On the Margins of the War: Price’s Raid   Leave a comment

I thought I might take this opportunity to explore another subject related to the fighting on the margins of the Civil War. This time, I want to examine the last battle to be fought for the control of Missouri, a vital, so-called, “border state.” Missouri was considered a part of the Trans-Mississippi Theater, a vast area of over 600,000 square miles. In total, there never were more than 50,000 men under arms across the entire region at any one time, and the leadership of both sides considered it a sideshow in the larger war. Essentially, it was, in terms of military importance, an empty wasteland.

As for Missouri, its status in the Civil War was much like that of West Virginia. Both regions were of great strategic value, with West Virginia’s related to the North’s need to keep the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad open, allowing the flow of supplies and men to and from the West, while Missouri’s was based on the need to maintain possession of St. Louis, which was vital to control of the Mississippi River. However, as in the case of West Virginia, Missouri’s status was decided relatively early in the war. From the outset, Union forces controlled both St. Louis and the state capital, Jefferson City, and the only significant Confederate threat to the state was turned back at Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862. And, while St. Louis would initially serve as the Union command headquarters for the Western Theater, that command would migrate south as Federal forces penetrated deeper into Mississippi.

As a result, Missouri, like West Virginia, saw no great battles, no monumental campaigns. Rather, with a populace whose sentiments were deeply divided, it experienced a relentless guerilla war fought mostly by various bushwackers and even criminal elements, who used the war as an opportunity to steal, settle old scores, and commit cold blooded murder. Some of these elements would receive official sanction, such as the Confederate Partisan Rangers and Union Kansas Brigade, no matter the atrocities they would commit in the name of the cause. Men like James Lane, “Bloody Bill” Anderson, and William Quantrill would become legendary for their brutality and the fear they generated among the state’s inhabitants. However, in the fall of 1864, as the war entered its final phase, there was one last Confederate campaign undertaken to wrest the state from Federal control and, in doing so, hopefully influence the outcome of the 1864 U.S. presidential election in the South’s favor.

The campaign’s goal was the seizure of, first, St. Louis, and then Jefferson City. Once the latter was successfully completed, the state’s pro-Southern government-in-exile would be installed and the state would be under the effective control of the Confederacy. Hopefully for the Confederacy, this would, in turn, spark a secessionist uprising across the state, whose success would help destroy Lincoln’s reelection bid, and allow a negotiated peace, with Missouri as a part of the new Confederate nation.

General Sterling Price The architect of the campaign plan and the man who would lead it was Confederate General Sterling Price, a former U.S. Congressman from Missouri and governor of the state. Price was terribly vain and not a particularly competent general. In fact, one of the most noteworthy aspects of this campaign was that many of its leading participants, on both sides, were incompetent “has beens” or untalented “never were’s.” These were men who either had proven unable to perform in the greater theaters of the war and had been exiled to the military backwater that was Missouri, or who simply had never demonstrated sufficient talent to garner a more substantial command and, as a result, were permanently stuck fighting the war in the vast Trans-Mississippi Theater. This combined lack of military ability would greatly influence both the conduct and outcome of what became known as Price’s Raid.

In addition to being a politician, General Price was also a former planter, lawyer, and slaveholder. Described as “quixotic” by one historian, the 55-year old Price had served as a Brigadier General of Volunteers in the Mexican War, and did perform competently at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales. However, up to this point in the Civil War, his record was spotty, at best. He had been victorious when fighting either irregular or poorly trained Union units inside the state, but his record against more organized and better led opponents was one of total failure, with major losses at Pea Ridge, Iuka, and Corinth. Further, in the upcoming campaign to seize control of his native state, he would be somewhat blinded by his belief that his mere presence in Missouri would result in an influx of what he personally estimated at more than 30,000 new volunteers to the Southern cause.

