Tag Archives: Army of the West

The Confused Missouri Situation

September 23, 1861 – Despite the recent loss of Lexington and the scattering of his forces, Major General John C. Fremont notified his superiors that his troops were somehow “gathering around the enemy” in Missouri.

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Major General John C. Fremont | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Fremont’s Department of the West consisted of nearly 40,000 Federal officers and men in Missouri. However, they were scattered among various posts, and as President Lincoln predicted, Fremont’s declaration of martial law and emancipation proclamation had incited Missouri State Guards and partisans into stepping up their attacks on the Federals.

Fremont commanded several major Federal forces in northern and western Missouri, as well as a force under Brigadier-General Ulysses S. Grant that operated in the southeastern Missouri-southern Illinois-western Kentucky sector. Grant learned from “a negro man (who) tells a very straight story” that partisans were gathering at New Madrid, Missouri, and prepared to confront them. However, Fremont pulled two regiments from his command in response to an urgent call from Washington to send reinforcements east. This temporarily halted Grant’s offensive.

In western Missouri, Unionist Kansans led by James H. Lane operated along the Kansas-Missouri border. Lane’s Jayhawkers burned the Missouri town of Osceola and committed other depredations that gained no military advantage. They only continued the brutal combat that had taken place along the border before the war began, when Missourians and southerners fought to make Kansas a slave state and northern abolitionists fought to make it free.

In northern Missouri, Federals under Colonel Jefferson C. Davis (no relation to the Confederate president) clashed with Missourians in the Boonville area, while a force under Brigadier-General Samuel D. Sturgis pulled back from Rolla to St. Charles. Fremont sent Brigadier-General John Pope, commanding another Federal force in the region, to Iowa to recruit more volunteers.

Brig-Gen John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

General John Pope | Image Credit: Wikispaces.com

Fremont’s failure to effectively coordinate the movements of Davis, Sturgis, and Pope allowed a large Missouri partisan force under Martin Green to operate around Florida and then escape pursuit. It also helped lead to the fall of Lexington. Pope learned of the dire situation at Lexington while en route to Iowa and informed Fremont that he would send reinforcements there, “presuming from General Sturgis’ dispatches that there is imminent want of troops in Lexington.” However, Fremont instructed Pope to continue recruiting efforts in Iowa, and none of the other nearby Federal forces could reach the town in time.

Despite all this, Fremont sent a favorable message to Washington on September 23, to which Lieutenant-General Winfield Scott replied: “The President is glad that you are hastening to the scene of action. His words are, ‘He expects you to repair the disaster at Lexington without loss of time.’”

Fremont set about reorganizing his army into five divisions, with Pope commanding the right wing. Major General David Hunter would command the left, but his forces were dispersed throughout various points. Fremont initially planned to have Hunter concentrate at Jefferson City, but that would leave the region west of Rolla open for Missouri State Guards to operate with impunity. Repositioning all the elements of the Army of the West caused many logistical problems for Fremont.

Meanwhile, General Sterling Price, whose State Guards had captured Lexington, received word that Confederates under Generals Gideon Pillow and William Hardee had withdrawn from southeastern Missouri, and General Ben McCulloch’s Confederates had fallen back into Arkansas. This left Price alone while a force led by Fremont himself advanced from St. Louis to take back Lexington. Price resolved to abandon the town.

General Albert Sidney Johnston, the new commander of Confederate Department No. 2 (i.e., the Western Theater), had his sights set on Missouri as part of a bigger picture that also included Arkansas and Kentucky. Johnston ordered McCulloch “to muster into service as many armed regiments of Arkansas and Missouri troops” as possible. Johnston also ordered M. Jeff Thompson to lead his Missouri State Guards to the “vicinity of Farmington, on the route to Saint Louis” to “relieve the pressure of the Federal forces on General Price… and if possible to embarrass their movements by cutting their Ironton Railroad.” Thompson quickly dispatched troops to destroy railroad bridges around Charleston and Birds Point by month’s end.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 6873; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 72-74, 78; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 61-64, 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 113, 120-21; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 156-57

Wilson’s Creek: The Aftermath

August 11, 1861 – Demoralized Federal troops began a long retreat in Missouri following yesterday’s defeat, and the victors did not pursue.

