Grant desires “Price be pursued to the Arkansas River”: Curtis, Rosecrans, Pleasonton and the “battle” over Price

150 years ago today, Major-General Sterling Price’s campaign was far from over.  Maybe lunging through its last legs, but far from over.  The action at Newtonia on October 28, 1864 had effectively closed Missouri to the Confederacy.  On October 29, Price moved his headquarters south of Pineville, Missouri.  He moved to Maysville the next day.  By November 1st, Price’s column reached Cane Hill, Arkansas – technically Boonsborough, which was one of three small communities in the area.  At that point, Price dispatched part of his column under Major General James Fagan to support an attack on Fayetteville (an action I’ll pick up later).  Thus by All Saints’ Day, Price was well into Arkansas.


However, the Federal’s pursuit of Price was not to the effect that authorities back east preferred.   Brigadier-General James Blunt remained in pursuit with his division after the action at Newtonia. For Major-General Samuel Curtis, in command of the Army of the Border, Blunt’s 1,000 effectives were the only force to push forward.  Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, with the cavalry from the Department of Missouri, was not in pursuit.  After the fights on October 25, Pleasonton pulled most of his command off to refit.  On October 27, he issued instructions, presumably from Major-General William Rosecrans, to withdraw the remainder (brigades of Brigadier-Generals  John Sanborn and John McNeil).

Granted, Pleasonton’s cavalrymen had been in the saddle through most of the month.  And at the same time, those troops were supposed to be securing portions of Missouri (which, by the way, happened to be reporting Confederate activity in the wake of Price’s transit.) But a golden opportunity was out there for the taking – the elimination of an entire Confederate army.  The split command caused problems throughout the pursuit of Price, and on October 29-31 that rift was the saving grace for Price.   From Washington came a telegram for Curtis from Major-General Henry Halleck:

General Grant directs that Price be pursued to the Arkansas River, or at least till he encounters Steele or Reyonlds.

This order referenced the commands of Generals Frederick Steele  and Joseph J. Reynolds in Arkansas.  The orders did not reach Curtis until October 30.  In his response written at 1 a.m. that day, Curtis threw Rosecrans under the bus:

I send couriers with orders to this effect directed to the several brigade commanders of troops of General Rosecrans, who had abandoned the pursuit by his orders. I will proceed with my own force toward Cassville, hoping to concentrate sufficient troops at that point to resume the pursuit.  I also send to General Steele your dispatch, indorsing on it the present direction taken by the enemy.

Six hours later, Curtis sent off a very lengthy, but detailed, summation of the situation with a barb attached, “The delay occasioned by General Rosecrans’ orders will be the equivalent to thirty-six hours….”

Rosecrans was, of course, communicating with Halleck also.  On October 28 he received his orders from Washington:

General Grant thinks you can and ought to send troops to assist General Thomas….

This prompted an exchange between Rosecrans, Major-General George Thomas and Major-General William T. Sherman to work out the details.  The following day, Brigadier-General John Rawlings, Grant’s own Chief of Staff, received orders to go west to supervise the “re-enforcing the armies actually confronting the principal armies of the enemy.” Grant’s instructions to Rawlings indicates clearly his impression of the situation.

Now that Price is retreating from Missouri, it is believed that the whole force sent to that State from other departments can be spared at once. The fact, however, that a considerable force is pursuing Price, and may go so far that some time may elapse before they can be returned to Missouri and be distributed for the proper protection of the State, has induced me to make two separate orders….

The orders given pertained to Major-Generals A.J. Smith’s and Joseph Mower’s commands.  Their destinations depended much on the evolving situations in Tennessee and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans, in Warrensburg, Missouri at that time (about half way between Jefferson City and Kansas City, so still “in the field”), was quick to respond to Curtis’ couriers on October 30:

Your dispatch of 1 a.m. of this date received.  It was my intention and expectation that Sanborn’s and McNeil’s brigades should follow the enemy…. [Sanborn] has orders to take every available man and force Price within reach of Steele’s men…. [General Edward F] Winslow’s brigade was worn down by long marches and is under orders to return to General Sherman….

That last mention, of the fourth brigade in the provisional cavalry division, is noteworthy.  Rosecrans was at this time dealing with conflicting requirements – chasing Price and directing units to Tennessee.  Supporting Rosecrans’ side of this, from Fort Scott came Colonel Charles Blair’s report, stating in part, “McNeil never stopped his pursuit.”  What is interesting, at this juncture of the dialog, is Pleasonton is absent from the message routing.  His “provisional” division was for all practical purposes working as independent brigades.