Shelby, Fagan, Marmaduke In mounting this invasion of Missouri, Price was given three division commanders of varying quality. The first of them, General Joseph Shelby was, without doubt, the best of the lot and, was, in fact, one of the better Southern commanders operating in the Trans-Mississippi. His cavalry of Missouri volunteers had performed well at Wilson’s Creek and he had led several highly successful raids into Missouri. However, the other two division commanders, General John Marmaduke and General James Fagan, were another matter. Neither was particularly competent and they were classic examples of officers who would never have risen to their current levels of command in any other theater of the war. Marmaduke was a West Point graduate, but that had not translated into military success. His most noteworthy achievements to date had been getting shot at Shiloh and then killing his former commander, General Lucius Walker, in a duel precipitated by Marmaduke’s charges of cowardice against Walker. Fagan, meanwhile, was a minor politician and farmer from Arkansas who had seen undistinguished service at Shiloh and Corinth. After the latter, he apparently crossed the ill-tempered Braxton Bragg and was exiled across the Mississippi, back to Arkansas.

Worst of all, however, was the fact that, like seemingly all Confederate military organizations west of the Appalachians, Price’s new army would be beset by petty jealousies and bickering. Shelby despised Marmaduke and the two officers quarreled constantly. At the same time, both Fagan and Marmaduke distrusted Price and Price considered Marmaduke utterly incompetent. As a result, there was no command cohesion whatsoever, and a cloud of disharmony and ill will constantly hung over the command organization. Needless to say, this lingering atmosphere of jealousy, hatred, and distrust, combined with a distinct shortage of military aptitude, did not bode well for any chances of success.

General William Rosecrans However, the opposing command organization was not much better off. The Department of Missouri in St. Louis was led by General William Rosecrans, former commander of the Union’s Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans, much beloved by the soldiers of that army, was a man forced to come painfully to grip with his own limitations. While he did lead his army to victory on January 2, 1863 at Stone’s River, “Old Rosy” was slow, unaggressive, and plodding by nature, preferring to seek bloodless “victories” through maneuver rather than via direct confrontation. This approach seemed to work, as he used it to chase Bragg’s army from Tennessee into northern Georgia, capturing the key city of Chattanooga in the process. But when Rosecrans met Bragg in battle at Chickamauga in September 1863, he discovered that he had exceeded his abilities. Bragg smashed his army, driving it back into Chattanooga, and trapping it. Rosecrans became utterly paralyzed and could see no way to break the siege. His incapacity led to Lincoln’s famous appraisal that Rosecrans was acting “confused and stunned like a duck hit on the head.” He was relieved of command in November 1863 and sent into exile in Missouri.

General Alfred Pleasonton Rosecrans was supported in Missouri by General Alfred Pleasonton, the former cavalry chief of the Army of the Potomac. Pleasanton was a professional soldier and a classic example of the “careerist” who excels at political maneuvering. His only true skills involved his ability to take credit for his subordinates’ successes and ensure they received any blame for his failures. Historian Eric Wittenberg, an acknowledged expert on Civil War cavalry operations and leaders, describes Pleasonton as “a lead from the rear kind of a guy who was a masterful schemer and political intriguer…the sort of guy who would start a fight on the playground and then step back and watch the chaos that he had started.” Like Rosecrans, he was also overly cautious and his greatest military achievement was assigning General John Buford to command the cavalry screen on the Army of the Potomac’s left as it approached Gettysburg. Buford’s decision to fight on the ground around that Pennsylvania town was a key factor in the Union victory and one for which Pleasonton tried take full credit. While George Meade could not see through Pleasonton, Ulysses Grant could and he sent the cavalryman packing to join Rosecrans in Missouri, where the two of them could do as little harm as possible.

The orders to undertake Price’s Raid came from General Kirby Smith, commander of all Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi, on August 4, 1864, and they reflect Price’s convincing arguments to Smith that a host of new recruits awaited them in Missouri.

