Grant desires “Price be pursued to the Arkansas River”: Curtis, Rosecrans, Pleasonton and the “battle” over Price

150 years ago today, Major-General Sterling Price’s campaign was far from over.  Maybe lunging through its last legs, but far from over.  The action at Newtonia on October 28, 1864 had effectively closed Missouri to the Confederacy.  On October 29, Price moved his headquarters south of Pineville, Missouri.  He moved to Maysville the next day.  By November 1st, Price’s column reached Cane Hill, Arkansas – technically Boonsborough, which was one of three small communities in the area.  At that point, Price dispatched part of his column under Major General James Fagan to support an attack on Fayetteville (an action I’ll pick up later).  Thus by All Saints’ Day, Price was well into Arkansas.


However, the Federal’s pursuit of Price was not to the effect that authorities back east preferred.   Brigadier-General James Blunt remained in pursuit with his division after the action at Newtonia. For Major-General Samuel Curtis, in command of the Army of the Border, Blunt’s 1,000 effectives were the only force to push forward.  Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, with the cavalry from the Department of Missouri, was not in pursuit.  After the fights on October 25, Pleasonton pulled most of his command off to refit.  On October 27, he issued instructions, presumably from Major-General William Rosecrans, to withdraw the remainder (brigades of Brigadier-Generals  John Sanborn and John McNeil).

Granted, Pleasonton’s cavalrymen had been in the saddle through most of the month.  And at the same time, those troops were supposed to be securing portions of Missouri (which, by the way, happened to be reporting Confederate activity in the wake of Price’s transit.) But a golden opportunity was out there for the taking – the elimination of an entire Confederate army.  The split command caused problems throughout the pursuit of Price, and on October 29-31 that rift was the saving grace for Price.   From Washington came a telegram for Curtis from Major-General Henry Halleck:

General Grant directs that Price be pursued to the Arkansas River, or at least till he encounters Steele or Reyonlds.

This order referenced the commands of Generals Frederick Steele  and Joseph J. Reynolds in Arkansas.  The orders did not reach Curtis until October 30.  In his response written at 1 a.m. that day, Curtis threw Rosecrans under the bus:

I send couriers with orders to this effect directed to the several brigade commanders of troops of General Rosecrans, who had abandoned the pursuit by his orders. I will proceed with my own force toward Cassville, hoping to concentrate sufficient troops at that point to resume the pursuit.  I also send to General Steele your dispatch, indorsing on it the present direction taken by the enemy.

Six hours later, Curtis sent off a very lengthy, but detailed, summation of the situation with a barb attached, “The delay occasioned by General Rosecrans’ orders will be the equivalent to thirty-six hours….”

Rosecrans was, of course, communicating with Halleck also.  On October 28 he received his orders from Washington:

General Grant thinks you can and ought to send troops to assist General Thomas….

This prompted an exchange between Rosecrans, Major-General George Thomas and Major-General William T. Sherman to work out the details.  The following day, Brigadier-General John Rawlings, Grant’s own Chief of Staff, received orders to go west to supervise the “re-enforcing the armies actually confronting the principal armies of the enemy.” Grant’s instructions to Rawlings indicates clearly his impression of the situation.

Now that Price is retreating from Missouri, it is believed that the whole force sent to that State from other departments can be spared at once. The fact, however, that a considerable force is pursuing Price, and may go so far that some time may elapse before they can be returned to Missouri and be distributed for the proper protection of the State, has induced me to make two separate orders….

The orders given pertained to Major-Generals A.J. Smith’s and Joseph Mower’s commands.  Their destinations depended much on the evolving situations in Tennessee and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans, in Warrensburg, Missouri at that time (about half way between Jefferson City and Kansas City, so still “in the field”), was quick to respond to Curtis’ couriers on October 30:

Your dispatch of 1 a.m. of this date received.  It was my intention and expectation that Sanborn’s and McNeil’s brigades should follow the enemy…. [Sanborn] has orders to take every available man and force Price within reach of Steele’s men…. [General Edward F] Winslow’s brigade was worn down by long marches and is under orders to return to General Sherman….

That last mention, of the fourth brigade in the provisional cavalry division, is noteworthy.  Rosecrans was at this time dealing with conflicting requirements – chasing Price and directing units to Tennessee.  Supporting Rosecrans’ side of this, from Fort Scott came Colonel Charles Blair’s report, stating in part, “McNeil never stopped his pursuit.”  What is interesting, at this juncture of the dialog, is Pleasonton is absent from the message routing.  His “provisional” division was for all practical purposes working as independent brigades.

For a chief of staff thousands of miles from the fighting, perceptions are reality.  On October 31, some of those perceptions, built upon Curtis’ telegrams, brought cross words between Halleck and Rosecrans.  At 12:30, Halleck sent a message which reinforced the orders arriving with Rawlings:

Lieutenant-General Grant directs me to repeat his order that General A.J. Smith’s command be brought to Saint Louis with all possible dispatch, preparatory to its being sent to General Thomas.  Telegraph what date it will reach Saint Louis.

