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Chapter 20:

  • The Missouri brigade sent to the defense of Mobile
  • -- General Canby Declines an open field fight -- the troops West of the Mississippi Despondent -- Magruder and Shelby -- General Lee's surrender -- Shelby Issues an address to his troops -- Goes to Shreveport and Proposes a plan of action -- it is adopted, but Miscarries -- the Missouri troops stand firm -- Shelby Goes to Mexico -- the end.

On the 1st of February, 1865, the Missouri brigade, under command of Colonel McCown, was ordered to Mobile. Before it reached there it was joined by General Cockrell, still suffering from his wounds, and General Gates, who had lost an arm. General Cockrell was assigned to the command of the division lately commanded by General French, and Colonel Gates to the command of the brigade. Additions of exchanged prisoners were made to the brigade until it numbered about 400 men. It camped five miles from Mobile until February 24th, when it was ordered to cross the bay at Fort Blakely, where it was put on picket duty on the Pensacola road, upon which General Steele was advancing with an army corps. On this service a detachment of less than a hundred men met and routed a cavalry regiment, which charged and attempted to ride over it.

Gen. D. H. Maury was in command of the Confederate forces at Mobile, and his orders were to defend his position as long as he could, and then burn all the cotton in the city and retire. The city and its defenses were threatened by three army corps—two under General Canby and one under General Steele. General Maury with 4,500 infantry, among them the Missouri brigade. [198] and ten pieces of artillery, marched out and offered General Canby battle; but with 40,000 men he declined the offer unless he were attacked. General Maury then occupied Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely and waited to be attacked in them. The Missouri brigade was stationed at Fort Blakely, General Cockrell being second in command, and General Maury said that among the garrison ‘was the noble brigade of Missourians, Elijah Gates commanding, the survivors of more than twenty battles, and the finest troops I have ever seen.’

Spanish Fort fell first, and then the efforts of the combined Federal forces were directed against Fort Blakely. The Missourians were so weak in numbers, and the line they had to defend was so long, that it was necessary to deploy the men ten yards apart. The Federals advanced against this thin line in three lines of battle 22,000 strong. Twice the Missourians were moved from their position in the line to repulse assaults of negro troops, which they did; but as they were returning from the last engagement the Federals had forced their way into the intrenchments, and finding themselves cut off the Missourians took to the water, and by wading and swimming a considerable part of them reached Mobile. This remnant of 150 of as brave a force as ever fought were surrendered on the 4th of May, 1865, at Meridian, and were then paroled and returned to their homes.

The winter of 1864 and 1865 dragged slowly in the Trans-Mississippi department. It was full of uncertainty, gloom and darkness. The shadow of impending disaster rested heavily on the spirits of the men in the army, and they longed for spring to come that they might be able at least to face the storm, if they could not do anything to avert it. There were 60,000 good soldiers in the department, but the authorities at Shreveport seemed to be utterly incapable of utilizing them. During the expedition to Missouri, Maj.-Gen. J. B. Magruder had been assigned to the command of the district of Arkansas, [199] and had made his headquarters at Washington. Between him and Shelby there was from the first a strong affinity, which in the course of the winter resulted in an understanding that as soon as it was possible to move the troops in the spring—as soon as there was enough grass to support the horses—a cavalry expedition, in the nature of a forlorn hope, would be sent into Missouri under Shelby, to be followed as closely as practicable by the infantry, with St. Louis its objective point. Gen. Kirby Smith practically endorsed the enterprise, and during the winter and early spring Shelby sent officers upon whom he could rely to North Arkansas and Missouri to have things in readiness by the time he came.

During the winter there were reports without number of movements on the part of the enemy; and the cavalry which was camped near Fulton, and sometimes the infantry which was camped near Camden, were sent from place to place to check them, but the reports always proved to be false or at least exaggerated, and there was no fighting. It was not the policy of the Federals in the condition things were to take any chances. They were content to wait.

General Lee's surrender at Appomattox was an earthquake shock to the Trans-Mississippi department. If the management of the department had been irresolute before, it became paralyzed in view of that great and unexpected disaster. Shelby, however, issued a stirring address to the soldiers of his division, in which he reminded them of the hardships they had undergone, the dangers they had faced, the battles they had fought, the victories they had won; and besought them, in memory of the unsullied battle-record of the division and of the comrades who had died on the field of battle, to stand firm and not entertain even the thought of surrender. His men stood by him, as they always had done and as they did to the last. There were meetings of the governors of the states —Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas and Missouri—but the [200] agreements they made and the resolutions they adopted were without practical effect. There were meetings of the high military officers who ought to have understood the situation—which was fight or surrender—and they were more undecided and divided in opinion than those of the civil officers.

Shelby at last left his division at Marshall and went to Shreveport. There he got a meeting of the military men —Churchill, Hawthorn, Preston, Flournoy and others—at which it was agreed and counselled that the army should be concentrated on the Brazos and should fight step by step to the Rio Grande, thereby giving the States east of the Mississippi opportunity to act, and if the worse came to the worst the army could make terms with one government or the other in Mexico. This was Shelby's proposition.

But before this time General Smith had been engaged in a correspondence with Gen. John Pope of the Federal army on the subject of a surrender. General Pope wrote from St. Louis on the 19th of April to General Smith, informing him of the surrender of General Lee and the probable surrender of General Johnston, and offering him the same terms that had been granted General Lee if he and his army chose to lay down their arms. This summons he sent through his chief-of-staff, Col. John J. Sprague. General Smith replied, May 9th, declining to surrender, and stating that he had 50,000 effective soldiers under his command. Ten days later he informed Colonel Sprague that his army had disbanded itself. ‘From one extremity of the department to the other,’ he said, ‘the troops, except Shelby's heroic division of Missouri cavalry, have dissolved all military organization and returned to their homes.’ And in a postscript he said, referring to the infantry: ‘Since writing the above I have information that the Missouri and a portion of the Arkansas troops still retain their organization.’ In fact, [201] the Missouri and Arkansas infantry refused to cross the river at Shreveport lest they should be surrendered.

After it had been agreed by Shelby and his supporters that the Confederates would not surrender but should concentrate on the Brazos and continue the war, Shelby went back to Marshall and put himself at the head of his division to return to Shreveport. But before he got there, the army was formally surrendered.

Shelby then determined to go to Mexico. Confusion reigned supreme. The army had been surrendered. There was neither civil nor military authority to hold the lawless elements in check. His men had the choice to go with him or return to their homes. About 500 went with him. But there was no relaxation of discipline. As he passed through the State he protected the people in all their rights—protected them from the lawlessness of their own disbanded soldiers. At San Antonio he took under his protection Gen. Kirby Smith, General Magruder, General Price, General Hindman, Governor Reynolds of Missouri, Governor Allen of Louisiana and Governor Murrah of Texas, beside a number of other civil and military officers, gave them a guard of honor and escorted them out of the country; and when he and his command crossed the Rio Grande at Eagle Pass, the rear guard—the last vestige—of the Confederate army disappeared [202]

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