“To-day we have entered the State of Missouri”: Sterling Price making noise out west 150 years ago

On September 19, 1864, Major-General Sterling Price wrote from his headquarters at Indian Ford on the Current River:

To-day we have entered the State of Missouri with our forces in fine health and spirits.  We found the roads very rough and bad, but have not suffered much from that cause.  Our strength is nearly 8,000 armed and 4,000 unarmed men – Fagan’s division much the largest, Marmaduke’s next, and Shelby two brigades. Parties of Federals were encountered by our advance, who are now pursuing them.  I learned from General Shelby yesterday that 3,000 or 4,000 re-enforcements went to Little Rock; part of Smith’s corps.

Price’s move into Missouri offered one of the last plausible chance for the Confederates to disrupt the grand operational balance in 1864.  Not saying Price could have turned the tied of the war.  Rather that Price’s advance held the opportunity to disrupt Federal operations in the early fall of 1864… just before the elections.  The only other credible “chance” would of course be General John Hood’s Tennessee campaign a few weeks later.  But I’d argue that had even less chance of success, as it came after the elections were decided.

Price offered the size of his force in that report from 150 years ago today.  Confederate sources claim up to 9,000 more men joined the column in Missouri.  While that was probably a high estimate, Price likely had somewhere around 15,000 as an aggregate.  Granted, that number itself is deceiving including men without arms and men who joined only for the opportunity of marching in Missouri.

On the other side of the picture, the Federals had somewhere around 11,000 garrison troops in the state that September.  Initially reinforcements went to Little Rock instead of St. Louis.  Price’s arrival in southeastern Missouri soon drew off forces that were intended to replenish the legions then occupying Atlanta.  But the bulk of the Federal reaction to Price came from within Missouri, as militia and other forces were called up.  In the end, the Federals had over 65,000 men to oppose Price.  And as measure of the size of forces arrayed,

Yet, we label this as a “raid” and not an “offensive” or “campaign.”  Of course.  It was in the Trans-mississippi where nothing happened but raids by border ruffians, right?  But the operation included several major battles, to include one of the largest all-cavalry actions of the war!  (Leaving space here for Bud Hall, who I’m sure will drop a comment.)

I’ll plan to work in some posts discussing this oft-overlooked campaign through the fall.  But as I am geographically “east” now, I’m not in position to provide the “dimensional” aspects that make quality posts.  I will leave with this thought for consideration.  From the introduction of Mark A. Lause’s study of this campaign:

Certainly, no man had a greater claim to paternity of the Confederate cause in Missouri than the former congressman and governor, General Sterling Price.  The postwar founders of the Lost Cause later hung a lithograph in the Missouri Room of the Confederate White House in Richmond depicting “Old Pap” Price as the state’s version of Robert E. Lee.  It gave Price a youthfully athletic form mounted in the Washingtonian pursuit of national independence at the head of a well-uniformed army arrayed under the “Stainless Banner” of the Confederacy.

Perhaps, with that image in mind, we should consider the impact of Price’s campaign not as one directly in Missouri, but rather across a broader stage of desperate circumstances facing the Confederacy in the fall of 1864.  And, at the same time, we should also consider the significance of this late war operation as it influenced the post-war political landscape in Missouri.  I submit, given those two considerations, we cannot relegate Price’s 1864 Missouri Campaign to the lowly status of “just a raid.”

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, page 623; Lause, Mark A. Price’s Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri. Columbia: U of Missouri, 2011, page 3.)


The USS Braziliera’s Georgia raids of late September 1864

As summer wound down in 1864, the U.S. Navy continued its raids along the Georgia coast.  The bark USS Braziliera, operating near Brunswick, Georgia, was once again sending parties up the rivers in search of war-supporting activities.  This round of excursions into the backwaters started on September 14, 1864, as noted in the ship’s log:

September 14, 1864 – At 1:30 a.m. an expedition left the ship for Belle Point.  Three boats, with armed crews, in charge of Mr. [Jeremiah] Bennett, with the following officers: Mr. [Charles] Austin, Mr. [Isaac] Severns, and Mr. [Peter] Collins, accompanied by two refugees, Mr. Farrell and Mr. Spaulding as pilots.  At 6 a.m. the captain left the ship to go on board the schooner Mary. The Mary got underway. At 8 a.m. saw a flag of truce in a small boat with two negroes coming toward the ship from the mainland.  At 8:40 they came alongside and reported coming from Appling County. At 9:45 saw a dense volume of smoke issuing from Belle Point house.  At 9:45 saw flames coming out of the roof.  At 10:10 the boats reported retiring. At 11:07 saw and heard the Mary fire one gun.  At 12:30 p.m. the expedition returned. Mr. Bennett reported having burned 1,300 pounds of sea-island cotton and destroyed a picket station; brought on contraband. At 12:50 the schooner Mary came to anchor near the ship; the captain returned on board. At 8 p.m. the captain and the pilot left the ship, bound for Turtle River on an expedition, with Messrs. Borden and Farrell and 28 men. At 8:15 the Mary got underway and proceeded up the Turtle River with the boats.

A busy day to say the least.  Note the use of locals as guides on the expedition.  The names Spaulding and Farrell appeared during the earlier summer raids, though full names were not mentioned.  It is not clear, however, if these were escaped slaves or whites. Regardless, with their assistance, the Federals deprived the southerners of 1,300 pounds of cotton.  The location of Belle Point was just north of Brunswick:


In regard to the negroes that came in that morning, Appling County is northwest of Brunswick, but further inland along the Altamaha River.  I would presume those were escaped slaves.  But it is an indication of how far inland was the draw of “contrabands” in search of Federal lines.

