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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

P is for General Sterling Price

One of the defining figures of the Confederate cause west of the Mississippi was General Sterling Price. A former Missouri governor and commander of the Missouri State Guard when the war started, he was a popular figure and was very effective at rallying troops to the Confederacy.

Price was the victor of several early battles such as Wilson's Creek and Lexington, but his star soon faded as he suffered a number of defeats. Price was a brave man who often led his troops from the front (rather than several miles to the rear like too many generals) yet he was a poor strategist. The consensus among historians is that he would have made a better regimental commander than army commander.

In 1864 he led his last campaign, an ill-planned invasion of Missouri. He thought that after more than two years of Yankee rule that Missourians would rise up to support him. Some did; most didn't. His poorly armed troops plodded through the state, winning some battles but losing others, never strong enough to take St. Louis or the state capital at jefferson City as Price had planned.

By this time Price weighed 400 pounds and could barely ride a horse. He rode most of the time in a carriage while many of his ill-equipped troops had to walk. The expedition met disaster at Westport near Kansas City and fled south, having their final engagement at the Battle of Newtonia before retreating south to Arkansas, never to return.

Price never stopped believing in the Confederacy. When the South surrendered he and some other diehards fled to Mexico and started a Confederate colony. It too was a failure and eventually he returned home to live his final years in quiet retirement.

I've always been fascinated with Sterling Price because he sums up much of what was good and bad about the Confederacy: enthusiastic yet ill-conceived, brave yet foolhardy, willing but unequal to the task. And he accepted defeat with his head held high.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

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