Just last week was the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi River. With approximately 2,500 wounded, killed, and missing Federal and Southern soldiers, the battle itself undoubtedly set the stage for Union occupation and ultimate victory in Missouri. During the battle itself, the climactic fights took place on what was later named “Bloody Hill,” a plateau marked by deep ravines and thick brush. Images of Bloody Hill I took on my visit show the heavy brush and uneven terrain (see below).
During every Southern assault and Federal movement on that hill, units had difficulty maintaining alignment and structure between the ravines. After visiting the battlefield myself in July, I walked along the trails on Bloody Hill and wondered how the terrain looked on a topographical map and elevation profile.
In 1899, Confederate veteran from De Kalb, Missouri, Sam B. Dunlap, wrote to The Confederate Veteran about his experience with the Army of Tennessee, particularly during the retreat from Franklin to Nashville. Dunlap volunteered to served in Boyd’s Battalion of the First Missouri Artillery. He was captured during the Vicksburg Campaign, but was paroled in time to serve in the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, now with Guibor’s Battery. The Confederate Veteran article was written as Dunlap was writing his own memoirs, which is currently in the collection of The State Historical Society of Missouri. Continue reading “A Missouri Confederate Recalls the Retreat to Nashville”
“Our men were generally armed with the old Springfield rifle, while the Confederates had in many instances only shotguns. Most of our wounded were disabled by buckshot or buck-and-ball. Some of the Confederates used old double-barreled guns,” remembered Major John Halderman of the First Kansas Infantry. He was not writing about just any Trans-Mississippi Confederate troops. In fact, he was recalling the troops of the Missouri State Guard at Wilson’s Creek, who went into battle there with a hodgepodge of firearms. 
Due to the speed of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s movement at the start of the campaign, Governor Claiborne Jackson and the state legislature was unable to properly supply the newly-formed Missouri State Guard was uniforms or weapons. The units of the Guard were either former militia or they were newly-formed. Roughly 30% of the Guard was properly uniformed. Continue reading “The Hodgepodge of Armaments of the Missouri State Guard”
By Christmas of 1861, the State of Missouri had seen its share of bloodshed and violence. Missourians had seen the death of 28 civilians in the streets of St. Louis; 2,500 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing ten miles outside of Springfield; the first death of a Union general; bloodshed between along the Mississippi near Belmont; a Union garrison routed at Lexington; and the outbreak of irregular warfare in nearly every corner of the state. Most of the engagements fought in 1861 were Southern victories, but that would change just three days after Christmas at a small white church at Hallsville in Boone County. Continue reading “Battle at Mount Zion Church”
Just days after surviving the first major battle west of the Mississippi River – the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – German-born Sergeant Otto C. Lademann of the 3rd Missouri Infantry promised Colonel Thomas Snead of Major General Sterling Price’s staff that he would never take up arms against the enemy in order to return home to St. Louis. He, along with most of Colonel Franz Sigel’s column, had been routed and captured on the south end of the battlefield.
On August 20, Lademann, along with eight commissioned officers and one fellow non-commissioned soldier, departed Springfield in the wagon of a pro-Union man who offered to take them to Rolla for sixty dollars. By wagon, they would travel along the Wire Road to Rolla. There, the Union soldiers would depart for St. Louis by train on the Southwestern Branch of the Pacific Railroad.
On September 27, 1864, Major General Sterling Price’s 12,000-man Army of Missouri moved north towards their target of St. Louis and encountered the Federal garrison at Fort Davidson in southeastern Missouri in the St. Francois Mountains. Price advancing north from Camden, Arkansas into Union-occupied Missouri was the last major offensive movement of a Confederate army to attempt to recapture lost territory. Just two months prior, Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early launched a movement into Maryland with the goal of seizing Washington, DC. All other Confederate armies – with the exception of Price – were on the strategic defensive. At Fort Davidson, the first major engagement of the 1864 Missouri Campaign, we as historians tend to focus on Price’s repeated attacks against the Union defenses. In this post, though, we will spend time looking at the Union defenses and how they were able to hold the fort until able to safely retreat.
Constructed in 1863 and named for Brig. Gen. John Davidson, the Fort itself sat at a critical juncture for a large army to maneuver northward. Roads radiating from the towns of Pilot Knob and Ironton led to Middlebrook, Farmington, California, Potosi, and Fredericktown. The terminus of the Iron Mountain Railroad shot north from the iron furnaces at Pilot Knob to St. Louis. Additionally, the Fort sat in lowland, protected by the surrounding mountains, yet it could still protect the vital supply lines. At first glance, it may seem as if Fort Davidson were in a situation like Harpers Ferry in September 1862, where Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson utilized the surrounding heights for artillery positions to bombard the Union garrison on Bolivar Heights. The Army of Missouri would attempt just that against the Federals. The Union garrison would use the mountains to screen and protect the fort from an envelopment. You can visualize this in the map below.