For a chief of staff thousands of miles from the fighting, perceptions are reality.  On October 31, some of those perceptions, built upon Curtis’ telegrams, brought cross words between Halleck and Rosecrans.  At 12:30, Halleck sent a message which reinforced the orders arriving with Rawlings:

Lieutenant-General Grant directs me to repeat his order that General A.J. Smith’s command be brought to Saint Louis with all possible dispatch, preparatory to its being sent to General Thomas.  Telegraph what date it will reach Saint Louis.

Before that telegram arrived, Rosecrans (still in Warrensburg) sent an update to Halleck relating Sanborn’s progress, stressing that brigade was “to take all his horses that are not exhausted and continue to move on the enemy’s rear.…”  Rosecrans went on to estimate Price’s force at 20,000 – a figure he attributes to Pleasonton.  He further said Major-General Marmaduke, captured on October 25, felt Price only had three cannons left.  Conflicting estimates of the enemy force, perhaps?  But certainly that message had not arrived in Washington before Halleck’s second telegram of the day:

General Curtis telegraphs that you have ordered the troops back from the pursuit of Price, directing General McNeil to Rolla and General Sanborn to Springfield. The orders of General Grant and General Canby are that the pursuit must be continued to the Arkansas River, or until you meet the forces of Generals Steele or Reynolds. These orders must be obeyed.

Rosecrans didn’t receive the two telegrams until much later in the day.  Only at 6:30 p.m. was Rosecrans able to respond to Halleck’s first telegram.  In that response, Rosecrans assured Halleck that A.J. Smith was on the way.  Then at 9 p.m., Rosecrans responded, somewhat awkwardly to the second telegram:

Generals Sanborn and McNeil determined the defeat of the enemy at Newtonia, and everything has been, and is being, done to accomplish the objects arrived at by the orders of General Canby and General Grant. Under all these circumstances of the case, it is the matter of regret that General Curtis should have thought proper to telegram you as he did.  That Winslow’s cavalry did not accompany them may be easily understood when it is stated that it had been marching after Price fifty-two days, and their horses are worn out.  General Sanborn telegraphs tonight that one-half of the horses of the troops from Saint Louis have been abandoned by the way.

And to Rosecrans’ credit, his orders for Sanborn and McNeil that day reiterated the intent – continue after Price.

Over the following days, the correspondence with Washington turned more and more towards the urgent need to transfer troops to Thomas.  Still, not until November 3 did the orders go out that would resolve the problem caused by the split command structure.  To Curtis, Halleck sent:

The Secretary of War directs that you assume command of all troops belonging to the Department of Missouri and now serving on the western border of that State, and pursue Price toward the Arkansas River, or till he reaches the troops of General Steele or Reynolds.

So, 27 days after Price turned west from Jefferson City… and 46 days after Price entered Missouri … there was one commander in charge of the direct efforts against him.  A lot of miles, and a lot of telegrams, were wasted before the battle over command was decided.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part IV, Serial 86, pages 301, 305, 330-1, 342-4, and 420.)

Sesquicentennial’s final stretch run … to Appomattox in 2015!

Civil War Trust is playing the “Long Game,” as they have all through the Sesquicentennial, as they look to 2015.  On Friday, October 31, the Trust and Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will hold a press conference to announce new preservation efforts at Sailor’s Creek and High Bridge.   Efforts to preserve more of those battlefields happens right at the time our 150th-focused attention looks towards the Virginia Southside.  (And, oh by the way, the Trust has now passed the 40,000 acres preserved mark… just four years after passing the 30,000 mark.)

April 2015 is not far off.  For those of us who’ve taken the time to be “in the moment” for the 150ths, it’s time for some long range planning of our own.  Not to overlook the actions at Petersburg and Richmond between now and March …  but if I may offer a critique, those events need to get posted on the respective park websites!  I know many will look at that first couple of weeks in April as an “anchor” in sesquicentennial plans.

And the trail is blazed well, thanks to long efforts to provide interpretation along the route of Lee’s Retreat.  And there are plenty of resources to follow this campaign.   So no excuses for this one!

