Being Thus Forsaken: Was Davis Ignoring Missouri?

December 30, 1861 (Monday)

The one thing that Missouri needed, believed General Sterling Price, was the Confederate Army. Price, the commander of the secessionist Missouri State Guard, had pleaded for months that the official Confederate armies come to his assistance in the southwestern part of the state.

After a foray north towards Lexington, he had settled back into his camp at Springfield, which had been, more or less, held by his men since the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in early August. Before, during and a bit after the battle, Confederate General Ben McCulloch had matched Price’s numbers and together they defeated the Union Army of the West, killing its leader, General Nathaniel Lyon.

McCulloch had since moved his army back to Arkansas and refused to enter Missouri, leaving Price on his own. Without McCulloch’s help, Price moved north anyway, convinced (or at least trying to convince McCulloch) that his “numbers would be indefinitely increased” if only he could get to the Missouri River. McCulloch completely refused to budge his troops from their winter quarters and, himself, went to Richmond to defend his position.1

As it turned out, McCulloch needed to defend nothing at all, as President Davis took his side.

After finding out that McCulloch went straight to Richmond, Price wrote Davis, hoping to pry McCulloch’s troops from their camp. In reply, Davis reminded Price that he had no troops to give him, aside from McCulloch’s, “and you are aware of their condition.”

Price was well aware and wanted them anyway.

Claiborne Fox Jackson, Missouri’s disposed secessionist governor, had left his state and was enjoying the social life in New Orleans. He had also written to President Davis about Price’s perceived needs and was met with the same reply. Additionally, Davis had a sort of compromise idea. If Missouri wanted the Confederate Army so badly, why not just make the Missouri troops Confederate troops? Davis believed that, with the name change “their efficiency will be increased, and that they will be relieved from the anomalous position they now occupy as militia.”2

With all this on his mind, on this date, Governor Jackson wrote to both President Davis and Sterling Price. Missouri had become an official Confederate State and Price had been transferring his state troops into the service of the Confederate Army as fast as he could (which really wasn’t all that fast).

To Davis, Jackson told of the embarrassments that Price had met in Missouri, of the hardships and privations suffered by the men of the Missouri State Guard, “left alone to face a foe of more than five times their strength.” Through all this anguish, stretched Jackson they had “successfully held in check the Lincoln forces in our state.”

And then, he laid on the guilt. “General Price and his men being thus forsaken by those on whom they relied for aid,” reasoned Jackson, “can scarcely be expected they will enter the Confederate Army with that alacrity and promptness they would do under more favorable auspices.”

Missouri had been “left to the mercy of the thieving jayhawker and murderous Hessian,” while the soldiers’ “towns and their houses [were] destroyed by fire, their property stolen, their country laid waste, and their wives and children driven from their homes to perish or to live as best they can.”

A most important part of the letter concerned General Price. Jackson seemed afraid that though Price’s men were to be accepted into the Confederate Army, Price, himself, was not to be. This situation would have been similar to that of General Robert E. Lee, back in June. While that basically worked itself out, perhaps Jackson realized that Price was no Lee.

As he had done before, Jackson campaigned for Davis to appoint Price to the command of the Western Department; to command a body of troops that had barely begun to form. He hoped that Davis had “already been clothed with power to make the appointment.”

To Sterling Price, Governor Jackson spoke more plainly: “Why it is that he [Davis] can’t give you the appointment at once I am utterly at a loss to determine.” Still, Jackson wasn’t yet ready to claim foul play, telling Price, “I will not censure the President until I know he has wronged us.”

Moving on to good news, the governor wrote of six young ladies who were raising a subscription to purchase a sword for you, and in order that as many as possible may have a hand in it they allow no one to give over $1. You may therefore look out for a beautiful present from the young ladies of New Orleans.”

Price also learned the news from Washington, “that Lincoln has ‘backed down’ and given up Mason and Slidell; just what everybody here thought the cowardly scamp would do.”3

Jackson could do nothing but wait for President Davis’ reply.

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p702-703. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p714-715; 716-717. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 7, p724-726. []
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Being Thus Forsaken: Was Davis Ignoring Missouri? by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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