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Missouri's Civil War Heritage Foundation Year: 1864 - Missouri's Civil War Heritage Foundation

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Year: 1864

The final full year of combat in Missouri mirrored the previous two twelve-month cycles. From January through August small skirmishes and guerilla activity unsettled the state. It appeared that Missouri would be spared any major conflicts, but in late summer Confederate General Price was ordered to lead a raid on the state. Price’s initial goal was St. Louis, but he delayed at Pilot Knob to attack a small contingent of Union soldiers led by General Thomas Ewing, Jr. The Federals barricaded themselves inside Ft. Davidson, an earthwork fortification in the Arcadia Valley. Expecting a quick victory, General Price’s army was hurt badly in series of headlong assaults on September 27. Remarkably, the Federals escaped by making a forced march to Leasburg and Rolla. The delay cost Price an opportunity to attack St. Louis, so he turned west to install a Confederate governor in Jefferson City.

The Confederate raiders discovered that the capitol was stoutly defended, and after their losses at Ft. Davidson the Confederates decided an attack was unwise. The 10,000-man raid advanced into the most pro-Confederate portion of the state, the western Missouri River valley. To forage better General Price divided his army and they fanned out across west central Missouri moving toward Kansas. This portion of the raid was marked by victories over small Federal detachments at Sedalia and Warrensburg. The Confederate raiders captured a Federal supply depot and steamboat, after some significant fighting, at Glasgow on October 15.

As Price’s army slowed to forage the Federals mounted a vigorous pursuit from the east led by General William Rosecrans. In Kansas, General Curtis and General James Blunt rallied the militia in defense of the Sunflower State. Without realizing it General Price was slowly being squeezed between two Union armies. The slow moving Confederates finally collided with General Blunt’s Kansas militiamen at Lexington on October 19, but Shelby’s Iron Brigade, of Price’s army, forced General Blunt to retreat. The two armies clashed again at the Little Blue River on October 21 and in the main square of Independence the next day. Each time General Blunt was compelled to fall back. The Kansans tried to establish a defensive line along the Big Blue River at Byram’s Ford on October 22, but the result was the same with the Union men routed, and in retreat to the town of Westport.

The Confederates retreated south of Westport and awaited the Federals next move. On a cold October 23 morning they were attacked by the Federals, led by Generals Blunt and Curtis. After severe fighting at close range the Southern line gave way only to be saved by a series of stubborn rearguard actions by General Shelby’s men. General Price decided to head for Indian Territory and save his large, ponderous wagon train.

While Generals Shelby and Price were pushing westward, Generals James Fagan and Marmaduke were struggling to fight a strong rearguard action against General Rosecran’s Federals advancing from the east. The Southerners fought a significant delaying action on October 23 at Byram’s Ford on the Big Blue River where the previous day General Price’s portion of the army had forged across the river. They had no better luck than Shelby and Price at Westport, and were forced to join the Southern retreat.

A small pause by the Federal pursuers allowed General Price to gain a modest advantage in his retreat. Unwilling to follow the advice of his subordinates General Price refused to burn his wagons, and use the time gained to make good his escape. Instead, the slow moving Confederate rear guard was attacked at the small village of Trading Post, on October 25, just across the Missouri border into Kansas. Later that afternoon, the steep crossing of Mine Creek slowed the bulk of Price’s army. Attacked by Federal cavalry just north of the Mine Creek crossing General Price’s army could not halt the charge, and his army disintegrated only to be saved by General Shelby’s Iron Brigade.

Once reorganized, General Price burned the bulk of his wagons, and struggled through Missouri. General Shelby’s troopers stopped the Federal pursuit with a running fight at Newtonia on October 28. The Confederates limped back into Arkansas and Texas defeated and demoralized.

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