Spotlight: Local Author's New Book Examines Battle of St. Louis

By Holleman, Joe | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), April 9, 2017 | Go to article overview

Spotlight: Local Author's New Book Examines Battle of St. Louis


Holleman, Joe, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


The Battle of St. Louis: Yes, that was a thing.

In 1780, British and American forces fought along the western edge of what is now the Gateway Arch grounds, near a 40-foot tower grandly known as Fort San Carlos.

If mentioned at all in books, the battle is handled as a mere skirmish, a distraction to larger Revolutionary War battles in the East a footnote to history if ever there was one.

Enter St. Louis lawyer Stephen L. Kling Jr., who has written a new book on the battle and now pushes to get the fight the recognition he believes it deserves.

"When you look at it all by itself, it doesn't seem like much," Kling said. "But when you fit it into the overall picture (of the American Revolution), this was an important event."

Kling's book is "The Battle of St. Louis, the Attack on Cahokia, and the American Revolution in the West." Kristine L. Sjostrom and Marysia T. Lopez are co-authors of the 326-page hardcover work.

Kling said Sjostrom is an expert on Fernando de Leyba, lieutenant governor and military commander in St. Louis at the time, and wrote a biographical chapter for the book.

But let's look at the battle.

The 700 or so inhabitants of the small fur-trading town had been hearing for months that the British were planning an attack in the area to grab control over the Mississippi River.

"Traders were coming downriver and telling about how the British had about 1,000 soldiers and were stockpiling canoes, about 100 of them, for an attack," Kling said.

The British had their sights set not only for St. Louis, but also across the river at Cahokia, which Kling said is a grossly overlooked aspect of events.

"The British clearly had a plan to sweep the Americans off the Mississippi," Kling said. "They also wanted to take all cattle and other livestock from St. Louis, Cahokia, and even Ste. Genevieve and Kaskaskia."

Forewarned, the village quickly built the 40-foot fort/tower and dug a trench that arched roughly from present-day Laclede's Landing, along the current Arch grounds, then south to Second and Lombard streets near Soulard.

So when the 700 British troops, mostly Indians, attacked from the north and northwest on the afternoon of May 26, 1780, they ran into trenches patrolled by about 300 American militiamen and 30 Spanish army regulars under de Leyba's command.

After a two-hour firefight, the British claimed to have killed 68 colonists, while de Leyba reported he lost 21 defenders. The British had few casualties.

But St. Louis stayed out of British hands. …

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