Tag Archives: Sterling Price

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

Price’s Missouri Incursion: Fort Davidson

September 26, 1864 – Major General Sterling Price’s Confederates advanced on Fort Davidson as part of their final attempt to wrest Missouri from Federal control.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Price, a former Missouri governor, had won approval from General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, to raise a force that would claim his home state for the Confederacy. Price’s new “Army of Missouri” consisted of three cavalry divisions led by Major General James F. Fagan, and Brigadier Generals John S. Marmaduke and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby. Price joined Fagan and Marmaduke at Princeton, Arkansas, in late August, and then moved to join forces with Shelby early this month.

Price was backed by the “Order of American Knights,” a pro-Confederate group connected to various partisan bands in Missouri. The O.A.K. leaders planned to coordinate partisan and civilian uprisings in support of the advancing Confederates. Federal authorities seized many O.A.K. leaders before they could stir up civilian unrest, but the guerrillas continued raiding throughout the state.

In mid-September, Price’s Confederates crossed the White River and joined Shelby’s troopers at Pocahontas, near the Missouri border. Of Price’s 12,000 men, no more than 8,000 carried arms, but Price hoped to supply them from captured Federal weapons along the way. The Army of Missouri also had 14 guns.

The troopers crossed the border from northeastern Arkansas in three columns, and the incursion began with skirmishing at Doniphan. Price’s force headed north toward Ironton, terminus of the southern railroad out of St. Louis, and captured Keytesville the next day. Price’s continuing advance included fighting at Fayetteville, Jackson, and Farmington. They reached Fredericktown on the 25th, one day’s ride east of Pilot Knob, Price’s objective.

Price soon learned that Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri, had dispatched cavalry under Major General Alfred Pleasonton and infantry under Major General Andrew J. Smith to stop the Confederates. Smith’s 8,000 Federals defended St. Louis against a potential attack.

Price dispatched Fagan and Marmaduke to attack Ironton while Shelby’s men destroyed railroad track between that town and St. Louis. Confederates reached Fort Davidson outside Pilot Knob on the night of the 26th. Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr., commanding the Federal District of St. Louis, happened to be at the fort for an inspection. Ewing was heavily outnumbered, but he refused demands to surrender.

While Confederates skirmished at Arcadia, Ironton, and Mineral Point, Price ordered his main body of about 8,000 men to attack Fort Davidson on the 27th. Price did not call up his artillery train and instead committed his men to a series of uncoordinated assaults. After six hours, the Federals lost about 200 of their 1,200 men, but they inflicted 1,500 enemy casualties and held the fort.

That night, Ewing held a council of war to decide whether to abandon the fort. The Federals were still greatly outnumbered, and Ewing knew that if captured, the Confederates would execute him for authoring last year’s infamous General Order No. 11, which herded Missourians into concentration camps to combat guerrilla attacks. Ewing and his officers agreed to evacuate; the Federals destroyed all their guns and munitions, and slipped away in the darkness at 2:30 a.m. They covered 66 miles in less than two days, preventing Price from giving chase.

Despite their repulse, the Confederates continued north on the 28th. They skirmished at Leasburg and Cuba the next day, and panic in St. Louis intensified as the Confederates closed in. But Price opted not to attack Smith’s Federals guarding the city; instead his men turned northwest and moved along the Missouri River. Price hoped to capture the state capital of Jefferson City and install a pro-Confederate governor. However, Federals throughout Missouri began joining forces to stop him.

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Sources

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 12085-116; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 494-96, 499, 501, 503; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 571-72, 574-75; 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. 783, 787; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 502

The Missouri Incursion Begins

August 28, 1864 – Major General Sterling “Pap” Price organized a new Confederate army to move north into Missouri and claim that state for the Confederacy.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Price, a former Missouri governor, now commanded Confederates at Camden, Arkansas. He had been urging his superiors to let him take the offensive so that he might drive Federal influence out of his home state. In July, Price wrote:

“My opinion is that the people of Missouri are ready for a general uprising, and that the time was never more propitious for an advance of our forces into Missouri. Our friends should be encouraged and supported promptly. Delay will be dangerous. Unsustained, they may be overwhelmed by superior numbers, become dispirited, and, finally, disheartened and hopeless.”

Price traveled to Shreveport, Louisiana, to meet with General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, and Texas Governor Thomas Reynolds. Both Smith and Reynolds approved the expedition, but only if someone besides Price led it. Realizing they had nobody else, they reluctantly gave Price the assignment. Reynolds urged Smith to ensure that Price had “the best division and brigade commanders and an unusually efficient staff.”

