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Sterling Price (20 September 1809 29 September 1867) was a lawyer, planter and politician from the U.S. state of Missourimarker, who served as governor of the state from 1853 to 1857. He also served as a United States Army brigadier general during the Mexican-American War, and a Confederate Army major general in the American Civil War. Price is best known for his victories in New Mexicomarker and Chihuahuamarker during the Mexican conflict, and for his losses at the Battles of Iuka and Westportmarker during the Civil War–the latter being the culmination of his ill-fated Missouri Campaign of 1864. Following the war, Price took his remaining troops to Mexicomarker rather than surrender, unsuccessfully seeking service with the Emperor Maximillian there. He ultimately returned to Missouri, where he died in poverty and was buried in St. Louismarker.

Early life and career

Sterling "Old Pap" Price was born near Farmvillemarker, in Prince Edward Countymarker, Virginiamarker, into a family of Welsh origin. His mother was Elizabeth Williamson, and his father was Pugh Price, whose ancestor John Price was born in Brecknockmarker, Walesmarker, in 1584 and settled in the Virginia Colony. Price attended Hampden-Sydney College in 1826 and 1827, where he studied law and worked at the courthouse near his home. He was admitted to the Virginia bar and established a law practice.

In the fall of 1831, Price and his family moved to Fayette, Missourimarker. A year later, he moved to Keytesville, Missourimarker, where he ran a hotel and mercantile. On 14 May 1833, Price married Martha Head from Randolph County, Missourimarker. They had seven children, five of whom survived to adulthood; four of these were Elswin P., Celsus, Martha Sterling, and Quintus.

During the Mormon War of 1838, Price served as a member of a delegation sent from Chariton County, Missourimarker to investigate reported disturbances between Latter-day Saints and anti-Mormon mobs operating in the western part of the state. His report was favorable to the Mormons, stating that they were not guilty, in his opinion, of the charges levied against them by their enemies. Following the Mormon capitulation in November of 1838, Price was ordered by Missouri governor Lilburn Boggs to Caldwell County with a company of men to protect the Saints from further depredations following their surrender. He was elected to the Missouri State House of Representativesmarker from 1836–38, and again from 1840–44, and was chosen as its speaker. He was then elected as a Democrat to the 29th United States Congress, serving from 4 March 1845 to 12 August 1846, when he resigned from the House to participate in the Mexican-American War.

Mexican-American War

Price raised the Second Regiment, Missouri Mounted Volunteer Cavalry and was appointed its colonel on August 12, 1846. He marched his regiment with that of Alexander Doniphanmarker to Santa Femarker, where he assumed command of the Territory of New Mexico after his superior, Gen. Stephen W. Kearny, departed for California. Price served as military governor of New Mexicomarker, where he put down the Taos Revolt, an uprising of Native Americans and Mexicans in January 1847.

President James K. Polk promoted Price to brigadier general of volunteers on July 20, 1847. Price was named as military governor of Chihuahua that same month, and commanded 300 men from his Army of the West at the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales on 16 March of 1848, where he defeated a Mexican force three times his size. The battle is notable today because it was the last battle of the war, taking place days after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo had been ratified by the United States Congress on March 10. Although reprimanded by Secretary of War William L. Marcy for his action and ordered to return with his army to New Mexico, Price was never court-martialed or otherwise punished; he was honorably discharged on 25 November 1848, and went home to Missouri a hero.

Governor of Missouri

Back in his home state, Price became a slave owner, and farmed tobacco on the Bowling Greenmarker prairie. Popular due to his war service, he was easily elected Governor of Missouri, serving from 1853 to 1857. During his tenure, Washington University in St. Louismarker was established, the state's public school system was restructured, the Missouri State Teachers' Association was first initiated, the railroad network was expanded and a state geological survey was created. Although the state legislature passed an act during his tenure to increase the governor's salary, he refused to accept any more renumeration than he had been receiving prior to the law's adoption. After the expiration of his term, Price became the state's Bank Commissioner from 1857 to 1861. He also secured construction of a railroad through his home county, which now forms part of the Norfolk and Western Railway.

Civil War service

Confederate General Sterling Price (photographed in his U.S. uniform before the Civil War)

Early months

At the beginning of the Civil War, Price was personally opposed to secession. He was elected presiding officer of the Missouri State Convention on 28 February 1861, which voted against the state leaving the Union. Things changed drastically, however, when Francis Preston Blair, Jr. and Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon seized the state militia's Camp Jackson at St. Louismarker. Outraged by this act, Price threw in his lot with the Southerners, and was assigned by pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson to command the newly reformed Missouri State Guard in May 1861, leading his young recruits (who affectionately nicknamed him "Old Pap") in a campaign to secure Missouri for the Confederacy. One of the major engagements in this endeavor was fought at Lexingtonmarker, where Price defeated Colonel James A. Mulligan's Union force in the "battle of the hemp bales" and secured the city for the South—albeit only temporarily, as it turned out. An even greater victory was won by Price at the Battle of Wilson's Creekmarker, which resulted in Lyon's death and temporary Confederate ascendency in southwestern Missouri. However, growing Union numbers and power in the state ultimately negated his triumph.