Before that telegram arrived, Rosecrans (still in Warrensburg) sent an update to Halleck relating Sanborn’s progress, stressing that brigade was “to take all his horses that are not exhausted and continue to move on the enemy’s rear.…”  Rosecrans went on to estimate Price’s force at 20,000 – a figure he attributes to Pleasonton.  He further said Major-General Marmaduke, captured on October 25, felt Price only had three cannons left.  Conflicting estimates of the enemy force, perhaps?  But certainly that message had not arrived in Washington before Halleck’s second telegram of the day:

General Curtis telegraphs that you have ordered the troops back from the pursuit of Price, directing General McNeil to Rolla and General Sanborn to Springfield. The orders of General Grant and General Canby are that the pursuit must be continued to the Arkansas River, or until you meet the forces of Generals Steele or Reynolds. These orders must be obeyed.

Rosecrans didn’t receive the two telegrams until much later in the day.  Only at 6:30 p.m. was Rosecrans able to respond to Halleck’s first telegram.  In that response, Rosecrans assured Halleck that A.J. Smith was on the way.  Then at 9 p.m., Rosecrans responded, somewhat awkwardly to the second telegram:

Generals Sanborn and McNeil determined the defeat of the enemy at Newtonia, and everything has been, and is being, done to accomplish the objects arrived at by the orders of General Canby and General Grant. Under all these circumstances of the case, it is the matter of regret that General Curtis should have thought proper to telegram you as he did.  That Winslow’s cavalry did not accompany them may be easily understood when it is stated that it had been marching after Price fifty-two days, and their horses are worn out.  General Sanborn telegraphs tonight that one-half of the horses of the troops from Saint Louis have been abandoned by the way.

And to Rosecrans’ credit, his orders for Sanborn and McNeil that day reiterated the intent – continue after Price.

Over the following days, the correspondence with Washington turned more and more towards the urgent need to transfer troops to Thomas.  Still, not until November 3 did the orders go out that would resolve the problem caused by the split command structure.  To Curtis, Halleck sent:

The Secretary of War directs that you assume command of all troops belonging to the Department of Missouri and now serving on the western border of that State, and pursue Price toward the Arkansas River, or till he reaches the troops of General Steele or Reynolds.

So, 27 days after Price turned west from Jefferson City… and 46 days after Price entered Missouri … there was one commander in charge of the direct efforts against him.  A lot of miles, and a lot of telegrams, were wasted before the battle over command was decided.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part IV, Serial 86, pages 301, 305, 330-1, 342-4, and 420.)


October 28, 1864: “I was engaging all the avalible force of Price’s Army”: Blunt at Newtonia

After stunning losses at Westport and during the retreat through Kansas, Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri was defeated and broken.  But it was not yet beaten.  An army with arms is at least an army in being.  Though delivering telling blows, the Federal pursuit failed to seal the deal and complete the defeat with capture of Price and his men.  Following the disasters of October 25, 1864, Price continued his retreat through southwest Missouri. The column moved through Carthage, Granby, and went into camp about four miles south of Newtonia on October 28.


But Major-General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry did not press the pursuit after the victories on the 25th, but instead pulled off the pursuit to resupply. The next pursuit force in line, the division of Major-General James Blunt.  Keep in mind that Pleasonton reported to Major-General William Rosecrans in the Department of Missouri while Blunt reported to Major-General Samuel Curtis in the Department of Kansas.  No single authority exercised operational control of all the pieces in blue.  Bunt did not catch up with Price until 2 p.m. on October 28.  Finding the Confederates in camp south of Newtonia, Blunt first sent word to nearby units, calling on reinforcements.  But he did not hesitate to bring on an engagement, at a point two miles south of Newtonia:

Being convinced of their intention to avoid a fight, if possible, I determined to attack them at once. The First and Fourth Brigades were with me in the advance. I had directed the Second Brigade to halt early in the day to procure forage for their horses to enable me to put them in the advance to press the pursuit at night; consequently I did not rely upon them to participate in the early part of the engagement. I had supposed that General McNeil’s brigade, of General Pleasonton’s division, was close up in my rear, and sent back to hurry it forward, while the First and Fourth Brigades of the First Division were quickly deployed in line, and under the cover of the fire of the First Colorado Battery, posted upon the bluff, they swept across the plain at a gallop until within musket range of the enemy’s line. Skirmishers were rapidly deployed, and but a few moments elapsed until the engagement became general. I now ordered forward the First Colorado Battery, which, with a section of howitzers attached to the Fifteenth Kansas Cavalry, and under command of Sergeant Patterson, of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, poured a destructive fire into the enemy’s ranks.

