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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The high tide of the Confederacy west of the Mississippi

General Sterling Price
On this day 150 ago, the Confederacy west of the Mississippi was at its greatest extent. The day before, Col. Mulligan’s 3500 Union troops defending Lexington had surrendered. It had been a tough siege and the Union troops had held out valiantly, but lack of water and a clever idea by the Confederates to use hemp bales as a moving wall to threaten Union defenses had finally forced Mulligan to capitulate.

For more detail of the battle, check out the excellent coverage over at the Civil War Daily Gazette or my own article about Frank James’ Civil War record. That’s right, the future outlaw was getting some training in gunplay!

Price was now in possession of a port town on the Missouri River. It was the first time since the Battle of Boonville on June 17 that the Confederates had a strong base on the river. The rebels also controlled much of southern Missouri and other parts of the state, not to mention Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and parts of the New Mexico, Arizona, and Indian territories.

It wasn’t to last. With strong Union forces to the east and west of him, and more pouring into the state, Price realized his position was untenable and moved back to southern Missouri. From there he would be on the defensive against relentless Union pressure. The victories of Wilson’s Creek and Lexington would not be repeated. There would be defeats at Pea Ridge and Prairie Grove. The Confederates would be pushed into Arkansas and in September of 1863 lose the state capital of Little Rock. Instead of victory on the field of battle, the Confederates had to rely on guerrilla warfare and cavalry raids.

During that time New Orleans and parts of Louisiana would be lost, and a Confederate campaign to blaze a trail to California would end in disaster. The Indian Territory would become a bloodbath neither side could control. Even Texas would see Union footholds on its shores.

In the heady days after their success at Lexington, the rebels probably never realized that it was the beginning of the end.

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