My Plan is New Orleans

Major General John C. Fremont was finally ready to lead his Federal Army of the West, unofficially known as the Army of the Southwest, out of St. Louis to confront the secessionist Missouri State Guards under Major General Sterling “Pap” Price. The Guards had captured Lexington nearly three weeks before and controlled much of southwestern Missouri. Fremont had been slow in responding to Price’s threat, but he claimed that by doing so, his men endured “fewer hardships from exposure, and fewer impediments from want of transport, than could have been expected at any other season.”

Fremont planned a grand (and unrealistic) campaign in which he would destroy Price’s army and then move on to capture Little Rock and Memphis. From there, as he wrote his wife Jessie, “My plan is New Orleans. I think it can be done gloriously.” But the army needed to be unified just to get through Missouri. His 38,000 men and 100 guns were spread out over 70 miles in five divisions. Fremont planned to concentrate his men into a 10-mile line from Leesville to Warsaw, with Federals from Kansas City forming the army’s right flank, and Brigadier General John Pope and Major General David Hunter commanding the two wings.

Pope was ordered to join his troops with those at Boonville, only to find that there were no troops at Boonville to join with. He complained to his father-in-law, “Fremont shows his inefficiency more and more every day and walks about at Jefferson City with his hands to his head as if he were on the verge of insanity. There are no plans and no home of any that are intelligible.”

Concentrating the army was one thing; training and equipping it was another. Most of the troops were inadequately trained and armed, despite the enormous expenditures incurred within Fremont’s department. As for food, the men were instructed to live off the land, even though the State Guards had already gone through the region twice. The Federals could not take any more food “without bringing absolute starvation on the people.” On top of all this, President Abraham Lincoln sent Secretary of War Simon Cameron to personally inspect Fremont’s army and report on whether Fremont should keep his job.

Nevertheless, Fremont’s army moved out on October 7. Price quickly learned that the Federals were heading his way and abandoned Lexington the next day. He and his Guards withdrew southwestward, where he hoped to be reinforced by Brigadier General Ben McCulloch’s Confederates in Arkansas. The Guards fell back to Warsaw but could go no farther because the Osage River was too swollen to cross. Fortunately for them, the Federal advance was slow.

Heavy skirmishing with Guard remnants occurred at Clintonville and Pomme de Terre on the 12th. The next day, elements of Fremont’s army routed a detachment of Guards, capturing 40 and sending the rest fleeing toward Lebanon. Federal Colonel Grenville Dodge, who directed care for the wounded in Rolla, estimated that the Missourians sustained 46 casualties (16 killed and 30 wounded). This battle, which was more of a running fight, became known as “Dutch Hollow,” “Wet Glaze,” or “Monday Hollow.”

Both the Federal army movement and questions over whether Fremont should keep his command continued as the month progressed.


  • Cutrer, Thomas W., Theater of a Separate War: The Civil War West of the Mississippi River. The University of North Carolina Press, (Kindle Edition), 2017.
  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York: Vintage Books, 1958.
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day. New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971.

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