“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.)



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

  1. Thanks – I always like the “what happened today” posts. It would be nice to see more information on this raid later in the autumn.
    Oh, and just FYI Winchester, Virginia, was occupied by General Sheridan 150 years ago today (Sept. 19) – the Confederates were not able to retake the city, so “Confederate Winchester” was no more, except in the hearts of the civilians.

  2. Yeah, I guess when Sheridan and army are about the 48th (approximately) occupation of the town it might seem rather “ordinary.” Certainly nothing like General Milroy’s harsh six month occupation during 1863. Still, in some of the civilian journals, they were lamenting another occupation (and others were rejoicing that the Union troops were back).

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