GENERAL: You will make immediate arrangements for a movement into Missouri, with the entire cavalry force of your district. General Shelby should be instructed to have his command in Northeast Arkansas ready to move by the 20th instant. You can instruct him to await your arrival with the column immediately under your command. A brigade of Louisiana troops, under Colonel Harrison, has been ordered to report to you. They should be added to General Marmaduke’s command, and with his old brigade constitute his division. General Clark should be transferred to the command of Marmaduke’s old brigade…General Shelby’s old brigade, increased by the one raised in East Arkansas can be organized into a division under his immediate command. General Fagan will command the division composed of Cabell’s and Crawford’s brigades. These skeleton organizations are best adapted for an expedition in which a large addition to your force is expected. These weak brigades should be filled by the regiments raised in Missouri…You will scrupulously avoid all wanton acts of destruction and devastation, restrain your men, and impress upon them that their aim should be to secure success in a just and holy cause and not to gratify personal feeling and revenge. Rally the loyal men of Missouri, and remember that our great want is men, and that your object should be, if you cannot maintain yourself in that country, to bring as large an accession as possible to our force…Make Saint Louis the objective point of your movement, which, if rapidly made, will put you in possession of that place, its supplies, and military stores, and which will do more toward rallying Missouri to your standard than the possession of any other point. Should you be compelled to withdraw from the State, make your retreat through Kansas and the Indian Territory, sweeping that country of its mules, horses, cattle, and military supplies of all kinds.

Governor Reynolds The other thing that is clear from General Smith’s orders is that the entire concept of seizing Jefferson City and reinstating Governor Thomas Reynolds and his government, which had been operating in exile from Texas, was entirely Price’s, as was the idea of fomenting a general insurrection in the state designed to hasten Lincoln’s downfall in the election. Price, ever the dreamer, saw his raid as being far more than merely a military operation intended to secure supplies and recruits. He sought to right the wrong done to him and other Confederate sympathizers by Federal authorities at the war’s outset and forever place Missouri in an independent and victorious Confederacy. As a result, he even summoned Governor Reynolds and his staff from Texas and had them accompany the army into Missouri.

Price collected 4,000 cavalry near Princeton, Arkansas, and took them to Pocahontas, just south of the Missouri border, where he rendezvoused with Shelby, Fagan, and Marmaduke’s divisions. In total, his newly anointed “Army of Missouri” numbered just over 16,000 men, with 12 artillery pieces and a huge, ponderous wagon train intended to carry the tons of supplies Price would supposedly seize during the raid. However, this new army was very much a hollow organization. Many of the so-called regiments contained nothing but a few officers and support staff, all of whom were to command the flood of new recruits to be garnered as the army moved north. Worst of all, however, only about two-thirds of Price’s men were armed. Apparently, the Federal arsenal in St. Louis would provide them with weapons once it was taken. Until then, almost 5,000 Confederate soldiers would venture into Missouri capable of only hurling rocks at the enemy. On September 19, Price and his army entered Missouri and he reported his men were “in fine health and spirits. We found the roads very rough and bad, but have not suffered much from that cause.”

Price's Raid-Map In St. Louis, General Rosecrans had been aware of Price’s activities, but believed General Steele and his Union army in Little Rock would do something to prevent Price from moving north. As a result, when he learned Price had entered the state, he was surprised and began to hastily consolidate his scattered force of some 11,000 men, calling for reinforcements. General Sherman responded to Rosecrans’ urgent plea for help by immediately sending 4,500 veteran infantrymen from General Andrew Smith’s XVI Corps of the Army of the Tennessee to St. Louis. However, before those reinforcements began to arrive, Rosecrans received the unpleasant news that Price’s army was approaching Pilot Knob and a hexagonal Federal earthwork known as Fort Davidson, only 75 miles south of St. Louis.

Ft Davidson Rosecrans had long believed that Price’s objective would be western Missouri, where Confederate sympathies were strongest, and, therefore, he thought this reported “army” approaching St. Louis was just a small force conducting a feint. Still, he needed to know for sure, so he dispatched General Thomas Ewing, Jr. to Fort Davidson to assess the situation. Upon arriving there, Ewing quickly realized that the force approaching Pilot Knob was no feint. He mistakenly estimated its strength as 19,000 men, badly outnumbering Fort Davidson’s garrison of 1,100 men supported by 13 cannon and three mortars. Ewing exchanged messages with Rosecrans, but the latter provided no clear guidance. Therefore, to his credit, Ewing decided to hold the fort and fight it out.

