December 16, 1861 (Monday)
While the drudging that Union forces took at Ball’s Bluff was of nearly no military consequence, its political ripples were just now being felt. Congress had recently established the Joint-Committee on the Conduct of the Present War, which consisted of three Senators and four Representatives.
Their first idea was to go to the top of the War Department; to Secretary of War Simon Cameron. On the 4th, before the Committee was even formed, the House passed a resolution asking him if any measures had been taken “to ascertain who is responsible for the disastrous movement of our troops at Ball’s Bluff.” Over a week would pass before Cameron jotted down his short answer. Four more days would slip away before his reply found its way to the capitol.
His reply stated “that a compliance with the resolution, at this time, would, in the opinion of the general-in-chief, be injurious to the public service.”
Around the same time they asked Cameron, they also asked General-in-Chief George McClellan the same question. His reply was of the same color. “The general-in-chief of the army is of opinion an inquiry on the subject of the resolution would, at this time, be injurious to the public service. The resolution is herewith respectfully returned.”1
It would not be until January 6th, after the Christmas break, until the Joint Committee would make a comment on the replies. In the meantime, they would gather information on Ball’s Bluff, confident that neither Cameron nor McClellan would help them.
Long March in Missouri Pays Dividends for Pope
For the past several weeks, General Sterling Price, commander of the secessionist Missouri State Guards, had been receiving thousands of new recruits from northern Missouri. At the same time, however, the terms of enlistment were up for many of the men already in his command. Certainly, some were reenlisting, but many were straggling home, at least for the holidays.
During this time, Price had tried to compel the Confederates to help him. He specifically wrote to General Ben McCulloch in northern Arkansas, hoping to convince him to rejoin them in Missouri. McCulloch, however, was headed to Richmond to defend his actions.2
On this date, Sterling Price turned to President Jefferson Davis. Hoping that he would order McCulloch’s force to cross into Missouri. It is to be kept in mind that the Missouri State Guard, while a secessionist army, was not yet under the banner of the Confederacy. But, it was in the Confederacy’s best interest to assist them. At least that’s what Price believed.
“I have repeatedly assured your Government that such co-operation would enable me to take and maintain possession of three fourths of the State and to gather around me at least 50,000 recruits,” wrote Price about General McCulloch’s troops joining him.
Recruits, asserted Price, were there. They were ready and willing to take up arms against the Union, but they “cannot come to me in the present condition of the State.” Though thousands had rallied to the call, “most of them are compelled to stay at home to give whatever protection they can to their families against the armies and marauding gangs which are laying waste and desolating the State.”
While Unionist guerrillas were certainly an issue, the biggest problem lately was that the recruits, who “would gladly join the army, if they could get to it,” were “prevented from doing so by the extension of the enemy’s lines across the State and their occupation of every approach to the army.”3
General Price was even more correct than he could imagine. At this time, Union General John Pope, with 4,000 soldiers, was heading southwest from Sedalia to cut off and capture 4,000 raw Missouri recruits, only half of whom were armed.
The previous day, Pope marched eleven miles south of Sedalia, in the direction of Warsaw, hoping to throw the Rebels off the scent of his true destination, to ambush the recruits between Warrensburg and Clinton.
This day’s march was one of the longest of the war, thus far. The 4,000 Union troops tramped twenty-three miles, finally arriving at their destination by sunset. As the sun was setting, Pope sent out pickets from the Iowa cavalry to find the enemy, which he assumed to be close.
Pope was not mistaken. While his foot-sore men threw themselves wearily to the ground south of Chilhowe, the cavalry pickets moved into the town, capturing Rebel pickets as they went. From the prisoners, they learned that 3,600 recruits were encamped six miles north of town.
When word filtered back to Pope, he dispatched a regiment of cavalry and artillery north to block the enemy’s passage. After but a few hour’s rest, he marched the rest of his force to the road that moved southwest from Warrensburg, placing them between that town and Rose Hill. Pope sent another detachment south, towards Price’s main body near Osceola.
At dawn, he would advance upon the recruits.4
- Journal of the House of Representatives, Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh Congress, p134. [↩]
- Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West by Albert E. Castel. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p714-715. [↩]
- Pope’s report from the Supplemental Report of the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, Part II, p21. [↩]