Sterling Price Organizes His Raid to Retake Missouri

August 29, 1864 (Monday)

Through the late spring and most of the summer, it seemed as if Richmond had completely forgotten about Missouri. But Sterling Price had not forgotten. He had spent most of the summer sorting information gathered by scouts he had sent into Missouri. In the meanwhile, Rebel guerrillas had been urged to raid Federal supply lines and outposts.

Sterling Price might not be the best man for the job.
Sterling Price might not be the best man for the job.

But for the most part, the Confederate Army of Missouri did nothing, and it seemed as if the whole summer would slip by without a move. As the campaigns in the east turned in favor of the North, some ranking officers in the far reaches of the West urged Sterling Price to at least create some sort of diversion so that enemy troops might be sent into Missouri from Georgia or Virginia. It was a slip hope, but there was little more to lean upon.

A cavalry raid was thus proposed. “If successful in maintaining itself,” wrote Governor Thomas Reynolds of Texas, “the cavalry might be re-enforced by infantry from Arkansas and by recruiting within out State [Missouri].”

To this, offered in July, Price agreed. “I consider such an expedition practicable, and in the contingency you suggest desirable and important.” Price wished to lead it himself, and he thought now (or relatively close to now) the time was ripe.

“My opinion,” he continued, “is that the people of Missouri are ready for a general uprising, and that the time was never more propitious for an advance of our forces into Missouri. Our friends should be encouraged and supported promptly. Delay will be dangerous. Unsustained, they may be overwhelmed by superior numbers, become dispirited, and, finally, disheartened and hopeless. I have confidence of the happiest results from the expedition you suggest.”

This was written on July 22nd, and over a month had passed. In that time, he had met with Kirby Smith, his department commander. Price traveled from his headquarters in Camden, Arkansas to Shreveport, Louisiana in early August. There he met with Governor Reynolds and Smith, as well as other officers.

Sterling Price was placed at their head because there really wasn’t anyone else who could do it. This fact stemmed more from a lack of talent in the West than anything Price brought to the table. Governor Reynolds, though he paid lip service to Price’s abilities, desperately wanted Kirby Smith or maybe Simon Bolivar Buckner to lead the expedition. But neither could be pulled away from their duties.

Finally, it was decided that Price was all they had. This was where he strong divisional commanders came in. Reynolds warned Smith that Price should be accompanied by “the best division and brigade commanders and an unusually efficient staff.” To this, Smith agreed, also believing that Price was “good for nothing.” Hesitantly, Smith ordered Price to “make immediate arrangements for a movement into Missouri, with the entire cavalry force of your district.”

Kirby Smith!
Kirby Smith!

This force, the Army of Missouri, was 12,000-strong and consisted of three divisions. Generals James Fagan, John Marmaduke, and Jo Shelby each were placed in command. For a time, it appeared as if some number of infantry would also accompany the raid, but before long, Richmond intervened, and ordered Smith to send them east of the Mississippi. Sterling Price would ride into Missouri with only cavalry.

But once upon the sacred soil of his native state, he believed that a general uprising would flood his ranks with able-bodied men who had – for some reason or another – not been able to get away over the past three and a half years.

On August 4th, Kirby Smith laid out his plans: “Make Saint Louis the objective point of your movement, which, if rapidly made, will put you in possession of that place, its supplies, and military stores, and which will do more toward rallying Missouri to your standard that the possession of any other point.”

Price was to “scrupulously avoid all wanton acts of destruction and devastation, restrain your men , and impress upon them that their aim should be to secure success in a just and holy cause and not to gratify personal feeling and revenge. Rally the loyal men of Missouri, and remember that our great want is men, and that your object should be, if you cannot maintain yourself in that country, to bring as large an accession as possible to our force.”

From Camden, Price wanted to cross the Arkansas river near Little Rock, and sent Jo Shelby’s division on a small raid to capture several small forts. But Price himself was delayed when ammunition from Shreveport ran late. And so he was not able to leave until the 28th.

On this date, he arrived in Princeton, “where the divisions of Fagan and Marmaduke were, and assumed command of all the cavalry in the District of Arkansas.” But while in Princeton, Price began to suspect that the Federals had “become informed of my intended line of march, and I concluded that I would cross the Arkansas River at the most feasible point north of Little Rock and south of Fort Smith, taking into consideration the probable means of obtaining forage and subsistence.”

And so the following day, the 30th, Price’s two assembled divisions marched toward Little Rock. Price had ordered Jo Shelby, still on his raid, to “form a junction with me at Batesville,” but it would be over two weeks before he would hear again from his wayward division commander. On the 13th of September, Price would finally have his command in order, traveling over 350 miles to do so. They would then be in Pocahontas. There, he would rest and reorganize and plan his invasion in detail.1

  1. Sources: Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 41, Part 1, p627; Part 2, p1011-1012, 1020, 1040-1041; General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West by Albert Castel. []
Creative Commons License
Sterling Price Organizes His Raid to Retake Missouri by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


View all posts by