubled in coordinating his attack, that takes nothing away from the men that fought in the ditch and on the parapet of Fort Davidson. Today 300 unknown Americans from both sides are buried in a common grave stretching out from the walls of the fort into the surrounding field.

The battlefield is a Missouri State Historical Site with a museum and interpretive center with relics, a film and a very nice fiber-optic map. The fort remains, its parapets and rifle pits plainly visible, along with the crater from the exploding magazine.

Interesting note: U.S. Grant received his commission as Brigadier General while moving through Ironton in 1861. A monument commemorates the event on the courthouse square.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Price's 1864 raid

Gen. Sterling Price and 12,000 mounted, but ragged, Confederate troops began a raid into Missouri on September 19, 1864. Of this number, roughly 4,000 men were unarmed.

Price’s primary objectives were to capture the arsenal at St Louis and recruit men in the pro-Confederate areas of northern Missouri. He also hoped to relieve pressure on Confederate forces in Tennessee, Georgia and Virgina and perhaps influence the November presidential election.

Harper’s Weekly reported:

Price is again moving into Missouri with a force estimated at from ten to thirty thousand men. On the 27th the main portion of this force was at Fredericktown in the southwestern part of the State. There was great excitement, and it was thought that a raid was contemplated on St. Louis. General Rosecrans is actively taking measures to meet the emergency, and General Mower is expected to move upon Price's rear from the south. The forces in the district of Central Missouri have been withdrawn from other points and concentrated at Jefferson city. General Ewing, commanding at Pilot Knob, was nearly surrounded. Several attacks have been made on his position, all of which have been repulsed. General Ewing has three thousand men, and at last accounts had succeeded in withdrawing his force from Pilot Knob. Price was advancing on Rolla

Price reached the towns of Ironton and Pilot Knob on the railroad line to St Louis and defended by Fort Davidson by US troops under Thomas Ewing, Jr. In the ensuing battles on September 26th and 27th, the federal forces escaped destruction and inflict almost 1000 casualties on Price’s column. Price aborted his move toward St. Louis to the north and turns northwest to the capital at Jefferson City.

Reaching the capital’s vicinity, Price found the town was too heavily fortified to attack and that Union forces were closing in from the east. 15,000 infantry and cavalry, commanded by Generals Andrew J. Smith and Alfred Pleasanton, and under the overall command of William S. Rosecrans, were moving St Louis and another 20,000 militia were assembling in Kansas.

Price turned northwest and fanned out toward Lexington and Kansas City passing through Boonville and Marshall while winning token victories at Glasgow, Sedalia and Warrensburg. His slow progress allowed Federal forces to concentrate. On October 19th he skirmished at
Lexington with the Union Kansas troops, commanded by James G. Blunt. ( Price lead the Missouri State Guard at the first battle of Lexington in September1861– ‘The battle of the hemp bales’.)

On October 21, Price's army attacked Blunt's force at Independence and pushed the Yankees through the town in house-to-house fighting to the Big Blue River. On the opposite bank Gen. Samuel R. Curtis had entrenched 8,000 Kansas militia and US troops, hoping to hold Price in place until more Union troops arrived in Price's rear from the east. Curtis had problems with his troops: most were Kansas Militia and many refused to cross into Missouri.

On the morning of the 22nd, Confederate General Jo Shelby crossed the river upstream, flanked Curtis's position and forced him to retreat to Westport, just south of present day Kansas City. When Pleasanton arrived in Independence with his Union cavalrymen that night, he found Curtis's entrenchments occupied by Price's men.

Price’s Confederates shifted south and waited. Early the next, cold morning, Blunt and Curtis attacked Price at Westport. After severe, hand-to-hand fighting the US gained the advantage; a series of desperate charges by Jo Shelby’s troops saved the Confederate forces. Price, poorly victualed and with low ammunition decided to withdraw to the Indian Territory.

Moving through southeast Kansas just over the Missouri border, Price’s slow-moving column was caught at the one-wagon-wide crossing at
Mine Creek on October 25th. The rear-guard disintegrated and again, only solid defense by Jo Shelby’s men saved Price’s command. Price decided to burn most of his wagons to speed his withdrawal. Shelby’s troopers turned back the last determined pursuit at the 2nd battle of Newtonia on October 28th and the Confederates limped into Arkansas defeated, demoralized and effectively out of the war.

All in all, Price's raid was barren of results. His recruits could not replace his casualties and he lost most of his supply train. By drawing large numbers of US troops into a pro-Confederate area the US solidifed it's hold on the Missouri River valley. Price did delay the movement of A.J. Smith's federal division to Tennessee, though it arrived in time to participate in the battle of Nashville.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

1860 Missouri

1860 Missouri is prototypical of the United States - almost a miniature version of the country. It is a large and populous state with vast areas of cropland, burgeoning industry, growing urban areas and increasing numbers of immigrants.

Missouri is the 9th most populous state, ranking behind Massachusetts and ahead of Kentucky.

It ranks 11th in manufacturing between Indiana and Maryland, and 9th in farming - just behind Tennessee and ahead of Louisiana.

St Louis is the 8th largest city in the nation with 160,773 inhabitants, many of them German immigrants fleeing the failed 1848 revolution. It is the 3rd largest city in the South – smaller than only Baltimore and New Orleans.

In the mid-19th century Missouri was the ‘crossroads state’ – the Ohio, Mississippi and Missouri rivers all meet and help form its borders. Railroads snake across the state from Hannibal to St Joseph in the north and from St Louis to Jefferson City, Sedalia, Rolla and Ironton in the southeast.

Missouri is also the home to enslaved African-Americans. There are 114,931 slaves in the state ranking it #11 among southern slave states between its western neighbors Texas and Arkansas. It has the 9th most slave-holders behind South Carolina and ahead of Louisiana.

Interestingly, the slave-holding population was greatest in the north and the west along the Missouri River – a geographic anomaly with grave future consequences.

My intent is not to spew statistics, facts and numbers, but to set the stage where the nation's sectional tension, friction, anxiety and issues meet in one state-sized package: Missouri.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Why let others have all the fun ;)

Here's a quick swing (and perhaps a miss) with this weekend event up the road in Centralia...

Here's a newspaper clip of this weekend's event and a nice summation of the events in 1864.