Sunday, September 29, 1861
Though Union General Fremont’s Army of the West was scattered over much of Missouri, disorganized and confused, it was slowly gathering together. The General himself had left St. Louis and was, like the rest of the Army, heading in the direction of Lexington, scene of the latest Union defeat.
Fremont’s move was no secret. General Sterling Price, commander of the secessionist Missouri State Guard, knew that he (Price) would soon be outnumbered. Price believed that Fremont was concentrating at Georgetown, sixty miles southeast of Lexington. He also knew of a large Union force at Kansas City, ninety miles west. The risk of being “hemmed in” was too great, and so Price decided to give up the city he took under siege and begin his retreat south towards Arkansas and the Confederates under General Ben McCulloch.1
Price wasn’t the only Rebel to notice Fremont’s move. General Albert Sidney Johnston, who commanded the Trans-Mississippi Department, dispatched orders from Columbus, Kentucky to General McCulloch, authorizing him “to muster into service as many armed regiments of Arkansas and Missouri troops” as he could.
Johnston had requested 10,000 troops from the Governor of Arkansas, but had yet to receive a response. It was up to McCulloch to take things into his own hands.
While McCulloch’s orders would, hopefully, protect Price’s retrograde movement and could possibly check Fremont’s progress, Johnston also wanted someone to work behind the lines. For this job, he contacted Missouri State Guard General Jeff Thompson. He left much to Thompson’s discretion, but wanted him to go to the “vicinity of Farmington, on the route to Saint Louis.” Though he was seventy-five miles south of St. Louis, and nearly 300 miles east from Lexington, Johnston still hoped that Thompson could “relieve the pressure of the Federal forces on General Price… and if possible to embarrass their movements by cutting their Ironton Railroad.”
Immediately after receiving the message, Thompson sent out a detail of 120 men to burn railroad bridges around Charleston and Birds Point.2
It was quickly being realized that General Price’s victory at Lexington was meaningless.
North Carolina Complains of Neglect, Gets D.H. Hill
Before the hostilities of the early war began, North Carolina’s Governor Henry T. Clark authorized arms to be sent to the front in Virginia. Since the Union invasion of Cape Hatteras, Clark was beginning to think that his state might be more vulnerable than he first suspected.
Over the past week, Clark had sent a flurry of letters to Richmond, imploring the Confederate Government to return the favor. “We have disarmed ourselves to arm you,” wrote Clark on the 27th. He also claimed that his state needed a Navy and was being denied gun powder.
Acting Secretary of War, Judah P. Benjamin, on this date, replied. He informed Clark that the Navy was coming along, with new ships being built and old ones being converted to warships. Any ship offered to the Confederate Navy by North Carolina, said Benjamin, was being used in the defense of North Carlina.
He moved next to the issue of gun powder, telling Clark that the Confederate arsenals have filled all of North Carolina’s orders for ammunition. He did admit that “we have not been able to furnish your State all the cannon powder you desire, and in this respect you share the fate of South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana, all of which make the same complaint.
In so many words, Benjamin told Clark that due to the military buildup needed for the fronts “in Missouri, in Kentucky, in Western Virginia, on the Potomac, in the Peninsula below the city [Richmond], on the whole Southern seaboard, in Western Texas” little could be spared for the rest of the states. “I feel sure, that in view of the extended field of labor,” concluded Benjamin, “you will rather be disposed to aid in Patriotic effort to defend your own coast by hearty co-operation than to complain of neglect or injustice which may possibly occur from other causes, but never from the absence of an earnest desire to do everything in our power in defense of your State.”
Part of this “desire to do everything” in defense of North Carolina, Richmond ordered General Daniel H. Hill to command the coastal defenses. Hill, who already had the Confederate victory at Big Bethel under his belt, was given command of 10,000 troops, with large concentrations at Roanoke and Bogue Islands in the Pamlico Sound.3
Benjamin and Davis Agree to Meet with Johnston
Secretary Benjamin’s focus was, of course, on the main military fronts. The forces of General Joseph Johnston, arrayed between Manassas and the Potomac near Washington, was of the utmost importance. Joe Johnston’s letter of the 26th, asked for either Benjamin or the President himself to visit the army to better decide whether they should advance or retire.
Benjamin strongly urged Davis to make the trip as Johnston had apparently failed to file “a single return from your [Johnston’s] army of the quantity of ammunition, artillery, means of transportation, or sick in camp or in hospitals, to enable us to form a judgment of what your necessities may be.” Scolding the General, Benjamin concluded that it should be “obvious to you that the Department cannot be administered without a thorough reform in this respect.” 4
Both he and Davis would soon leave for Johnston’s Army of the Potomac.