Appomattox Court House NHP already has posted a list of events from April 8 to April 12, 2015.  Links there also mention events in the county and the Museum of the Confederacy – Appomattox.  I’m glad to see a number of real time events, to include printing paroles, listed.  Such will be a bit less “battle” than at other 150th NPS events.  But that’s the nuts and bolts history that I like. Walk us through the history, as it happened!

Still there’s a lot of space between Five Forks and Appomattox.  I’m sure more events are planned for those opening days of April next year.  Certainly a bus tour or two.  If nothing else, just a drive through the Southside over those days, with Chris Calkins guide in hand, is attractive.  Regardless, I plan to be out there every day I can.  Maybe using a hashtag like #apmtx150?

Who’s with me?


“Maneuver warfare is not a doctrinal choice, it is an earned benefit” applied to the Civil War?

XBradTC, posted a very powerful quote yesterday:

Further the tension between firepower and maneuver-based doctrines often appears as more of a false dichotomy than self-styled maneuver theorists might allow. As DePuy stated in partial response to critics who accused him of being an attritionist, “maneuver warfare is not a doctrinal choice, it is an earned benefit.”

The citation is from a paper examining the nuances of mechanized infantry doctrine as evolved in the US Army.  For someone like me, who cut teeth on the late-1980s to early-1990s doctrine (AirLand Battle ™), this is a good read.  But I suspect for most the audience, such is a deep end subject.

But background is in order, as the quote drops a name.  In 1973, General William E. DePuy was the commander of Army’s Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).  This was a “new” organization, having been formed as part of the Army’s reorganization after the Vietnam War.  It was a difficult time for the Army as an institution, the particulars of which would take a full post to unwind and would detract from Civil War studies.  The important bit for this discussion is DePuy was the man charged with reforming Army training and doctrine as it recovered from Vietnam, digested lessons of the Arab-Israeli Wars, and transitioned into a legitimate bulwark against the Soviets.

And what DePuy did during his tenure in command was remarkable.  The short line here is that DePuy transformed the way the Army thought about “doctrine” and its relation to training, procurement, and even recruitment (it was an all-volunteer army for the first time in several decades).  The product was the 1976 version of FM 100-5, named “The Operations of Army Forces in the Field.” The new manual was not some esoteric work, but stood up equally the officers’ club, motor pool and gunnery range.  FM 100-5 gave the Army’s doctrine a vocabulary which it had not before.

However, the main complaint about DuPuy’s FM 100-5 was with the concept of “Active Defense” which emphasized firepower to reduce the enemy forces.  Some detractors felt this emphasis took away from maneuver. As XBradTC alludes to in his post, such brought on the classic discussions of firepower vs. maneuver.  But in DePuy’s defense, the 1976 FM 100-5 was ground in reality – what could the Army do with what it had, given the political and military constraints at the time.  At that time any war in Central Europe offered no space to trade for time, outnumbered by several multiples, in a war which would be decided within a few weeks. (See Sir John Hackett’s novels on the Third World War to get a feel for this “scenario.”)

In response to the criticism, after DePuy’s retirement in 1977, the Army began to evolve FM 100-5.  Such refinement brought forward revised versions of the manual so that by the mid-1980s a young Army cadet was studying “AirLand Battle Doctrine” which stressed agility, initiative, depth, and synchronization.  Some have cited that as a counter-turn back to “maneuver warfare.”  But the deep thinkers will recognize, as tipped in the quote above, the discussion was really back to the old “war of attrition vs. war of annihilation” debate.

So what does DePuy, FM 100-5, and this maneuver-firepower and attrition-annihilation thing have to do with the Civil War?

Well DePuy’s quote touched upon something I’ve long weighed in regard to Civil War operations.  While the Civil War generals didn’t name it “operations” as we do today, they still practiced operations at the same level (just called it “strategy” or “grand strategy”).  So mull over this notion:

Maneuver warfare is an earned benefit.

Robert E. Lee earned the benefit of maneuver after fighting seven days of hard battles in June 1862, and that benefit paid out with an advance into Maryland.  Lee again earned the benefit of maneuver in the spring of 1863, which he used to advantage during the first half of that summer.

