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Resume of military operations in Missouri and Arkansas, 1864-65.

by Wiley Britton, 6TH Kansas cavalry.
The capture of Fort Smith by General Blunt, and of Little Rock by General Steele, early in September, 1863 [see “The conquest of Arkansas,” Vol. III., p. 441], put the Arkansas River, from its mouth to its junction with the Grand and Verdigris rivers, into the possession of the Federal forces. This general advance of the Federal line forced General Price to fall back with his army from his fortified positions around Little Rock to Camden and Arkadelphia, in the southern part of the State. Having now no threatened positions of importance to hold, the Confederate generals in Arkansas were free to use their mounted troops and light artillery in attacking and threatening with attack the small posts and lines of communication in the rear of the Federal army. On his retreat from Little Rock [see map, p. 348], Price detached General Joseph O. Shelby with a brigade from Marmaduke's cavalry division and a battery of light artillery to make a raid into Missouri, hoping by this diversion to cause the withdrawal of at least part of the Federal troops from the Arkansas valley. Shelby, with his brigade of upward of two thousand men1 and with two pieces of artillery, crossed the Arkansas River on the 27th of September, moved north rapidly, entered south-west Missouri near Cassville about the 1st of October, and captured the post of Neosho with a detachment of the Missouri State militia stationed there, and paroled them. From Neosho he moved north, and, with scarcely any opposition, reached the vicinity of Marshall in central Missouri, where he encountered General E. B. Brown with a force of the State militia. On [375] the 13th of October, after a sharp fight of several hours, Shelby was defeated, his artillery captured, and his command dispersed. General Thomas Ewing, Jr., commanding the District of the Border, on hearing of the advance of the Confederate raiding force into central Missouri, marched with a force of about two thousand men from Kansas City to join General Brown, and picked up some of Shelby's demoralized command in their retreat toward the Kansas border. Having suffered this reverse, Shelby's next object was to get out of the State in as good shape as possible, and at once he commenced a hasty retreat south. He was pursued day and night by Ewing and Brown, in an exciting chase of upward of two hundred miles, and until his command lost all cohesion in the mountainous regions of Arkansas. Thus western Missouri was not only relieved for the remainder of the year 1863 of Shelby's raiding force, but also of Quantrill's murderous band of guerrillas, who, on the 20th of August, had burned the city of Lawrence, Kansas, and murdered 150 of her citizens in cold blood; and on the 6th of October had killed some 80 of Blunt's escort at Baxter Springs, Kansas, most of whom were first wounded and fell into his hands.

During the winter of 1863-64 the forces of Generals Steele and Blunt held the Arkansas River as a Federal line of advance. The winter was so cold that no important aggressive operations were attempted. During this period of inactivity, however, Steele was making preparations for a vigorous spring campaign. It was decided that the column under General Banks and the columns under General Steele from Little Rock and Fort Smith should converge toward Shreveport, Louisiana. The Federal columns under Steele left Little Rock and Fort Smith the latter part of March, moved toward the southern part of the State, and after some fighting and manoeuvring drove General Price's forces from Camden, Arkadelphia, and Washington.

In the midst of these successful operations, Steele received information that Banks's army had been defeated and was retreating2 [see p. 354], and that Price had received reenforcements from Kirby Smith of 8000 infantry and. a complement of artillery, and would at once assume the offensive. Not feeling strong enough to fight the combined Confederate forces, Steele determined to fall back upon Little Rock. He had scarcely commenced his retrograde movement when Smith and Price began to press him vigorously. A retreating fight was kept up for several days, until the Federal army reached Jenkins's Ferry on the Saline River. Here the swollen condition of the stream and the almost impassable swamp on the opposite side held Steele's forces until his trains were crossed over on the pontoons. While he was thus detained, on the 30th of April, Smith and Price came up and attacked him with great energy. The battle raged furiously nearly half a day, when the Confederate army was repulsed with heavy loss and withdrew from the field. Steele crossed the river without further opposition and retired leisurely to Little Rock, with all his army except the division under General John M. Thayer, which was sent back to Fort Smith. Price was so badly beaten that he made no effort to pursue the Federal forces north of Saline River.