Smith issued orders for Price to “make immediate arrangements for a movement into Missouri, with the entire cavalry force of your district.” Price would collect the forces scattered around the District of Arkansas to form the 12,000-man Army of Missouri, which consisted of three cavalry divisions under Brigadier Generals James F. Fagan, John S. Marmaduke, and Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby.

Price instructed his commanders: “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.” The commanders were to–

“… 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.”

The Confederates were to capture supplies at both St. Louis and Jefferson City, redeem Missouri from the Unionists, and then ride back south through Kansas and the Indian Territory (now Oklahoma).

The operation was delayed over three weeks due to lack of ammunition. Price took command of the divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke at Princeton on the 28th, but he feared that the Federals had found out about his line of march. Price therefore led the two divisions back to Little Rock, from which he could link with Shelby’s division at Batesville. Such a roundabout movement was not a good sign of things to come for Price.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; 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 12075-95; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 480, 491; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 562

Arkansas: The Elkins’ Ferry Engagement

April 4, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federal Army of Arkansas encountered resistance while trying to cross the Little Missouri River en route to their rendezvous point at Shreveport, Louisiana.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Steele had left Little Rock in March to link with Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Red River expeditionary force. Steele had resisted joining with Banks due to a large Confederate cavalry presence and a lack of adequate forage in southern Arkansas. But he complied with orders nonetheless, advancing to Arkadelphia unopposed.

Steele expected to link with Brigadier General John M. Thayer’s cavalry force heading east from Fort Smith. But when there was no sign of Taylor after three days, Steele’s Federals resumed their southwestern movement toward Washington. The supply shortage began taking its toll, just as Steele had feared, and his men and animals went on half-rations. From Washington, Steele hoped to move east to Camden to collect more supplies via the Ouachita River.

Part of Steele’s mission was to keep the Confederates in Arkansas from moving south to oppose Banks. Steele seemed to succeed when Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke brought his Confederates out of winter quarters at Camden to confront the Federals. Marmaduke had been ordered by Major General Sterling Price, commanding the Confederate District of Arkansas, to prevent the Federals from crossing the Little Missouri River on their way to Washington.

General John S. Marmaduke | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Marmaduke moved out with three cavalry brigades under Brigadier Generals Jo Shelby and William L. Cabell, and Colonel Colton Greene. Marmaduke planned a three-pronged assault on Steele’s front, flank, and rear. On the 2nd, Shelby’s Confederates attacked the Federal rear guard but were repulsed.

While Marmaduke’s other two brigades tried getting into position, Steele fortified his flank by securing Elkins’ Ferry on the Little Missouri. The bulk of Steele’s army advanced via Elkins’, and a detachment under Colonel Adolph Engelmann moved down the road to Washington before halting for the night at Okolona.

The next morning, a Federal brigade moved north from Okolona toward Spoonville to try finding Thayer’s lost cavalry. The Federals ran into Confederate horsemen, and fierce skirmishing ensued. Colonel John Garrett of the 40th Iowa reported:

“At 9 a.m., as the brigade was about ready to start back to Spoonville, a sharp fight was opened on our picket-line. My regiment was ordered into line by direction of Colonel Engelmann, commanding brigade… Advancing a short distance they met the enemy in the brush and behind logs, and by a few well-directed shots drove them back, following cautiously and firing as opportunity offered.”

Colonel Conrad Krez of the 27th Wisconsin wrote:

“We cleared the rise of the ground, which was covered with an almost impenetrable thicket of hawthorn. The enemy fell back to the other side of a clearing on high ground, and the ravine dividing that clearing from another hill running parallel with the road, where they maintained a heavy fire immediately in front of the three companies deployed by me, and at that time opened with artillery and threw grape and canister to the right of Company G… a heavy thunder-storm broke out and interrupted further operations.”

The fight ended with the Confederates falling back in the rain and the Federals holding their ground. Other skirmishing occurred along the Little Missouri, as Marmaduke traveled with Cabell in an effort to get between Steele’s main force and Washington.

Marmaduke’s Confederates tried stopping the Federals from crossing the Little Missouri at Elkins’ Ferry on the 4th. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Drake was assigned to lead several companies from the 36th Iowa and the 43rd Indiana in guarding the road from the ferry crossing to the Federal camp. Drake reported:

“Soon after daylight, the enemy engaged the cavalry pickets, and almost simultaneously made a determined effort to turn my left flank. The engagement was now becoming very warm, and my men were falling wounded on my right and left, but by a very determined effort we finally succeeded in driving back the rebel column into the woods in front of the orchard.”