On the Confederate side, Brigadier-General M. Jeff Thompson, commanding the “Iron Brigade” of Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division, was part of the Confederate force thrown out against Blunt. His men had gone into camp around mid-day, but shortly after rushed north due to a false alarm.  The brigade had just returned to camp when Blunt arrived in force:

We had scarcely commenced the ordinary duties of camp when we were again ordered out, and proceeding to the same place found the enemy drawn up before us on the opposite side of the small field. The firing commenced immediately, and in a few minutes our line bravely crossed the fence and advanced upon the enemy, crossing the field under a hot fire of artillery and small-arms, and drove the enemy into the open prairie. Not stopping at this second fence an instant, we advanced into the prairie and continued to drive the enemy, never letting them form to charge, which they endeavored to do. There was some mounted men on our right, but no supports near our rear, and I halted the line after we had advanced so far that we were exposed to flanking. We remained in this position until the enemy had retired their line, when we fell back toward our camp, receiving several shots from the enemy’s artillery as we retired.

Even depleted from five days of defeat and retreat, the Confederate force outnumbered Blunt’s brigades – a fact that Blunt was quickly aware:

It soon became evident that I was engaging all the available force of Price’s army, which outnumbered me more than eight to one. Their superiority of numbers enabling them to press upon my flanks with a large force compelled me to fall back about 500 yards from my first line, which was done in good order, and the line reformed in the face of a terrific fire. The enemy pressed forward their center, but were promptly checked by the canister from the First Colorado Battery. It was now near sundown, and my command had been engaged near two hours and their ammunition nearly exhausted, while a large force of the enemy were passing under cover of a corn-field around my left flank, and my force being too small to extend my line in that direction, I was about to direct my line to fall back and take position on the bluff, when very unexpectedly the brigade of General Sanborn, of General Pleasonton’s command, came up. I immediately placed them in position on my left, directing General Sanborn to dismount his men and advance through the corn-field, which was promptly executed, repulsing the flanking column of the enemy, who now abandoned the field and retreated rapidly under cover of the night in the direction of Pineville, leaving their dead and wounded in our hands.


Blunt had about 400 casualties in the afternoon fighting – he estimated one-eighth of the force committed.  Confederate casualties were just over half that number. The short, sharp action at Newtonia was the last important action between Price and his pursuers in Missouri.   The battle, though small, allowed Price more maneuver room to continue retreat.  The next day, the Confederates passed through Pineville and then camped five miles to the south that evening.  Price retreated out of Missouri, but his pursers had failed to destroy his army.  Due to a split command, the Federals had allowed Price to slip through to Arkansas.

The campaign was far from over, but the results were already clear for all to see.   Missouri was a “battleground state” in the 1864 campaign season.  And battles had secured the state for the union – both on the map and for the electoral process.  The Confederates, while still a force in being, were never again in position to threaten the state.  But with a “Army in being,” Price was still a chess piece on the board.  The pursuit, though not with an intensity of the late days of October, would continue to dog Price through Arkansas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 577 and 669.)

“You have doubtless exercised your best judgment…”: Pleasonton, Price, and the Big Blue River

On October 22, 1864, as Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri continued its march westward, skirting Kansas City, the next major obstacle to cross was the Big Blue River.


Minding his wagon train, Price needed a good ford over that river.  The best option for him was Byram’s Ford along the Independence-Westport Road.

The view above looks from the west bank, where federal troops defended on October 22, towards the east, from which Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division attack. Just a small patch of woods in the midst of the Kansas City sprawl today (and not exactly in the most picturesque section either!).  But in October 1864, that crossing point became – say like Beverly’s Ford in Virginia (and you’ll pick up on why I selected that later) – very important to the passing armies.

Major-General Samuel Curtis deployed his forces to cover most of the upper crossing points along the Big Blue River by morning of October 22.


When Shelby’s men arrived around 10 a.m. on October 22, they made a frontal demonstration at Byram’s Ford.  That was a distraction which allowed troops to cross elsewhere and flank the Federal position here.  With their position turned, around 3 p.m., Curtis’ command fell back towards Kansas City.  Shelby’s men captured “one beautiful 24-pounder howitzer” and several hundred Federals.  By opening the crossing, Shelby allowed Price some maneuver space.  The Confederate wagons soon turned southwest towards Little Santa Fe (bottom edge of the map above) and the Kansas border.

The fighting at Byram’s Ford, or Big Blue River if you prefer, was the “setup” for the larger battle outside Westport on October 23.  In that light, we might look to what was happening behind the fighting to the east to the other movements that set in motion the events of the 23rd … specifically Major-General Alfred Pleasonton.

Let us look to the exchange between Pleasonton and his superior, Major-General William Rosecrans.  In the evening of October 21, Pleasonton had pushed his way through the Confederate rear guard to reach Lexington and beyond to Wellington.  There he received a set of instructions for operations on October 22 at around 9:30 p.m.:

…Everything confirms the general’s belief that Price is threatening independence with one division, and with his command and train is to-night in the vicinity of Lone Jack. The general wishes you to let McNeil follow Price, and act so as to make him think you are following with your entire command; then, with your other three brigades, march by the shortest route to Lone Jack. Smith will march to-morrow morning to Chapel Hill. He may march in two columns; if so, one will go by Greenton and the other by Wagon Knob. Push your command as rapidly as possible without entirely breaking it down, and, as much as possible, subsist on the country. …

These orders would have Pleasonton moving far to the south, and out of range to directly support Curtis.  Furthermore, as Pleasonton would complain, the cavalry was far too north to be able to execute such a move quickly.  At 7:10 a.m. on the 22nd, Pleasonton received clarification:

The general dispatched you at 9.30 last evening that he was satisfied Price would move south, and that he had directed General Smith to move in direction of Pleasant Hill, and you to send three brigades in same direction; since which your dispatch of 11 p.m. was received this a.m., indicating that most of your command was too far advanced on the Independence road to move as indicated. He therefore leaves to your discretion the route of pursuit, satisfied, however, that Price moved last night, if not before, in a southerly direction….

