October 22, 1864 – Federal pursuers closed in on General Sterling Price’s Confederates as they moved through Missouri in an attempt to free the state from Federal rule.
Price’s Confederate invasion of Missouri that had begun in September continued. The Confederates reached Washington on the Missouri River, about 50 miles west of St. Louis. Two days later, Price began veering away from the city after skirmishing at Richwoods.
Federals pursued Price’s men as they occupied Herman on October 5 and crossed the Osage River the next day to threaten the state capital at Jefferson City. However, Price found the Federal defenses at the capital too strong to attack. As Price began withdrawing to the west, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri from St. Louis, deployed cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and infantry from Major General Andrew J. Smith’s XVI Corps to pursue.
Price reached Boonville on the 9th, where he learned that not only were Federals from Pleasonton and Smith in pursuit, but 20,000 Federals from Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Army of the Border were gathering to block his westward path to Kansas. After deciding to continue his westward movement, Price issued a proclamation requesting that citizens join his army and “redeem” Missouri from Federal control.
Boonville residents turned against the Confederates when they looted the town for two days. This gave the Federals time to develop a strategy to confront them. On the 15th, a Confederate detachment under Generals Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby and John B. Clark, Jr. captured a Federal garrison at Glasgow. This boosted morale but delayed Price’s movement, giving the Federals more time to catch up.
Meanwhile, another Confederate detachment led by Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson captured Sedalia. Thompson stopped his men from looting the town before they moved on to rejoin Price’s main army. Price approached Lexington soon afterward, capturing Carrollton and burning Smithville. The Federal pursuers continued closing in from the front and rear, with thousands of state militiamen mobilizing for duty.
Shelby’s Confederates confronted a force of Kansans and Coloradans under Major General James G. Blunt at Waverly, Shelby’s home town. Curtis had dispatched Blunt’s men to slow the Confederate advance. The Confederates pushed Blunt back down the Independence Road to the Little Blue River, but the Federals gained important information about enemy strength.
By the 20th, Price’s momentum had slowed and Missourians had not joined his army as he hoped. Pinned by the Missouri River on his right, Price now faced advances from Pleasonton’s Federal cavalry behind him, A.J. Smith’s infantry moving toward his left, and Blunt’s men in his front. But the Confederates moved on, with Shelby driving Blunt through Lexington and across the Little Blue, then capturing Independence after fighting among the town’s houses on the 21st.
Pleasonton’s cavalry attacked the Confederates at Independence the next day, pushing them westward out of town. Meanwhile, Price learned that Curtis blocked his path at Westport. Shelby’s Confederates flanked Blunt on the Big Blue, giving Price control of Byram’s Ford. Blunt withdrew to join Curtis’s main force, while Price used the ford to move his 500 supply wagons and 5,000 head of cattle southward.
As Price approached Westport, Curtis held a council of war in Kansas City’s Gillis House to ponder his next move. Curtis had initially planned to withdraw to Fort Leavenworth, but Blunt persuaded him to instead attack the Confederates in the morning. Price in turn planned to drive off Curtis in his front and then turn and drive off Pleasonton in his rear. Being outnumbered, this was a desperate gamble, but it was Price’s only hope of escaping Missouri without having his army destroyed.
- Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12116-26, 12137-57, 12178-88
- Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03
- Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 578-81, 583-87
- Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474
- Wikipedia: Price’s Raid