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Gen. Price at the head of ten thousand men.--McCulloch refuses to coöperate.
Admirable retreat of Price's army to Boston Mountains. -Hardihood of his troops. - A message from Gen. Halleck.--Gen. Van Dorn appointed Confederate Commander of the Trans-Mississippi. Battle of Elk Horn.--Its importance.-Heroism of Gen. Price on the field.-The Missouri troops cross the Mississippi River. -Gen. Price's eloquent address to "the State Guard."
THE response to Gen. Price's glowing appeal to the patriotism of Missouri, was not what the commander expected and required ; but yet it was sufficient to inspire him with something of new hope. His command had suffered sadly for want of steady and persistent organization; it being mostly made up of volunteers who had hied to the camps in prospect of short service and a speedy return to their homes; and at one time it had been reduced by absenteeism to less than five thousand men, when Gen. Price was threatened on all sides: by Lane, from Kansas; by the forces from the north of Lexington, and by those coming out from St. Louis, by Rolla. Now, however, under the influence of fresh appeals, bis forces ran up to more than ten thousand men, and with these he determined to move towards Springfield, and make another effort for the redemption of the State. He had again put himself in communication with McCulloch's forces, then under command of Cols. McIntosh and Hebert. His aim was to hold the State of Missouri, because of the richness of the country, and its great capacity of subsistence; because of the priceless value of the Granby Lead Mines; and because he most especially desired to confine the destroying tide of war to its limits, and leave Arkansas and the South free and unharmed. He could not do this unaided and alone. His force was too small to resist one of the best appointed armies ever put on foot by the United States. He argued the subject fully and repeatedly with McIntosh and Hebert, McCulloch then being at Richmond. He appealed to Albert Sidney Johnson, to the Richmond Government, and entreated the co-operating aid of the Confederate forces, there hoarded and rusting on the confines of Arkansas, while he was standing picket for the whole Trans-Mississippi Department. He expressed his willingness and ability to hold Missouri, and keep the Federal forces at bay; he exhibited the teeming granaries and meat supplies of the country; he urged the importance of holding the Granby Lead Mines; and he argued the rich returns the armies of the Confederacy would derive from the fearless yeomanry of Missouri.
But these views were not taken by the Confederate authorities. Price was not reinforced ; Curtis, Sigel, and Davis advanced; the little Army of Missouri was compelled to retreat, and Springfield and Granby fell into the enemy's possession, no more to be reclaimed. But the retreat was conducted with a skill and success worthy of all praise ; and wherever the enemy came up with it he found a steadiness and ferocity, seldom the traits of a retreating column. Millions of stores, wagons and teams, lead and cattle, and other property were carried out by Price; for four days and nights he marched and fought, saving all his stores and losing but few of his men; and he exhibited an endurance and energy wbich astonished the enemy, and was the occasion of the remark, that “Old Price could beat the world running after a fight or away from one.” With sullen steps he retired to the Boston Mountains, where he encamped, and where finally he was to be joined by McCulloch's forces, but not until the golden moment for an offensive movement had departed, and the enemy had increased the forces, and multiplied the toils, by which he held the State of Missouri.
An officer of Price's army, describing this hard and painful retreat, writes: “Our sufferings during the campaign had been extreme, but setting the inconveniences aside, had tended to harden us, and make our limbs as tough as steel. Continually marching through non-inhabited districts, we had to depend upon Providence for supplies. Over mountains, through gaps,' across rivers and creeks, our progress was toilsome and weary ; but not more than a hundred names could be found upon the sick-list at any time during our frequent and rapid journeyings. Our cavalry led a hard life, incident to their daily duty. Among the mountains a party of these irregular’horse would watch all the roads, conceal their fires, and hang around the enemy with a pertinacious determination that no man should stir without their knowledge, and at the least opportunity making a dash at the foe, capturing and destroying as they went, living as best they might, and doing whatever they pleased. As scouts, these men were invaluable, they were here, there, and everywhere; it was impossible to follow in their track. Their dress was of skins or anything that came to hand, and so long as grass was found for their hardy, wiry Indian horses, the riders cared little for food, dress, leisure, or relief from duty."
It is said that about this period of the enemy's encouragement, when the Army of Missouri was compelled to retire to the Boston Mountains, Gen. Halleck, who had assumed command of the Western Department, sent a message to Gen. Price by a gentleman who was passing the lines. “Tell Gen. Price," he said, " that he had the advantage of me in Missouri, for he knew the country better than I did; but I have got him now where I want him, and expect to capture him, and whip his army soon.” “When you go back," was Price's reply, “say to Gen. Halleck that he has not men enough in his army to capture me. And as to whipping my boys, tell him he may select one hundred of the best men in his whole army, and I will take the same number of mine, as they come, and without distinction. He shall lead his one hundred men, and I will lead mine; and we will go into an open field to fight it out; and the fate of the Southern Confederacy shall depend upon the result. Tell him that, will you !" No reply was ever made to the challenge.
