“They deem it strange that in such a plentiful country… breadstuffs cannot be supplied”: Price’s logistics strained

For October 18, 1864, Major-General Sterling Price’s itinerary for the Army of Missouri simply said “At Waverly; twenty-two miles.”  Price’s columns had covered a great deal of ground since entering Missouri (and add to that the march across Arkansas prior to that).  Although since threatening St. Louis and Jefferson City, Price’s army had not set any records for movement, the troops were still “on campaign” and wearing out their clothing and animals.  Little things like horseshoes were a problem.

It is at this time that Major-General James Fagan, commanding a division mostly composed of Arkansas troops, wrote to report a shortage of another type – bread:

I beg leave to call your attention to a want of breadstuffs for my division. My men are much dissatisfied and complain a good deal. They deem it strange that in such a plentiful country as the one in which we are now operating breadstuffs cannot be supplied at least while we are moving so leisurely. Being totally unacquainted with the country and its resources, and not knowing one day where my command will be the next or even the direction it will take, I am unable myself to make any arrangement to supply my command, and must rely on the proper officers of the staff of the army to do so. I addressed Major Tracy, chief commissary of subsistence of the array, a communication on the subject a day or two since, but have heard nothing from him on the subject. I will be pleased if you will call the attention of Major-General Price to the matter, as it is becoming one of serious import with my command. In this connection I have the honor to submit a report of my chief surgeon as to the causes which produce the increase in my sick report.

Price could not, even if he desired, have brought enough rations for his command to complete several months of campaigning.  He had to live off the land.  The portion of Missouri in which the campaign passed was largely agricultural.  Lafayette County, although part of the “Little Dixie” region, was noted more for hemp and tobacco production over corn or wheat.  Furthermore, Waverly was just west of the “Burnt District” subject to Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing’s General Order No. 11, of August 1863.  So the question for any army “living off the land” would be how much could be squeezed out of those counties.

The last sentence from Fagan allueded to a report from Chief Surgeon W. B. Welch, discussing the health of the division:

The character of disease now prevailing is of that class most commonly produced by vicissitudes of weather–such as catarrh, bronchitis, pneumonia, rheumatic affections, and glandular swellings. These causes of disease are more active on systems debilitated from want of sufficient food, &c. The men are much in need of proper and sufficient clothing, and are lamentably deficient in blankets sufficient to protect them during the cold nights.

The effect of cool nights, compounded by insufficient rations, clothing, and bedding, had a detrimental effect on the troops.  Welch continued, “The ration of one-half pound of flour is not sufficient, even if it were regularly supplied, to fortify their systems against the perturbating influences to which they are subjected.”

To this, Fagan added an endorsement on October 19:

Hundreds of my men are without the necessary clothing to be at all comfortable, even in the mildest weather at this season in this climate. I am utterly powerless to provide them with either clothing or bread, and respectfully call the attention of the major-general to the fact and beg his assistance.

Some have called Price’s march through Missouri that October “lackadaisical” and “sluggish.”  While Price’s leadership had much to do with the slow pace, the condition of the army also governed his options.  And he was coming to a point where the number of options closed fast.  While Price’s headquarters were at Waverly, two Federal commands moved towards him – one from the east and one from the west:

Price_Campaign_Oct18

Major-General Alfred Pleasonton advanced his provisional cavalry division in pursuit of Price to Sedalia.  Joining price was a division of Major-General A.J. Smith’s 16th Army Corps.  To the west, Major-General Samuel Curtis moved portions of his Army of the Border to the state line.  Some of his Kansas troops refused to enter Missouri.  But a column under Major-General James Blunt moved towards Lexington.  The uncoordinated and at times “lackadaisical” Federal pursuit was catching up to Price at a point on the map where maneuver options were limited.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part IV, Serial 86, pages 1003-4.)

 

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