Rosecrans went on to discuss straggler control.  But the important thrust of these orders was that Pleasonton, then outside Independence and moving west, could operate with discretion and use his own judgement.  (And there are some readers snickering loudly at this point!)

So what did Pleasonton do?  Around 6 a.m., and likely crossing Rosecrans’ morning orders in route, Pleasonton sent this report from the Little Blue River crossing (where Blunt had fought the day prior):

 I have just arrived at this point and find the bridge over the creek destroyed. I am building a temporary bridge over the creek to cross my command. The advance is on the other side of the creek; is skirmishing slightly with the rear guard of the enemy. I shall press forward as rapidly as possible. The indications are that the enemy’s whole force passed on this road except about one brigade, which went on the Lone Jack road. All the citizens say the enemy’s train passed here.

The report from the field directly conflicted with Rosecrans’ assessment of the situation.  The report, along with messages from Curtis, prompted Rosecrans to provide Pleasonton an even longer leash in orders sent at 9:45 a.m.:

Your dispatch 6 a.m. received. Curtis telegraphs me he makes his stand on the Big Blue. I have no doubt but that the enemy will turn south into Kansas, following up the Big Blue. Not knowing precisely where your cavalry may be I cannot direct your movements. I have no doubt if you can you should move on enemy’s left flank, but you must use you’re best judgment.

Around mid-day, and likely not in receipt of the 9:45 a.m. orders, Pleasonton provided another update.  He had made contact with Bunt’s forces out of Kansas City.  Pleasonton’s forces were pressing the Confederate rear guard out of Independence (and though he didn’t recognize it, had temporarily cut off a sizable portion of Price’s command).  By evening, Pleasonton was crowding the Confederates near Byram’s Ford.  In short, he’d done what he DID NOT do at Brandy Station – move forward to command the situation.

How did Rosecrans read this?  At 8 p.m. he sent a note to Pleasonton:

Your dispatches of 12.45 and 1.45 p.m. received duly, as were the two preceding. You are so near Independence that I am sure Price will go out of Jackson County into Kansas to-night. General Smith will be at Chapel Hill and will to-morrow move to Pleasant Hill. You have doubtless exercised your best judgment, but I still think to have threatened at the Little Blue and to have moved south with the remainder of your command to the Independence and Warrensburg road would have been better. By placing you near the enemy’s line of retreat Price’s retreat would then have been a necessity and with the infantry south of you and always behind you you could have swung around in safety. As it is now you must be left to conform your movements to those of the enemy, having in view your supporting force of infantry as well as your union with Blunt’s forces and the position of your depot of supplies at Warrensburg…..

So, Rosecrans was having second thoughts about the discretion given earlier in the day. Rosecrans followed this up with a note at 10 p.m., requesting Pleasonton forward to Curtis, so the two forces might operate in consort the next day:

I am led to believe that Price will have moved by to-morrow morning a.s far south as Hickman Mills, with the intention of going into Kansas and down into the Indian Territory to avoid Steele. He has not procured a remount in Missouri. More than half of his horses are worn down and jaded. He goes into a hostile country to him. Our united forces will, I think, be able very nearly to destroy him. Smith’s infantry is well on the way to Pleasant Hill to-night, and can beat Price’s cavalry moving. Set in now, strain every nerve, and bend every will to bring the raiders to grief. I go to Pleasant Hill to-morrow.

Rosecrans had correctly determined Price’s intent, but he was casting his net too far south, even as information from the fighting on October 22 came into his headquarters.  Let me attempt to reconstruct this on the map:


Curtis held a line along the Big Blue River (Number 1 on the map) and faced Price’s advance (Number 2).  Able to force a crossing at Byram’s Ford, Price directed his trains south to New Santa Fe.  However to the east, Rosecrans had Major-General A.J. Smith’s column move towards Chapel Hill (Number 3), with the intent of moving forward to Pleasant Hill.  Rosecrans wanted Pleasonton to move up on Smith’s flank to Lone Jack (Number 4, dashed line), but Pleasonton, operating with no small discretion, moved in direct pursuit of Price (Number 5).  It’s hard to be fair to Rosecrans and not be critical of the plans he laid out that evening.  Some have said, with merit, in his mind “Old Rosey” was still fighting at Chickamauga that fall.

I would contend that October 22, 1864 was Alfred Pleasonton’s best day of the war.  He put a cavalry force right where needed most, using his “best judgement” and somewhat in contradiction of his commander’s intent.  Price now faced a strong force in his front and a cavalry force in his rear.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part VI, Serial 86, pages 158 and 182-5.)