Drake’s six companies of 300 men were heavily outnumbered by about 2,000 Confederates closing in on him. The rest of the 36th Iowa came forward, and the Federals made a brave stand that finally drove the Confederates off, despite still being outnumbered. More Federal reinforcements arrived after the Confederates had fallen back. Colonel Charles Kittredge of the 36th Iowa reported, “Drake especially deserves honorable mention for the gallant manner in which he performed his duties.”

This engagement enabled the rest of Steele’s forces to cross the Little Missouri. The Federals sustained about 30 casualties, while the Confederates lost 68 (18 killed and 50 wounded). When Steele received news of the fighting, he opted to hold his positions while continuing to wait for Thayer.

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, expressed dismay that Steele had been allowed to cross the Little Missouri. Steele’s Federals were now more than halfway to their goal of reaching Shreveport. Smith had originally planned to defeat Banks and then turn to defeat Steele, but this compelled him to focus on Steele first.

The Confederates fell back to defensive works between Washington and Elkins’ Ferry, on the western fringe of Prairie d’Ane.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 389, 391; 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 773-83, 1367-77; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 414, 416; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 63-64; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 480

Red River: The Federal Two-Pronged Advance Finally Begins

March 24, 1864 – Major General Frederick Steele’s Federals finally began moving out of Little Rock, and Major General Nathaniel P. Banks’s Federals finally reached Alexandria.

Maj Gen Frederick Steele | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Steele reported that his Army of Arkansas (officially the 3rd Division of VII Corps) numbered about 7,000 men, and that it was inadequate to support the Red River campaign as ordered. Steele argued that Banks’s Army of the Gulf, which numbered about 27,000 men, was strong enough to take care of itself, and moving through southern Arkansas would be treacherous due to lack of forage.

Finally, after repeated orders from his superiors, Steele agreed to move south. He told Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant on the 18th that he planned “to concentrate my forces at Arkadelphia, about 10,000 strong, move from there on Camden and open communication back to Pine Bluff, and then move on Shreveport in time to co-operate with Banks at that point.”

When Steele requested more horses for transportation, Major General William T. Sherman, commanding the Military Division of the Mississippi, replied, “It is now too late to make preparations for the expedition which should have started on the 7th.” Sherman would not provide Steele with any horses until he explained “the cause of this delay.”

Finally, Steele assembled his army and prepared to move out of Little Rock on the 23rd, a week and a half after being ordered to move by Grant. He planned to link with Federals from Fort Smith under Brigadier General John M. Thayer at Arkadelphia, which would increase the force to about 10,400 men. Steele continued complaining that he lacked food for his men and horses, and Confederate cavalry regularly assailed his flanks.

In Louisiana, Banks arrived at Alexandria on the 24th, a week behind schedule. Banks learned that water levels on the Red River were lowering, which could potentially hamper naval operations. Meanwhile, Rear Admiral David D. Porter, commanding the Federal naval squadron, reported that his vessels had seized over 2,000 bales of cotton, along with vast amounts of molasses and wool, since entering the Red. All goods had been sent to Federals downriver or destroyed.

Confederate General E.K. Smith | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

General Edmund Kirby Smith, commanding the Confederate Trans-Mississippi Department, did not believe that Louisiana could be held. He therefore ordered Major General Richard Taylor to withdraw his Louisiana forces to Shreveport and await reinforcements from Texas and Arkansas. These forces would then move north and join with Major General Sterling Price’s troops opposing Steele in Arkansas. Smith had previously told Taylor, “The only field for great results in this is the District of Arkansas, and a concentration must be made there this summer for the recovery of the Arkansas Valley.”

Price’s Confederates were stationed near Washington, Arkansas, about 120 miles southwest of Steele’s Federals at Little Rock. Price urged Smith to send him all troops from Texas and Louisiana so he could move north, defeat Steele, and then continue north to regain his home state of Missouri. Smith explained to Price that the numbers needed for such a campaign were not available.

As more intelligence was received, Smith came to believe that Steele posed no major threat, and Taylor’s assertion that Louisiana could be saved was correct. Smith therefore pulled 5,000 Confederates from Price’s army under Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill to reinforce Taylor. Smith then began arranging for the rest of Price’s men to join Taylor at Natchitoches, and if the Federals moved north from Alexandria to confront them, “bring matters to an issue.”

Smith resolved to defend Shreveport, the military, political, and economic center of his Trans-Mississippi Department. This would involve defeating the strong Federal force coming up the Red River first, and then turning north to defeat Steele’s weaker force in Arkansas.

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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. 473-74; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government: All Volumes (Heraklion Press, Kindle Edition 2013, 1889), Loc 20604-13; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 106-07; Delaney, Norman C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 619-20; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 387-88; 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 609-19, 1348-58; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 411; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 51, 54, 63; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 476-77