Tag Archives: Samuel R. Curtis

The Missouri Incursion Ends

October 25, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederate Army of Missouri continued its retreat following the Battle of Westport, with Federal forces in close pursuit.

Gen. Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Price had suffered a major defeat at the hands of Major General Samuel Curtis’s Army of the Border and Federal cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton. These two Federal forces, which belonged to two different military departments, quickly began pursuing Price’s Confederates south toward Arkansas. Federal infantry under Major General Andrew J. Smith was also on its way to join the chase.

Price’s retreat was slowed by a long supply train filled with stores captured from various towns and garrisons. Curtis reported to Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck, “My pursuit of Price has extended down the Line road opposite Paola. He makes rapid progress, but dead horses and debris show his demoralized and destitute condition and my probable success in overhauling him.”

Major General James G. Blunt, commanding a division in Curtis’s army, directed one of his brigade commanders, Colonel Thomas Moonlight, to move “on the flank of the enemy to protect the border of Kansas from raiding parties that might be detached from Price’s main column, and with the remainder of the division, in pursuance of orders, move on the Line road, on the trail of the retreating rebels.” This would prevent Price from attacking Fort Scott, Kansas.

Moonlight’s Federals clashed with the Confederate rear guard on the Little Santa Fe River and pushed them away from the Kansas border. As night fell on the 24th, Curtis ordered Pleasonton to move ahead of Blunt’s tired troops and renew the pursuit.

Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of the Missouri over Pleasonton and Smith, received word that Price might head for Springfield, not Fort Scott. He therefore directed Pleasonton to keep Price between those two points. Rosecrans wrote, “He should be kept near the border where the country will not support him. Strain every nerve, and don’t spare horseflesh.”

During the dark, rainy night, one of Pleasonton’s brigades under Brigadier General John Sanborn caught up to Price’s rear guard at the Marais des Cygnes River, near Trading Post, Kansas. Both sides exchanged fire, but as Sanborn reported, “My ignorance of the topography of the country, the impenetrable darkness and incessant rain, induced me to postpone a general attack until 4 o’clock in the morning.”

By the morning of the 25th, Price’s Confederates had retreated 61 miles in two days. Price drew up orders “for the purpose of attacking and capturing Fort Scott, where I learned there were 1,000 negroes under arms.” But before the orders were delivered, Pleasonton’s Federals opened an artillery bombardment at 4 a.m. and then charged at daybreak.

Major General James F. Fagan’s Confederates held the enemy off while the rest of Price’s army crossed the river and continued retreating. The Federals captured two guns and several prisoners, and as Pleasonton reported, the Confederates “left in great haste, dropping trees in the road to bar our progress, and fighting a running contest to the Osage River…”

Price turned to make a stand at Mine Creek, six miles south. Pleasonton charged again and routed the Confederates. Price arrived to find “the divisions of Major-Generals Fagan and (John S.) Marmaduke retreating in utter and indescribable confusion, many of them having thrown away their arms. They were deaf to all entreaties or commands, and in vain were all efforts to rally them.”

The Federals inflicted 500 casualties and took 560 prisoners, including Marmaduke and Brigadier General William Cabell, as well as four colonels. Between the Marais des Cygnes and Mine Creek, Pleasonton took nearly 1,000 prisoners and all 10 of Price’s guns.

This was the war’s first full-scale engagement in Kansas. Brigadier General Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby’s Confederate division held the Federals off long enough for Price’s remaining 6,000 troops to escape. Shelby reported, “I knew from the beginning that I could do nothing but resist their advance, and depend on energy and night for the rest.”

Price made a third stand when his wagons stalled while crossing the Marmiton River, showing enough force to convince Pleasonton not to charge. Price escaped, but his Army of Missouri was “effectively crippled.” The exhausted Confederates were forced to burn about a third of their supply train to prevent its capture.

