Peace for Missouri

future general, William Tecumseh Sherman had come to the same conclusion as many others regarding the military importance of the rivers of the Midwest. He wrote his brother, John, then an Ohio senator: "Whatever nation gets the control of the Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers will control the continent." These western rivers had great length, flowed generally north to south, and reached deep into the heartland of the Confederacy.

The winner in the west would be the side that could control the rivers, but the territories gained through river-borne conquests were really the important strategic targets. The balance of power between the two sides depended on the allegiance or control of two important border states. Kentucky and Missouri were the only slave states beyond the Appalachian Mountains that had not chosen sides, and they could go either way. The outcome of their eventual choice was critical to the balance of power.

The population of either of these two wavering states was larger than any Confederate state except Virginia, and either would greatly increase the military manpower of the South. Their true importance, however, was in their strategic location on the crucial river systems: Kentucky's location commanded most of the Ohio River's drainage, but Missouri was the real prize for North or South to claim.

Missouri dominated the region. If it were a Confederate state, troops from there could block or threaten the Union's major routes between the western states and could threaten southern Illinois. Missouri also controlled a large portion of the Mississippi River, including the vital junction with the Ohio River at Cairo. Clearly, Missouri was a vital strategic prize, and both North and South moved to gain control early in the war.

Neither the Unionists nor Secessionists had any special advantage in Missouri. Many slaveholders hoped to avoid war, and

Mississippi Slaveholders Missouri ConfederateSlaveholders Mississippi

PAGE 29: The intense fighting at Pea Ridge allowed the Union to retain control of the state of Missouri. More important to the longterm military success in the west was the fact that the Union had control of most of the vital Mississippi River. ABOVE: Republican Congressman Frank P. Blair, the son of a trusted friend of Andrew Jackson, was a commander of Unionist Home Guards. Here, Blair (center) and his staff are planning operations against the secessionists.

PAGE 29: The intense fighting at Pea Ridge allowed the Union to retain control of the state of Missouri. More important to the longterm military success in the west was the fact that the Union had control of most of the vital Mississippi River. ABOVE: Republican Congressman Frank P. Blair, the son of a trusted friend of Andrew Jackson, was a commander of Unionist Home Guards. Here, Blair (center) and his staff are planning operations against the secessionists.

Southern sentiment was greatly offset by the recent arrival of thousands of Germanic immigrants who left their homes in Europe after the failure of the revolutions of 1848, which had been intended to establish a constitutional government in a unified country. These liberal refugees had recently taken an oath of allegiance to their adopted country, the United States, and there was little about the Confederacy that attracted them.

When the Unionists' leader, Frank P. Blair, Jr., a Republican congressman from St. Louis and the brother of Lincoln's Postmaster General, learned of a Secessionist plot to seize the St. Louis Arsenal, he asked for troops to form a guard. Washington sent eighty men under the command of a tough regular army captain, Nathaniel Lyon, from Fort Riley, Kansas. Blair arranged for Lyon to enlist a large Home Guard to maintain order. Soon the Home Guard came into conflict with the pro-Confederate state militiamen.

On May 10, 1861, Lyon and his Home Guards surrounded the militia camp, dis armed the Confederate sympathizers, and marched them through the streets of the city as a form of public humiliation. Tempers were hot and the Home Guard, primarily German immigrants, were soon being cursed by onlookers. Stones were thrown and someone fired a pistol into the German Home Guard formations. The Home Guard returned the fire. As civilians and innocent onlookers began to fall, the situation became a riot during which twenty-eight civilians lost their lives. This riot and the deaths of the civilians galvanized the citizens of Missouri as perhaps nothing else could have done. All thoughts of remaining neutral were forgotten by the time the funerals were over.

