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Prologue: Van Dorn's Appointment

Confederate General Benjamin McCullochConfederate General Sterling PriceThe relationship between Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch and Missouri State Guard Major General Sterling Price had not improved any since the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Naturally, Price was focused on driving the Federals out of Missouri and bringing his home state into the Confederacy. As a Confederate officer, McCulloch had the responsibility for protecting the northern borders of Arkansas and the Indian Territory against Union incursions. He had refused to support Price's movement against the Federal garrison in Lexington, Missouri. Also, McCulloch still did not believe that the Missouri State Guard was an effective fighting force. Both men publicly criticized each other.

CS President Jefferson DavisConfederate General Earl Van DornInstead of mediating the dispute, Confederacy President Jefferson Davis decided to appoint someone as their superior, hoping that person would be able to get control of the situation. Originally, Davis wanted to name Henry Heth and then Braxton Bragg, but both of them declined the offer. Davis's third choice was his close friend, Major General Earl Van Dorn.

On January 10, 1862, Davis appointed Van Dorn as the commander of the new Military District of the Trans-Mississippi. This large area included Missouri, Arkansas, the Indian Territory and northern Louisiana. Van Dorn arrived in Little Rock, Arkansas and assumed command on January 29, 1862.

“Special Orders No. 8 - That part of the State of Louisiana north of Red River, the Indian Territory west of Arkansas, and the States of Arkansas and Missouri, excepting therefrom the tract of country east of the Saint Francis, bordering on the Mississippi River, from the mouth of the Saint Francis to Scott County, Missouri (which tract will remain in the district of Major-General Polk), is constituted the Trans-Mississippi District of Department No. 2, and Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn is assigned to the command of the same. He will immediately repair to Bowling Green, Ky., and report for duty to General A. S. Johnston, commanding Department No. 2.”

Van Dorn combined the forces of Price and McCulloch into a single army with Van Dorn in command. He believed he would be able to quickly march this army north and capture St. Louis, Missouri. He wrote to his wife about his plans to:

“make a reputation and serve my country conspicuously or to fail. I must not, shall not, do the latter. I must have St. Louis – then Huzza!”

Van Dorn would set his plans in motion as soon as spring arrived. As we have already reported, the Federals would preempt these plans.


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