The next day, Pleasonton fell ill and his troopers retired to Fort Scott, ending their pursuit. Curtis directed Blunt’s Federals to resume the chase. Price finally gave his men a rest at Carthage before resuming the retreat toward Newtonia on the 28th. The Confederates easily drove off the Federal garrison at Newtonia, as Price planned to stay there and take advantage of the abundant forage nearby. However, Blunt’s Federals approached that afternoon. Price reported:

“Ere long, our scouts brought the information the enemy were crossing the prairie in pursuit of us. Preparations were immediately made to receive him, and about 3 o’clock General Blunt, with 3,000 Federal cavalry, moved rapidly across the prairie in pursuit of us and made a furious onslaught upon our lines.”

Price quickly ordered Shelby’s troops to hold Blunt off while the rest of the army retreated. Blunt attacked with just two regiments, which were no match for Shelby’s entire division. The Confederates drove Blunt’s men back until Federal reinforcements arrived to even the odds. Shelby ordered a withdrawal to join the rest of Price’s retreating army, ending the engagement.

On the 29th, Rosecrans transferred troops serving under Curtis to guard various posts, leaving Curtis without enough manpower to continue his pursuit. Arguments over whether Confederate prisoners should be sent to Fort Leavenworth (in Curtis’s department) or St. Louis (in Rosecrans’s department) added to the delays. Price slipped away, but his army was never an effective fighting force again.

Price had invaded Missouri to raise volunteers and reclaim the state for the Confederacy. He did garner some recruits, but losses in casualties, illness, and desertions far outnumbered the gains. Missouri was not reclaimed, and Price did not capture either St. Louis or Jefferson City. He disrupted some supply lines and diverted Federal troops from other areas of battle, but he failed to alter any of the Federal operations in Virginia, Georgia, or Tennessee.

The Army of Missouri finally reached Arkansas in early November, with the Federals still in weak pursuit. Although they did not capture or destroy Price’s army, all major Confederate resistance west of the Mississippi River was virtually ended.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478-81; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 531; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 12220-62; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 513, 515-16; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03, 816; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 588-90; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 502

The Battle of Westport

October 23, 1864 – The largest battle of the Trans-Mississippi took place as Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates took on two Federal forces approaching them from opposite directions.

By this time, Price’s incursion into Missouri had brought his Confederates west toward Westport (now part of Kansas City) on the Missouri-Kansas border. A division of Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Federal Army of the Border under Major General James G. Blunt faced Price to the west, and Federal cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton threatened Price from the east. Blunt had about 15,000 Federals and Kansas militia, and Pleasonton had 7,000 men. Price’s army numbered just 8,000 cavalry troopers.

Price devised a desperate strategy to simultaneously attack both forces and then escape southward back to Arkansas. He directed two divisions under Major General James F. Fagan and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby to attack Curtis across Brush Creek while Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s division attacked Pleasonton at Byram’s Ford, on the Big Blue River. Shelby reported:

“The 23rd of October dawned upon us clear, cold, and full of promise. My division moved squarely against the enemy about 8 o’clock in the direction of Westport, and very soon became fiercely engaged, as usual… Inch by inch and foot by foot they gave way before my steady onset. Regiment met regiment, and opposing batteries draped the scene in clouds of dense and sable smoke.”

Curtis launched a preemptive attack, but Shelby’s famed Iron Brigade quickly repelled it and sent the outflanked Federals across Brush Creek. Elements of Curtis’s force retreated to Westport and the Kansas state line, but just as the line seemed to break, Shelby’s Confederates began running out of ammunition. Price’s men launched several charges over four hours but could not break Curtis’s line. Then Federals found a small ravine and turned the Confederate left.

The Battle of Westport | Image Credit: Flickr.com

At mid-morning, Price learned that Marmaduke was “being attacked with great fierceness by an overwhelming force of the enemy, after a most strenuous resistance, his ammunition being exhausted, had to fall back before the foe.” Pleasonton’s Federals captured the west bank of the Big Blue around 11 a.m., forcing Marmaduke to withdraw. This threatened Price’s supply train, which he had already sent south.

Price positioned the remnants of Marmaduke’s division along with Fagan’s division to guard the southward escape of the valuable Confederate supply train. Shelby’s division facing Curtis would prevent the Federals from pursuing. Price’s men as his train withdrew down the Missouri-Kansas state line.

