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Confederate Cavalry West of the River

Updated at January 22, 2007 08:01

The organized armies of the Trans-Mississippi South suffered two major defeats in the spring of 1862: at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, just south of the Missouri line, on March 6-7, 1862, and at Island No. 10, below New Madrid, Missouri, on April 8, 1862. Confederate infantry rarely ventured into Missouri in force after this time. Union troops remaining in the state were, in pro-Southern sectors, engaged as an army of occupation, and the area of Little Dixie was essentially “cut off” from the Confederacy. These circumstances created the atmosphere for some of the great Confederate cavalry operations of the war.

1862 saw Confederates mounting a series of incursions into Missouri for the purpose of recruiting troops for Confederate service. The most famous of these incursions was Porter’s Raid, which ranged over most of the counties of Northeast Missouri and ended with an engagement at Kirksville on August 6, 1862. There were three great raids in 1863, one each targeting Springfield, Cape Girardeau and the Missouri River valley in Little Dixie. The principal Confederate actors in these operations were Brig. General Joseph Orville (“JO”) Shelby, commander of the South’s “Iron Brigade” and Missouri’s greatest cavalry leader, and Maj. General John Sappington Marmaduke, a post-war governor of Missouri and the last Confederate promoted to the rank of major general.

By 1864, Missouri Confederate troops that remained in the Trans-Mississippi had retreated to the southern reaches of Arkansas. Whether the aim was to capture Missouri or to draw federal troops from other beleaguered areas of the South, pre-war Missouri governor Maj. General Sterling Price, with Shelby and Marmaduke, mounted a cavalry operation with 13,000 Missouri and Arkansas troops that was to carry them throughout Missouri south of the Missouri River. Price’s expedition produced classic battles at Pilot Knob on September 26-27, 1864, and at Westport (Kansas City) on October 26-27, 1864. The Battle of Westport, known as the Gettysburg of the West,was the largest battle (measured by numbers of troops engaged) fought west of the Mississippi. Westport was a Union victory; Price was spared a total disaster when Shelby’s Iron Brigade made a last stand on the site of present-day Forest Hill Cemetery, where Shelby was buried long after the war.

Price retreated from Westport along the Missouri-Kansas border, fighting a series of rear-guard actions including Kansas’ only battle, at Mine Creek, and one at Newtonia, Missouri. By the time Price reached Arkansas, his forces had been virtually annihilated.

From beginning to end, Price and his Missouri and Arkansas regiments had traveled over 1,500 miles. Price’s Expedition was, and is, the longest and largest cavalry raid in American military history.

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