But those are easy point to select.  Let’s get a bit more complex.  On November 7, 1863, Meade threw the Army of the Potomac at some of Lee’s advanced posts along the Rappahannock River.  It lead to the Mine Run campaign.  A longer reaching effect was the Army of Northern Virgina left Culpeper county for the last time.  In that light, can we say that that Meade earned the maneuver benefit, spending it in part for Mine Run… BUT… more importantly, because this allowed Meade to “winter” the Army of the Potomac in Culpeper County, the maneuver benefit carried forward to the spring of 1864.  You see, “maneuver” is not just “movement” but also involves manipulation of the situation or resources to achieve the ends (to the point that some of us would like to strike “maneuver” in the manuals and replace it with “manipulation”).   Meade’s position in Culpeper ensured that when Grant opened the Overland Campaign, the Federals had the initiative, didn’t have an extra set of fords to cross (as had happened a year before), and could force Lee to react at the tactical level.

And beyond that, let us go into those “deep thinking” discussions.  Many will recall the excellent NPS interpretation last spring highlighting the different strategies employed by Grant and Lee for the Overland Campaign.  These boiled down to attrition vs. annihilation.  But is either approach predisposed to firepower over maneuver, or vice versa? Of course not!  These are two different layers to the complex subject of operations, in the military context.

As we consider tactical actions that seem unsound to us today – say like the assaults at Cold Harbor on June 3, or better yet, the Crater on July 30, 1864 – I think we see commanders using firepower (in the form of muskets and bayonets) in an effort to earn that maneuver benefit.  Those attacks went forward NOT to simply grind away the adversary. Rather the intent was to manipulate the situation to allow a follow up with maneuver.

Great quote.  One to keep in the pocket.

October 28, 1864: “I was engaging all the avalible force of Price’s Army”: Blunt at Newtonia

After stunning losses at Westport and during the retreat through Kansas, Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri was defeated and broken.  But it was not yet beaten.  An army with arms is at least an army in being.  Though delivering telling blows, the Federal pursuit failed to seal the deal and complete the defeat with capture of Price and his men.  Following the disasters of October 25, 1864, Price continued his retreat through southwest Missouri. The column moved through Carthage, Granby, and went into camp about four miles south of Newtonia on October 28.


But Major-General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry did not press the pursuit after the victories on the 25th, but instead pulled off the pursuit to resupply. The next pursuit force in line, the division of Major-General James Blunt.  Keep in mind that Pleasonton reported to Major-General William Rosecrans in the Department of Missouri while Blunt reported to Major-General Samuel Curtis in the Department of Kansas.  No single authority exercised operational control of all the pieces in blue.  Bunt did not catch up with Price until 2 p.m. on October 28.  Finding the Confederates in camp south of Newtonia, Blunt first sent word to nearby units, calling on reinforcements.  But he did not hesitate to bring on an engagement, at a point two miles south of Newtonia:

Being convinced of their intention to avoid a fight, if possible, I determined to attack them at once. The First and Fourth Brigades were with me in the advance. I had directed the Second Brigade to halt early in the day to procure forage for their horses to enable me to put them in the advance to press the pursuit at night; consequently I did not rely upon them to participate in the early part of the engagement. I had supposed that General McNeil’s brigade, of General Pleasonton’s division, was close up in my rear, and sent back to hurry it forward, while the First and Fourth Brigades of the First Division were quickly deployed in line, and under the cover of the fire of the First Colorado Battery, posted upon the bluff, they swept across the plain at a gallop until within musket range of the enemy’s line. Skirmishers were rapidly deployed, and but a few moments elapsed until the engagement became general. I now ordered forward the First Colorado Battery, which, with a section of howitzers attached to the Fifteenth Kansas Cavalry, and under command of Sergeant Patterson, of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, poured a destructive fire into the enemy’s ranks.

On the Confederate side, Brigadier-General M. Jeff Thompson, commanding the “Iron Brigade” of Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division, was part of the Confederate force thrown out against Blunt. His men had gone into camp around mid-day, but shortly after rushed north due to a false alarm.  The brigade had just returned to camp when Blunt arrived in force:

We had scarcely commenced the ordinary duties of camp when we were again ordered out, and proceeding to the same place found the enemy drawn up before us on the opposite side of the small field. The firing commenced immediately, and in a few minutes our line bravely crossed the fence and advanced upon the enemy, crossing the field under a hot fire of artillery and small-arms, and drove the enemy into the open prairie. Not stopping at this second fence an instant, we advanced into the prairie and continued to drive the enemy, never letting them form to charge, which they endeavored to do. There was some mounted men on our right, but no supports near our rear, and I halted the line after we had advanced so far that we were exposed to flanking. We remained in this position until the enemy had retired their line, when we fell back toward our camp, receiving several shots from the enemy’s artillery as we retired.