“We thus held the enemy back for hours”: Battles outside Independence on October 21, 1864

As I write on October 21, 2014, Kansas City, Missouri has the attention of many Americans.  Tonight the first game in this year’s World Series starts at Kauffman Stadium.  One-hundred and fifty years ago, Kansas City also had it’s share of attention.  On October 21, 1864, just fifteen miles (as the crow files) to the northeast of the stadium, an action along the Little Blue River, outside Independence, broke open a series of actions.  Fighting would culminate two days later in one of the largest engagement fought west of the Mississippi River at a location roughly 10 miles southwest of the stadium.  So can I say the return of the World Series to Kansas City is timely?  I think so.

In part, the geography of Missouri brought Price to the outskirts of Kansas City.  Major avenues in the area generally parallel the Missouri River to Independence.  There the Santa Fe Trail, and other less famous routes, fan out to the southwest into Kansas.  Another factor on Price’s line of march was the “Burnt District.”  As mentioned before, the Army of Missouri was starving.  The desolation of the counties south of Kansas City (In General Orders No. 11, these were the counties of Jackson, Cass, Bates, and the northern half of Vernon) could not support the army.  The quicker Price made the Kansas border, the better.  And the short path required Price to cross two watercourses – the Little Blue River and the Big Blue River:


An while Price neared the Kansas border, Federal forces confined him in both front and rear.  Having fought a “developing” action at Lexington, Major-General James Blunt looked to delay Price at the Little Blue River.  For this purpose, he left his second brigade, under Colonel Thomas Moonlight, consisting of Kansas cavalry, to contest the crossings there.

Moonlight’s men occupied good ground on the banks overlooking the river, but were spread thin to cover several crossing points.  When pressed, the Kansans set fire to the Independence Road bridge over the Little Blue River, but that was not the end of the fighting that day, as Moonlight recorded:

Being thus menaced on all sides and the object for which I was left accomplished, the command slowly fell back about two miles, fighting. A favorable piece of ground here presenting itself, a new line of battle was formed on the left of the Independence road, and we slowly began to drive the enemy back over the ground again, dismounting every man for the purpose of shelter behind stone walls, fences, and houses, some of which were then held by the enemy, who, after a vigorous assault, were dislodged, thus affording us an advantage which accounts for the few killed and wounded on our side, compared with the enemy, who suffered terribly. The Eleventh Regiment here behaved like old veterans, and gave renewed proof of their fighting qualities, driving an enemy greatly their superior in numbers to the very ground occupied in the morning. By this time General Blunt had come up, and other troops were being thrown in on the right to my support. About 200 of the Sixteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel [Samuel] Walker, of that regiment, reported to me and did splendid service on the left. Major [Robert] Hunt, Fifteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, chief of artillery for Department of Kansas, reported about this time with some mountain howitzers, and rendered such service as only a brave and gallant officer can render. We thus held the enemy back for hours, a great portion of the time without any ammunition, supplying its place with lusty and defiant cheers.

When he arrived to reinforce Moonlight, Blunt had hoped to pin Price long enough for Federal forces under Major-General Alfred Pleasonton to arrive from the east (on the map above, blue arrow on the right, reaching Lexington).  But his position around Independence was somewhat isolated.  Orders came from Major-General Samuel Curtis, writing from a field headquarters on the Big Blue River (blue line just southwest of Kansas City on the map above) at 6 p.m.:

Don’t exhaust our troops, but fall back to this place with the least further effort. A small picket or two along the road, to let us have certain knowledge of the enemy’s approach, is all we need.  Let Price have Independence. It is easily flanked, and his force, it is said, large. I have all day been fearing that he would send a whole division to get in our rear. Indeed, we have to fear a flank movement to-night, but here we have extensive lines fortified, and must save our resources of men and blood.

At the same time Curtis pulled in Blunt, Pleasonton contacted Major-General A.J. Smith, leading a division of his corps in the pursuit of Price, suggesting the infantry move up towards Lexington but thence directly west.  His reasoning matched the expectations set forward by Major-General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of Missouri, earlier in the day:

I believe Price is retreating by Lone Jack and Chapel Hill. If this is so, while McNeil follows his rear the balance of the command should strike him near Lone Jack, following the Hopewell and Snibar road in two columns.  The infantry can go by Renick Mills or follow the cavalry….

Clearly Rosecrans, commanding troops on the east in pursuit of Price, and Curtis, commanding those out of Kansas that were blocking Price, did not have a common picture of the battlespace.  This variance was in part due to incomplete information, not so much held back, but not shared, between the commanders.  Each had a different opinion as to how to track down Price.

Pleasonton, however, was for all purposes standing in direct contact with Price’s trail elements.  For him, option one was to follow Rosecrans’ intent and swing to the south to intercept Price – assuming Price was retreating south.  Option two was to follow Price withdrawing westward. The situation called for Pleasonton to use his best judgment on October 22.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, page 592; Part IV, Serial 86, pages 159 and 165.)


