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Prologue: Curtis's Winter Campaign

Union General Samuel CurtisUnion General Philip SheridanWhen Union Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis left his supply base in Rolla, Missouri, he would have to supply his Army of the Southwest using wagons. The railroad stopped in Rolla. Southwestern Missouri had been ravaged in 1861 by marauding bands from both sides. The fighting between the northern and southern forces during 1861 had also taken its toll on the food and forage available in southwestern Missouri. and would yield little in the way of food and forage for Curtis's army. Supplying his army would be one of Curtis's key problems. Curtis appointed Captain Philip H. Sheridan to be the quartermaster and commissary for the Army of the Southwest.

The weather would also be a problem for Curtis's army. They were going to be leaving at the worst possible time. The roads were likely to be covered with ice from freezing rain or muddy due to wet weather. Either way travel would be difficult. They also would be traveling through rugged terrain of the Ozark Mountains. This would cause Curtis to order the Federals to travel very lightly. Curtis's plan called for occupying Lebanon, Missouri, from which he could supply his expedition south against Price. On December 28, 1861, he sent a message to Halleck describing his plan.

“Will move the cavalry 8 a. m. to-morrow morning. Supplies so scarce this side of Springfield I will expedite progress by sending some. With your leave I will follow in support with artillery and infantry as far as Lebanon, creating a depot for the cavalry to fall back on. This movement will increase the stampede in Price's army, and the force will be convenient in any emergency. ”

Union General Eugene CarrCurtis had sent 24 Cavalry Companies under the command of Colonel Eugene A. Carr south on a reconnaissance in force to find out more information on Price in Springfield, Missouri. Halleck replied approving Curtis's plan. He received the go order from Major General Henry Halleck and began his campaign on January 13, 1862.

“Your telegram of this evening has determined me to order an advance without waiting any longer for advices from Washington...

“...Fletcher's battery will leave here for Rolla Wednesday morning. You now have twenty-four pieces. This will give you thirty. When the Ninth Iowa joins you you will have six more. Dodge's battery will also be sent to Rolla as soon as General Schofield can spare the section now with him. The Forty-third Illinois will be sent to you as soon as they are better armed; also the Second Iowa the moment I can relieve them. Perhaps I may be able to spare two other regiments in course of the week. At any rate, your forces will be superior to any reliable estimate I have received of Price's army. As your advance will necessarily be slow, the additional force will reach you this side of Springfield and will serve as a reserve.”

Curtis ordered the army to move from Rolla, Missouri to Lebanon, Missouri. The conditions would contribute to their slow progress from Rolla. Snow on the ground was an impediment to the wagon trains. If it rained, the road would become a quagmire. When the temperature dropped, any wagons still stuck in the mud would become frozen in place. The soldiers would need axes to chop the wagons out of the mud. Clothes would get soaking wet from the rain and then freeze as temperatures dropped. Both men, horses and oxen would quickly become exhausted.

Curtis persevered and by February 10, 1861, he was ready to press on from Lebanon to Springfield, Missouri and move against Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard.


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