December 3, 1864: A journey of 1,434 miles comes to an end, closing Price’s Campaign

The last three entries in the itinerary of Major-General Sterling Price’s Campaign read:

December 1 (Camp No. 85). – Clark’s command on the march. Thompson to move tomorrow; eighteen miles.

December 2 (Camp No. 86). – At Laynesport. Crossed river; nineteen miles.

December 3. – Clark arrived and sent courier to Washington.

Whole distance marched, 1,434 miles.

With that, the last great campaign to reach into Missouri came to a quiet, anti-climatic end.  Since crossing the Arkansas River, Price had marched without threat through the Indian Territories and down the Texas side of the Red River.  A close up of the campaign map (below) shows the route taken from November 7 to December 3, 1864.  During the last weeks of the march, the Federals were no where near, having broken off pursuit at the Arkansas.

Price_Campaign_End

Notice at the right side of this map cut, I’ve left in the red lines indicating the first portions of the march, past Little Rock, on August 28.

In his official report Price made the case the campaign had accomplished a great deal:

In conclusion, permit me to add that in my opinion the results flowing from my operations in Missouri are of the most gratifying character. I marched 1,434 miles; fought forty three battles and skirmishes; captured and paroled over 3,000 Federal officers and men; captured 18 pieces of artillery, 3,000 stand of small-arms, 16 stand of colors that were brought out by me (besides many others that were captured and afterward destroyed by our troops who took them), at least 3,000 overcoats, large quantities of blankets, shoes, and ready-made clothing for soldiers, a great many wagons and teams, large numbers of horses, great quantities of subsistence and ordnance stores. I destroyed miles upon miles of railroad, burning the depots and bridges; and taking this into calculation, I do not think I go beyond the truth when I state that I destroyed in the late expedition to Missouri property to the amount of $10,000,000 in value. On the other hand, I lost 10 pieces of artillery, 2 stand of colors, 1,000 small-arms, while I do not think I lost 1,000 prisoners, including the wounded left in their hands and others than recruits on their way to join me, some of whom may have been captured by the enemy.

Military operations don’t happen in a vacuum.  I could probably replace “Missouri” with “Georgia” and pass that paragraph off as a report from Major-General William T. Sherman’s march.  While Price was concluding a campaign that destroyed $10 million, William T. Sherman was in the middle of one which would destroy an estimated  $80 million.  Add to that what was destroyed across Virginia and Tennessee that fall, and I would think the tally to be one of the most destructive fall seasons in the nation’s history.  The last autumn of the war was indeed a frenzy of destruction at all points of the map.

But in one way, Price’s campaign still was not over.  Later in December Thomas C. Reynolds, Confederate governor in-exile of Missouri, made several public statements condemning Price.  Seeking redress, Price asked for, and was granted, a court of inquiry.  The court met on April 21, 1865 and ran through May 3.  The end of the war sort of rendered any further proceedings useless.  So Price never got his full “day in court.”  Instead it is a footnote demonstrating the somewhat chaotic state in the last days of the Confederacy.

Historians have pointed out that Price failed to achieve most of his objectives – did not occupy any of the key cities of Missouri, did not influence the elections, did not damage Federal forces in any significant way, and did not inspire an uprising in the state.  However, he did bring in recruits for the army.  And he felt that effort would have been greater, under other circumstances.  “I am satisfied that could I have remained in Missouri this winter the army would have been increased 50,000 men.”

And in other ways, Price’s campaign continued well after the war.  The deeds of those fall days of 1864 – good, noble, brave, along with the ghastly and hideous – would remain at the base of the state’s identity for many generations to come.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 640 and 648.)

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