Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri

Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri

Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri

Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri


In the fall of 1864, during the last brutal months of the Civil War, the Confederates made one final, desperate attempt to rampage through the Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee, and Missouri. Price's Raid was the common name for the Missouri campaign led by General Sterling Price. Involving tens of thousands of armed men, the 1864 Missouri campaign has too long remained unexamined by a book-length modern study, but now, Civil War scholar Mark A. Lause fills this long-standing gap in the literature, providing keen insights on the problems encountered during and the myths propagated about this campaign.

Price marched Confederate troops 1,500 miles into Missouri, five times as far as his Union counterparts who met him in the incursion. Along the way, he picked up additional troops; the most exaggerated estimates place Price's troop numbers at 15,000. The Federal forces initially underestimated the numbers heading for Missouri and then called in troops from Illinois and Kansas, amassing 65,000 to 75,000 troops and militia members. The Union tried to downplay its underestimation of the Confederate buildup of troops by supplanting the term campaign with the impromptu raid.

This term was also used by Confederates to minimize their lack of military success. The Confederates, believing that Missourians wanted liberation from Union forces, had planned a two-phase campaign. They intended not only to disrupt the functioning government through seizure of St. Louis and the capital, Jefferson City, but also to restore the pro-secessionist government driven from the state three years before. The primary objective, however, was to change the outcome of the Federal elections that fall, encouraging votes against the Republicans who incorporated ending slavery into the Union war goals. What followed was widespread uncontrolled brutality in the form of guerrilla warfare, which drove support for the Federalists. Missouri joined Kansas in reelecting the Republicans and ensuring the end of slavery.

Lause's account of the Missouri campaign of 1864 brings new understanding of the two distinct phases of the campaign, as based upon declared strategic goals. Additionally, as the author reveals the clear connection between the military campaign and the outcome of the election, he successfully tests the efforts of new military historians to integrate political, economic, social, and cultural history into the study of warfare. In showing how both sides during Price's Raid used self-serving fictions to provide a rationale for their politically motivated brutality and were unwilling to risk defeat, Lause reveals the underlying nature of the American Civil War as a modern war.


By the fall of 1864, the American Civil War had entered its final and most desperately brutal months. Trench warfare mired the vast armies in Virginia while the hellish turn of events in Georgia aimed at breaking the morale and spirit of the civilian population. in futile desperation, large Confederate armies shook free of the Federal death grip for a final rampage through the Shenandoah Valley, Tennessee, and Missouri. the last of these, “Price’s Raid,” is not only the least discussed but frequently also remains unmentioned in single-volume accounts of the war.

Certainly, one can ascribe much of the negligence to the ponderous parochialism accorded the Trans-Mississippi, reflecting the wartime priorities of both Washington and Richmond. After settling their respective claims in Missouri during the first year of the war, both governments contented themselves with self-fulfilling assumptions that marginalized the region’s role and siphoned off the manpower from west of the river to Mississippi, Tennessee, or Georgia (which, in turn, suffered neglect in the interests of the war in Virginia). For this reason, in most accounts of the war, Missouri tends to wink out of existence after the first year, or makes periodic cameos as a sideshow of guerrilla warfare in which the brutality takes center stage rather than the military role of those brutalities within the wider conflict.

Nevertheless, the numbers involved justify no such inattention. the Confederates enumerated over 12,000 at the inception of the operation with perhaps 2,000 to 3,000 partisans already active in the state. They claimed to have acquired between 5,000 and 9,000 more men along the way. Even allowing for exaggeration, as many as 15,000 or more may have marched at some point with Price’s army, though he never had a force near this large at the same time—and, in the end, lost many more men than he gained.

The Federals mobilized massive numbers to meet the incursion. Starting with only about 11,000 garrison troops across the entire state, they called more from Kansas and Illinois. They rushed several thousand more recruits into uniform and diverted another 9,000 veterans who had been on their way to Georgia.

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