General Thomas Ewing At the same time, the Confederate camp was experiencing disagreement over what to do about Fort Davidson. General Shelby argued that Price should simply go around the fort and move quickly to seize St. Louis. However, Price saw a great opportunity for a quick and resounding victory here. He knew that his army was far superior in numbers to the Union garrison and then there was the matter of General Ewing being in command. Ewing was hated by the state’s pro-Southern community as the man who had issued the infamous Order No. 11, which initiated the forcible deportation of thousands of “disloyal” Missouri families from four counties and included the confiscation or destruction of their farms and homes. In Price’s mind, a victory over Ewing and the capture of Fort Davidson would cause thousands to rally to him. Therefore, he overrode Shelby and ordered an assault on the fort for the morning of September 27.

Assault on Ft Davidson Unfortunately, what should have been an easy victory turned into a mismanaged debacle. Price’s spies told him that there were unarmed civilians inside the fort, and that portions of the Union garrison were secretly Southern sympathizers who would not fire on Price’s men. On hearing this Fagan and Marmaduke argued that a mere show of force would bring surrender. So, Price cancelled his planned pre-assault artillery bombardment in order to spare civilian lives and ordered a massive frontal assault across hundreds of yards of open ground, hoping the sight of such an impressive force would, indeed, bring the desired capitulation of the fort. Instead, it brought the opposite. The attacking columns were poorly coordinated and Ewing’s men did not flee. Rather, they used their artillery with great effectiveness, slaughtering Price’s men as they crossed the flat, open fields surrounding the fort. As night fell, Price called off the attack, having suffered more than 1,000 casualties to Ewing’s 75. He had truly managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

That night, Price and his divided commanders debated what to do next. As they argued, the stillness of the night was broken by a series of massive explosions. When the morning dawned, Price discovered that Ewing had not only successfully gotten the entire garrison safely away, but had destroyed the fort and all its supplies by blowing up the magazine with a slow burning fuse. Then, his morning got even worse when spies arrived from St. Louis and informed him that Smith’s infantry had arrived in the city. With Union force defending St, Louis now outnumbering his, Price elected to abandon his original plans. Rather than attempt to take St. Louis, he would veer to the northwest, capture Jefferson City, and put Governor Reynolds back in the statehouse.

Governor Carney Meanwhile, despite the fact that Federal reinforcements had saved St. Louis from attack, the Union response to Price’s invasion was still disorganized and fragmented. Until the Confederate’s appeared in front of Fort Davidson, no one knew where Price was going and many felt that central Missouri or even southern Kansas might be his real target. The latter threat was taken very seriously by the Union commander of the Department of Kansas, General Samuel Curtis. However, Kansas, just like Missouri, had been stripped for the most part of any regular troops. Therefore, Curtis appealed to Governor Carney to call out the state militia and move it to the Missouri border under Curtis’ command. Unfortunately, Carney was locked in a tight reelection fight and was hesitant to call out the militia because it might cause hundreds of his supporters to be away from the polls on election day. General Samuel Curtis He was about to agree to the mobilization of a few units when word reached him that Price was at Pilot Knob on the far eastern edge of Missouri. Carney told Curtis that Price posed no immediate threat and halted the mobilization.

While Governor Carney worried about his reelection in Kansas, General Price was conducting his raid as though it was also a political campaign. On September 30, after a brief feint towards St. Louis, he headed for Jefferson City, moving the army at a leisurely pace of only 10 miles a day. This allowed the men to liberally forage for food and supplies, which quickly turned into wholesale pillaging that filled the wagons with booty and, in the words of Shelby’s distraught adjutant, Major John Edwards, also added a “rabble of deadheads, stragglers, and stolen negroes” to the column. In addition, Price took every opportunity to stop and make eloquent speeches in each village and town along the way. If one had not known better, it would have appeared more like Price was seeking election than conducting a military operation. So, as he “campaigned” his way towards Jefferson City, Rosecrans was able to respond to the new threat, organizing state militia units and regular troops to defend the capital city and placing them under the command of General Pleasonton.