After the battle of Jenkins's Ferry, instead of making preparations to attack the Federal forces at Little Rock and Fort Smith, Price commenced organizing his forces for an expedition into Missouri, to be led by him in person. The Confederate troops under Cooper, Maxey, and Gano, in the Indian Territory and western Arkansas, were to make demonstrations against Fort Smith and Fort Gibson, and the line of communication between those points and Kansas, while another part of the Confederate army was to threaten Little Rock. Price's army for the invasion of Missouri numbered some 15,0003 men and 20 pieces of artillery before crossing the Arkansas River, and consisted of three divisions, commanded by Generals Fagan, Marmaduke, and Shelby. These troops were mostly veterans, having been in active service since the first year of the war. About the 1st of September, while strong demonstrations were being made against Fort Smith and Little Rock, Price, with his army, crossed the Arkansas River about half-way between those points at Dardanelle, and marched to the northern part of the State without opposition, and, in fact, without his movements being definitely known to General Rosecrans, who then commanded the Department of the Missouri at St. Louis.4 When the Confederate forces entered Missouri they were met by detachments of the State militia, who captured several Confederate prisoners, from whom it was ascertained that the invading force was much larger than had been supposed, and that Price was marching direct for St. Louis. Rosecrans at once commenced collecting his forces to meet and check the enemy. General Thomas Ewing, Jr., was in command of the District of South-east Missouri. Pilot Knob, near Iron Mountain [see map, Vol I., p. 263], was a post of importance, with fortifications of considerable strength, and was on Price's direct line of march to St. Louis, which was only eighty-six miles distant.

Finding that General Price was certainly advancing toward St. Louis, Ewing, in order to defend Pilot Knob, drew in the detachments of his command stationed at different points in south-east Missouri. As the Federal forces around and in the vicinity of St. Louis were considered inadequate to defend the city against the reported strength of Price's veteran army, on the request of Rosecrans General A. J. Smith's veteran division of the Army [376] of the Tennessee, 4500 strong, passing up the Mississippi River to join Sherman's army, was detained at Cairo to assist in checking the advance of the Confederate army.

Price arrived before Pilot Knob in the afternoon of September 26th, and skirmished until night with detachments of Federal cavalry, which had been thrown out to meet his advance. Ewing had 1051 men at that post, which were only enough to man the works. Having got his troops and artillery all up, Price opened the attack on the fort at daylight on the 27th, and kept it up all day with great resolution. But Ewing's well-served artillery of eleven pieces and his thousand small-arms repulsed every assault made by the Confederates. When night came, however, Ewing was satisfied that he could not hold out another day against the superior attacking force, and he determined to evacuate the fort. Shortly after midnight his troops marched out, and a few moments later his magazine was blown up, and the ammunition which could not be taken along was destroyed. Ewing then marched with his force and joined the troops engaged in the defense of St. Louis and of Jefferson City. On hearing the explosion of the magazine, Price suspected the retreat of the garrison, and immediately ordered his generals to start in pursuit. Continuing his march north with his army he came up and attacked the defenses of St. Louis some miles south of the city, but was repulsed by General A. J. Smith's veterans and other troops, and then changed his line of march and moved westward toward Jefferson City, the State capital. While Price's plans were not definitely known, his movements indicated that he would endeavor to take Jefferson City. But Rosecrans determined not to allow the State capital to fall into the hands of the invader, and not only called out the enrolled militia of central Missouri for its defense, but also ordered General John B. Sanborn, commanding the District of South-west Missouri at Springfield, and General John McNeil, commanding the District of Rolla, to march to its defense with their available forces, with the least possible delay. General E. B. Brown and General Clinton B. Fisk, commanding districts in central and north Missouri, were also directed to bring forward to Jefferson City all the State militia that could be spared from their respective districts. General Price moved forward and attacked the capital, but as he was closely pursued by the Federal forces from St. Louis he was soon driven off, and continued his march westward up the south side of the Missouri River.