Pea Ridge, Iuka and Corinth

Still operating as a Missouri militia general (rather than as a commissioned Confederate officer), Price was unable to agree with his Wilson's Creek colleague, Major General Ben McCullough, as to how to proceed following the battle; this led to the splitting of what might otherwise have become a sizable Confederate force in the West. Price and McCullough became bitter rivals, leading to the ultimate appointment of Major General Earl Van Dorn as overall commander of the Trans-Mississippi district. Van Dorn reunited Price's and McCullough's formations into a force he named the Army of the West, and set out to engage Unionist troops in Missouri under the command of Brig. General Samuel R. Curtis. Now under Van Dorn's command, Price was commissioned in the Confederate States Army as a major general on March 6, 1862.

Outnumbering Curtis' forces, Van Dorn attacked the Northern army at Pea Ridge on March 7th and 8th. Although wounded in the fray, Price pushed Curtis' force back at Elkhorn Tavern on the 7th, only to see the battle lost on the following day after a furious Federal counterattack. Price next crossed the Mississippi River to reinforce Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard's army at Corinth, Mississippimarker. Price was able to sieze the Union supply depot at nearby Iukamarker, but was driven back by Major Gen. William S. Rosecrans at the Battle of Iukamarker on 19 September 1862. A few weeks later, on 3-4 October, Price (under Van Dorn's command once more) was defeated with Van Dorn at the Second Battle of Corinthmarker.

Van Dorn was replaced by Major Gen. John C. Pemberton, and Price, who had become thoroughly disgusted with Van Dorn and was eager to return to Missouri, obtained a leave to visit Richmondmarker, the Confederate capitol. There, he obtained an audience with Confederate President Jefferson Davis to discuss his greviences, only to find his own loyalty to the South sternly questioned by the Confederate leader. Price only barely managed to secure Davis' permission to return to Missouri–minus his troops. Unimpressed with the Missourian, Davis pronounced him "the vainest man I ever met."

Arkansas and Price's Missouri Raid

Price was not finished as a Confederate commander, however. He contested Union control over Arkansasmarker in the summer of 1863, and while he won some of his engagements, he was not able to dislodge Northern forces from the state. Still, he managed to convince his superiors to permit him to invade Missouri in the fall of 1864, hoping to yet seize that state for the Confederacy or at the very least imperil Abraham Lincoln's chances for reelection that year. Confederate General Kirby Smith agreed, though he was forced to detach the infantry brigades originally detailed to Price's force and send them elsewhere, thus changing Price's proposed campaign from a full-scale invasion of Missouri to a large cavalry raid. Price amassed 12,000 horsemen for his army, and fourteen pieces of artillery.

The first major engagement in Price's Raid occurred at Pilot Knobmarker, where he successfully captured the Union-held Fort Davidson but needlessly slaughtered many of his men in the process, for a gain that turned out to be of no real value. From Pilot Knob, he swung west, away from St. Louismarker (his primary objective) and towards Kansas City, Missourimarker and nearby Fort Leavenworth, Kansasmarker. Forced to bypass his secondary target at heavily-fortified Jefferson Citymarker, Price cut a swath of destruction across his home state, even as his army steadily dwindled due to battlefield losses, disease and desertion. Although he defeated inferior Federal forces at Glasgow, Lexington, the Little Blue River and Independence, Price was ultimately boxed in by two Northern armies at Westportmarker, southwest of modern Kansas Citymarker, and forced to fight against overwhelming odds. This unequal contest, known afterwards as "The Gettysburgmarker of the West", did not go his way, and he was forced to retreat into hostile Kansasmarker. A new series of defeats followed, as Price's battered and broken army was pushed steadily southward towards Arkansas, and then further south into Texasmarker, where Price remained until the war ended. Price's Raid would prove to be his last significant military operation, and the last significant Confederate campaign west of the Mississippi.

Notable battles

Some of Price's notable battles during the Civil War include (listed in order of occurrence, and indicating whether he was in overall command and where the battle was won or lost):



In addition to these engagements, Price fought in other, smaller contests, often connected to one or more of the battles listed above.

Post-war activities

Instead of surrendering at the war's end, Price led what was left of his army into Mexico, where he unsuccessfully sought service with the Emperor Maximilian. This episode of Price's life later became an inspiration for the John Wayne and Rock Hudson film The Undefeated. Price became leader of a Confederate exile colony in Carlota, Veracruzmarker, but when the colony proved to be a failure, he returned to Missouri. Impoverished and in poor health, Price died of cholera in St. Louis, Missourimarker, and was buried there in Bellefontaine Cemeterymarker.