Shelby dispatched a brigade to hold off Pleasonton’s entire division while the rest of his command tried holding Curtis off. But the Federals were soon threatening the Confederate front and rear at the same time. Shelby wrote, “I knew the only salvation was to charge the nearest line, break it if possible, and then retreat rapidly, fighting the other. The order was given.”

The Confederates attacked Pleasonton, but soon Curtis’s Federals were upon them, “and nothing was left but to run for it, which was now commenced. The Federals seeing the confusion pressed on furiously, yelling, shouting, and shooting, and my own men fighting, every one on his own hook, would turn and fire and then gallop away again.” The Confederates set brushfires to prevent the Federals from seeing where they went.

Following this fight, Curtis informed Federal Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck that “the victory at Westport was most decisive.” Being the largest battle in the Trans-Mississippi theater, it became known as the “Gettysburg of the West.” Of the 30,000 men engaged, roughly 1,500 were lost on each side. This was a much more devastating figure for Price, whose defeated force was much smaller.

As Price’s Army of Missouri retreated back south toward Arkansas, Curtis directed the Federals to pursue.

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References

Castel, Albert, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 478; 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 12188-262; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 513; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03, 816; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-61; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587-90; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474

Missouri: Price Rushes West

October 15, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates captured several towns while moving through Missouri, but Federal pursuers were closing in on them fast.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

In September, Price had begun an expedition to free his home state from Federal rule. His Army of Missouri consisted of three cavalry divisions under Major General James F. Fagan and Brigadier Generals John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. Price initially planned to head northeast and capture St. Louis, but after learning that the city was heavily defended, Price instead rode to seize the state capital of Jefferson City.

Price’s troopers turned westward and moved along the Missouri River, passing through Washington, skirmishing with a token Federal force at Richwoods, and occupying Herman. The Confederates crossed the Osage River on the 6th and approached Jefferson City, but Price found the Federal defenses there too strong to attack. He continued west toward Boonville, with a Federal brigade under Brigadier General John B. Sanborn in pursuit.

Meanwhile, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri from St. Louis, deployed cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and XVI Corps under Major General Andrew J. Smith to pursue the Confederates. Smith’s corps had been slated to reinforce the Federals in Tennessee, but it was held back to deal with Price.

Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Federal Department of Kansas from Fort Leavenworth, mobilized a division of his Army of the Border under Major General James G. Blunt to move east into Missouri and confront Price. Kansas Governor Thomas Carney reluctantly gave Curtis a division of state militia to join Blunt after learning that Price was moving west toward his state.

Price reached Boonville on the 9th, where he learned that not only were Pleasonton and Smith pursuing from the east, but 20,000 Federals under Curtis were heading his way from the west. Price resolved to continue heading west, and he issued a proclamation requesting that citizens join his army and “redeem” Missouri from Federal control.

The Boonville residents were initially supportive of Price’s efforts, and about 2,000 volunteers joined Price’s army. The divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke defeated Sanborn’s pursuing Federals outside Boonville on the 11th and sent them retreating across Saline Creek.

However, even with the new recruits, desertions and illness left Price with just 8,500 men, or 3,500 less than he had when the campaign started. And public opinion turned against the Confederates after they spent two days looting Boonville. This recklessness gave the Federals time to develop a strategy to destroy them.

Confederate partisans led by William “Bloody Bill” Anderson came to Boonville to reinforce Price, but Price was outraged by the scalps hanging from their bridles. With large numbers of Federal troops closing in from two directions, Price began looking to return to Arkansas. He and Anderson parted ways, with Anderson’s partisans going to raid towns north of the Missouri River.

Price dispatched troopers under Shelby and Brigadier General John B. Clark, Jr. to capture Glasgow, the supposed site of a large Federal arsenal. The 2,500 troopers placed the 750-man Federal garrison under siege and forced its surrender on the 15th. Elements of Shelby’s command also captured Paris that day. However, the Federals destroyed most of their stockpile before surrendering.