His next objects were understood to be the capture of Kansas City, and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and more particularly the invasion and desolation of Kansas. He conscripted and pressed into service every man and youth found at home able to bear arms.5 Major-General S. R. Curtis, commanding the Department of Kansas and the Indian Territory, the moment he was advised of the approaching storm, began collecting all his forces along the eastern border of the State south of Kansas City, and urged Governor Carney, of Kansas, to call out the militia to cooperate with the volunteers in resisting the threatened invasion. In response to the governor's call, twenty-four regiments of militia were hastily organized, and took position along the eastern line of the State. Early in these preparatory operations for the defense of the border, Major-General George Sykes,6 commanding the District of South Kansas, was, at his own request, relieved, and Major-General James G. Blunt was placed in command. As soon as information was received that Price had been driven from Jefferson City and was moving westward, Curtis and Blunt took the field in person to direct the operations of their forces in defense of the border. Blunt took the available force of the volunteers and several sections of artillery, and moved down to Lexington, some forty miles, to meet and hold the enemy as long as possible, so that Rosecrans's forces in pursuit from St. Louis and Jefferson City, under Generals Alfred Pleasonton7 and A. J. Smith, could come up and attack Price in the rear.

On the afternoon of October 20th Price's advance under Shelby came within sight of Lexington on the south side of the city. Sharp fighting at once commenced between the opposing forces, and lasted until night, when Blunt, having ascertained the strength of the enemy, fell back to Little Blue River, a few miles east of Independence, to form a new line of battle. As this stream was fordable at different points above and below where the Independence and Lexington road crossed it, Blunt's forces, under Colonel Thomas Moonlight, were obliged, on the 21st, to abandon the position taken up behind it after an engagement with Shelby's division, lasting several hours, and fall back behind the Big Blue River, a few miles west of Independence. Here a new line of battle was formed with all Curtis's available troops, including most of the Kansas State militia, who had consented to cross the State line into Missouri. Curtis and Blunt determined to hold Price's army [377] east of the Big Blue as long as practicable in the hope of receiving assistance from Rosecrans, who, it was thought, was following close upon the rear of the Confederate army. While Curtis's forces were thus fighting and skirmishing with the enemy over nearly every foot of the ground from Lexington to Big Blue, Pleasonton's provisional cavalry division of Rosecrans's army was marching day and night from Jefferson City to overtake the invading force. On the 22d, just as Curtis's troops were being driven from the line of the Big Blue back upon the State line and Kansas City, Pleasonton's cavalry came up and attacked the rear of Price's army, east of Independence, and routed it and drove it in great disorder through the town. Pleasonton at once sent a messenger to Curtis, announcing his presence upon the field. The night of the 22d Price's army encamped on the west side of the Big Blue, just south of Westport. Pleasonton's cavalry encamped that night around and in the neighborhood of Independence, east of the Big Blue. Curtis's forces were encamped from Kansas City to Westport and along the State line west of Westport.

At daylight on the 23d the columns of Pleasonton began to move west, and those of Curtis to move south, and in a short time afterward they became warmly engaged with the Confederates, who were drawn up in the line of battle two and a half miles south of Westport. The opposing armies fought over an area of five or six square miles, and at some points the fighting was furious. At times there were as many as forty or fifty guns throwing shot and shell and grape and canister. About the middle of the afternoon Price's lines began to give way, and by sundown the entire Confederate army was in full retreat southward along the State line, closely pursued by the victorious Federal forces.

In the meanwhile General A. J. Smith was bringing forward his division of veteran infantry on forced marches from Lexington, but, receiving information that the Confederate army was retreating down the border, changed his line of march to move via Pleasant Hill and Harrisonville, to head off Price and bring him to a stand. When, however, General Smith's division reached a point some four miles south-west of Harrisonville, he ascertained that Price had already passed on southward down the line road. After the battle near Westport the cavalry of Curtis and Pleasonton kept up the pursuit and was constantly engaged in skirmishing with the Confederate rear column until the Southern forces arrived at the Marais des Cygnes River. Here Price was obliged to make a stand to get his artillery and trains across the river. After being driven from this position he formed a line of battle on the 25th., a few miles south of the Marais des Cygnes, near Mine Creek, in Linn County, Kansas, placing his artillery, supported by a large force, on a high mound in the prairie. The Federal cavalry coming up charged his position with great gallantry, broke his line, captured nearly all his artillery, ten pieces, and a large number of prisoners, among them Generals Marmaduke and Cabell and many other officers of lower rank. In his retreat from this position Price was closely pursued by the Federal cavalry, his rear-guard being almost constantly under fire. His army encamped that night on the Marmiton River, about eight miles nearly east of Fort Scott, which place he had intended to capture with the large depot of Government supplies. Having lost most of his artillery, about midnight he blew up such of his artillery ammunition as was unsuitable for the guns which he still had. The troops of Curtis and Pleasonton, who reached Fort Scott that night and replenished their haversacks and cartridge-boxes, heard the loud explosion. From Fort Scott the pursuit was. continued by Curtis's forces under Blunt, and by Rosecrans's cavalry under Sanborn and McNeil. At Newtonia in south-west Missouri, on the 28th of October, Price made another stand, and was attacked by the pursuing forces named, and finally driven from the field with heavy loss. This was next to the severest battle of the campaign. Blunt, and some of the Missouri troops, continued the pursuit to the Arkansas River, but Price did not again attempt to make a stand. His line of march from Westport to Newtonia was strewn with the debris of a routed army. He crossed the Arkansas River above Fort Smith with a few pieces of artillery, with his army demoralized and reduced by captures and dispersion to perhaps less than 5000 men. Most of the noted guerrilla, bands followed him from the State.

