This Day In History: The Confederates Invade Missouri (1864)

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On this day in 1864, in the American Civil War the Confederates under  General Sterling Price invaded Missouri. The state was occupied by the Union army and they had established strong defenses in the area.  Price and his men attacked the forward positions of the Union army at   Fort Davidson on this date.  This is commonly known as the battle of Pilot Knob. The rebels besieged the fort and they bombarded it mercilessly. They were able to seize the fort after two brutal days of fighting. The Confederates suffered heavy losses but they were glad of the victory,  it was a morale boost for the South. Price’s invasion was in part designed to influence the state elections.  His army also hoped to secure supplies and especially food. Price entered Missouri from Arkansas with some 12,000 men. However, he had lost 1000 men at the battle for Fort Davidson, which was of little strategic significance. The rest of Price campaign in Missouri did not go as planned and he was slowed down by the need to find supplies for his troops.

The Confederates did not gain any support from the local population many of whom prior to the war had been sympathetic to the Rebels. Price had hoped by his invasion to embolden local Confederate sympathizers to raise in support for the South or at least to vote for a candidate who wanted to have a negotiated end to the war. The South at this stage saw its only hope in a settlement with the North because it knew it could not defeat it in a battle.  In fact, Missouri voted for a Republican candidate who was anti-Slavery and demanded total war against the South. The Confederate’s plan’s backfired, badly and Price’s invasion was a disaster.

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Battle of Polk’s Knob Memorial

The Union forces in Missouri concentered their defense on the capital, Jefferson City. When Price approached the city they defended it fiercely.  The Union established a line of defenses in and around the city. The Confederates tried to launch a frontal attack on Jefferson but they were easily thrown back. Price knew that his army despite outnumbering the Union was in a bad way and his men were at breaking point because of a lack of supplies, his men were actually on the verge of starvation.

This resulted in Price trying to march on St Louis and then on to Texas.  During Price’s raid as it became known the Union army constantly harried him. However, his army was heavily defeated by a smaller Union army at the Battle of Westport, often known as the Gettysburg of the West.   The force of 12,000 men that had set out from Arkansas only a few weeks before was literally gone and the Union was free to invade Arkansas.

The invasion of Missouri was an unmitigated disaster for the south and indicated to many that their defeat was inevitable even in the South.

 

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