Even depleted from five days of defeat and retreat, the Confederate force outnumbered Blunt’s brigades – a fact that Blunt was quickly aware:

It soon became evident that I was engaging all the available force of Price’s army, which outnumbered me more than eight to one. Their superiority of numbers enabling them to press upon my flanks with a large force compelled me to fall back about 500 yards from my first line, which was done in good order, and the line reformed in the face of a terrific fire. The enemy pressed forward their center, but were promptly checked by the canister from the First Colorado Battery. It was now near sundown, and my command had been engaged near two hours and their ammunition nearly exhausted, while a large force of the enemy were passing under cover of a corn-field around my left flank, and my force being too small to extend my line in that direction, I was about to direct my line to fall back and take position on the bluff, when very unexpectedly the brigade of General Sanborn, of General Pleasonton’s command, came up. I immediately placed them in position on my left, directing General Sanborn to dismount his men and advance through the corn-field, which was promptly executed, repulsing the flanking column of the enemy, who now abandoned the field and retreated rapidly under cover of the night in the direction of Pineville, leaving their dead and wounded in our hands.


Blunt had about 400 casualties in the afternoon fighting – he estimated one-eighth of the force committed.  Confederate casualties were just over half that number. The short, sharp action at Newtonia was the last important action between Price and his pursuers in Missouri.   The battle, though small, allowed Price more maneuver room to continue retreat.  The next day, the Confederates passed through Pineville and then camped five miles to the south that evening.  Price retreated out of Missouri, but his pursers had failed to destroy his army.  Due to a split command, the Federals had allowed Price to slip through to Arkansas.

The campaign was far from over, but the results were already clear for all to see.   Missouri was a “battleground state” in the 1864 campaign season.  And battles had secured the state for the union – both on the map and for the electoral process.  The Confederates, while still a force in being, were never again in position to threaten the state.  But with a “Army in being,” Price was still a chess piece on the board.  The pursuit, though not with an intensity of the late days of October, would continue to dog Price through Arkansas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 577 and 669.)

October 27, 1864: “Thursday morning the bombardment of the city was renewed.” Charleston remained under siege

Reporting on Thursday, October 27, 1864, the Charleston Mercury ran this account of operations around the city:

Siege of Charleston.

Four Hundred and Seventy-sixth Day.

Forty shots were fired at the city Tuesday night.  The firing on the city ceased about daylight Wednesday morning. The firing on Wednesday was confined to a few scattering shots at the wreck of the Flora and at James Island. The enemy were engaged Wednesday mounting a new gun at Battery Wagner.

Wednesday morning a fatal explosion of a two hundred pounder Parrott shell took place, resulting in the melancholy death of Lieut. L.P. Mays, Lieut. John Dardon and Private Smannon, of Company E, 32d Georgia Regiment, and severely wounding Lieut. David E. Willis, of the same company and regiment.  Captain Moblay had a very narrow escape, being in the same room but remaining untouched.

Their remains were forwarded Wednesday to their friends in Georgia.

There was no change of importance in the fleet.

The paper also carried news from other fronts.  With respect to operations nearer Atlanta, “The army movements in Georgia are puzzling many readers…” owing to a lack of information.  And the puzzle would remain for a few weeks.  From Richmond came news that President Jefferson Davis called for November 16 as a day of prayer for “deliverance and peace.”  And form elsewhere in Virginia, General Jubal Early provided an assessment of the recent defeat at Cedar Creek, “attributing their recent defeat to a disgraceful propensity to plunder and panic….”

The paper also mentioned the sale act auction, by Mr. James L. Gantt, of some 10 slaves.  “A woman – cook and washer, 22 years old, with a child 4 years old, $8000…. Man, 19 years old, field hand, $6000….”  In the wartime economy, the price of slaves had increased considerably – something on the order of a ten-fold increase.  And slavery continued to thrive in spite of that inflation.

For the next day, the Charleston Mercury related the actions which took place 150 years ago today (October 27, 1864):

 Siege of Charleston

Four Hundred and Seventy-seventh Day.