Another detached force of about 1,500 Confederates from Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson’s command and part of Shelby’s Iron Brigade captured Sedalia. Thompson stopped his men from looting the town; they only took arms, horses, and supplies before moving on to rejoin Price’s army. These victories boosted Confederate morale, but the time they spent occupying the towns gave the Federals more time to close in on them.

Price then captured Carrollton and burned Smithville before approaching Lexington. Rosecrans looked to trap Price between his force and Curtis’s, but many of the Kansas militia refused to cross the border into Missouri. Blunt had just about 2,000 men in his command when he approached Lexington, about 30 miles east of Kansas City. Shelby rode into his home town of Waverly to confront Blunt’s Kansans and Coloradans.

On the 19th, Price’s main force drove Blunt’s Federals westward, down the Independence Road out of Lexington, until darkness ended the fighting. Blunt was no match for Price, but he gained important information about Price’s strength.

Blunt’s Federals withdrew to defenses on the bank of the Little Blue River, east of Independence, on the 20th. Curtis urged Blunt to concentrate at Independence because “the Big Blue must be our main line for battle. We must pick our battle-ground where we can have united councils as well as a strong position.” Curtis reported:

“The country is rough and thickly timbered, and the streams bordered by precipitate banks, which render it generally impassable for cavalry and artillery. I divided the forces, distributing them so as to form a line more or less continuous, according to danger, from the Missouri River to the crossing of the Blue, near Hickman Mills, a distance of 15 or 16 miles.”

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 continued forward, clashing with Blunt’s vanguard on the Little Blue and driving them toward Independence.

Price’s troopers captured Independence on the 21st, after Federals put up a strong resistance in the streets and houses. The Confederates camped that night west of Independence. Pleasonton’s cavalry attacked the Confederate rear guard at Independence the next day, pushing them westward out of town.

Meanwhile, Price learned that Curtis and Blunt 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.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 466, 469-71, 476-78; 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; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 504-12; 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; 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. 787; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474

Turmoil in Missouri Continues

January 22, 1864 – The Lincoln administration tried addressing the troubling state of Missouri with a reorganization designed to help both militarily and politically.

Federal Maj Gen John M. Schofield | Image Credit: Flickr.com

After three years of war, Missouri remained a state in turmoil. Major military activity had ended long ago, but raiding and skirmishing continued at countless points, and the political situation was in great disarray. Major General John Schofield, heading the Department of the Missouri, had caused much dissension between the Radicals from Kansas and the conservative Missourians within the Republican Party.

Schofield tried striking a balance between the two factions by supporting conservatives for public office while voicing support for President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. He ended up being mistrusted by both. A delegation had gone to Washington last fall to demand that Lincoln replace Schofield with Benjamin F. Butler, but Lincoln refused.

Lincoln backed the new Unionist government in Missouri, which was largely made up of conservatives like himself. He urged Schofield to avoid politics whenever possible and enforce the new state laws. When Schofield employed the state militia, Radicals accused him of consorting with Confederates and demanded that the militia be absorbed into the Federal army.

In December, Schofield became embroiled in more controversy when he refused to endorse the Radical candidate running for the U.S. Senate. Lincoln summoned the general to Washington, where Schofield explained that Kansas and Missouri were just too divided politically to be reconciled. Lincoln tried solving this problem by splitting up the Department of the Missouri.

Under General Order No. 1, a renewed Department of Kansas was created, which included Kansas, the Nebraska Territory, and Fort Smith, Arkansas. This limited Schofield’s department to Missouri, Arkansas (except Fort Smith), and Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel R. Curtis was assigned to command the Department of Kansas.

Next, a new Department of Arkansas was created to strip Schofield of authority over that state. Major General Frederick Steele would head this new department, which controlled all of Arkansas except Fort Smith. Steele was assigned to not only conquer the areas currently under Confederate control but also restore the state to the Union under Lincoln’s “Ten Percent Plan.”

Third, a new Northern Department was created to strip Schofield of authority over Alton, Illinois. Major General Samuel P. Heintzelman was assigned to command this entity, which encompassed Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois, with headquarters at Columbus, Ohio.

