Price's Raid

Price's Raid

Price's Missouri Expedition, known popularly as Price's Raid, was an 1864 Confederate cavalry raid through the Trans-Mississippi Theater in the American Civil War. Major General Sterling Price fought numerous battles in Missouri and Kansas before being defeated by Union cavalry under Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton. It was the last major operation west of the Mississippi River.


Confederate forces were getting desperate as the U.S. presidential election approached in the fall of 1864. They knew that the re-election of President Abraham Lincoln would be a disaster for their cause, but events on battlefields across the country were favoring Lincoln. Ulysses S. Grant had Robert E. Lee bottled up in the Siege of Petersburg; Jubal A. Early was driven back from the outskirts of Washington, D.C., and Philip Sheridan was pursuing him in the Shenandoah Valley; and William T. Sherman had captured Atlanta.

Earlier that summer, Confederate authorities ordered their commander of forces in the Trans-Mississippi, Lt. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, to send a corps under Richard Taylor east across the Mississippi River to assist in the defense of Atlanta and Mobile. Such a crossing, by ferries or what would have been history's longest pontoon bridge, was deemed infeasible because of frequent Union gunboat patrols on the river, and Taylor was reassigned to other pursuits.

Kirby Smith had a backup plan, inspired in part by preparations to divert Union attention from Taylor's proposed crossing. Smith decided to capture (or re-capture, in his view) Missouri for the Confederacy, believing it would be a way to turn Northern public perception against Lincoln. To accomplish this, he sent Sterling Price on a large cavalry raid in the direction of St. Louis. Price's plan was to capture St. Louis and its rich warehouses of military supplies, but if it turned out to be heavily defended, to bypass it and swing west to capture the state capital, Jefferson City. (This would be an obvious psychological blow and would provide some late justification for Missouri's star flying on the Confederate flag since 1861.) He would then continue to the west, cross into Kansas and head south through Indian Territory, "sweeping that country of its mules, horses, cattle, and military supplies".

Price departed on his horse, "Bucephalus", from Camden, Arkansas, on August 28, 1864. The following day he linked up with two divisions in Princeton, and a third in Pocahontas on September 13. His combined force entered Missouri on September 19, and began almost daily skirmishing with Missouri militia units.

Opposing forces

Price assembled a cavalry force called the Army of Missouri, consisting of 12,000 men, although about one third started the campaign unarmed. The army included three divisions, under Maj. Gen. James F. Fagan, Maj. Gen. John S. Marmaduke, and Brig. Gen. Joseph O. "Jo" Shelby.

Union forces started the campaign with militia units and the XVI Corps of Maj. Gen. Andrew J. Smith, augmented by the cavalry division of Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, detached from William S. Rosecrans's Department of Missouri. Rosecrans had requested that Smith's corps (which at the time of Price's first moves was on naval transports leaving Cairo, Illinois, to join Sherman in Georgia) be assigned to Missouri to deal with the threat; Army Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck immediately complied and ordered Smith upriver. By mid-October, additional troops arrived from the Kansas border under Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the newly activated Army of the Border (and Price's old adversary at the Battle of Pea Ridge). He commanded the divisions of Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt (cavalry), Maj. Gen. George W. Dietzler (Kansas Militia Division), Pleasonton's cavalry, and two infantry divisions detached from Smith's Corps under Colonels Joseph J. Woods and David Moore, about 35,000 men in all.


; Battle of Fort Davidson (September 27, 1864): Union Brig. Gen. Thomas Ewing, Jr. moved with reinforcements down the railroad from St. Louis to Ironton to retard Price's advance. On the morning of September 27, Price attacked, driving the Federals back into their defenses anchored by Fort Davidson, near Pilot Knob. In the late afternoon, Price unsuccessfully assaulted the fort repeatedly, suffering heavy casualties. During the night, the Federals evacuated the fort. Price had paid a high price in lives and gave Union forces the necessary time to concentrate and oppose his raid.

: On the same day, west of St. Louis, a band of Confederate guerrillas led by Lieutenant William "Bloody Bill" Anderson sacked and burned Centralia, in what is called Centralia Massacre. Anderson, an associate of the notorious Col. William C. Quantrill, was accompanied by Frank and Jesse James. In reaction to these two events, the XVI Corps was brought to St. Louis, reinforced by Pleasonton, and Price veered westward toward Jefferson City.