As news of the "massacres" in St. Louis spread, recruits for the Confederacy began pouring into camps and training centers. Command of these new soldiers was given to Sterling Price, a former governor who developed a fixation about winning control of Missouri for the Confederacy. He was joined by fifteen hundred cavalrymen, under Jo Shelby, and fifty-four hundred men from Arkansas under a former Texas Ranger, Ben McCulloch. They soon had a force sufficiently large to turn on Lyon's Union soldiers. By July, Price and McCulloch led a joint command of fourteen thousand men and they moved to attack Lyon. They encamped at Wilson's Creek on August 9.

Lyon planned to hit the Confederates before they could bring their superior numbers against him and made plans with the commander of his German element, Franz Sigel. Formerly a professional soldier, Sigel commanded 1,250 Home Guards, whom he had trained intensively for combat. Lyon and Sigel were making a great gamble in the face of superior numbers.

Sigel was to swing wide to the south, approach the left flank of the Confederates, and strike their rear as Lyon attacked them from the front. Sigel was given an artillery battery to accompany his infantry. Luckily, it began to rain hard and Confederate commanders moved their pickets under cover late in the night. As a result, Sigel was able to get his small force into position without detection.

Lyon's regiments were seen at dawn and they began to advance against Confederate positions on a nearby hill. To the south, Sigel's men waited under cover of trees and began to fire into a nearby Confederate regiment. Unfortunately, Sigel soon made an understandable mistake, but one that cost them their position and the battle.

Sigel wrote that he saw a large number of men in gray uniforms approaching and ordered his men not to fire into them. He assumed these were the men of the Union's

1st Iowa Infantry, ex-militiamen who continued to wear gray clothing. These arriving Confederates, clearly not the 1st Iowa, fired into Sigel's men and charged as the Union soldiers broke in confusion. Sigel made his escape, but the Federal force lost both their positions and most of their cannon— weapons that were turned on Lyon's troops.

The battle ended when Lyon was wounded in the head and then killed by a bullet in the chest. It was an appalling defeat for the LJnion army, but Lyon's aggressive maneuvering had left the Confederates off balance; furthermore, the Unionists had consolidated their positions in Missouri. Sterling Price was able to occupy Springfield, though his position was weakened when McCulloch took his little army back to Arkansas.

German Revolution 1848 Pictures
German-born Franz Sigel bad emigrated to the United States after participating in the failed 1848 revolution in the German states of the Habsburg Empire. Popular with his immigrant countrymen, Sigel remained in positions of authority in the Union army despite blunders that dearly cost the Federals.
Failed German Revolution 1848
General Nathaniel Lyon was wounded in the head and then killed by a chest wound during the battle of Wilson's Creek.

Price's next target was Lexington, a large town located between Kansas City and St. Louis. He felt it had strategic importance and moved immediately against the town's small garrison. The three thousand defenders fought without support, little water, and no hope or relief from their commander, former presidential candidate, John C. Fremont, in St. Louis. They fought from earthworks for nine days before surrendering to Price on September 20, 1861.

This second defeat in Missouri, coming so soon after the crushing defeat and death of Lyon at Wilson's Creek, created an uproar in the North. The new prisoners were paroled, but the Confederates kept the hero of the siege, Colonel James A. Mulligan of the 23rd Illinois Volunteers, as a prisoner. Mulligan was held until October 30, when he was escorted to St. Louis under a flag of truce and released.

Fremont was soon relieved of command, but he did provide one excellent service to his country before he disappeared from St. Louis. He selected Ulysses S. Grant to become the commander at Cairo, Illinois. It was Grant's first major command position.

Little changed in the tactical situation in Missouri for the next few months. Price and McCulloch continued feuding with each other until it became obvious that a new commander had to be found. Colonel Henry Heth, fresh from his personal disaster at Lewisburg in western Virginia (where his numerically superior force had been soundly defeated by George Crook), declined the command. Braxton Bragg also decided his military reputation could be enhanced elsewhere. The

General Heth Civil War
General John C Fremont, an explorer of the west and the Republican presidential candidate in 1856, was an uninspiring Union commander in the early battles of the Civil War. He was the first Federal commander to order the freeing of slaves—a political blunder at the time.

new commander selected was Major General Earl Van Dorn. All of the pro-Confederate Missourians were pleased with the selection of a fighter as their commander.