The Federal retreat from Springfield that had been scheduled to begin at 2 a.m. on the 11th started two hours late because Brigadier General Franz Sigel, now commanding the Army of the West, was asleep. The town was not evacuated until after 6 a.m., with the Federals marching in disarray toward Rolla, 110 miles away.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Gustavus Elgin and Colonel R.H. Mercer, staffers under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who had been killed in yesterday’s battle, gave instructions for preparing Lyon’s body for burial. Lyon was temporarily interred in Springfield.

Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch dispatched the 3rd Texas Cavalry to reconnoiter Federal positions and learned that they had abandoned Springfield. He arranged to regroup his army and tend to the wounded on both sides in the town, and Springfield soon became a vast military hospital. McCulloch released the Federal prisoners captured in battle because he would “rather fight them than feed them.”

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals marched 32 miles, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and McCulloch. Sigel, a former German revolutionist, had his German immigrants leading the march, prompting other Federals to charge favoritism. They called for Major Samuel D. Sturgis, who had taken temporary army command following Lyon’s death, to be reinstated. The troops were on the verge of mutiny by the time they stopped at Niangua for the night.

Back at Springfield, McCulloch issued a proclamation to Missourians, stating, “I do not come among you to make war upon any of your people, whether Union or otherwise.” He pledged to protect the rights and property of all people, regardless of their loyalties, but asserted that Missouri “must be allowed to choose her own destiny.” McCulloch promised to require “no oaths binding your consciences,” but “Missouri must now take her position, be it North or South.”

McCulloch then issued orders to his men, stating that while he was proud that their “first battle had been glorious,” he had “hopes that the laurels you have gained will not be tarnished by a single outrage. The private property of citizens of either party must be respected. Soldiers who fought as well as you did the day before yesterday cannot rob or plunder.” However, the undisciplined Confederates looted Springfield, making the already predominantly Unionist residents there even more so.

Meanwhile, Major General Sterling “Pap” Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard portion of McCulloch’s force, urged McCulloch to advance toward Lexington. McCulloch refused, citing an ammunition shortage. Developments in southeastern Missouri may have also played a role in McCulloch’s decision to stay put: Confederate General Gideon Pillow received orders to return his force to Arkansas after being stuck in New Madrid.

East of Springfield, Sigel’s Federal army, near the crossing of the Niangua River, covered just three miles on the 12th, as troops continued railing against Sigel’s perceived favoritism toward the Germans and demanding his removal. When the march was delayed for three hours while the Germans ate their breakfast on the morning of the 13th, officers demanded that Sturgis confront Sigel.

Sturgis reluctantly complied and informed Sigel that he (Sturgis) technically ranked him since he was a major in the Regular Army and Sigel was a brigadier-general of volunteers. Outraged, Sigel demanded the move be put to a vote. Sturgis refused, stating that officers who voted against him “might refuse to obey my orders, and I should be under the necessity of shooting you.” This mollified Sigel, and the Federal march resumed. But the troops did not reach Rolla until the 17th.

When Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West from St. Louis, learned of the defeat at Wilson’s Creek, he absolved himself of any responsibility for it. But he did send an Iowa brigade to Rolla to discourage any Confederate pursuit of Sturgis’s force. Fremont then desperately called on the Lincoln administration to send more men to Missouri.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron responded by ordering volunteers in Ohio and Illinois to head west. Despite Fremont’s denials, the defeat called the administration’s attention to what seemed to be a growing lack of effective Federal military leadership in Missouri.



CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 108; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 146

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

August 10, 1861 – Federals not only suffered a second major defeat within a month, but they lost an army commander as well.