In addition, General Pleasonton’s cavalry were now ranging close to Price’s column and were beginning to impact his foraging activities, as demonstrated by one report from the 17th Illinois Cavalry:

HEADQUARTERS SEVENTEENTH CAVALRY, Rolla, Mo., October 3, 1864.

SIR: I have the honor to report that on the 30th ultimo, under orders from headquarters District of Rolla., I marched with two battalions, 15 officers and 450 men, to Saint James. The enemy had not appeared at that point, but was reported at Knob View, six miles beyond. Marching rapidly forward, I found the enemy, reported 150 strong, had burned a few cars, plundered a store, and fled southeast before our approach. This side of Knob View I overtook a drove of beef-cattle, numbering from 75 to 100, moving toward the rebel lines. Taking them to be supplies for the rebel army, I arrested the parties in charge, and sent them and the cattle back to Captain Ferguson, in command at Saint James, with instructions to send all to Rolla. The command marched along the railroad toward Cuba, and just at dark the rear of a column was discovered crossing the track to the left. Thick woods and darkness prevented a vigorous pursuit. They went down Brush Creek to the north, and were probably the same party that committed the depredations at Knob View. The command encamped at Cuba. The enemy, from 200 to 400 in number, had visited Cuba the previous night, burning the station-house and warehouse, tearing up the railroad track, and leaving about midnight. I sent Sergeant Stafford, Company L, and three men to Steelville, who returned at 5 a.m., and reported that no enemy in force had appeared at that point. I could obtain no reliable information of the enemy.

I have the honor to remain, your obedient servant,

JOHN L. BEVERIDGE, Colonel Seventeenth Illinois Cavalry

As Price made his lethargic approach to Jefferson City, and as indicated in Colonel Beveridge’s report, he also made every effort to destroy property and railroad facilities. General Fagan’s men destroyed the depot in De Soto, while another group cut the rail line near Franklin and burned the depot in that town. Troops from Marmaduke’s division were responsible for the destruction of the Cuba depot, tore up several miles of Pacific Southwest track, and destroyed the rail bridge over the Moselle River. Another of Marmaduke’s brigades took possession of the town of Washington without opposition, and destroyed all the rail lines within two miles.

1860s Jefferson City On October 7, Price finally arrived at the outskirts of Jefferson City. He launched a few probing attacks on the city and soon discovered he had again been beaten to the punch by Rosecrans. In his view, the city could not be taken and he would abandon that objective as well. This caused him to clash violently with Governor Reynolds, who could see the prospect of Confederate control of Missouri rapidly slipping away. Price elected to move west “in the direction of Kansas, as instructed in my original orders, hoping to be able to capture a sufficient number of arms to arm my unarmed men at Boonville, Sedalia, Lexington, and Independence, places which I intended to occupy with my troops en route.”

Two days later, with Price comfortably camped at Boonville, the Federal strategy for dealing with the raid shifted dramatically from one of a passive, static defense to an active defense. Rosecrans realized that Price’s move west provided an opportunity for pursuit and even destruction of the Confederate army. He sent his newly arrived infantry marching west across the state and ordered Pleasonton to use his cavalry to chase and harass Price’s column. As Smith’s 4,000 foot soldiers quickly moved out, Pleasonton organized a force of 4,100 cavalry under General John Sanborn and ordered them to find Price, follow him, and attack the rear of his army at every opportunity. Sanborn and his troopers rode hard to the west following Price’s trail and, by the time Price left Boonville on October 13, they were already snapping at his heels.