On his retreat to the Boston Mountains it was discovered, much to Gen. Price's gratification, that the government at Richmond had at last determined to cure the disagreement between himself and McCulloch by appointing Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn to the command of all the Trans-Mississippi forces, giving him the direction of affairs there, and securing that unanimity so long desirable. A happy accord existed between Gen. Price and the new commander. Indeed a private correspondence had taken place between these two military chieftains, on the occasion of Van Dorn's appointment by President Davis to take command in Arkansas and Missouri, which not only showed a spirit of mutual appreciation and compliment highly honourable to both, but developed a singular similarity of views (considering that the letter of each was written
without knowledge of that of the other) with reference to the conduct of the war.
When Van Dorn arrived to take command, a plan of attack was soon settled-a joint one by Price and McCulloch; the enemy then resting at Pea Ridge. The army, about 16,000 strong, was put in motion, encamped on the 5th March at Elm Springs, attacked Sigel next day at Bentonsville, and drove him out. Gen. Van Dorn, during the night, so changed the plan of battle, as to allow McCulloch to attack with his force on the south, while Price was to move around on the north. It was a fatal errour. Price was on the north, McCulloch on the south, the enemy was between them, only three miles apart; yet in order for either to reach the other, twelve miles had to be travelled, by reason of the mountainous country. Price, with 7,300 men, McCulloch with 9,000, either weakened or pushed to extremity, could derive no aid in proper time from the other-an inferiour force surrounding a superiour one. Van Dorn rode up on the morning of the 7th, and informed Price of the change, who at once deeply regretted it, and urged its disadvantages. Van Dorn yielded; courier after courier was dispatched to McCulloch ; but it was too late. He was already in action. In a few moments he and McIntosh, his second in command, were both killed, and there were none to direct the progress of the troops, who felt they were now pushing on to victory; the various colonels, in fact, did not stop to inquire who had succeeded to the command, but each was doing his best in his own way. The enemy were before them, and they neither knew nor cared for anything more; of strategy, they were almost, if not quite, ignorant; the men were in disorder, but still fought on, regiment mixed with regiment. Thinking that his orders would be obeyed, and not knowing that McCulloch and McIntosh were among the slain, Van Dorn pushed forward his centre and left as best he could, and after much hard fighting, drove the enemy, inflicting much loss.
Curtis and Sturgis perceiving, however, the confusion on the right where McCulloch had fallen, rallied their commands, and presented a formidable front. Here the battle was renewed, and a desperate action took place. Price, with his 7,000 veterans, who did not know how to retreat, continued to assail the unbroken Federals, now all united. During the whole day he drove them; it was one continuous advance from point to point; and at night the army that bad performed such miracles of valour slept in the encampment of the enemy of the same day, and fed from his commissariat supplies.
But the victory which Price had plucked from circumstances so adverse and desperate, proved fruitless, and was bitter with disappointment. He was anxious to renew the battle the next day, and expressed to Van Dorn his confidence that he would make another Wilson's Creek affair, when he overran the enemy's odds on the soil of Missouri. The camps of the enemy had fallen into his hands, with many prisoners, stores, cannon, etc.; and the men were excited with their success. Van Dorn, however, surmised that reinforcements had reached the enemy in great number, and felt himself too weak to accept another engagement, should the enemy force one upon him. He therefore ordered the sick far to the rear, and, destroying so much of the booty as could not be transported, began to prepare for a retreat.
Thus ended the battle of Elk Horn (it was called "Pea Ridge," by the enemy), with results adverse to the Confederates, and so important that it may be said to have decided the question of Confederate rule in Missouri. Whatever the errours that precipitated such results on the very heels of victory, it may be said that Price had no part or lot in them. The Missouri troops, from the noble veteran who had led them so long, down to the meanest private, behaved with a courage, the fire and devotion of which never, for a moment, slackened. The personal testimony of Gen. Van Dorn to
wrote to the Government at Richmond : “During the whole of this engagement I was with the Missourians, under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, or more gallant leaders than Gen. Price and his officers. From the first to the last shot, they continually rushed on, and never yielded an inch they had won; and when at last they received orders to fall back, they retired steadily and with cheers. Gen. Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose his life to danger.”
Nor is this all the testimony to the heroism of Gen. Price on the field of Elk Horn. Some incidents are related by an officer of his conduct in the retreat, that show aspects of heroism more engaging