There was no firing Wednesday night, the enemy batteries remaining silent. Thursday morning the bombardment of the city was renewed, and towards evening became quite brisk, the enemy firing from three guns in rapid succession. Up to six o’clock P.M., thirty-nine shots had been fired.

The enemy were again busily employed hauling ammunition during the day to Battery Gregg and the Middle Battery.

A monitor was towed from inside the bar Thursday forenoon and went South.

There was no other change of importance.

The monitor seen going south was likely the USS Nantucket, headed for Hilton Head for repairs.  Such details, which match well with operational records, indicate how closely the newspaper, and thus the civilian population, followed the military situation at Charleston.  And, as the headline read, the people of Charleston felt themselves under the guns for over a year by that time.  Count back 477 days from October 28, 1864 and the product is July 10, 1863, when the Federals assaulted Morris Island. By the fall of 1864, canons were background noise in many places throughout the South.  No more so than Charleston.


Ripley’s Plan to recapture Morris Island

In October 1864, Brigadier-General Roswell Ripley was beyond “fallen into disfavor.” Even General P.G.T. Beauregard recommended his relief.  But Ripley was not one to sit aside waiting for letters in the mail.  Perhaps looking for a way out of the “dog house,” on October 25, 1864, Ripley send forward a memorandum outlining a plan to retake Morris Island:

To recapture and occupy Morris Island the operation must take the nature of a surprise. The mechanical appliances of the enemy, his means of transportation, and vigilance, as well as the nature of the position, forbid any attempt at regular attack. The latter would certainly involve a greater loss of life and expenditure of material, even if successful, than a surprise would risk, and the chances of success are much in favor of the latter method. I would propose that in a period when high water is, at about 3 or 4 o’clock in the morning, after the setting of the moon, the attempt should be made. A few days previous to it a demonstration of collecting troops at Bluffton should take place and strong reconnaissance of the vicinity of Hilton Head and Port Royal should be made by boats and any means in our power. The effect of this movement could be ascertained by watching the enemy’s fleet off Charleston; probably by his signals and the movements of the garrison of Morris Island. It would probably attract his attention, for the passage of Scull Creek from the main is quite easy, and the positions at Hilton Head and Beaufort, under present circumstances, are quite weakly garrisoned, and must remain so until the main operations in the field are over, or their localities changed.

For a conceptual plan, this is not too much of a reach – catch the tides right and make a diversionary move.  As for the Federal defenses, Ripley figured a garrison of only 2,500 on Morris Island, with Fort Shaw and the works on Cumming’s Point being the main strong points.

The main force called for in Ripley’s plan was some 3,000 men loaded on board “three light-draught and tolerably swift-running steamers from the blockade-runners….” These would carry boat howitzers, gang-planks, and other equipments to facilitate rapid debarkation.  Ripley wanted these vessels staged behind Battery Marshall on the northern end of Sullivan’s Island.  And…

On each boat there should be a naval detachment of sailors, under competent and cool officers, for handling the rigging of the planks and other duties of seamanship, and the captains, and engineers and pilots should be selected for their skill, coolness, and intrepidity.

Supporting the main effort would be several diversionary forces.  From Secessionville and Battery Haskell, detachments of 100 to 150 men in boats would mount demonstrations against Black Island.  Another force of 500 troops on boats at Charleston or staged behind Fort Johnson to appear poised in an attack on Cumming’s Point.  A cavalry force would appear on John’s Island to threaten the Stono Inlet anchorage.  And in the harbor, the gunboats and ironclads would make their presence known.    To facilitate coordination, Ripley wanted a telegraph run as a “hot loop” putting all commanders in direct contact.

On the appointed evening, two hours before the steamers left Breach Inlet, the boat forces would demonstrate against Black Island followed shortly after with actions towards Cummng’s Point.  All the batteries around the harbor would also open up on Morris Island.  The object was to draw forces away from Fort Shaw and the garrison camps to the north end of Morris Island and Black Island.  Ripley felt this would also pull the inner blockaders towards Cumming’s Point and open a path for his three steamers.