General James Blunt Price’s turn westward also served to wake up Governor Carney in Kansas. Carney could no longer wish the Confederate threat away and, on October 9, he called out 4,000 regular state troops and some 10,000 militiamen, sending them to the Missouri border under the command of General James Blunt. Their call-up occurred so quickly, there was no opportunity to provide uniforms to the militia. Instead, they were all issued red badges to wear and many added to this by stuffing fallen leaves in their hatbands, causing them to anoint themselves as the “Sumach Militia.” One of them later recalled, “We were about as inefficient a force as could have been mobilized anywhere on earth to check the advance of a seasoned army.”

Blunt, along with General Curtis, moved the mixed force of regulars and militia across the Missouri border to the line of the Big Blue River. This crossing of a state line caused many of the militiamen to complain that such a move was illegal, and that they should not be required to fight on Missouri soil. A few near mutinies broke out, but eventually Curtis convinced the Kansas men that they would go no further east than the Big Blue and soon had them digging fortifications along the west bank of the river.

While the Kansas militia prepared for Price’s appearance, he continued to move west at a comfortable pace of only 11 miles a day. Pleasonton’s constant attacks caused him to realize he was being pursued, but he still did not hasten the pace of his cavalry, which was being outraced even by Smith’s Union infantry and was also now closing in on his rear. Then, on October 19, Price ran into a detachment of Blunt’s men in Lexington. The Federals were badly outnumbered and quickly retreated back across the Little Blue River. But the brief firefight made Price realize that he was now facing a threat in both his front and rear. However, despite this, he ordered the army to continue west towards Independence, Westport, and Kansas City, as his original orders from Kirby Smith specified. Worst of all, he elected to keep the wagon train of captured supplies and loot with him. The train had now reached almost 600 wagons and they were greatly responsible for slowing his men down. But General Smith had ordered he take the wagons to gather supplies and Price seemed determined to at least achieve some of the raid’s objectives, no matter the potential cost.

Bloody Bill Anderson As far as the objective of garnering 30,000 new recruits, Price had failed there as well. While his men rested in Boonville, he had managed to bring in about 1,500 recruits and most of them were unarmed. Some of the Southern sanctioned guerilla groups also rode in and attached themselves to his army. Quantrill’s raiders, who were now operating under the leadership of George Todd, arrived and were assigned to serve as scouts for Shelby’s division. However, the most interesting addition was “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s command. Anderson showed up asking to see General Price fresh from a raid on Centralia, where he had captured then murdered 150 Federal soldiers. Worse yet, Anderson and his men rode into camp with a collection of human scalps laid across their saddle, trophies of their recent victory. Price steadfastly refused to meet with Anderson until the scalps were destroyed. Once they were discarded, Price welcomed Anderson into his army.

On October 22, Shelby’s division approached the Big Blue River and found the far bank blocked by Curtis’ Kansas regiments. Rather than attack this main line, Shelby wisely elected to force his way across the river at Byram’s Ford, where the Union line was not nearly as strong. Price personally directed the attack across the river, smashing several Kansas regiments and nearly annihilating another in fighting on the Mockbee farm. Curtis, seeing the danger of being cut off by Price, elected to retreat to Westport, south of Kansas City. At first, Price savored what he believed to be a major victory. However, he was soon informed that, while he was fighting along the Big Blue, Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry had savagely attacked his rear guard and was pressing forward. With Curtis and Blunt aligned in front of Price, Pleasonton coming on strong from the east, and a total of 29,000 men on the field, the stage was set for the largest battle to be fought west of the Mississippi.

Battle of Westport-Map Price elected to face Curtis’ troops aligned on the north side of Brush Creek with Shelby and Fagan’s divisions, while Marmaduke was assigned to hold Pleasonton at the Big Blue River. Price planned to attack the Union lines but, shortly after sunrise on October 23, the Federals beat him to the punch. The first Union assaults were turned back, with Shelby’s men continuing to fight well, as they had throughout the campaign. However, early in the afternoon, a local farmer showed Curtis a narrow gulch that would provide a small force sufficient cover to penetrate the Confederate lines undetected. The Union general ordered the 9th Wisconsin Artillery and troopers from the 11th Kansas to follow the gulch and, when in position in Shelby’s rear, to set up their guns and open fire.

