Tag Archives: Thomas Ewing

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 Relocation

August 25, 1863 – Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, commanding the Federal District of the Border between Missouri and Kansas, issued repressive orders that threatened to escalate the bitter partisan war in the region even further.

Brig Gen Thomas Ewing | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Following the sack of Lawrence, William C. Quantrill’s Confederate partisans rode back to sanctuary in Missouri. Brigadier General James H. Lane’s Kansas Jayhawkers briefly pursued them but could not track them down. Lane retaliated by murdering over 100 people in western Missouri suspected of helping Quantrill and destroying the property of any alleged Quantrill sympathizers.

Lane also demanded that Ewing, headquartered at Kansas City, exact harsh revenge on anyone not clearly professing Unionist sympathies. Lane drew up a vindictive military order and, as a U.S. senator with strong political connections, threatened to end Ewing’s career if he did not issue and enforce it.

Under General Orders No. 11, Federal troops were to depopulate the four Missouri counties on the Kansas border south of the Missouri River: Jackson, Cass, and Bates, plus part of Vernon County. All people, regardless of age, race, gender, or loyalty, were required to leave their homes within 15 days. Those who proved themselves loyal to the Union could reside in military camps under protection. Those who could not had to leave without protection. Anyone resisting the order would be executed.

Ewing directed the 15th Kansas Cavalry, led by hated Jayhawker Colonel Charles R. Dennison, to enforce the order. Jennison displaced an estimated 20,000 people, many of whom were harassed and robbed by Jayhawkers as they clogged roads hauling wagons filled with all their worldly possessions. Once the counties were emptied, Federals looted and burned all remaining homes, barns, and crops.

Ewing’s order, at Lane’s insistence, was one of the most brutal ever enforced in U.S. history. Predictably, it did little to stop Confederate partisan activity in the area; if anything, it made the raiders even more determined to resist Federal authority. The order also ruined western Missouri’s economy and caused deep resentment for generations. For years, the desolate region was known as the “Burnt District.”

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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. 319; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 302-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 705; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 343; Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 427; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 401; 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. 786; Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 249-50; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 153-54; 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), Q363

The Border District: Ewing Incites Guerrillas

August 14, 1863 – Brigadier General Thomas Ewing incurred the wrath of Confederate raiders operating along the Missouri-Kansas border by targeting their relatives, including women and children.

Brig Gen Thomas Ewing | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The border conflict between Missouri and Kansas, which had begun before the war, continued raging as the war progressed. Ewing (brother-in-law of William T. Sherman), commanding the Federal District of the Border, had just 2,500 men spread out across Missouri, Kansas, and the Colorado Territory. There were no concentrated enemy forces, but the Federals had to deal with pro-Confederate partisans operating mainly in western Missouri and eastern Kansas.

These partisans, mostly based in Missouri, crossed the border, launched quick attacks, and then disappeared among the population. Since the Federals could not track them down, Ewing authorized the arrest of anyone suspected of aiding or abetting them, including their mothers, wives, and daughters. This infuriated the raiders, who had made it a point not to make war on women.

Ewing’s Federals began rounding up these women and sending them to designated prison camps, including abandoned warehouses and other buildings. One such structure was an old three-story brick building in Kansas City, in which the women were held on the second floor. On the 14th, this building collapsed, killing five and injuring many others.

The partisans believed that Ewing had deliberately sabotaged the building. It was in a dilapidated condition, and Ewing had been warned that it might collapse. Among the women killed was the sister of William Anderson, who became known as “Bloody Bill” following his retaliatory rampage. Other women were related to notorious partisan leader Colonel William C. Quantrill.

Col W.C. Quantrill | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Quantrill had gained notoriety during the fight over “Bleeding Kansas” before the war, making money by charging exorbitant fees to return fugitive slaves to their masters, as well as stealing horses and cattle. When the war began, he raised a group of pro-Confederate raiders that included “Bloody Bill,” Cole Younger, and Frank and Jesse James. Quantrill became a captain under the Confederate Partisan Ranger Act, but when the Confederate government denied him a colonelship, he bestowed the title upon himself anyway.

Four days after the Kansas City building collapse, Ewing exacerbated the partisans’ rage further by issuing General Order No. 10. This declared that the arrests would continue, and furthermore, “the wives and children of known guerrillas, and also women who are heads of families and are willfully engaged in aiding guerrillas, will be notified… to remove out of this district and out of the State of Missouri forthwith.”

Quantrill and his raiders received word of the tragedy at Kansas City and Ewing’s punitive response while camped in western Missouri. Quantrill had been planning to raid Lawrence, the abolitionist headquarters of Kansas that had been sacked by pro-slavery forces in 1856. Ever since James H. Lane, a U.S. senator who led Unionist Kansas forces, sacked Osceola, Missouri, in 1861, Quantrill had sought revenge.

The raiders, who had spies in Lawrence, prepared a “death list” of prominent Unionist residents, including Lane. Scouts informed Quantrill that an attack might fail because large bodies of Federal troops often passed through on their way to other posts. But Quantrill argued, “Lawrence is the great hotbed of abolitionism in Kansas, and we can get more revenge and more money there than anywhere else in the state.” And now, after learning of Ewing’s depredations, Quantrill resolved to attack no matter what.

On the 19th, Quantrill and about 300 Missouri partisans began heading toward Kansas. As they reached the border, Quantrill announced, “This is a hazardous ride, and there is a chance we will all be annihilated. Any man who feels he is not equal to the task can quit, and no one will call him a coward.” Some left, but most remained. In fact, they gained new recruits along the way, boosting their total to around 450.

The partisans rode through the night, stopping at farms to get directions to Lawrence in the dark. The raiders killed any civilian who recognized Quantrill, spoke German (German immigrants were largely pro-Republican), or was a known abolitionist. In all, 10 farmers were forced to serve as guides and then murdered by the time Quantrill and his men approached Lawrence before dawn on the 21st.

Quantrill had planned to attack at night, but now dawn was approaching, so the attack would have to take place in broad daylight. Lawrence was a large town of about 2,000 people, and some partisans began having second thoughts about attacking. Quantrill told them, “You can do as you please. I am going to Lawrence.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 302-03; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011-01-26), p. 703-04; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 340-41; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 399; 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. 785; Time-Life Editors, Spies, Scouts and Raiders: Irregular Operations (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 152; 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), Q363