In early morning darkness, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal Army of the West moved to within striking distance of the combined force of Confederates and Missouri secessionists under Generals Ben McCulloch and Sterling “Pap” Price near Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. The Federals, hoping to deceive the enemy by avoiding the road from Springfield, approached the Confederates from the northwest. The Confederates had not posted pickets and thus did not know they were about to be attacked, with Lyon’s main force approaching their front and Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s detachment approaching their southern (right) flank and rear.

Though outnumbered 2-to-1, both Lyon and Sigel attacked around 5 a.m. amid the rolling hills and thick brush about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. To the north, Lyon led Federals that drove off enemy cavalry and seized Oak Hill, a key strategic position west of Wilson’s Creek. From there the entire Confederate camp could be seen below; it later became known as “Bloody Hill.”

Battle of Wilson's Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle of Wilson’s Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To the south, Sigel’s Federals attacked the opposite end of the Confederate camp, catching the men by surprise with an artillery battery. Soon the Confederates found themselves caught between Sigel and Lyon, with Sigel pushing them toward Lyon.

McCulloch and Price focused mainly on Bloody Hill. The Pulaski Arkansas Artillery opened an enfilading fire on the Federals as Price rushed his troops to the southern base of the hill around 6:30 a.m. This, along with Lyon waiting to hear from Sigel, halted the Federal advance and gave the Confederates time to organize.

Brigadier General James McIntosh’s Confederates stopped a Federal attempt to silence the Pulaski battery. McIntosh’s troops tried pursuing the Federals, but they were stopped by Federal artillery. Brigadier General James H. McBride led a Confederate attack on the Federal right at 7:30 a.m., but that was stopped as well. The Confederates fell back to regroup.

Meanwhile, Sigel led his men northward on the Telegraph road running along Wilson’s Creek. He lost contact with Lyon, leaving his men isolated on the Confederate right and rear. McCulloch personally led Louisiana troops in an attack on Sigel’s vulnerable left flank south of Skegg’s Branch. The Federals hesitated to fire because the Louisianans wore the same gray uniforms as the familiar 1st Iowa. This enabled the Confederates to unleash a deadly volley that crumpled Sigel’s flank and sent his men running from the field. The Confederates captured all five of Sigel’s cannon before turning their full attention to Lyon on Bloody Hill.

Lyon brought up reinforcements that withstood a second Confederate advance and then counterattacked around 9 a.m. Price’s Confederates lay in wait within the brush as Lyon advanced. The farther down Bloody Hill the Federals marched, the heavier the gunfire became until both sides stopped and traded deafening shots. The Federals slowly fell back, regrouped, and then regained the lost ground.

From atop his horse, Lyon was encouraging his men to stand firm when a nearby shell exploded, killing his horse and wounding him in the leg and head. Lyon waved his sword to urge the troops to press on, then stepped behind the lines to contemplate his next move. Officers urged Lyon to order another attack. Lyon directed Major Samuel D. Sturgis, the second ranking Federal, to rally the men, then mounted another horse and returned to the front. Fighting now raged all along the line.

Lyon led an Iowa regiment over the hill’s crest. As he waved his hat to inspire the 2nd Kansas, Lyon was shot in the chest. His orderly, Private Albert Lehman, helped him off the horse, where he said, “Lehman, I am killed,” shortly before dying. Lyon became the first Federal general killed in combat. His death shattered Federal morale.

Command passed to Major Sturgis, whose first priority was to determine Sigel’s location because the Federals could not maintain their position without his support. Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry briefly stopped the Federal advance, giving Price time to regroup once more. Reinforced by the troops that had routed Sigel, Price charged a third time but was again repulsed after about an hour of fighting.

Sturgis received word of Sigel’s failure as the Confederates withdrew around 11 a.m. Noting that his men were exhausted and their ammunition was running low, Sturgis ordered them to fall back toward Springfield. The Confederates learned of the Federal withdrawal while preparing for a fourth charge. McCulloch and Price rode to the crest of Bloody Hill to see the enemy troops retiring in good order. Both men agreed that their forces were too disorganized to pursue.

