Print this page

Federal Prologue

It's the Summer of 1864 in Federal Missouri

  • Major-General William Rosecrans is in command
  • Major-General Alfred Pleasonton is second in command
  • Reports are rolling in that Price in Arkansas is preparing to invade Missouri

Federal Major-General William Rosecrans (Library of Congress) It was in July of 1864 that the Federals began to get reports that Confederate Major-General Sterling Price was on the move in Arkansas. The Federals continued receiving reports of Confederate movements in Arkansas throughout August. There was an upswing in guerrilla activity that the Federals thought presaged an invasion of Missouri. According to Major-General William Rosecrans, commanding of the Department of the Missouri. [17]

"From early in the spring it was known through the lodges of the O. A. K.'s [Order of American Knights] and other rebel sources that Price intended a great invasion of this State, in which he expected the co-operation of that order and of rebels generally, and by which he hoped to obtain important military and political results. In pursuance of these plans the lodges with rebel recruiting officers and agents sent into Missouri clandestinely, or under cover of the amnesty oath for that purpose, began an insurrection in Platte County on the 7th of July last."

USA Judge Advocate General Joseph Holt (Library of Congress) On October 8, 1864, Joseph Holt, Judge-Advocate General, Bureau of Military Justice, War Department, wrote a report about the Order of American Knights for Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. [18]

"During more than a year past it has been generally known to our military authorities that a secret treasonable organization, affiliated with the Southern rebellion, and chiefly military in its character, has been rapidly extending itself throughout the West. During the summer and fall of 1863 the Order, both at the North and South, underwent some modifications as well as a change of name. In consequence of a partial exposure which had been made of the signs and ritual of the 'Knights of the Golden Circle,' Sterling Price had instituted as its successor in Missouri a secret political association, which he called the 'Corps de Belgique,' or 'Southern League;' his principal coadjutor being Charles L. Hunt, of St. Louis, then Belgian Consul at that city, but whose exequatur was subsequently revoked by the President on account of his disloyal practices. The special object of the Corps de Belgique appears to have been to unite the rebel sympathizers of Missouri, with a view to their taking up arms and joining Price upon his proposed grand invasion of that State, and to their recruiting for his army in the interim."

Federal Major-General William Rosecrans (Library of Congress) Major-General William Rosecrans was concerned that he did not have enough troops in his department to counter a raid into Missouri by Sterling Price. In July he requested authorization from the War Department to raise twelve-month volunteers in the state. Rosecrans received authorization on July 26th, and issued General Orders, No. 134 on July 28th. [19]

"Rebel officers and soldiers from Price's army have been sent or permitted to come among you to recruit, rob, plunder, and murder as best they can in violation of the laws of war and of humanity . . . Under [War Department] authority [the General commanding] calls on the gallant and loyal people of Missouri for nine regiments of six and twelve months' volunteers, to be organized and mustered into the U.S. Service at the following designated points:
  • "Two regiments at Benton Barracks, Saint Louis, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Saint Joseph, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Macon, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Hannibal, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Rolla, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Pilot Knob, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Sedalia, Mo.
  • "One regiment at Springfield, Mo."

On August 15, 1864, Federal Department of the Missouri Commander Major-General William Rosecrans wrote about his concerns that the Confederates in Arkansas might be planning a raid into Missouri. [20]

"Bushwhacking goes on in the north and central parts to a considerable extent, receiving additional life and animation from the hope of rebel raids … as soon as corn is fit to sustain man and beast. The consequences of a powerful raid would be very serious, as the troops are so widely scattered. You will remember that the depot here [in St. Louis] is but feebly guarded and but few troops between us and Arkansas, via Pilot Knob."

On August 22nd, Major Frank W. Marston, Chief Signal Officer for the Federal Military Division of West Mississippi sent the following message to his commander. [21]

"Shelby has left Jacksonport with 5,000 men, going in the direction of Little Rock. Intercepted letters show that Shelby has largely re-enforced his command by conscripts. One letter states that General Price has everything satisfactorily arranged for the invasion of Missouri before winter. Nearly all reports from Missouri and Arkansas indicate that such a movement is likely."

Federal Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. (National Archives) Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. was in command of the District of St. Louis which included the Arcadia Valley where Fort Davidson was located. He would be responsible for defending against a Confederate invasion in southeastern Missouri. Ewing felt the fort was poorly suited to defend against a Confederate attack. Ewing felt that a peak of Rock Mountain just north of Pilot Knob was better suited for a fort and directed his forces to begin work on such a fort. Apparently Ewing's commanding officer, Major-General William Rosecrans, through Special Orders, No. 227, had his Chief Engineer, Captain William Hoelcke, to determine if Rock Mountain was suitable for a new fort in Pilot Knob. On August 22, 1864, Captain William Hoelcke, Chief of Engineers for the Department of the Missouri, reported that Fort Davidson was the best available spot to defend the Arcadia Valley against a Confederate attack. With a large enough garrison, it would be able to hold out long enough for reinforcements to be sent. [22]

"I … inclose a copy of the report of Captain Gerster, in regard to the post of Pilot Knob … I have but little to add, as the report expresses very near my opinion. I reported at the time to Brigadier-General Ewing the fact and was opposed to the construction of any additional work, at least on the mentioned hill. I reported the fact also to Major-General Pleasonton, who was of the opinion that nothing should be done. Lieutenant Stickney, U.S. Engineers, received orders and special instructions and commenced the work. A recent report from the officer left in charge of the work to Lieutenant Stickney states that nothing had been done for want of fatigue parties since Lieutenant Stickney had left Pilot Knob. The defenses of Pilot Knob are not in Pilot Knob itself; they are on three points in a circle around the place--First, two miles south in Arcadia; second, one mile and a half east on the Farmington road; third, one mile and a half west on the Caledonia road. This arrangement would scatter a small force too much, and to concentrate the forces Fort Davidson, in the Pilot Knob Valley, had been constructed only against a sudden raid. The place can be held with the present defenses … until re-enforcements arrive."