His daughter-in-law Celeste, wife of his son Celsus, died in childbirth with her newborn child on the same day as Price. She was the daughter of Thomas Lawson Price.

Modern assessment of Price's Missouri campaign

In his paper Assessing Compound Warfare During Price's Raid, written as a thesis for the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Major Dale E. Davis postulates that Price's Missouri Raid failed primarily due to his inability to properly employ the principles of "compound warfare", which requires an inferior power to effectively utilize regular and irregular forces in concert (such as was done by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong against the French and Americans during the Vietnam War) to defeat a superior army. He also blamed Price's slow rate of movement during his campaign, and the close proximity of Confederate irregulars to his regular force, for this outcome.

Davis observes that by wasting valuable time, ammuniton and men in his relatively meaningless assaults on Fort Davidson, Glasgow, Sedaliamarker and Boonvillemarker, Price offered Union General Rosecrans time he might not otherwise have had to organize an effective response. Furthermore, he says, Price's insistance on guarding an ever-expanding wagon train of looted military supplies and other items ultimately became "an albatross to [his] withdrawal". Price, said Davis, ought to have used Confederate bushwackers to harass Federal formations, forcing the Unionists to disperse significant numbers of troops to persue them over wide ranges of territory–which in turn would have reduced the number of effectives available to fight against Price's main force. Instead, Price kept many guerillas close to his army, even incorporating some into his ranks, largely negating the value represented by their mobility and small, independent formations. This in turn allowed Union generals to ultimately concentrate a force large enough to trap and defeat Price at Westportmarker, effectively ending his campaign.

While the scope of Davis' research is necessarily limited to Price's Missouri expedition, it does provide some overall insight into his tactical and strategic mindset, together with a sense of some of his strengths and weaknesses as a general. While devoted to the Southern cause, Price generally saw Confederate military operations solely in terms of liberating his home state of Missouri. Although he achieved victories during all phases of the war, his strategically most important battles (other than Wilson's Creek) all ended in defeat.

The CSS/USS General Sterling Price

During the Civil War, a wooden river steamer built at Cincinnati, Ohiomarker, in 1856 as the Laurent Millaudon was taken into Confederate service and renamed the CSS General Sterling Price. Participating in actions near Fort Pillow, Tennesseemarker on 10 May 1862, she damaged two Federal gunboats before being temporarily put out of action. The General Price was sunk during the Battle of Memphis, raised, repaired, and served in the Union Navy under the name USS General Price although she was still referred to as the "General Sterling Price" in Federal dispatches. As a Union ship, she served in the Vicksburgmarker and Red River campaigns. Price was sold for civilian use after the war.

In memoriam



In popular media

  • As stated earlier, Price's exodus to Mexico together with that of his subordinate, General Jo Shelby, provided one inspiration for the plot of the movie The Undefeated, starring John Wayne and Rock Hudson.


  • In the motion pictures True Grit and Rooster Cogburn, the title character (portrayed by John Wayne) has a cat named "General Sterling Price".


Notes

  1. Familysearch.org
  2. Dupuy, p. 612.
  3. Dictionary of Missouri Biography (Univ. of Missouri Press, 1999).
  4. LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. University of Missouri Press, 1987. pp. 84-85.
  5. LeSueur, p. 233.
  6. Eicher, p. 440.
  7. Sterling Price. Retrieved on 2009-11-22.
  8. Governor's Information: Sterling Price. Retrieved on 2009-11-22.
  9. Pictorial and Genealogical Record of Greene County, Missouri, entry: "General Sterling Price". Retrieved on 2009-11-24.
  10. Sterling Price. Retrieved on 2009-11-22.
  11. Sterling Price (1809-1867). Retrieved on 2009-11-26.
  12. Davis, Dale E. Assessing Compound Warfare During Price's Raid. Ft. Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2004, pg. 55.


References

  • Davis, Dale E. Assessing Compound Warfare During Price's Raid. Ft. Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, 2004.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Johnson, Curt, and Bongard, David L., Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography, Castle Books, 1992, 1st Ed.,

    ISBN 0-7858-0437-4.
  • Eicher, John H., and Eicher, David J., Civil War High Commands, Stanford University Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8047-3641-3.
  • LeSueur, Stephen C. The 1838 Mormon War in Missouri. University of Missouri Press, 1987.
  • Rea, Ralph R., Sterling Price, the Lee of the West, Little Rock, Arkansas: Pioneer Press, 1959.
  • The Battle of Lexington, Fought in and About the City of Lexington, Missourimarker on September 18, 19th and 20th, 1861. Lexington Historical Society. 1903.
  • Twitchell, Ralph Emerson, The History of the Military Occupation of the Territory of New Mexico from 1846 to 1851, Denver, Colorado: The Smith-Brooks Company Publishers, 1909.


External links




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