Nevertheless, like Bull Run a month earlier, the second major battle of the war ended in Confederate victory. The Federals suffered 1,317 casualties (258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing), an alarming 24 percent casualty rate. The Confederates lost 1,230 (277 killed and 945 wounded), or about 12 percent of those engaged.

The Federals returned to Springfield around 5 p.m., where Sturgis transferred army command to Sigel. The officers held a meeting and resolved that since the ranks had been so heavily battered and their commander killed, they would retreat to Rolla, 110 miles northeast. This would concede a major part of Missouri to the secessionists. The retreat was slated to begin at 2 a.m.



Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 49; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 88; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 66; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 92, 94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 55-56; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 454; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37; Linedecker, Clifford L., (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 168, 271; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 107; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 351; Mullins, Michael A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 833-34; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 142-46; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 458; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 74; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361; Wikipedia: Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Sherman’s March Through Georgia

Article originally published in Harper’s Weekly, 26 November 1864 (courtesy of sonofthesouth.net)

FREDERICK THE GREAT’S Silesian campaigns were not more remarkable than General SHERMAN’S. A more skillful and accomplished soldier has not been known in our history; and, compared with him and his operations, how poor sounds the old talk about the “Great Captain” LEE!

SHERMAN forced his way straight through the enemy’s territory, over mountains and rivers, baffling all attacks, outwitting all hostile designs, driving the whole mass of the rebel army backward until he planted his flag where he set out to plant it, and sat down in Atlanta. The victory extorted a wail of anguish and rage from the rebel chief, for he felt the mortal wound. In utter desperation he ordered HOOD to throw his army upon SHERMAN’S rear and to threaten Tennessee. SHERMAN turned upon him, drove him from his intended line, detached General Thomas with his army to hold him in the corner of Alabama or to coax him across the Tennessee ; while now, with all his banners flying and bugles blowing, his futile enemy confounded, SHERMAN shakes out his glittering columns and advances to the sea.

There is no considerable force to oppose him. The ample breadth of Georgia lies open to him. The finest and richest tract of the rebel region is his parade ground, and ALEXANDER H. STEPHENS’S own State is about to learn the truth of his prophecy that, if it drew the sword, it would miserably perish by it.

Whether SHERMAN is moving upon Mobile, or Savannah, or Charleston, or whether he is moving at all, is not known. But whatever be his destination, he will reach it and occupy it. There Is no force and no generalship in the rebel lines which can compare with his. And the coming of his army, although it necessarily leave a path of desolation, will be the shining of a bright light in the darkness of the South. It will show rebels that the Government of the United States has irresistible power, and that it is useless to contend with the inflexible resolution of the American people that their Government shall be maintained.

The people of the rebel section have seen the progress of our arms in the last three years. They have not forgotten that they were themselves apparently successful until the Government could create and collect its forces and bring them to bear. They have seen the loyal part of the country submitting to taxes, to drafts, and to the necessary conditions of war. They have seen an angry and malignant faction arise and threaten to paralyze and divide the loyal nation. They have seen the slow and painful process by which we have ascertained who are our real military chiefs, and they see them now in command. They have seen the opening of the Mississippi, the occupation of the Southwest, the baffling at every point of their attempted invasions, their constant shrinking before the national hand, as JOHNSON shrank from SHERMAN. They have seen the hope of foreign interference expire, cotton dethroned, and their finances ruined. They have seen the defection of their army, and have heard it confirmed by DAVIS himself. And now at last they have seen the attitude of their loyal fellow citizens perfectly unchanged, and hear them in the fourth year of the war, by a unanimity which is marvelous, declare that whatever may be the further cost of the struggle it shall go on until the authority of the mildest, fairest, and best government in the world is every where and entirely restored.

The coming of SHERMAN’S army will be the visible proof of all the things they have seen. Desperate they may be, brave and furious, but they are men still, and there is a point at which all men yield. If that point is not nearly reached, very well. We can wait, They know now that SHERMAN is the personification of the loyal country, and that the war will continue until that point is reached.