General Sterling Invades Missouri

In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Price’s raid on Missouri and Kansas, KHC is featuring excerpts from “Price’s March of 1864” Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater script. The Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater project is a partnership between KHC and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.                                                                                                 

William S. Rosecrans

William S. Rosecrans. Photo courtesy of: Library of Congress.

READER 1: The invasion of Missouri by [Sterling] Price was no sudden freak of the Confederate general.  It was a long contemplated movement on his part.  All summer long, rumors were afloat pointing in this direction.  Intercepted letters, reports from refugees from rebel lines, all told the same story.  General Price was coming to Missouri, to recover the state and hold it for the Confederacy…He was coming to Kansas to chastise her for the part she had taken in the struggle. It was said that Price had fifteen thousand trained troops, and nineteen cannon.  Besides these there were some five thousand guerillas…The rumor of his coming…was received with serious alarm.

Reverend Richard Cordley, Lawrence, Kansas militia.

READER 2: From early in the spring it was known through…rebel sources that Price intended a great invasion of this State, in which he expected the co-operation of…rebels generally, and by which he hoped to obtain important military and political results.  On the 3rd of September, [we received] information that the force under [Confederate General Joseph] Shelby at Batesville, Arkansas, was about to be joined by Price for the invasion of our State.  The ripening of the corn lent to this [the] additional color of probability.

General William S. Rosecrans, U.S. Army, commanding Department of the Missouri, St. Louis.

NARRATOR: Ripening fields, ready for harvest, signaled the change of seasons.  Missourians claimed wryly that, during the Civil War, their state witnessed five seasons of the year: spring, summer, fall, Price’s Raid, and winter.  “There was some truth to this.  The autumnal cavalry expeditions of [Confederate] Generals…had, since 1862, become almost predictable, as swift-moving…commands of Missouri Confederates explod[ed] out of Arkansas [and] swept through the state…raiding, recruiting fresh troops, and playing havoc with Union garrisons.  [T]he greatest and most ambitious of these Confederate operations [was] Price’s Missouri Raid of 1864.”

That particular autumn, General Sterling Price left Arkansas with three cavalry divisions, and entered Missouri astride Bucephalus, the horse he had named after the stallion ridden by the conqueror Alexander the Great.

READER 3: On the 19th of September…I entered Missouri with nearly 12,000 men, of whom 8,000 were armed, and fourteen pieces of artillery, and on the 24th day of September reached Fredericktown, M[issouri]…

General Sterling Price, Confederate Army of the Missouri.

READER 4: Price had a train of from three to four hundred wagons, principally loaded with ammunition and ordnance stores.  His army lived on the country and conscripted rigorously as they moved.

Captain Richard Hinton, Kansas, Army of the Border.

READER 5: On the 23rd we received certain information that Price had crossed the Arkansas with two divisions of mounted men, three batteries of artillery, a large wagon train carrying several thousand stand of small-arms, and was at or near Batesville on the White River…Rebel agents, amnesty oath-takers, recruits, [rebel] sympathizers…and traitors of every hue and stripe, had warmed into life at the approach of the great invasion.  Women’s fingers were busy making clothes for rebel soldiers out of goods plundered by the guerrillas; women’s tongues were busy telling Union neighbors “their time was now coming.”

General William S. Rosecrans, Union Army Department of the Missouri.

NARRATOR: Price’s forces attacked the Missouri towns of Patterson and Fredericktown between September 22-25, destroying railroads and bridges, and looting farms and fields as they advanced.

READER 1: Under these circumstances, my first object was to secure our great depots at Springfield and Rolla…Indeed, to have abandoned these points would have been not only to abandon the loyal people of those districts and their property to destruction, but to invite the enemy to destroy our trains…capture our stores, and beat our troops in detail.

General William S. Rosecrans, Union Army Department of the Missouri.

READER 2: Dear Sister, I could tell you many things that I can’t write.  You thought we had hard times here before you left, but it is ten times as hard now.  There is men being killed every little while…the country is all in a confusion…We hear that Old Price is within forty miles of Springfield with ten thousand men…We don’t know when they will be here.

Priscilla Hunter, Ozark Prairie, Missouri, September 25, 1864.

NARRATOR: Price’s first objective was to overtake the city of St. Louis, then capture the capital at Jefferson City.  To answer this threat, the Union army bolstered its forces with local militia, volunteer military forces from the civilian population whose members supplement the regular army in times of emergency.  If the threat warranted, all able-bodied men, even those who were not enrolled members of a local militia but capable of bearing arms, were called upon to help defend their homes and towns.  St. Louis would be the first of many places where citizens throughout Missouri and Kansas answered the call to arms to help repel Price’s March.  Their participation often made the difference between defeat and the Union army’s success.

READER 4: The safety of Saint Louis was vital to us…The enrolled militia of Saint Louis, though but skeleton regiments, were called out and the citizens also requested to organize and arm.

General William S. Rosecrans, Union Army Department of the Missouri.

READER 3: Receiving information that the Federal force in Saint Louis far exceeded my own two to one, and knowing the city to be strongly fortified, I determined to move as fast as possible on Jefferson City, destroying the railroad as I went, with a hope to be able to capture that city with its troops and munitions of war.

General Sterling Price, Confederate Army of the Missouri. 

Tune in on September 28th to find out where General Sterling and his troops are headed next!