Two days later, the sailors were back out on another expedition.  This time, with Mr. Farrell as the pilot, the raiders used the Mary as their base to operate some 30 miles up the Turtle River.  They reached Cabbage Bluff and skirmished with Confederate pickets.  The expedition destroyed some boats and returned with a contraband.

On September 18, the Mary’s crew sent out her boats again.  And again Spaulding and Farrell provided their services as guides.  But foul weather forced the expedition back to the ship.  After their return the ships moved down to St. Andrew’s Sound and stood off Jekyl Point.  The last raid of this series left the ships on the afternoon of September 20, heading up the Satilla River.  It would return two days later, but not all together:

September 22 – At 12:25 the captain and pilot returned on board in the race boat. At 1:06 Mr. Austin returned on board in the whaleboat.  At 8:05 p.m. saw a light at the mouth of Jekyl Creek supposed to be our first cutter.  Sent Mr. Spaulding on shore.  Mr. [Nelson] Borden reports having brought down one refugee family, consisting of one woman and five children, which he put on boad the USS Mary Sanford at St. Andrew’s.  While getting the family off, three men got lost in the marshes, and while searching for and getting them he was attacked by a large force of rebel cavalry. He got the three men, and finding the enemy too strong he retreated to the boat and got off safely, exchanging several shots.

A little excitement in the end, but no injuries to either side noted.

Other than the 1,300 pounds of cotton, there was not much material damage done in these raids at the end of the summer.  Perhaps, given several weeks of raiding, the Federals had finally cleared out any facilities or materials worth “pillaging.”  But the logs are clear on one matter.  Even as the war entered its final months, contrabands were risking their lives to make it into Federal lines.

(Citations from ORN, Series I, Volume 15, pages 673-4.)

“Obliged to reduce the fire so as to almost entirely stop it”: End of focused bombardments of Fort Sumter

Warren Ripley, historian and newspaper writer who chronicled the history of the Charleston siege concurrent with the Centennial of the Civil War, considered September 18, 1864 as the last day of the last “minor” bombardment of Fort Sumter.  After that time, as Confederate engineer Captain John Johnson described, “No firing upon the fort but such as may be termed desultory occurred.…”

There are several reasons Federal forces ceased their focused bombardments of Fort Sumter.  Some historians have, with notable bias, the Federals simply “gave up” what was a futile effort to reduce the fort.  That was a factor, but not the major factor.  The Federals had demonstrated through three major bombardments the ability to suppress Fort Sumter’s defenders (for offensive or defensive fires).  But at the same time, through three major bombardments the Federals had also demonstrated a great reluctance to press the matter further – that is to actually occupy Fort Sumter.  Major-General John Foster, just as his predecessor Major-General Quincy Gilmore had assessed, believed the fort could be taken.  Recall the original plan, in July 1863, was to silence Fort Sumter so Rear-Admiral John Dahlgren might rush into the harbor with ironclads. That plan stalled as the Navy considered risks associated with torpedoes and obstructions.  So one might argue the major factor at play with Fort Sumter’s defense was the reluctance of the Federals expend the resources that would “damn torpedoes.”

With Fort Sumter, and Charleston for that matter, being lower on the overall list of Federal objectives, Foster received less resources through the summer of 1864.  In particular, with an active siege underway at Petersburg, Virginia, less ammunition could be spared for Charleston.  On September 19, Foster wrote to Brigadier-General George Ramsay, Chief of Ordnance, to complain:

I have the honor to inclose you extracts from a letter received this day from General Saxton, commanding Northern District, which I forward to you for your information. The representations made by General Saxton are confirmed by my personal observation, and I feel satisfied that the ammunition expended in this department is all turned to the best possible account. My object in calling your attention to this matter is to explain my reasons for making what may appear large requisitions for ordnance stores. We are about out of ammunition for the guns in the front batteries of Morris and Folly Islands, and have been obliged to reduce the fire so as to almost entirely stop it, thereby giving the enemy opportunities of repairing Sumter, which they have taken advantage of with great energy.

Enclosed with the letter, Foster added a statement from Brigadier-General Rufus Saxton, commanding the effort against Charleston, in which he demonstrated what the ammunition shortage meant to the front lines:

The shelling from the enemy’s mortars was severe this morning [September 16?] in our front works, and having but little mortar powder, we were unable to reply effectually. The mortars were very much needed to-day. I regret that our ordnance supplies are so scanty that I cannot make a decent defense of this important post. No powder for the mortars; no suitable fuses for the fire on Charleston; no shells for the 30-pounder Parrotts, a most useful gun for silencing the enemy’s fire; no material for making cartridge bags, or grease for lubricating the projectiles. I shall do all in my power with what I have, but these deficiencies in material, which are of such vital importance to successful operations, I deem it my duty to call your attention to the subject in the hope that they may be soon supplied. More ammunition for the 300-pounder, the most useful guns in these works, is also very much needed.

For perhaps the first time since the Federals landed on Morris Island, they could not dominate the surrounding area with the their heavy artillery.  Not because the Confederates had better weapons, but because they had to husband their fires.

Foster also mentioned the growing importance of long range musket fire in the “skirmishing” against Fort Sumter:

I also inclose you extracts from General Saxton’s letter concerning telescopic rifles. I think there is no place where from ten to fifty of these rifles could be used to better advantage than in the front works of Morris Island. I would respectfully suggest that from ten to fifty of these rifles be sent here.

Foster added a statement from Saxton, mentioning how Confederate sharpshooters delayed employment of the naval battery on Morris Island.

Desultory fires were, from then until February 1865, the extent of Federal efforts.  The war was still out there at the mouth of Charleston Harbor 150 years ago.  Just a lot less noisy than previous months.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 295-6.)