Full war and an election in Missouri – 1864

About a decade ago, I was posted at an overseas military post as a historic event occurred – the first in a round of free elections in Afghanistan.  That lead to a lot of pictures such as this one you may have seen in the news:

Purple ink on the fingers came to symbolize not only the success of the elections, but also became a simple means to legitimize (generally speaking) the results.  (Although when someone later exposed how easily the purple ink washed off… well that turned into something I’d save for another venue.) At the time, one of the officers with whom I worked stated, “well, we should be proud.  Not often a country holds elections in the middle of a civil war.”  I had to remind him by way of a response – “like 1864?”

In the fall of 1864, Missouri was arguably the most unstable state on the North American continent.  Not only were two warring armies campaigning across the state, but where the armies were not present, irregular forces prowled.  Years of partisan warfare left some citizens suspect of even the local authorities.  But come war or flood, November 8 was an election day.

Foremost concerns in the minds of Federal authorities were, first, ensuring only legitimate votes were tallied; second, preventing the Confederates from disrupting the election; and third, ensuring the men of Missouri then under arms were represented in the voting.  With that in mind, on October 12, 1864,  Major-General William Rosecrans issued General Orders No 195:

Our free Government, established and administered by the will of the people, expressed through legal elections, requires from every citizen a sacred regard for the preservation and purity of the elective franchise.

The general commanding expects the united assistance of the true men of all parties in his efforts to secure a full and fair opportunity for all who are entitled to vote at the approaching elections in the State of Missouri, and in excluding from the polls those who, by alienage, treason, guerrillaism, and other crimes or disabilities, have no just right to vote.

The laws of the State declare who may vote, and prescribe the times and places of voting. But in the present disturbed condition of the country the civil power is too weak effectually to enforce the execution of those laws, or adequately to punish offenders….

Rosecrans listed seven points in these orders to his subordinates.  The first stated the qualifications for legitimate voters:

I. Those, and only those, who have the qualifications, and who take the oath prescribed by the laws of the State, copies of which are hereto annexed, shall vote.

From the terms of the oath it is manifest that it was the intention of the Missouri State Convention that no person should vote who, since the 17th day of December, 1861, has willfully taken up arms or levied war against the United States or against the provisional government of the State of Missouri. This excludes from the right of voting all who, since that date, have been in the rebel army or navy anywhere, and all who, since that date, have been anywhere engaged in guerrilla marauding or bushwhacking. If, therefore, any such person offers to vote his vote may be challenged, and he shall be immediately arrested. And any judge of election shall be arrested and punished who permits the name of any such person to be recorded in the poll book or his vote to be received, where such judge has personal knowledge of his true character, or the same is shown to him by lawful evidence before the vote is received.

Voting or attempting to vote in contravention of law or orders, is declared a military offense, subjecting the offender to arrest, trial, and punishment if convicted.

Those orders matched the wording from an ordnance defining “the qualifications of voters and civil officers” passed in 1862 by the state convention.  The intent was clear.  Complete exclusion of anyone who had sided with the Confederates.  Such may sound harsh and discriminatory.  But consider the context.  Didn’t the secessionists already cast a vote, for all practical purposes, for their candidate?

But please note the date set for exclusion – December 17, 1861.  That coincided with the establishment of a provisional state government.  And was also some three weeks after the Confederate Congress admitted Missouri as its 12th state.  That date was a delineation at which time the political confusion of the early war months became clear.

Rosecrans went on to address points to ensure the integrity of the process and maintain order at the polling places:

II. No one who has borne arms against the Government of the United States, or voluntarily given aid and comfort to its enemies during the present rebellion, shall act as judge or clerk at election, nor shall any county judge knowingly appoint any such person to act as judge at election. Violation of this will be promptly noticed and the offenders brought to trial by the local military authorities.

III. Outrages upon the freedom of election by violence or intimidation; attempting to hinder legal or to procure or encourage illegal voting; interfering with the legal challenge of voters; acting as officers of election in contravention of law or orders; willful neglect to perform their duties under the laws and these orders by officers of election, and especially taking the voters’ or officers’ oath falsely; and all other acts and words interfering with the purity and freedom of elections, are crimes against the liberties of the people, and are declared military offenses, and will be rigorously punished.

Rosecrans also ensured the troops from Missouri would vote:

IV. The laws of the State provide that those of its citizens who are in the army shall not thereby lose the privilege of voting, provided the voting is done in the manner prescribed. The commanding general therefore directs that on the day of election every practicable facility be afforded for taking, in camp or in the field, the vote of citizens of Missouri, who may then be in any company of Missouri volunteers or militia, in the service of the United States or of the State….

He went on to press his commanders to make arrangements for voting where the tactical situation allowed.  And where the soldiers in uniform were posted near their local polling places, he desired the soldiers be allowed to vote there.  However, in the interest of fair and free elections, “any soldier who abuses the privilege… by any disorderly conduct or by any unauthorized interference… shall be punished….”