And finally, Schofield himself would be replaced by Major General William S. Rosecrans, the recently deposed commander of the Army of the Cumberland. Rosecrans’s detractors had condemned him for failing to break the siege of Chattanooga, while his supporters claimed that he would have broken it had he been given more time. Lincoln, always willing to give a general a second chance, saw this as an opportunity to restart both military and political relations in Missouri. Schofield, whom Lincoln did not blame for the state’s troubles, would eventually come east to head the Army of the Ohio.

Meanwhile, the provisional Unionist government in Missouri was dealt a blow when its governor, Hamilton R. Gamble, died. He was replaced by Lieutenant Governor Willard Hall, who assured his fellow Unionist Missourians that he would continue enforcing Gamble’s policies, which included backing the Unionist forces in driving all Confederate sympathizers out of the state.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 361; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 407-08, 502; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 387-88, 391, 393; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 452, 455, 457-59; Longacre, Edward G., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 537; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 23, 176; 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), Q164

A Race in Northwestern Arkansas

December 6, 1862 – Brigadier General James G. Blunt’s Federals were isolated in northwestern Arkansas, and the race was on to see whether reinforcements or the Confederates could reach him first.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

As December began, Major General Thomas C. Hindman was preparing to move his Confederate army north to join forces with Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke near Cane Hill, Arkansas. The combined force would then attack Blunt’s Federals before the rest of the Army of the Frontier could hurry from Springfield, Missouri, to reinforce them.

Blunt’s force was stationed at Cane Hill, about 20 miles southwest of Fayetteville. His immediate superior, Major General John Schofield, was on the sick list, so command passed up to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commanding the Department of the Missouri from St. Louis. The Federal commander at Springfield was Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, who recently resumed command from General James Totten.

General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department from Little Rock, initially supported Hindman’s plan to strike Blunt. But then he suddenly reconsidered. The men exchanged cables on the 1st, with Hindman stating, “With the infantry and artillery alone I can defeat the Union force at Cane Hill.” By sending cavalry around both the Federal flanks, Hindman “hoped to destroy them. I urge upon you to leave me to my discretion in the matter. I will not trifle with the great interests entrusted to me.”

Holmes answered, “If your army is destroyed or demoralized, ruin to us will follow.” He urged Hindman to either stay put until he could better organize his army or advance into the Indian Territory. Hindman insisted that he must “push right up at once and try to regain what has been lost.”

When Holmes suggested that the army might be better off reinforcing Vicksburg, Hindman replied, “If this is done, Arkansas is lost. Holding Vicksburg won’t save a foot of it. Whenever the enemy gets south of the Boston Mountains, and establishes himself, he can press you down to Louisiana or into Texas without difficulty.” Hindman also argued that sending his men east would cause mass desertions. Holmes finally relented, writing, “Use your discretion and good luck to you.”

Hindman proceeded to prepare his Army of the Trans-Mississippi to march 75 miles north from the Arkansas River to attack Blunt’s 5,000 Federals. Hindman’s force numbered 11,300 men with 22 guns. Hindman was confident that he could easily defeat the enemy, but for his assault to succeed, he needed total secrecy. He also needed support on his left flank, which he hoped would be provided by Colonel Douglas H. Cooper and his band of Natives and whites in the Indian Territory.

Unfortunately for Hindman, Cooper’s force had largely disbanded after its defeat at Old Fort Wayne in November. Cooper notified Hindman, “The Indians are not inclined to venture much alone, they need white support.” Cooper could only send 400 men under Brigadier General Stand Watie to support the offensive.

Hindman also could not rely on the element of surprise, as Blunt received word on the 3rd that Confederates were coming to attack him. Although scouts had erroneously guessed that 25,000 men were just 25 miles away (only 11,300 were almost 75 miles away), the alarm had sounded that an attack of some sort was imminent.