Captain Anton Gerster was one of Hoelcke's Assistant Engineers and filed the following report. [23]

"According to your verbal instructions in regard to the newly commenced work on Rocky Hill, right above the railroad depot, I have to report that it is very impracticable. In the first place Pilot Knob post cannot be defended well enough from it in consequence of its height and steepness--so much so that the guns cannot be depressed enough to do any damage to any attacking force. The railroad depot,. at the same time the main depot of the quartermaster's department, are close to the foot of the hill. The main object is to hold the depot, and this cannot be done on account of the above-mentioned reason. Being at the depot an enemy is entirely below the range of any fire from the place where the new fort is laid out. The depot will be destroyed, and nothing can prevent it while a garrison is safe in a fort of no purpose whatever but to save itself. On the top of the hill where the new fort is laid out is no material whatever but stone, the most dangerous material for a breast-work. To carry others up is almost impossible, or at least very expensive. With the force on hand to build it in the way it is laid out will take a very longtime. A working party of 200 men a day wants about six months to finish it; besides there is no water on the hill … Fort Davidson, however, with all its faults, against a regular siege, is mainly constructed against a raid until re-enforcements may reach the place and fulfill the purpose, provided the garrison does its duty … To strengthen the place still more it may be advisable to construct a rifle-pit from the southeast corner of Fort Davidson across the Arcadia road; also one' from the northwest corner of the fort in a northerly direction across the Caledonia road. Both lines should be straight, so that they may be enfiladed from the fort."

Federal Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. (National Archives) On August 24, 1864, Ewing sent a telegram asking Major James Wilson, in command at Pilot Knob, how the work was coming. It's not clear in his telegram to which fort Ewing was referring. [24]

"You will report to me all news as to guerrillas in your sub-district, and also as to steps which are being taken by you to keep them down. While the guerrillas are so troublesome, keep the garrison at Pilot Knob reduced as low as possible. Would it not be well also to reduce the force at Patterson to one company? How does the fort come on? Call on Colonel Fletcher for details to work on it, and push it along as rapidly as possible."

Federal Major James Wilson (Peterson, 1906) Major Wilson may have been just a little confused by Ewing's telegram. He knew that work on the Rock Mountain fort had stopped and work was being done to improve Fort Davidson. You could interpret Wilson's reply the next day indicated he felt that Ewing was asking about the fort on Rock Mountain. [25]

"I have men engaged completing Fort. Davidson. The work on the fort on Rock Mountain had been suspended when I came here. If you desire the work continued please inform me. An engineer sent here by General Rosecrans to report, &c., reports that fort a nuisance."

On September 5th, Major-General William Rosecrans sent an urgent message to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton requesting that Major-General A. J. Smith's two-division detachment from his Sixteenth Army Corps be diverted to Missouri. [26]

"General Washburn writes … he is satisfied that Price, Marmaduke, and Shelby are preparing for a big raid into this State … and suggests that A. J. Smith's division will pass Cairo in three days, unless diverted. What do you think of the relative risk of public interests by halting him [Smith] a few days, say at Girardeau, or sending him forward at once? Unless he is urgently called for I think it would be wise to delay his movement until we see the result of Price's operations in the State and this way."

Major-General A. J. Smith reached St. Louis on September 13, 1864, at which time he issued orders to his forces at Cairo, Illinois to move north by steamer to Sulphur Springs, Missouri. Smith's Third Division, Sixteenth Army Corps left Cairo at 9:00 a.m. on September 14th. [27]

Rosecrans was not certain what route would be taken by Price. Rosecrans figured Price had three possible paths into Missouri. So on September 13th, he notified his commanders to be ready for the impending invasion.. [28]

To Brigadier-General John McNeil in Rolla, Missouri:
"I think most probably Price will be in with 5,000 or 6,000 cavalry, either by you or over to the west, or by Pilot Knob and across your way. Have the utmost care that everything shall be safe inside the fort."
To Brigadier-General John Sanborn in Springfield, Missouri:
"You stand a fair chance to get a visit from Price & Co. Concentrate your forces carefully and secure your property."

Rosecrans also sent a telegram to Major-General Samuel R. Curtis in the Department of Kansas to warn him about Price's movements. [29]

"We learn directly from General Steele that Price crossed the Arkansas last Thursday at The Dardanelles with about 5,000 men, and while it is reported that he is coming into Missouri, and we are preparing for him, I think you should be on your guard. He may go up by Pilot Knob, join Cooper, and go into Kansas."

In September, Rosecrans's second in command, Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, had returned east to attend to some private business. On September 22nd, Rosecrans sent the following urgent telegram to the Fifth Avenue Hotel in New York where Pleasonton was staying. [30]

"Come back as soon as possible. There will be a heavy invasion. You will command the cavalry."

On September 24th, Major-General William Rosecrans finally knew the route that the Confederate invasion would take. He sent the following telegram to U. S. Army Chief-of-Staff Henry Halleck. [31]

"The evidence is strong that we are to have a very formidable invasion by Southeast Missouri. Price has ten brigades of mounted infantry, and will arm the O. A. K.'s in the State whenever he can. The advance, 5,000 strong, with four pieces of artillery, was in Fredericktown to-day. We shall use every available means to defend ourselves, but our force is weak and scattered over the State."

The Muse South African