The “Price raid,” as it was called in the West, was the last military operation of much consequence that took place in Missouri and Arkansas. It is certain that Price lost more than he gained in war material and that the raid did not tend to strengthen the Confederate cause in the West. He did not capture and take off a single piece of cannon on his raid. Large numbers of the men he conscripted and pressed into service during the raid left him at the first opportunity and returned to their homes, or were picked up by the Federal cavalry and paroled.

[In General Price's report occurs the following summary of the campaign: “ I marched 1434 miles, fought 43 battles and skirmishes, captured and paroled over 3000 Federal officers and men, captured 18 pieces of artillery, 3000 stand of small-arms, 16 stand of colors, . . . a great many wagons and teams, large numbers of horses, great quantities of subsistence and ordnance stores, . . . and destroyed property to the cost of $10,000,000. . . . I lost 10 pieces of artillery. 2 stand of colors, 1000 small-arms, while I do not think I lost 1000 prisoners. . . . I brought with me at least 5000 recruits.”--editors.] [378]

Surrender of the Tennessee, battle of Mobile Bay.


The Brooklyn after the battle of Mobile. From a sketch made at the time.

1 Shelby reported his force as 600. There were four colonels, Shelby, Hunter, Gordon, and Coffee. The writer's father was captured at Neosho, and stated the force as 2000, an estimate which is supported by four Union reports quoted in Moore's Rebellion record.--editors.

2 “On learning the defeat and consequent retreat of General Banks on Red River . . . General Steele determined to fall back to the Arkansas River.” [Report of General U. S. Grant. Appendix to “Memoirs,” p. 592.]

3 This follows Steele's report, but Colonel Snead, of Price's staff, places the force at 12,000, of whom only 8000 were armed, and 14 guns.--editors.

4 General William S. Rosecrans, who was relieved of command at Chattanooga, October 19th, 1863, assumed command of the Department of the Missouri, January 28th, 1864, and remained in command of that department until December 9th, 1864. For the remainder of the war he was at Cincinnati on waiting orders.--editors.

5 As this statement has been questioned, I quote the following documents from Colonel R. J. Hinton's Invasion of Missouri and Kansas in 1864 :

notice. Headquarters, Lexington, Missouri, October 14th [1864].
I hereby notify the citizens of Lexington and vicinity that I am here now for the purpose of enlisting all those who are subject to military duty, and organizing them into companies, battalions, etc., with authority from Major-General Price. All those subject to duty will report to me at the Court House immediately.

L. L. Bedinger, Captain and Recruiting Officer.

General order.

headquarters, Shelby's Brigade, Lexington, Missouri, October 14th [1864].
. . . . . . . . . . .

II. All male white citizens between the ages of 17 and 50 are ordered to report to headquarters at the Court House within 24 hours after issuing this order.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Geo. S. Rathbun, Captain, Commanding Detachment Shelby Brigade Recruiting Service.

W. B.

6 General Sykes, who was relieved from the command of the Fifth Corps (Army of the Potomac) in March, 1864, was on duty in the Department of Kansas from April 20th, 1864, until June 7th, 1865. For a part of this time (September 1st-October 10th, 1864) he was in command of the District of South Kansas.--editors.

7 General Pleasonton, who was relieved from the command of the Cavalry Corps of the Army of the Potomac in March, 1864, served in the Department of Missouri from March 23d, 1864, until the close of the war.--editors.

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, Mo. (Missouri, United States) (3)
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