; Battle of Glasgow (October 15): Price decided to send a detachment to Glasgow to "liberate" weapons and supplies in an arms storehouse purported to be there. This combined mounted infantry, cavalry, and artillery force laid siege to the town and the fortifications on Hereford Hill. Before dawn on October 15, Confederate artillery opened on the town, and Rebels advanced on Glasgow by various routes, forcing the Yankees to fall back. The Union forces retreated out of town and up the hill toward the fortifications on Hereford Hill. There they formed a defensive line, but the Confederates continued to advance. Convinced that he could not defend against another Confederate attack, Col. Chester Harding surrendered around 1:30 p.m. Although Harding destroyed some Federal stores, Price's men found rifles, overcoats, and horses. The Confederates remained in town for three days before rejoining the main column with new supplies and weapons and marching on towards Kansas City. The victory and capture of supplies and weapons were a boost to Price's army's morale.

; Second Battle of Lexington (October 19): Price's march along the Missouri River was slow, providing the Union a chance to concentrate. Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, proposed a pincer movement to trap Price and his army, but he was unable to communicate with Maj. Gen. Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the Department of Kansas, to formalize the plan. Curtis was having problems because many of his troops were Kansas militia and they refused to enter Missouri, but a force of 2,000 men under the command of Maj. Gen. James G. Blunt did set out for Lexington, Missouri. On October 19, Price's army approached Lexington, collided with Union scouts and pickets about 2:00 p.m., drove them back, and engaged in a battle with the main force. The Yankees resisted at first, but Price's army eventually pushed them through the town to the western outskirts and pursued them along the Independence Road until nightfall. Without Curtis's entire force, the Yankees could not stop Price's army, but they did further retard their slow march. Blunt gained valuable information about the size and disposition of Price's army.

; Battle of Little Blue River (October 21): On October 20, Blunt's troops arrived on the Little Blue River, eight miles (13 km) east of Independence. The Union force prepared to engage the Confederates again in a strong defensive position on the west bank. Curtis, however, ordered Blunt into Independence while leaving a small force, under Col. Thomas Moonlight, on the Little Blue. The next day, Curtis ordered Blunt to take all of the volunteers and return to the Little Blue. As he neared the stream, he discovered that Moonlight's small force had burned the bridge as ordered, engaged the enemy, and retreated away from the strong defensive position occupied the day before, crossing the river. Blunt entered the fray and attempted to drive the enemy back beyond the defensive position that he wished to reoccupy. The Yankees forced the Confederates to fall back, at first, but their numerical superiority took its toll in the five-hour battle. The Federals retreated to Independence and went into camp there after dark. Once again, the Confederates had been slowed and more Union reinforcements under Curtis were arriving.

; Second Battle of Independence (October 22): Price's army rode west in the direction of Kansas City. On the night of October 21, he camped at Independence and resumed his westward march the next morning with Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby's division in the lead followed by Marmaduke's division, with Fagan's division bringing up the rear. While Shelby's men met success at Byram's Ford, the other two columns did not fare as well. Pleasonton's Union cavalry crossed the Little Blue, beat up a Rebel brigade in Fagan's command, and occupied Independence. Marmaduke's division then met Pleasonton about two miles (3 km) west of Independence, hit the Federals hard, pressed them back, and held them at bay until the morning of October 23. Pleasonton's actions, however, frightened Price and his army and influenced them, after they had crossed the Big Blue, to send their wagon trains to Little Santa Fe on the Fort Scott Road.

; Battle of Byram's Ford (October 22–October 23): As Price's Army of Missouri headed west towards Kansas City and Fort Leavenworth, Curtis's Army of the Border, in and around Westport, was blocking the Confederates' way west, and Pleasonton's cavalry division was pressing Price's rear. Price had nearly 500 wagons with him and required a good ford over the Big Blue River to facilitate the passage of his supplies. Byram's Ford was the best ford in the area and became a strategic point during the fighting around Westport. On October 22, Blunt's division held a defensive position on the Big Blue River's west bank. Around 10:00 a.m., part of Jo Shelby's division conducted a frontal attack on Blunt's men. This attack was a ruse because the rest of Shelby's men flanked Blunt's hasty defenses, forcing the Federals to retire to Westport. Price's wagon train and about 5,000 head of cattle then crossed the Big Blue River at Byram's Ford and headed southward toward Little Santa Fe and safety. Pleasonton's cavalry was hot on the tail of Price's army. Marmaduke's division held the west bank of the Big Blue at Byram's Ford to prevent Pleasonton from attacking Price's rear. Pleasonton assaulted Marmaduke at Byram's Ford around 8:00 a.m. on October 23. Three hours later, Marmaduke's men had enough and fell back toward Westport. With Pleasonton across the river, he was an additional threat to Price who was fighting Curtis's Army of the Border at Westport. Price had to retreat south.

