The monument at Moreau and Fairmount drives is stirring up so much controversy, and yet few know what it even refers to!
Beginning in September 1864, Gen. Sterling Price and his Army of Missouri numbering about 12,000 men invaded Missouri. Missouri's Confederate Gov. Thomas C. Reynolds accompanied Price, which leads one to believe this was more than just a raid. Price hoped Missouri sympathizers would swell his forces, and he could regain Missouri for the Confederacy. From the beginning, things went wrong, and with hundreds of guerrilla units burning, looting and killing indiscriminately, very few willing Missourians joined his army.
After a battle at Pilot Knob, where Price's Army suffered almost 1,000 casualties and the Union forces escaped in the night, Price moved toward St. Louis. They reached Pacific, where they destroyed the railroad lines, trains, looted the town and battled scattered Union troops.
It was here Price and Reynolds made their decision to not move on St. Louis. St. Louis had a population of more than 170,000 in 1864, and Union Gen. William Rosecrans was reported to have an army of over 25,000 to oppose them. Price and Reynolds turned west.
Union was the county seat of Franklin County, and as such received the most destruction. Courthouse files were destroyed, homes of Unionists were looted and burned, and their inhabitants murdered. Also at Union, Price reassembled all of his forces and moved on to Washington with an army of 13,000 and a supply train of more than 500 wagons full of supplies and looted goods.
Next came Washington, where the stores and warehouses were looted, and then they moved on to Hermann. Union militia with one small cannon slowed them down, but they moved on through Hermann, burning the Gasconade River railroad bridge behind them. They followed the Old State Stage Road into Osage County. Union troops contested their advance into Linn, but the Union militia was overwhelmed with about 100 being captured and paroled. Confederate cavalry was sent as far as Chamois, Loose Creek and Vienna, while the main Army moved to Westphalia. A portion of Shelby's Iron Brigade under Col. David Shanks was sent to capture or destroy the Osage River Railroad Bridge at Osage City. This bridge was the largest railroad structure in Missouri, being a six-span bridge, 1,122 feet long, and was a part of Jefferson City's outer defense line. A force of about 500 Union militia with two cannons defended this important bridge and put up such a strong defense that Shanks burned the bridge and rejoined Price at Westphalia.
The Osage and Moreau rivers now lay between Price's Army of Missouri and the capital of Jefferson City. Jefferson City in 1864 had a population of about 3,800, and the city stretched along High Street and the Missouri River. Forts had been built on College Hill (which today is around Bolivar and Cliff streets), Simonsen Hill and on Union Street at the Jefferson City High School, with entrenchments around McClung Park. The final line of defense was High Street with barricades across the streets and loopholes chopped into the back walls of the stores. Brig. Gen. Edgar Brown was the original commander of Jefferson City, but as more Union units arrived he turned over command to Brig. Gen. Clinton Fisk. Brig. Gen. John Sanborn and John McNeil also brought in their commands so Union forces in October 1864 numbered at the most 7,000 soldiers. One of these was my great-great-grandfather William Morlock.
Price, Bolton and Castle Rock fords were the best Osage River crossings, and all were used by Price's army. Union forces had to cover 8 miles of the river and all its fords. On the morning of Oct. 6, Confederates began crossing, and Union cavalry and artillery offered stiff resistance. Shanks of Shelby's brigade was severely wounded as he led his command across at Bolton's ford. Union forces under Sanborn contested Price's advance into Cole County, and that evening, they pulled back across the Moreau River and camped at Green Berry's farm.
On Oct. 7, beginning at 7 a.m., Price's Confederates began their attack on Union entrenchments across the Moreau River and were repulsed for over four hours before Union troops pulled back into their main line of defense around McClung Park. Sanborn's brigade held the south-central lines, and it is quite possible that he was the officer who watched Price's army cross the Moreau from the roof of the Monaco home on Moreau Drive.
Price's forces spread out over 3 miles across the defense lines of Jefferson City. The hilly terrain with its forts and cannon led to an artillery duel between both forces, and the only real engagement was a testing of Sanborn's breastworks on the east side of Jefferson City that failed.
Evening fell, and Union forces prepared for the decisive battle that would commence the next day and decide the fate of Jefferson City!
Saturday, Oct. 8, dawned, and nothing happened! Sandborn ventured out of his trenches to probe the Confederate lines, and they were gone.
Price had pulled back in the night and moved along the Springfield Road toward Russellville. Along the way, they torched the depot and tore up tracks at Scott Station.
Sanborn led three cavalry brigades in pursuit of Price's army and skirmishes with Marmaduke's Divisions near Russellville. Sanborn continued to battle Price as far as California where he finally returned to Jefferson City to resupply. Price's army moved on to Boonville, which was more sympathetic to the Confederate forces, and from there, they moved west to be defeated at the Battle of Westport.
So why did Price withdraw without capturing Jefferson City when he was so close? We will probably never know for sure, but many factors contributed to his fears. He did think he was outnumbered by the Union forces, which he actually outnumbered by almost two to one! Rumor had Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasonton moving to Jefferson City from St. Louis with 9,000 cavalry, but they were still in St. Louis on Oct. 8. Four thousand of the Union defenders in Jefferson City were cavalry, and they rode up and down High Street, giving the impression there were thousands of troops. Union forces had offered stiff resistance both at the Osage and Moreau rivers, and our lines of trenches at McClung Park were strongly defended.
I can personally vouch for that because I grew up only a few houses from the controversial Civil War marker on Moreau Drive. Playing with my cars, trucks and soldiers in our backyard, I dug up hundreds of Union and Confederate bullets — in fact, I filled a whole coffee can with spent bullets. As the crow flies, our house was less than a quarter-mile from McClung Park. Confederate troops did test our lines, and Union troops fired back.
Jefferson City's hills, our forts with their cannon, deceiving Price as to the number of soldiers defending the city's and Sanborn saved us.
Today, plaques from the Grand Army of the Republic and from the Daughters of the GAR adorn the flagpole at the Courthouse. The GAR was the first veterans' organization, created by Union Civil War veterans. I am proud to be a member of the Sons of the Union Veterans, honoring my great-great-grandfather who was here in Jefferson City in 1864!
"The Civil War in Missouri As Seen From the Capital City," By Dino Brugioni
"Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri," by Mark A. Lause
"The Collapse of Price's Raid," by Mark A. Lause
Sam Bushman is the presiding commissioner on the Cole County Commission. He shares his perspective each month on county issues. He can be reached at [email protected]