Though he had fled Missouri over a week earlier, 150 years ago today (November 8, 1864) Major-General Sterling Price was still on the move trying to escape pursuit. After the failed attempt at Fayetteville on November 3, what was left of Price’s army marched southwest through the Indian Territories to avoid the Federals operating out of Fort Smith and gain a safe crossing of the Arkansas River. On November 4th, the Confederates reached the Sallisaw River, which they followed down to the Arkansas. Most of the battered Army of Missouri crossed the Arkansas on November 6th.
Hard on Price’s trail was Major-General Samuel Curtis with elements of his Army of the Border, along with other formations attached for the pursuit. By this time, Curtis had Major-General James Blunt’s division, Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Benteen’s brigade from the Department of Missouri, Colonel M. La Rue Harrison’s force out of Fayetteville, and a collection of other troops from Kansas. Though ordered to follow Price to the Arkansas River with the hope of trapping the Confederates with the garrison out of Fort Smith, Curtis would not receive any reinforcement. This was due in part to the fatigue from the long campaign against Price, but also due to pressing requirements that pulled troops out of Missouri and to Tennessee. None-the-less, Curtis resolved that his “boldness of pursuit must compensate for want of numbers….”
By November 5, Curtis reached Prairie Grove. Then on the 6th, he reached the Sallisaw River. The following day, fully expecting to engage Price, Curtis arrayed for battle.
November 7 we started at daylight, our route leading through the woods and on by-roads in a southwesterly direction. Horses, wagons, and property stolen from the Missouri marked the way, which we followed till late at night and remained until the morning. Among other articles a carriage, said to be the one occupied by Price himself, was passed on the wayside, and everything showed a hasty and terrified retreat. Our curiosity, usual on such occasions, hurried the advance forward, hoping to overtake the enemy. About dark we came upon a cannon which he left in the road, and after a few miles more, darkness and a necessity to close up my forces induced another halt. We had very little chance to feed ourselves or horses and resumed the march early on the 8th, uncertain of our whereabouts, but confident of the enemy’s near presence as the prairie was still burning and his broken down mules, horses, and baggage were again broadcast over his well-defined way. Colonel Harrison now had the advance and pushed forward with great vigor to the timber, far in our advance, which proved to be the timber skirting the Arkansas River. A few of the rebel rear guard were driven beyond the stream, and bringing up McLain’s battery, we shelled the timber on the south side. Some of our troops crossed over and exchanged a few shots as they supposed with the last of Price’s army. Our work was accomplished, and the shout that went up from the Army of the Border and the roar of our cannon resounded through the gloomy forests of the Arkansas, carrying to the camp of the starving enemy beyond our parting farewell. This crossing, selected by Stand Watie’s Indians, is a little above the mouth of the Sallisaw, about twenty-five miles above Fort Smith.
With that, the pursuit of Price came to an end. That evening Curtis issued an order proclaiming “the object of this organization and campaign is accomplished.” After congratulating the men on their performance, Curtis gave orders for the various parts of the pursuing force to return to their assigned stations. The Army of the Border had pursued Price for around 850 miles. They’d reached their assigned limit.
At that point, what was left of Price’s command was, though free to move, so far out of position as to not threaten Missouri again. The Confederate Army of Missouri would spend the next thirty days marching through Indian Territory and Texas in order to get back to their base in southwest Arkansas. The last chapter in Price’s 1864 campaign was one of routine marches, recuperation, and attempts to justify the effort expended.
(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 516-7.)