Other points in the orders looked to the general security on the day of the elections:

V. Wherever there is good reason to apprehend that rebels, bushwhackers, or other evil disposed persons will attempt to control the election at any precinct by their acts, threats, or presence, a sufficient guard will be detailed to prevent any such control and to keep the peace.

VI. District and all subordinate commanders will strictly and carefully enforce this order at the approaching elections, and use all diligence to bring to speedy and condign punishment all civilians, officers, or soldiers who violate any of its provisions.

VII. The commanding general earnestly invokes the zealous and active aid of all law-abiding citizens, on the day of said election, in preserving the peace at the polls and preventing illegal voting; and he hopes that every newspaper in this State will see proper to publish this order continuously, in every issue, until the day of the next election.

Rosecrans orders of October 12, 1864 placed the military authorities at the polling places to facilitate, but not directly influence, the outcome.  Some will say the voter qualification standards, established by the provisional state government and enforced by the military, discriminated against those dissenting in disapproval of the Lincoln administration.  But at the same time, how can any eligible voting list include those who seceded from the government holding the elections?  Furthermore, if Rosecrans needed bayonets at the polling places, wasn’t it because of those who’d already “voted with their muskets”?

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part III, Serial 85, pages 804-6.)

The “high water mark” of his campaign: Price approaches St. Louis

I’m going to borrow steal an apt description of events from Mark A. Lause in regard to October 1-2, 1864 – Major-General Sterling Price’s Missouri Campaign reached its high water mark.  Lause considers it the high point for the entire war in the Trans-Mississippi.  And in one aspect, one can make that case.

The town of Franklin (now Pacific), Missouri was an important railroad junction about 30 miles outside of St. Louis, the city.   And just beyond the town was the western border of St. Louis County.  For all practical purposes, Franklin was the last point to block Price’s advance short of St. Louis itself.


Just as important to its proximity to St. Louis, Franklin was were the Southwest Branch Railroad, which connected Rolla and central Missouri to St. Louis, and the Pacific Railroad, linking westward to the state capital in Jefferson City, met.  If the Federals needed to shift troops to meet Price’s columns, they would transit through Franklin.   In short, those railroads made Franklin very important if the Federals planned to hold Missouri.

With the importance of Franklin in mind, Price dispatched a brigade of cavalry under Brigadier-General William Cabell.  The Confederates arrived early on the morning of October 1 and brushed past a Federal garrison stationed there.  Cabell’s troops went to work destroying the railroad, the depot, and several nearby bridges.  Most of the rolling stock and stores had already moved east to St. Louis, so there was little of material gain.

However, that evacuation of rolling stock had actually worked against the Federals who were pushing a brigade under Colonel Edward Wolfe.  His command was the Third Brigade, Third Division, of Major-General Andrew J. Smith’s Sixteenth Army Corps… that is to say, a portion of the Union Army’s “Fire Brigade” in the Western Theater.  And Wolfe’s men were being thrown right into a fire!

While still on the train, Wolfe’s men ran into the Confederate lines just east of Franklin.  Confederate artillery shelled the train and the troops.  Despite the confusion of having to dismount under fire, the Federals managed to get organized.  The trail regiments formed and soon the Confederates were pressed out of the town. The battle lasted only a few hours and casualties were about a dozen on each side.  But the damage was done.

Reporting to St. Louis later in the day, Wolfe said, “They have plundered the town and destroyed considerable railroad track. I have no doubt the Meramec bridge in front has been destroyed.” During his stay, Cabell destroyed four bridges and a large section of track.  With the railroad down, the direct link to Jefferson City was severed.  Price had effectively split the Federal defense of Missouri.

While that was going on, further to the west Price moved towards the town of Union (aptly named, eh?).   After the Confederates brushed aside a small force of Missouri militia, they occupied the town where Price established headquarters – Camp No. 33 in the itinerary of his army.  There, with his force still numbering at least 10,000 (though what portion of which was actually in arms will forever remain a question), Price could indeed threaten St. Louis and perhaps do a little more damage.

Adding weight to Price’s threat, the Missouri Commander of the Order of American Knights, John H. Taylor, issued a bold proclamation on October 1:

Sir Knights: Morning dawneth. General Price with at least 20,000 veteran soldiers is now within your State. Through your supreme commander (and with the approbation of the supreme council) you invited him to come to your aid. He was assured that if he came at this time with the requisite force you would co operate and add at least 20,000 true men to his army. He has hearkend to your prayer and is now battling for your deliverance. …

All able-bodied men of the O. A. K.s are hereby called upon and required to render military service in behalf of our cause. All true knights will yield prompt obedience to the orders and commands of General Price. Meantime do all possible damage to the enemy. Seize all arms and munitions of war within your power. Take possession of and hold all important places you can, and recruit as rapidly as possible. …. You joined the militia that you might the better protect yourselves under Radical rule. Now prepare to strike with the victorious hosts under General Price and aid in the redemption of the State. …. (Read the full proclamation here.)

This statement seemed to confirm earlier warnings by Major-General William Rosecrans regarding the secret organization.  And certainly Price was meeting one of his objectives – adding more men to his command, by way of recruitment… or more accurately, re-recruitment.