The Union commander in St. Louis, Major General Henry Halleck, had planned a large offensive against several critical points in the region under his authority. Grant would be sent toward forts Heniy and Donelson, Pope would move toward New Madrid on the Mississippi, and a third army under the command of Brigadier General Samuel Curtis would attempt to drive Price from Missouri.

Curtis began to march against Price on February 10. Van Dorn, looking forward to the opportunity to destroy Curtis, sent orders to McCulloch to return with his regiments. McCulloch then sent orders to Brigadier

General Van Dorn

A battle raged for nearly nine days as Sterling Price's troops fought for the control of Lexington, Missouri, with the men under Union General John Fremont. His inability to recapture this important population center cost Fremont his command.

General Albert Pike to assemble his troops and join him to support Van Dorn.

Pike was leading one of the most unusual armies to march during the Civil War. While he had little military experience, the three-hundred-pound lawyer was an expert on American Indians, and the Confederate government had commissioned the Boston-born Pike to negotiate treaties with the Native American inhabitants of the Indian Territory, today's Oklahoma. Treaties were made with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes, but half of the members of the remaining tribes were pro-Union and they moved as refugees into Kansas. The treaties signed with Pike obligated the Confederate Indians to fight only in their territory; likewise, the Confederates were bound by their treaties to come to the assistance of the Indians. Pike was less than pleased with the orders to bring his Indian regiments into Missouri and Arkansas to assist Van Dorn.

A battle raged for nearly nine days as Sterling Price's troops fought for the control of Lexington, Missouri, with the men under Union General John Fremont. His inability to recapture this important population center cost Fremont his command.

Confederate Army
General Sterling Price, a former governor of Missouri, was determined to win control of his state for the Confederacy.

Price and McCulloch continued their withdrawal from Missouri into the mountainous territory in Arkansas, where they were joined by Van Dorn. The assembled Confederate army had approximately sixteen thousand men to face Curtis' reduced force of about ten thousand. Van Dorn was confident that he could defeat Curtis and ordered the entire force forward on March 3-

Curtis learned of Van Dorn's approach and moved his men into positions on the north side of Little Sugar Creek, where they began to construct earthworks and field fortifications. In the rear of the positions was a high ridge that had peas growing on vines on its slopes, called locally Pea Ridge. Sigel left a rear guard near Bentonville, fourteen miles away, and engaged Van Dorn on March 6 before falling back to the main body at Pea Ridge. Van Dorn, with little reconnaissance, thought he was engaging the primary Union army and made an attempt to encircle

Sigel, but the German officer was able to extract his men and return to the main force in front of Pea Ridge.

Van Dorn, reluctant to attack the strong positions of Curtis, decided to attempt a maneuver similar to that attempted by Lyon and Sigel at Wilson's Creek. He would divide his forces, attempt to flank Curtis' position, and get into the Federal army's rear area to block any attempted retreat. The coordination of widely separated commands at any time is difficult, but was nearly impossible to achieve during the confusion of a Civil War battle. Van Dorn complicated matters by neglecting to explain his plan to the recently arrived Pike, the commander of the Indian Brigade. The movement began successfully enough, but Curtis quickly became aware of the dual movements and moved large elements of infantry with artillery against McCulloch and Pike as they attempted to get to the Union flank and rear.

Pea Ridge

March 7-8, 1862

1. The original Confederate plan was to swing behind Big Mountain and attack the Union rear. Aware of this Confederate flanking movement. Union troops block the road with trees and other debris.

2. Slowed by the felled trees. General McCulloch turns his forces around and heads down Ford Road with the intention of joining General Van Dorn's troops near Elkhorn Tavern.

3. As the Confederates approach Little Mountain, Union forces open fire with artillery. The Confederates quickly overrun this position.

