“That he deserved death no one denies”: Price’s men reach Boonville, Missouri

For the date of October 10, 1864, the itinerary for Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of the Missouri contained this note:

October 10 (Camp No. 41) – At Boonville. All the people turned out to greet us. Crossed  portion of the command to the north side, but recalled them…. About 300 surrendered; distance sixteen miles.

The previous evening, part of Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division had secured Boonville with the capture of those 300 Federals.  Shelby’s report provided more details of the day:

Striking California early on the morning of the [9th], I found Colonel Smith already ahead of me, whom I had sent the night before on a visit of destruction to the Pacific Railroad, which visit will be long remembered for riven track, bridges, and everything else that would break or burn. Not halting a moment in California, I left the rear guard in charge of Brig. Gen. M. Jeff. Thompson, who had been assigned by General Price to command my old brigade, and pushed on with my advance for Boonville, where rumor located from 100 to 800 Federals….

I offer this section of the campaign map to demonstrate Shelby’s line of march:


The Missouri River makes a wide turn southward before reaching Jefferson City.  Entering Moniteau and then Cooper Counties, the Confederates were actually north of Jefferson City.  And they were also moving on the edges of Missouri’s “Heart of Little Dixie”… that is the area, mostly north of the Missouri River, where the state’s slave population was densest and likewise pro-Confederate sympathies were strongest.

To say Price entered “Little Dixie” would require a definition of the region.  Even 150 years removed, there are opinions as to what counties define that region and which ones do not.  Let us simply say that Price’s columns reach a point were they could expect the strong support from the civilian population.

However, that didn’t mean all in the area were welcoming the Confederate force with open arms.  Boonville was a divided city and at the same time an occupied city in many ways.  Local militia and guerrillas clashed frequently.  William “Bloody Bill” Anderson was among those pro-Confederates involved.  On the other side, Captain Horace Shumaker (or Shoemaker) commanded a provisional company of the 52nd Enrolled Missouri Militia (note, not the Missouri State Militia… you cannot simply rely upon the regimental numbers for Missouri units!).  Earlier in the summer, Shumaker had captured a Mr. Spencer, suspected of spying for Anderson.  And, with a short inquiry into the matter, Shumaker had Spencer hung.  That’s the “back story” to keep in mind here.

On October 9, 1864, Shelby’s division neared Boonville where Shumaker’s company was the only Federal defense:

About an hour before sunset I came upon their outlying pickets three miles from town, which Captains McCoy and Williams charged furiously, driving in their heavy reserves, and followed them pell-mell into Boonville and to within thirty feet of a heavy and strong fortification. Here the Federals were held at bay until the artillery could come up, for I am unwilling at all times to sacrifice life when nothing is to be gained by it; but in the meantime I threw Elliott’s battalion toward the river below and Williams’ above, thus rendering all attempts to cross the river by the ferry-boat abortive. While waiting for the battery a deputation of the oldest and most respected citizens came to me with information that inside of the fortification was one company of Southern men and boys, impressed into service by the iron hand of despotism. I was then very unwilling to open fire upon the fort, and departed so far from my usual habit in such cases that I sent them a flag for a conference. This interview ended with an unconditional surrender, and with a guaranty on my part of that protection accorded to prisoners of war….

Add a note here – Shelby’s approach to this situation speaks to a sensitive need.  While earlier in the campaign, the Confederates committed actions with regard to prisoners which would be judged harshly, in Little Dixie they had to be mindful of what we might view as “collateral damage” today.  Thus the protection of the prisoners, well save one:

Yet, in spite of this and of the reflection it would cast upon me as a soldier and officer of honor, the guards were charged by some persons in nothing save the name of Confederates, and Captain Shumaker taken from them and executed. That he deserved death no one denies; that he met it thus every good soldier must lament and deplore.

The rumor spread afterward was that Anderson took custody of Shumaker.  And in conjunction with one of Spencer’s kin, Anderson had Shumaker killed with the body disposed of in the Missouri River.  An eye-for-an-eye killing if the oral history is correct.

Anderson himself had but a couple weeks to live.  But he’d already written a terrible chapter in the story of Price’s campaign.  I’ve not discussed, due to other assignments, the events in Centralia which occurred on September 27.  And perhaps it is worth doubling back so as to best emphasize the nature of Missouri’s Civil War.  The point I’d make here, just as with the vignette from William Cody a few days ago, is that Federal and Confederate commanders, at this time of the war, saw continuances of the partisan fighting as counter-productive.  Yet, at the lower levels in both commands, the men still held grudges and would carry those well after the war had ended.  Anderson and Shumaker were but symptoms of a larger problem which the state had to contend with up to the 20th century.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 645 and 655-6.)



2 thoughts on ““That he deserved death no one denies”: Price’s men reach Boonville, Missouri

  1. Excellent post Craig! As have been all your recent Price’s campaign posts. Now that I live in Columbia, only a few miles down the road from Boonville, I;ve obviously become interested in my local Civil War history and your posts have helped that tremendously. Oct 10, 1864, is also the anniversary of a massacre of German Unionists in Emma, MO (near Concordia), which was recently featured on Kevin Levin’s blog. I stopped at the small cemetery there on Tuesday which holds the remains of eight of the more than 20 men killed by “bushwackers” that day. Take Care and keep up the great work, Jim

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.