Shelby's men at Westport As the Union force moved undetected toward Shelby’s rear, things fell apart for Price along the Big Blue. Despite being outnumbered by Marmaduke’s division, Pleasonton’s cavalry smashed his lines with a ferocious attack. They Union cavalry, fighting dismounted, quickly engulfed Marmaduke’s lines and sent the Confederate cavalry reeling back towards Westport. Then, as Marmaduke was retreating, the Wisconsin battery emerged from the gully and began to bombard Shelby’s men from their rear. Almost simultaneous with this surprise, Blunt led the rest of the Kansas regiments across Bush Creek against both Shelby and Fagan’s front. The fighting became increasingly violent and, when he learned of Marmaduke’s disastrous engagement, Price realized he was about to crushed in a vice between Curtis and Pleasonton. He ordered some of Shelby’s men to shift east and slow down Pleasonton, while he sent the rest of the army into a full retreat south down the Fort Scott Road, where their wagon train was already headed.

Luckily, there was no immediate Federal pursuit. Feeling their men were too worn out from the fighting, Curtis and Pleasonton paused. But, the next day, Pleasonton’s cavalry was, once again, in full headlong pursuit of the fleeing Army of Missouri. On October 25, they overtook Price’s column, which continued to be slowed by their 600 wagons. One Confederate trooper described the massive train as moving like “a gorged anaconda dragging its huge body over the prairie.” As the pursuing Union horsemen approached, Shelby’s division and part of the wagon train had made it to the south side of the creek. Then, as Pleasonton’s men appeared, several wagons overturned midstream, clogging the ford. Fagan and Marmaduke set up a defensive line on the north side of the creek, hoping to hold off the Union cavalry until the rest of the wagons could get across.

Mine Creek Without pausing, the 2,600 Union cavalrymen charged, sweeping Fagan and Marmaduke’s men aside and destroying much of the wagon train, which was hopelessly stalled along the creek. In only 30 minutes of fighting, Price lost 300 men killed and wounded, with another 900 captured. Riding back from the head of the column to see what had happened, Price found the remnants of his army “retreating in utter and indescribable confusion.” Price’s raid, once so full of promise, had turned into an unmitigated disaster.

Sterling Price MonumentFor their part, the Union commanders were satisfied, and decided not to pursue Price any further. The Army of Missouri would slowly wend its way back towards Arkansas. The weather turned cold and the loss of supplies from the wagons began to take a toll on the army. Starving, hungry soldiers trudged south, but more and more began to desert the column, heading for their homes, never to return to service. Finally, on December 2, the army reached Laynesport, Arkansas, with only 3,500 men left from the nearly 16,000 who had set out for Missouri in September. The last campaign of the Trans-Mississippi was over. The only positive thing gained by either side was that the guerilla groups who had joined Price remained with his army and left Missouri for good, finally freeing the people from their reign of terror.

For several of the key participants, men who had been such failures up to this point, the outcome of Price’s Raid did not improve their lot. Disgusted by Rosecrans’ slow response to the raid, Ulysses Grant dismissed the Union general from command of the Department of Missouri, and he left the army shortly after the end of the war. As for Sterling Price, he was attacked in the press for his poor leadership, attacks he referred to as a “tissue of falsehoods.” Price demanded a court of inquiry be convened to exonerate him, and Kirby Smith agreed to his request. The court was convened in Shreveport the following April, but was forced to adjourn when word was received that the war had ended. Price left the country, moving to Mexico, where he offered his services to Emperor Maximilian. Following the downfall of the puppet French government and Maximilian’s execution, Price returned home to settle in St. Louis, where he died in 1867, finally reaching the city whose capture was denied him during his great raid into Missouri.

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Posted July 2, 2012 by bobtexstl in Uncategorized

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