The two first steamers to run nearly together and to make with all speed for the southern extremity of Morris Island and run stem on shore, high and dry if possible. Gang-planks to be dropped at once and the men, rushing ashore over the bows, deploy forward advancing and move at a charging pace against Fort Shaw, which is about 100 yards from the shore and easily accessible. Axes and hatchets must be carried to cut away chevaux-de-frise if met with, but it is believed that this fort is unprovided. This fact can easily be ascertained. The fort being once occupied the boat howitzers must be brought in to increase the armament, cover taken against Folly Island, fire opened upon transports in the inlet, and a party sent down to drive the guard from the battery at Oyster Point. These duties will occupy at least half the force. The garrison of Fort Shaw is not very large, the main body being encamped to its north. The remainder of the troops must form across the island and advance at once toward Wagner, driving any troops which may be in the camp before them or taking them prisoners. While this progresses the commander of the third steamer diverges from the two first and runs his vessel on shore at Battery Wagner, striving to strike at the southeast angle, lands as at Battery Shaw, and storms the work while attention of the enemy is directed to Gregg. The party from Shaw re-enforces him, the guns of Wagner are opened upon the fleet and on the middle battery and Gregg. Our fleet and boats retire while all our batteries keep up their fire on Gregg, the middle battery and Black Island.

Ripley expected the Federals on Black Island and any isolated pockets on Morris Island to surrender.  Furthermore, the blockaders would have to pull back outside the bar.  Such would roll the situation at Charleston back and erase fifteen months of Federal progress.

A very complicated plan to say the least.  Just to give you a visual, I’ve dropped my interpretation of Ripley’s plan on a map of the Charleston area:


I’ve given my best guess as to the route for Ripley’s steamers to take.  I figure the steamers had to use dangerous Maffitt’s Channel for the move.  Otherwise the shoals required a long transit out and back through the outer blockade. And for all of this to work the Federals had to act in a very predictable pattern responding to the demonstrations.

Recognizing the complication and risk, Ripley submitted:

This appears, somewhat complicated as a measure of attack, but after a full consideration, I do not think any other promises so well. It depends upon secrecy and boldness of execution as well as careful judgment on such information as we can obtain. It ruins three steam-boats certainly, and if it fails, loses some 3,000 men. The advantages of success it is hardly necessary to speak of. We have often risked more on quite as hazardous expeditions, where less was to have been gained.

Considering Ripley’s plan, keep in mind three were only around 4,800 Confederates in the vicinity of Charleston.  Lieutenant-General William Hardee could call upon 12,446 effectives in all of Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida.  So to implement Ripley’s plan, reinforcements were needed.  And if successful, and the odds were long on that, the Confederates would only succeed in making Charleston a little more open to blockade runners.  By October 1864, 3,000 men was a rather large portion of the remaining chips to bet on a long shot.

On the other had, if this plan received at least some consideration, it would serve the purpose intended – giving Ripley some favorable attention.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 35, Part II, Serial 66, pages 640-643.)

October 25, 1864: “The morale of the army runined” and Price soundly defeated

After the defeat at Westport on October 23, 1864, Major-General Sterling Price was able to extract his Army of Missouri and begin a retreat southward.  The Federals pursued, of course.  Unlike some campaigns of the Civil War, the pursuit was aggressive and actually landed some blows on the retreating enemy.  Three in fact came in a series of engagement on October 25.

Price had in mind the capture of Fort Scott, Kansas (correctly re-capture as Price had captured the post in 1861), which promised more supplies to add to his take from Missouri.  So heading south from the Kansas City area, Price turned his forces south-westerly across the state line.


This course took Price over several tributaries to the Osage River, each high from recent rains.  To move his wagon train, Price had to carefully move across fords on those watercourses while fending off the Federal pursuit.  That need to protect the wagons lead to a series of engagements which were among the war’s largest cavalry battles.

Major-General Alfred Pleasonton’s provisional cavalry division pressed south after the battle of Westport.  On the morning of October 25, Pleasonton attacked Price’ rear guard, under Major-General James Fagan, at the crossings over Marais des Cygens.  With artillery support, Pleasonton’s lead brigades drove the Confederates away from their camps.   Pleasonton then pushed out Colonel John Philips’ brigade in pursuit.  Philips caught up with Fagan’s division, now reinforced with Major-General John Marmaduke’s division, six miles south protecting the crossing over Mine Creek.  Though outnumbered and facing a line reinforced with artillery, Philips had one great advantage – his force was organized.  With that, Philips held his ground and triggered one of the largest cavalry engagements of the war at just before 11:00 a.m.:

It was manifest that the enemy was preparing to charge by advancing in double column from his right and left center. At this juncture Benteen’s brigade came up on my left,, and as soon as his advance regiment got into position I began the attack. Everything depended on striking the enemy before his dispositions for a charge were completed. [Colonel Frederick] Benteen’s brigade came down on the enemy’s right handsomely and fiercely. Two pieces of our artillery came up and opened fire. My brigade was precipitated on the enemy’s center and left with tremendous energy, when the fighting became general and terrific. The impetuosity of the onset surprised and confounded the enemy. He trembled and wavered and the wild shouts of our soldiers rising above the din of battle told that he gave way. With pistol we dashed into his disorganized ranks and the scenes of death was as terrible as the victory was speedy and glorious. Major-General Marmaduke, Brigadier-General Cabell, some colonels, several line officers, four guns, one stand of colors, and a large number of prisoner were captured by this brigade. The ground in our front was strewn with the enemy’s dead, dying, and wounded. Every gun the enemy pointed at us fell into our hands. Our advantage was followed up as energetically as possible, making the rout complete. This successful charge produced great consternation and demoralization among the enemy, as evidenced by his rapid flight, the destruction of much of his train, the disgorging and scattering of his ill-gotten plunder.

Some attribute the success of Philips and Benteen to their trooper’s armament – carbines compared to the Confederate muzzle-loaders.  I would submit, while firepower was important, the key to this engagement was leadership from the regimental level up.  While Federal officers were conspicuous and successful in their efforts to urge the troops forward, the Confederate officers were unable to do so with their commands.  Price observed,

… I met the divisions of Major-Generals Fagan and 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.


In the confusion, the Federals captured Marmaduke and two of Fagan’s brigade commanders.  They also picked up almost all of the Confederate artillery.  Price now faced a situation beyond just “deteriorated.”  His command had collapsed. The only element left to throw into the fray was Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division.  With two of his brigades, Shelby put up a delaying action then fell back to the Little Osage River.  There, in position on high banks, managed to parry the Federal thrust for the moment.  As he later wrote, “All that men could do had been done.” After an hour fight there, Shelby fell back.

Now Pleasonton brought up two fresh brigades under Brigadier-General John McNeil to pick up the pursuit. But the aggressive pattern that carried the morning did pass forward with McNeil.  He followed the routed Confederates for several miles.  Colonel Sidney Jackman’s brigade, the only fresh (relatively speaking) Confederate force, made a charge to by valuable time.  Finally at the crossing of Marmiton River (Marmeton River today), McNeil confronted what he thought was a rallied Confederate line.   It was the remains of Shelby’s and Fagan’s divisions, bolstered by unarmed men to make an appearance of strength.   McNeil was content to shell the Confederate line from across the river until nightfall.


For the day, Pleasonton’s cavalrymen harried Price’s column over four crossings.  The action at every point was fought mostly by cavalry, with a handful of artillery pieces playing in.  Summarizing the day, Lieutenant-Colonel Lauchlan MacLean, providing Price’s itinerary, wrote:

Marmaduke, Cabell, and Slemons taken prisoners; 5 pieces of artillery captured, and the morale of the army ruined.  Everything hurried on, a mass of confusion, from which it took every exertion to redeem it… twenty-eight miles.

As many of the wagon teams were broken down from two days hard marching, that night Price burned what he could not move further.  By crossing the Marmiton River, Price had returned to Missouri.  But he was in the southwestern part of the state where forage was short.  The loss of supplies meant the army had to take a round about march to return south.

Pleasonton reported 1,000 prisoners including the senior officers mentioned above.  But for all that, the victory was not complete.  And nor could the Federal cavalry follow up the next day.  As Pleasonton reported,

The exhausted condition of my men and horses, having marched near 100 miles in two days and a night, and fighting the last thirty miles, required that I should proceed to the vicinity of Fort Scott for forage and subsistence.

Pleasonton would complain that Major-General Samuel Curtis failed to follow up the advance, or else Price’s command would have ended right there.  However, Brigadier-General James Blunt was still in pursuit and have one more go at Price before all was said and done.

Price’s Army of Missouri was, for all practical purposes, broken on October 25, 1864.  But it still existed as an organization.  Perhaps that was the biggest outcome of the campaign from a military standpoint.  In Price’s ragged ranks were former guerrilla fighters who’d flocked to the army in the early days of the campaign.  Now those men were making their way south and out of Missouri.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 341, 352, 637, and 646.)