Shelby’s Great Raid
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Not long after Quantrill's raid on Lawrence, Confederate Colonel Joseph O. Shelby decided to test the federal cordon strategy for isolating Missouri by taking an 800-man force across the Arkansas River and deep into the state. Shelby’s raid, while costly, was successful. Shelby’s force left Arkadelphia, Arkansas on September 22, 1863, and rode deep into central Missouri, eventually crossing the Arkansas River at Clarksville on October 26.
During that interval, Shelby killed hundreds of federals and destroyed and/or confiscated a million dollars worth of supplies. He certainly made a name for himself and earned a promotion to brigadier general for his exploits. Shelby proved that the cordon around Missouri was permeable, and with a relatively small number of men he tied up thousands of federal soldiers who were desperately needed elsewhere. Shelby laid the foundation for bigger Confederate operations the following year.
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By the early autumn of 1864, the Confederacy’s prospects of winning the broader war were dwindling fast. Union Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant had the rebel leader of the Army of Northern Virginia, General Robert E. Lee, trapped in a grinding siege at Petersburg, Virginia. Major General William T. Sherman’s Federal Army had recently captured Atlanta and was preparing its famous March to the Sea, or Savannah Campaign.
Against this backdrop, rebel Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of all Confederate forces in the Trans-Mississippi, decided to try to conquer Missouri for the Confederacy. He placed Major General Sterling Price in charge of the 12,000-man Army of Missouri. Price enthusiastically embraced the mission and set off from Camden, Arkansas on August 28, 1864.
Price’s marauders left a trail of blood and destruction through Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas.
For the next three-plus months, Price’s Army of Missouri rampaged throughout the interior of Missouri but failed in its goals of conquering Missouri or preventing Abraham Lincoln from gaining re-election to the presidency. Price’s marauders left a trail of blood and destruction through Arkansas, Missouri, and Kansas, before ultimately returning to Texas via Indian Territory and Arkansas in early December. They were extremely fortunate to escape annihilation at the hands of federal forces several times, most notably suffering sharp defeats at Westport (south of Kansas City, Missouri) on October 21-23 and at Mine Creek in Kansas on October 25. Price’s eviction from Missouri and Kansas essentially ended all major combat operations north of the Arkansas River in Missouri and Kansas.
Peace on the Border
The fighting in Missouri and Kansas during the Civil War did not command center stage, but it was significant nonetheless. The struggle for Missouri in the early stages of the war played a key role in the initial formulation of the Lincoln administration’s strategy. President Lincoln understood the importance of controlling the Mississippi River, and before operations could commence down the river, St. Louis (and by extension, Missouri) needed to be firmly secured on the federal side. Within this strategic context, the decisive Union victory at Pea Ridge was a critical turning point of the war in the Trans-Mississippi. Never again did the Confederacy have such a good opportunity to stake a claim to the vital state of Missouri. Defeat at Pea Ridge and Van Dorn’s abandonment of Missouri and Arkansas allowed federal expeditions down the Mississippi River to proceed.
View a clip of historian Terry Beckenbaugh discussing Civil War politics at the Kansas City Public Library.
The rebels certainly made attempts to recover Missouri. The Prairie Grove campaign and later, Price’s Raid, were efforts to reverse the setback at Pea Ridge. While the federal hold on Missouri was never seriously threatened after Pea Ridge, Missouri’s Civil War experience was by no means a tranquil one. Guerrilla bands roamed the state, as bushwhackers and jayhawkers made life miserable for civilians in large areas of both Missouri and Kansas. The widespread death, destruction, and bitterness they caused are perhaps the lasting legacy of the Civil War in Missouri and Kansas.
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Shea, William L. and Earl J. Hess. Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992.