General James G. Blunt | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Blunt hurriedly wired Totten for help, unaware that Herron had taken back his command in southwestern Missouri. He next wired Curtis for help, and then he telegraphed Colonel M. LaRue Harrison, commanding the 1st Arkansas (U.S.) Cavalry, directing him to guard the Telegraph road to facilitate Herron’s line of march. Blunt then resolved to stay and fight, ordering his men to build defenses and guard all approaches to Cane Hill.

Curtis received Blunt’s dispatch and feared he was too isolated to hold his ground. Curtis wrote, “You are too far in advance for support and supplies. Had better fall back to meet Herron’s reinforcements…” Curtis also ordered Herron to support Blunt in northwestern Arkansas, over 100 miles away. A race began to determine whether Hindman or Herron would reach Blunt first.

Herron told Blunt that he would have his men in motion by noon on the 3rd, but Blunt was so far away “that it may be necessary for you to fall back a short distance, but I will do my best to make that unnecessary.” Blunt refused to fall back, confident he could repulse any Confederate attack at least until Herron came up with his reinforcements.

As Hindman led his force through the Boston Mountains, the highest in the Ozark chain, he issued a proclamation to his men:

“Remember that the enemy you engage has no feeling of mercy or kindness toward you. His ranks are made up of Pin Indians, free negroes, Southern tories, Kansas jayhawkers, and hired Dutch cut-throats. These bloody ruffians have invaded your country; stolen and destroyed your property; murdered your neighbors; outraged your women; driven your children from their homes, and defiled the graves of your kindred. If each man of you will do what I have here urged upon you, we will utterly destroy them. We can do this; we must do it; our country will be ruined if we fail. A just God will strengthen our arms and give us a glorious victory.”

Herron led two divisions totaling 6,000 Federals and 30 guns into Arkansas the next day, marching along Pea Ridge’s granite slopes. The men reached Fayetteville on the night of the 6th. They had marched an incredible 110 miles through extreme cold in just three days.

Blunt closely watched the road from Van Buren, which he expected Hindman to use. He did not guard the Cove Creek road to the east, which Blunt believed the Confederates would be foolish to use because it would expose their supply lines to Federal destruction.

Hindman’s Confederates continued advancing on the 6th, clearing Federal pickets in their front and pushing Federal cavalry off Reed’s Mountain. Hindman planned to advance up the Van Buren road just as Blunt guessed and attack the next morning. However, scouts notified him that Herron’s reinforcements were approaching, and a frontal assault would only push Blunt back into Herron.

Refusing to retreat, Hindman instead planned to attack Herron first, hoping his Federals would be exhausted and not ready to fight. He would then turn and attack Blunt on Cane Hill. After midnight, Hindman directed his army to conduct a night march around Blunt on the Cove Creek road to an area south of Fayetteville around Prairie Grove.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 47, 49; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 235-36; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150-51; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 599-600

Confederate Struggles in the Trans-Mississippi

October 27, 1862 – Federal forces pushed from Missouri into northwestern Arkansas, as Confederates in Arkansas were asked to provide support east of the Mississippi River.

The Federals under Brigadier General James G. Blunt and Major General John Schofield united at Sarcoxie, Missouri, where the Federals had retreated after the Battle of Newtonia on September 30. This combined force drove the Confederate cavalry forces of Colonels Douglas H. Cooper and Jo Shelby out of Missouri, with Cooper leading his men back to the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) and Shelby heading to the Boston Mountains in southwestern Arkansas.

Schofield’s and Blunt’s Federals became known as the Army of the Frontier, with Schofield commanding and the three divisions led by Generals Blunt, James Totten, and Francis J. Herron. This new army numbered about 14,000 men, and its mission was to pursue the retreating Confederates into Arkansas.

Gen Thomas C. Hindman | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Federals crossed the state line on the 17th and camped on the Pea Ridge battlefield. They spent the next three days resting and gathering supplies. Meanwhile, Major General Thomas C. Hindman returned from Confederate headquarters at Little Rock to command the 6,000 Confederates falling back. Hindman divided the force in two, moving one portion south of Pea Ridge and sending the other to join Cooper west.