On the Federal side, Rosecrans assessed the force protecting St. Louis as

General Smith’s 4,500 infantry and the mounted force we could raise, the Seventh Kansas, just in from Memphis, part of the Thirteenth Missouri Volunteer Cavalry… and recruits of Merrill’s Horse, hastily mounted and organized, a total of 1,500 men….

On paper at least, Price had an opportunity.  But there at Union, Price hesitated.  He had some wild indications of the Federal strength in St. Louis to number upwards of 24,000.  And at the same time, he did not want to call out for more Missourians to join his army, fearing that would add a long line of civilian refugees just when the force might need to march fast.

Instead of moving on St. Louis, Price turned his army along the Missouri River, where the state capital of Jefferson City and, to the north of that, the counties of Little Dixie were within grasp.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, page 310; Part III, Serial 85, pages 537 and 975.)

150 Years Ago: Guns, ammunition, harnesses, and wagons to replace losses at Stones River

Some days ago, I offered the composition of the artillery in the Federal Army of the Cumberland going into the Battle of Stones River.  Always good to offer a “before” and “after” comparison.  And again I turn to the report of Colonel James Barnett, the army’s chief of artillery.  (Most of the figures that follow are from the table accompanying his report, reproduced here.)

Barnett accounted for the men engaged at the close of his report, “The whole number of men engaged in servicing the batteries was 86 commissioned officers and 2,760 non-commissioned officers and privates.”  Of this force the casualties from three days of battle were 63 killed, 204 wounded, and 106 captured or missing.  Roughly, the artillery arm suffered a 13% casualty rate across the board.  As might be surmised from a simple examination of the battle, the batteries supporting the Right Wing (Major General Alexander McCook) suffered the most casualties.

Of course batteries consisted of three major “components” – men, horses, and guns.  Yesterday I mentioned the quartermaster’s report detailing the loss of horses and mules.  Lieutenant Colonel John W. Taylor indicated the loss of 555 artillery horses.  There are several line item discrepancies between that report and that of Barnett, who indicated the artillery lost 569 killed, 60 wounded (and likely later destroyed), and 59 missing horses.  In other words, 133 more horse casualties than Taylor reported.  Because horses require harnesses, Barnett listed the loss of 119 harnesses of all types.  (And if you are counting, Taylor reported the army lost 1,540 overall.)

Next the guns… Barnett recorded the loss of 28 guns, with one disabled.  In particular, two batteries lost six guns apiece – Battery E, 1st Ohio and Battery C, 1st Illinois.  Losses, again as one would expect, were heaviest on the right side of the line where the Confederate attacks of December 31st fell.  Indeed, lost or disabled guns came from batteries supporting the three divisions of the Right Wing and Negly’s (Second) Division of the Center.  (The report of Lieutenant Alexander Marshall, Battery G, 1st Ohio, which supported Negly’s division, offers a notable study in the retreat of a battery caught in an impossible tactical situation.)  Overall, the Army of the Cumberland lost over 20% (yes, one-fifth) of its guns in battle.

Barnett did not delineate the number of lost limbers or caissons.  The army did lose three battery wagons and five forges, with one of each reported disabled.  These losses were slightly offset with the capture of six guns, three caissons, three forges, and two battery wagons.

The last statistic to mention from Barnett’s report is the number of rounds  expended – 20,307.  That translates to an average of 148 rounds per gun.

As the numbers indicate, the artillery arm was in bad need of resupply and refit after the battle. Correspondence between Major General William Rosecrans and Washington bears this out, with requests for artillery ammunition, harnesses, horses, and guns.  One request, made by Rosecrans to General-in-Chief Major General Henry Halleck on January 4, 1863, stands out in reference to the guns:

I require, to replace batteries lost in battle in the cedar thickets eighteen 12-pounder light field guns, twelve 3-inch rifled guns or Parrott, six 24-pounder howitzers, with harnesses, forge, and battery wagons complete.  We must have them wit hall possible dispatch.  Can you send us a couple of new batteries? There was one ready in Cleveland.

General Horatio Wright, commanding the Department of the Ohio, indicated the next day he’d ordered forward two replacement batteries.

The types of cannons requested by Rosecrans is at the same time expected and yet somewhat odd.  I doubt anyone, then or now, would wonder about the request for more Napoleons, 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, or Parrotts.  But 24-pdr howitzers?  Well the big howitzers filled a tactical niche the army required.  Battery M, 4th US Artillery received two of the 24-pdr howitzers during the refit period.

The new guns requested in January were but the first of many that the Army of the Cumberland received prior to the next major campaign.  By the type of its next major battle, at a creek named Chickamauga in September 1863, the army would have many more 3-inch rifles, 10-pdr Parrotts, and Napoleons.  But it would keep significant number of 6-pdr field guns, 12-pdr howitzers, and bronze James rifles.  But that is a subject best left for a post down the road a bit.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 20, Part I, Serial 29, pages 241-2 and Part II, Serial 30, pages 297-8.)