Price’s Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri (University of Missouri Press) by Mark A . Lause, 2011, $29.95
In September 1864, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price marched more than12,000 Confederate soldiers into Missouri, intending to re-occupy the state that had voted against secession three years earlier. By seizing St. Louis and the state capital Jefferson City, Price hoped to reinstall a pro-Confederate government and influence the upcoming presidential election.
His offensive failed, however. Despite marching hundreds of miles, fighting more than a dozen battles, destroying hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property and creating a panic that forced a Federal military response, Price could not wrest Missouri from Union control.
Considering the size of the campaign, it is surprising that few studies have yet been written about it. Fortunately, Mark A. Lause has filled the void. Price’s Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri traces the origins of the campaign and chronicles the failures of both the Union and Confederate high commands as events unfolded. Price, Lause maintains, was a reluctant commander more interested in preserving his reputation than securing victory. But his counterparts didn’t fare much better. Maj. Gen. William S. Rosecrans, the commander of the Department of Missouri, had recently been transferred to the Trans Mississippi after his embarrassing September 1863 debacle at Chickamauga, where, according to Lause, he “suffered something very like a nervous breakdown.” Like his counterpart, Rosecrans was unwilling to act aggressively and allowed the Rebel army to escape. Price returned to Arkansas with approximately 3,000 men, one-fourth his invading force.
We can glean much from Lause’s study. For those interested in guerrilla warfare in addition to strict military history, the book chronicles the brutal attacks and reprisals between Unionist and Confederate partisans in the Missouri–Kansas region during the campaign. Lause also incorporates politics into his work, interweaving Price’s movements with the goals of the authorities in Richmond to influence Abraham Lincoln’s re-election bid. Yet perhaps Lause’s most provocative argument concerns the historical memory of the campaign. He argues that both sides eventually used the inaccurate term “raid” for self-serving purposes that truly diminished the offensive’s strategic goals and the scope of the forces engaged. The rationale of Union officials in downplaying Price’s campaign as a mere raid stemmed from their failed efforts to properly gauge and prepare for the size of the invading force. The Confederates simply complied with the Federals’ narrative in order to downplay their own failures. “The lesser standards of success for a raid recast almost any stolen farm wagon as an achievement,” Lause writes.
This is a thoroughly researched and well-written work. While the paucity of maps weakens such a fine study (only two, reprinted from the Official Records, are used), it should not detract from its importance in understanding the war beyond the Mississippi River.