Schofield answered by leading two divisions against Hindman and sending Blunt’s division in pursuit of Cooper. Schofield’s pursuit stopped at Huntsville, where he learned that Hindman was heading toward the sanctuary of the Boston Mountains. Blunt moved to Maysville, where he learned that Cooper camped at Old Fort Wayne, seven miles south in the Indian Territory. Blunt resolved to attack at dawn on the 22nd.

The next day, Blunt attacked as planned, but due to a mix-up, Blunt advanced with only the 2nd Kansas Cavalry. Cooper ordered a retreat nonetheless because his main goal was to protect his supply train. A Confederate rear guard formed as a portion of Blunt’s force in the Federal center charged without authorization. Even so, the Federals overwhelmed the Confederates, consisting mostly of Indians under Stand Watie. This motivated the rest of the Federals to charge as well, and soon the rest of Blunt’s force came up in support.

The Confederates left their camps behind as they fled, but they made off with their supply train. Cooper fell back over 50 miles, south of the Arkansas River. While this was just a minor skirmish, it marked the first successful Federal foray into the Indian Territory, and it convinced many pro-secession Indians to switch sides. Blunt’s Federals set up camp near Old Fort Wayne.

Farther east, Hindman’s Confederates continued falling back into the Boston Mountains, and Schofield fell back toward Bentonville to protect his supply line. Schofield reported to Major General Samuel R. Curtis, the overall Federal commander of the department, that organized Confederate resistance had been cleared out of Missouri and Kansas. He then suggested that Blunt advance 80 miles south to Fort Smith, Arkansas, to keep up the pressure on Cooper, while Schofield remained in northern Arkansas. Curtis, under pressure from Halleck to send troops east for the drive on Vicksburg, ordered Blunt to stay at Old Fort Wayne and Schofield to continue falling back to Springfield, Missouri.

Hindman countered by moving his Confederates to Fayetteville, a town from which he could advance or defend against Federals in any direction. When Schofield learned of this, he directed his Federals to confront the enemy. After a brief skirmish, Hindman ordered his Confederates to fall back to the Boston Mountains once more, and the Federals entered Fayetteville.

By month’s end, Schofield feared a Confederate attack and fell back to Osage Springs. Blunt came up to join forces with him, reuniting the Army of the Frontier.

Meanwhile, President Jefferson Davis wrote Lieutenant General Theophilus H. Holmes, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, outlining a plan for Holmes’s troops to aid in efforts to take back Helena, Memphis, and Nashville. The ultimate objective would be to expel all Federal troops from Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi.

Davis turned to Holmes after Braxton Bragg failed to secure Kentucky and the Confederates failed to expel the Federals from Mississippi. Davis hoped Holmes could coordinate efforts with Bragg in Tennessee and Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton in Mississippi. A week later, the Confederate secretary of war sent a message to Holmes reiterating Davis’s plan:

“Cooperation between General Pemberton and yourself is indispensable to the preservation of our connection with your department. We regard this as an object of first importance, and when necessary you can cross the Mississippi with such part of your forces as you may select, and by virtue of your rank direct the combined operations on the eastern bank.”

Davis hoped to secure Tennessee and Mississippi before heading west to secure Missouri and Arkansas. But to Holmes, this seemed like Davis wanted to abandon Missouri and Arkansas altogether. This made Holmes reluctant to go along with the administration’s plan.

Also this month, Federal naval forces continued pushing up various rivers in Arkansas from their base at Helena on the Mississippi. Federal landing parties from the U.S.S. Louisville and Meteor burned the towns at Bledsoe’s and Hamblin’s landings in retaliation for a guerrilla attack on a Federal mail steamer. The naval commander reported that “the people along the river bank were duly informed that every outrage by the guerrillas upon packers would be similarly dealt with.”

A Federal landing party from U.S.S. Baron de Kalb clashed with Confederate scouts at Hopefield. The Federals captured the scouts after a nine-mile pursuit that included “impressing” local horses.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 225-26; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 530-31; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 785; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 218, 224; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 150; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 280; Sommers, Richard J., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 292-93; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 356

Federals and Confederates Maneuver in Mississippi

October 16, 1862 – Confederates reorganized their command structure in Mississippi, Major General Ulysses S. Grant was given new Federal responsibilities, and a secret mission to capture Vicksburg was concocted.