4. Confederate forces stop in the woods at the northern edge of a large cornfield. Union forces in the woods along the southern edge of this field open fire. The 36th Illinois advances and drives the Confederates back. Confederate generals McCulloch and Mcintosh are killed in this action.

5. A final assault from Little Mountain is Hanked and turned by Union forces under General Davis.

Overhead View of Pea Ridge

SCALE (approximate)

SCALE (approximate)

Confederate Army

Union and Confederate Forces March 7, 1862

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Union and Confederate Forces March 8, 1862

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General Troop Movements

Successful Assaults

Artillery Positions (Lee Town vicinity Only)

Felled Trees Blocking Road

Spring and Stream

W»x>ds and Open Fields

6. Around the same time as General McCulkxh's initial assault, Confederate forces under the command of General Van Dorn attack Union troops near Elkhorn Tavern. By nightfall Union forces have been pushed back well below the tavern.

7. On the morning of March 8 the entire Union line advances, slowly pushing the Confederates back.

5. By midday, the Confederates are falling back along the Huntsville Road. The Battle of Pea Ridge is over.

VERTICAL and HORIZONTAL SCALES (approximate)

Profile of Pea Ridge

Confederate Army Information

Confederate General Earl Van Dorn attempted to change the course of the war by capturing St. Louis. A smaller Federal force under General Samuel R. Curtis defeated the Confederates at Pea Ridge and forced Van Dorn back to the Arkansas River. While this engraving shous controlled, orderly soldiers in battle, the Pea Ridge combat was actually a confusing, disorganized affair. Van Dorn's supply wagons had been sent to the wrong position and the Confederates were unable to resupply their men.

Confederate General Earl Van Dorn attempted to change the course of the war by capturing St. Louis. A smaller Federal force under General Samuel R. Curtis defeated the Confederates at Pea Ridge and forced Van Dorn back to the Arkansas River. While this engraving shous controlled, orderly soldiers in battle, the Pea Ridge combat was actually a confusing, disorganized affair. Van Dorn's supply wagons had been sent to the wrong position and the Confederates were unable to resupply their men.

Van Dorn quickly realized the danger he was in. His divided force could be overwhelmed, one element at a time, by the now alerted Union commander. Van Dorn quickly complicated matters even further by ordering McCulloch and Pike to reverse their courses. This additional confusion was too much for the commanders to manage. Pike and his Indian Brigade ended up in the rear of a Confederate cavalry brigade commanded by General Mcintosh.

Soon the Indian soldiers and McCulloch's troops encountered part of the Union army. McCulloch ordered the attack to begin before the Union commander, Osterhaus, could get his men in motion. John Drew's Cherokees and a regiment of Cherokee mixed-blood soldiers under Stand Watie forced many of the German soldiers to retreat in panic, but it soon was the Cherokee's turn to be scared as the Union soldiers regrouped and fired shells into their midst. Poor luck began to plague the Confederates making the attempt to get into the Federal rear. McCulloch and Mcintosh were killed and Pike suddenly found himself the senior officer on the battlefield. He attempted to set up a defensive line out of the Cherokee and some of the remnants of McCulloch's men, but it was a hopeless endeavor: the men were exhausted. Soon after, Pike received orders to return to the main body of the Confederate army to support Van Dorn.

Price and Van Dorn had done better with the army's main element and had forced many of the Union soldiers to retreat to the slopes of Pea Ridge. They were winning the battle, but luck intervened in favor of the Union army. Through a serious error. Van Dorn's ammunition train had been sent to positions from which it could not be recalled to replenish the artillery with powder and ammunition. Lacking both food and ammunition. the exhausted Confederates could not consider mounting another attack. The Llnion artillery began the next morning's engage-

Confederate Army

Outnumbered and poorly supplied Confederate soldiers were frequently forced to scavenge for ammunition from their own dead or wounded comrades. Only through valiant efforts by ordinary soldiers did the Confederacy survive for four years.

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  • PENNY MORONTA
    Why were Confederate soldiers forced to scavenge weapons and ammunition from battlefields?
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