December 21, 1861 (Saturday)
In Missouri, General Sterling Price had not been feeling very loved by the Confederate Government. His command, the Missouri State Guards, was still an independent command and in great need of reinforcements.
The closest troops were under General Ben McCulloch, whom he had fought with at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. McCulloch, who was in Arkansas, refused to go north for the winter and Price was left stranded near Osceola, in the western central part of Missouri.
On November 10th, Price wrote to President Davis, explaining the embarrassing situation in his state and pleading for Richmond to send more troops.1 It wasn’t until December 20th that Davis found the time to reply. He assured Price that he had not been forgotten. Richmond was, said Davis, “most anxious to give to Missouri all the aid in our power, and have been hopefully looking for the tender of troops from Missouri and Arkansas, to be organized into brigades and divisions under the laws of the Confederate States.”
Unfortunately, the Confederate military had “at present no troops to give you except those under General McCulloch, and you are aware of their condition.” No matter the condition of McCulloch’s troops, however, they simply were not going to assist Missouri.
“You may rest assured that the welfare of Missouri is as dear to me as that of other States of the Confederacy,” wrote Davis in hollow closure, “and that I will do all in my power to assist her in her struggle to maintain the common cause and to vindicate her freedom and sovereignty.”2
It was not because of this letter, which wouldn’t reach General Price for another week or so, that he decided to move farther south. He issued marching orders the same day that Davis penned his reply, and on the morning of this date, he moved out. His destination was Springfield, where he had begun his ill-fated and lumbering campaign after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
In Springfield, they would establish a winter camp and try to rebuild the army. This new base of operations would put him closer to his supplies, which were in the southwest corner of the state. Little by little, his command would be transferred into the Confederate Army, but that alone would not make it ready for battle. At this point, the Missouri State Guard was in a condition that would only allow retreat.3
General Wise Given Command in North Carolina
Confederate General Henry Wise had been relieved of duty on September 25th, as the Army of the Kanawha was dug into the hills of Western Virginia with General Robert E. Lee at its head. As the fighting ground to a halt, the feuding between Wise and General Floyd ended with Wise being sent back to Richmond to await further orders.
Once in Richmond, Wise suffered a severe illness probably brought on by exposure to the extreme cold and wet of his late campaigning. While Richmond tried to figure out where to place him, Wise was confined to a sick bed, where he remained for weeks.
Once he recovered somewhat, he submitted a report detailing his part in the failed Western Virginia campaign. Though he was certainly not the greatest General of the War, or even the greatest General of the campaign, it was certain that he loved his men, his Wise’s Legion. In fact, through the entirety of his time in Western Virginia, his first concern (often to a fault) was that the regiments in his Legion be kept together.4
On November 18, Wise reported for duty from Rolleston, his plantation near Norfolk. The first item he mentioned in a letter to Judah Benjamin, Secretary of State, was a “request that the forces composing my Legion may without delay be ordered to the point at which the President intends to employ my services.”
A reply from Secretary Benjamin was received a week or so later. The Legion was, at this point, near Cotton Hill, sparring with Union General Rosecrans troops. Since the outcome of the battle was still up in the air, the fate of the Legion was up in the air along with it.
By the beginning of December, with Floyd’s army retreating and things seemingly lost in the southern part of Western Virginia, Wise’s Legion was ordered east.5
Finally, on this date, General Wise received his orders. Special Orders, No. 272 placed Wise in commander of a military district in the Department of Norfolk in North Carolina. This included Roanoke Island. His Legion was to soon follow. Both Wise and his Legion were under the immediate command of General Benjamin Huger, a Mexican War officer and career military man.6
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p735-736. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 8, p716. [↩]
- General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West by Albert E. Castel. [↩]
- The Life of Henry A. Wise of Virginia, 1806-1876 by Barton Haxall Wise, The Macmillan Company, 1899. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 9, p122-124. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p715. [↩]