; Battle of Westport (October 23): Price decided that he needed to deal with Curtis and Pleasonton, in his front and rear, and decided to attack them one at a time. With Pleasonton still behind him, Price chose to strike Curtis at Westport first. Curtis had established strong defensive lines and during a four-hour battle, the Confederates hurled themselves at the Union forces, but to no avail. The Rebels could not break the Union lines and retreated south. Westport was the decisive battle of Price's Raid, and from that point on, the Rebels were in retreat.

; Battle of Marais des Cygnes (October 25): Price withdrew south, and Pleasonton, commanding in the field, pursued him into Kansas and fought him on the banks of the Marais des Cygnes River, at Trading Post in Linn County, Kansas. After an artillery bombardment that began at 4:00 a.m., Pleasonton's men attacked furiously. Although outnumbered, they hit the Rebel line, forcing them to withdraw.

; Battle of Mine Creek (October 25): About six miles (10 km) south of Trading Post, the brigades of Col. Frederick W. Benteen and Col. John F. Philips, of Pleasonton's division, overtook the Confederates as they were crossing Mine Creek. The Rebels, stalled by their wagons crossing the ford, had formed a line on the north side of Mine Creek. The Federals, although outnumbered, commenced the mounted attack as additional troops from Pleasonton's command arrived during the fight. They soon surrounded the Rebels, resulting in the capture of about 600 men and two generals, Marmaduke and Brig. Gen. William L. Cabell. Having lost so many men, Price's army was doomed. Retreat to friendly territory was the only recourse.

; Battle of Marmiton River (October 25): Price continued his cartage towards Fort Scott, Kansas. In late afternoon of October 25, Price's supply train had difficulty crossing the Marmiton River ford, and like at Mine Creek, Price had to make a stand. Brig. Gen. John McNeil, commanding two brigades of Pleasonton's cavalry division, attacked the Confederate troops that Price and his officers rallied, including a sizable number of unarmed men. McNeil observed the sizable Confederate force, not knowing that many of them were unarmed, and refrained from an all-out assault. After about two hours of skirmishing, Price continued his retreat, and McNeil could not mount an effective pursuit. Price's army was broken by this time, and it was simply a question of how many men he could successfully evacuate to friendly territory.

; Second Battle of Newtonia (October 28): What was left of Price's army stopped its retreat to rest about two miles (3 km) south of Newtonia, Missouri. Soon afterward, Blunt's Union troops surprised the Confederates and began to drive them. Jo Shelby's division, including his Iron Brigade, rode to the front, dismounted, and engaged the Yankees while the other Rebel troops retreated towards Indian Territory. Brig. Gen. John B. Sanborn later appeared with Union reinforcements, which convinced Shelby to retire. The Union troops forced the Confederates to retreat but failed to destroy or capture them.


Price re-entered Arkansas and, needing to avoid Fort Smith, swung west into Indian Territory and Texas before returning to Arkansas on December 2 with only 6,000 survivors. He reported to Kirby Smith that he "marched 1,434 miles (2,308 km), fought 43 battles and skirmishes, captured and paroled over 3,000 Federal officers and men, captured 18 pieces of artillery ... and destroyed Missouri property ... of $10,000,000 in value." He claimed the loss of 1,000 men, but it was closer to 6,000 over the three-month adventure. His mission was a failure, yet another Union success that contributed to the re-election of Lincoln. It was the final major offensive in the Trans-Mississippi during the war.


*Eicher, David J., "The Longest Night: A Military History of the Civil War", Simon & Schuster, 2001, ISBN 0-684-84944-5.
*Foote, Shelby, "The Civil War, A Narrative: Red River to Appomattox", Random House, 1974, ISBN 0-394-74913-8.
* [ National Park Service Battle Summaries]

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