One of my goals when ever discussing Major-General Sterling Price’s 1864 campaign is to demonstrate the subject is not simply a one-dimensional ancillary campaign in some far-flung theater of little consequence. One cannot study the campaign only focused on the military operations and tactics. Political considerations weighed heavily on commanders of both sides. And nowhere can we see the effects of “hard war” laid more bare than in Missouri during that fall of 1864.
Combining those two facets – political requirements and hard war – is a letter written by Missouri’s Confederate Governor-in-exile Thomas C. Reynolds during the campaign. Reynolds assumed the position after the death of Claiborne Fox Jackson in December 1862. To say Reynolds and Price disagreed would be an understatement. But in the fall of 1864, the situation required the political leader and the military commander to cooperate in order to achieve mutual goals – re-establishment of a Confederate Missouri. So Reynolds accompanied Price’s column representing the return of the pro-Confederate state government. But as events near St. Louis and Jefferson City failed to provide a military victory on which Reynolds could hang a political statement, he grew more frustrated with Price. So on October 10, 1864, while the Army of Missouri waited at Boonville, Reynolds used a logistical matter to pick an argument with Price:
General: On your verbal assurance at Camden [Arkansas] that your chief quartermaster would provide shoes for the horses and mules used by me in the present campaign I omitted to bring any along with me. Repeated applications by my quartermaster to that officer during my stay near your headquarters, and to General Shelby’s quartermaster during my stay with him, have failed to produce anything but studied neglect of my necessities in this respect. One horse and two mules of those used by me or my attendants have had (and the others will soon have) to be abandoned as worn out for want of shoes. Every blacksmith shop on the line of march being seized for the use of the Confederate Army, my quartermaster can procure no horseshoes from citizens, and the wholesale pillage of horses and mules, as of goods generally in the vicinity of the army, has made it impossible for him to obtain anything by purchase. In fact, in an expedition designed to re-establish the rightful government of Missouri the Governor of the State cannot even purchase a horse or a blanket, while stragglers and camp followers are enriching themselves by plundering the defenseless families of our own soldiers in Confederate service. To-day my quartermaster reports to me that for want of shoes the four mules of my ambulance are so nearly worn out that they cannot travel longer than a day or two more. They belong to the Confederate States, having been assigned for my use on this expedition through the courtesy of General E. K. Smith. As the ambulance is the only conveyance I have for the baggage of myself and all my attendants I respectfully request that you direct the proper officer to have them exchanged at once for others belonging to the Confederacy and likely to stand the fatigues of travel.
We might write off Reynolds as a political figure with little or no influence by 1864. Perhaps at best “the mayor of his own camp” and far short of a restored state governor. But he was, at least on paper and by connection with the Confederate government, someone with credentials. Mind you, one of the thirteen stars on the Confederate flag represented Missouri. (A “Coalition of the Willing” analogy might be in order here for someone willing to venture into that abyss between current events and historical events.) So he was “somebody” and a “big shot” where things stood in October 1864.
But, rather embarrassingly, that “big shot” lacked even the smallest of amenities as the campaign progressed. Forget the nail, Reynolds didn’t have a shoe to fix with the nail. Think of the optics here, with the Confederate army returning to central Missouri in order to proclaim the state’s re-established government had arrived… and it was mounted on worn out mules with no shoes.
And at the same time consider the setting from a broader perspective – Price’s liberation of Missouri was hurting the state. To a state already suffering from a decade long feud, Price brought more. Not intentionally, mind you. This was, as we might say today, the unintended consequence of the campaign. While the Shenandoah burned and Georgia howled, Missouri was pillaged by blue, gray, and, most unfortunately, by those seeing opportunity.
Three decades would pass before Missouri became the fertile grounds for Laura Ingalls Wilder and family. And even then, the war was not that far away.
(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part III, Serial 85, pages 1000-1.)