Monday, October 6, 2014

Q & A: PRICE'S LOST CAMPAIGN by Mark A. Lause

By Sara L. Deters

As a history major at the University of Missouri, I've always hoped that Missouri's history would deservedly receive more attention. Mark A. Lause, author of Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri does just that by exploring the largely ignored events that took place in Missouri during the Civil War. Focused around one military general, Sterling Price, Price's Lost Campaign describes the unsuccessful military raid in Missouri of 1864. Emphasizing guerrilla warfare and how that brutality shaped the political elections in Missouri during 1864 provides cultural as well as political history for the readers out there interested in more than just warfare history. 


What prompted you to write about the military campaign in Missouri?

Most of what’s written on the Civil War in Missouri has focused on the early days - before the Federal authorities secured their hold on the state - or on the colorful and violent events of the guerilla war in the state. 

Although I’ve always had an interest in the 1864 Missouri campaign, I didn’t pursue it seriously until after writing the book Race and Radicalism in the Union Army, which focused on the efforts of John Brown’s surviving followers to build a tri-racial Federal army in the Indian Territory--present Oklahoma.  It isn’t surprising that such a prospect did not please the Confederates at all, but I was surprised at the extent to which the Federal authorities did everything they could to divert it, drain it of resources, and even to line their pockets from the artificial misfortune imposed upon the project.  By the conclusion of that book, I had a very different and much dimmer view of the prospects for a real Reconstruction after the war.

Missouri troops and events in Missouri generally figured heavily in those operations.  At one point, for example, the Indian brigade essentially took over Neosho as a base--the place had been essentially abandoned.  And the fact that the Confederate army ended the 1864 campaign by retreating south right past a Union Indian brigade rendered helpless by Federal policies seemed to require another look at the movements of Price’s Army and his pursuers.

You say that your grandmother passed down stories of her grandfathers witnessing and participating in the 1864 campaign. Any stories you wish to share?

Both of her grandfathers and several great uncles were in the Enrolled Missouri Militia.  However, their wives and children may have seen more of this campaign than they did.  Riders went along those country roads warning that Confederate columns were on the way and everybody grabbed what they could and headed out across the fields into the woods.  They stayed there for several days.  Most of their houses were robbed of anything not nailed down and vandalized. 

The Federal Department of Missouri later made a great issue about the cold-blooded murder of Major James Wilson and his men outside of Union, Missouri.  This was a truly horrific act, but there was no mention of the murder of captured members of the militia the same day only a few miles away, or the previous day in Union, or in the other days before and after Wilson’s murder. The killing of Union soldiers, militia or civilians that fell into Confederate hands was a daily occurrence. 

And, yes, it went the other way, too, though never to the same extent.  

Why did the Federals call Price’s army a “raid” instead of a “campaign?”

The book argues that the Confederates planned the operation as an invasion to reoccupy as much of Missouri as they could on the eve of the 1864 presidential elections.  This included taking St. Louis and/or Jefferson City.  Union Generals William S. Rosecrans and Alfred Pleasanton, though, did not think that the Confederacy had that much life left in it, and originally thought that reports of Price’s presence with a large army represented a panicked response to a mere raid with no more than a few thousand men or less.  They staked everything on this mistaken assessment. 

Notwithstanding the stories later told that Pilot Knob alerted St. Louis to the danger and inspired Rosecrans to mobilize the population in the city’s defense. In fact, Rosecrans and his staff did not really mobilize city’s militia and continued to discuss this is a “raid,” almost until the Confederate advance probed the borders of St. Louis county on September 30.  Among other things, Price’s decision not to attack St. Louis permitted the Federals to continue to speak disparagingly of the operation as “a raid.”

A few days later, after Price again decided not to attack a strategic objective at Jefferson City.  Thereafter, Confederate goals centered on the idea of supporting themselves as long as possible in Missouri.  Indeed, the campaign proved to be such a dismal failure that Price and his staff increasingly preferred to have their achievements viewed in terms of a “raid.”    By the original standards, there was no seizure and occupation of St. Louis or Jefferson City, but nabbing dozens of farm wagons as you pass through Saline County might make a raid successful. 


What can we learn about Missouri’s role in the Civil War from Price’s Lost Campaign?

I hope that readers of the book will realize that historians have been making choices about what priorities to place on aspects of the Civil War.  The sectional tensions between the east and west, perhaps, were secondary only to those between the North and the South.  And sectional tensions represent a gross oversimplification.  The Civil War pit two different ways of seeing America’s future against each other, but there were also many variations in those aspirations, especially on the most complex side of the war. 


What was the most fascinating part for you during your research?

What always amazes me in doing historical research is the extent to which we can actually probe the experience of the rank and file--the soldiers, militia, and civilians touched by the war.   Part of this is has to do with new technologies, such as the digitalization of newspapers, military records, and even some manuscript collections. 

When they digitized the Official Records some years ago, I remember saying that this would probably enable critical researchers to start putting some holes into the often conflicting information contained in them.  That process has started.  I hope that, in a way, Price’s Lost Campaign and the forthcoming Collapse of Price’s Raid will be able to contribute to this.

Any other projects currently in the works?

I have several books already on the way to press, including The Collapse of Price’s Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri (University of Missouri Press), Free Labor: the Civil War and the Making of the American Working Class and a book on the politics of spiritualism in the Civil War years.  I am also finishing a book that grew out of what I learned in the Trans-Mississippi Civil War and applies it to the Franco-Prussian War, tentatively entitled The Last Republicans.  I have started another on political violence in the Wild West, aimed at the role of violence in reconstructing and imposing the two-party system.









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