Following the Battle of Corinth, Major General Earl Van Dorn, commanding the Confederate Army of the West, was brought before a court of inquiry to answer charges that he had been responsible for the defeat. The charges were later dropped, but the Confederate high command no longer entrusted Van Dorn to lead an army.

Under Adjutant General Samuel Cooper’s Special Orders No. 73, “The State of Mississippi and that part of Louisiana east of the Mississippi River is constituted a separate military department.” This disbanded Van Dorn’s District of Mississippi under General Braxton Bragg and created a new department independent from Bragg’s.

Lt Gen John C. Pemberton | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The new commander was Lieutenant General John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian who married a Virginian. Pemberton was to “consider the successful defense of those States as the first and chief object of your command.” This especially included Vicksburg and Port Hudson, the Confederacy’s last two major strongholds on the Mississippi River. Other points included New Orleans and Corinth (under Federal occupation), Baton Rouge, and all contested areas in Mississippi.

Pemberton set up headquarters at Jackson, Mississippi, where he divided the department into three districts:

  • Brigadier General Daniel Ruggles commanded District 1 from Jackson
  • Brigadier General Martin L. Smith commanded District 2 from Vicksburg
  • Brigadier General William N.R. Beall commanded District 3 from Port Hudson

General Ulysses S. Grant | Image Credit: Flickr.com

On the Federal side, Adjutant General Lorenzo Thomas announced that Major General Ulysses S. Grant would command the new Department of the Tennessee. General Order No. 168 designated all Federal troops within this new department as Federal XIII Corps. This included not only the Armies of the Tennessee and the Mississippi already under his command, but the area from Cairo, Illinois, to northern Mississippi west of the Tennessee River.

Grant soon concentrated all Federal troops in his jurisdiction into a revised Army of the Tennessee. He then urged General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck to allow him to go beyond just guarding railroads and supply depots by launching an offensive against Vicksburg.

The problem with moving on Vicksburg was that it required support from Federals on the west bank of the Mississippi, which was outside Grant’s jurisdiction. Grant would have to cooperate with Major General Samuel R. Curtis, who commanded the west side, but Grant cited instances in which Curtis had refused. Therefore, Grant wrote, “I would respectfully suggest that both banks of the river be under one command.”

Unbeknownst to Grant, a campaign to capture Vicksburg had already been clandestinely approved. Major General John A. McClernand, Grant’s former subordinate, had lobbied his friend President Abraham Lincoln for an independent command. McClernand had been an influential Democratic politician in Illinois before the war, and he assured Lincoln that he could persuade fellow Democrats to support a campaign against Vicksburg because it would open the Mississippi for Illinois shipping to reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Lincoln approved, with Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton issuing secret orders for McClernand “to proceed to the States of Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa, and to organize the troops remaining in those States and to be raised by volunteering or draft… to the end that, when a sufficient force not required by the operations of General Grant’s command shall be raised, an expedition may be organized under General McClernand’s command against Vicksburg and to clear the Mississippi River and open navigation to New Orleans.”

The order also directed McClernand to show this document “to Governors, and even others, when in his discretion he believes so doing to be indispensable to the progress of the expedition.” Based on these orders, McClernand considered himself leading a command fully autonomous from Grant.

Thus, McClernand began recruiting a new “Army of the Mississippi” while Grant began assembling a force of 30,000 Federals at Grand Junction, Tennessee. Both forces had the same objective, which would seriously complicate upcoming Federal operations.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 220, 225-26; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 763, 778; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 217, 222-24, 226; Korn, Jerry, War on the Mississippi: Grant’s Vicksburg Campaign (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 44; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 273, 278-81; 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. 577, 593; Pritchard, Russ A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178, 746-47; Rowell, John W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 178; Simon, John Y., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 456-57; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 707, 781; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 501, 705-06, 747, 781, 816