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.