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Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Fatal Flaw of many Confederate Cavalry Raiders

On this date 150 years ago, Confederate Colonel Joseph Porter was dying. He had been fatally wounded at the Battle of Hartville, Missouri, a few days before while supporting General Marmaduke's cavalry raid.

Marmaduke was now retreating back to Arkansas, having caused a fair amount of trouble for the Union forces in Missouri. His raid could not be called a success, however. Marmaduke blundered badly at the Second Battle of Springfield when he attacked an entrenched position with little artillery and no numerical superiority. The rule of thumb is that you need at least 3-1 superiority in numbers to take an entrenched position.

The Battle of Hartville was another stand-up battle. While the rebels won this time, they lost many men and all they really achieved was an escape route out of Missouri.

Cavalry raids were most effective when they moved quickly and hit the enemy's weak spots. In between these two battles, Marmaduke's men burnt bridges, cut telegraph wires, and snapped up small Union outposts. They should have stuck with that. Getting into set-piece battles is not what a cavalry raid is for.

Porter should have learned that lesson before he ever joined Marmaduke in 1863. The year before, he'd been given the duty of raising troops and causing trouble in northeastern Missouri. His ranks swelled to some 2,000 men. While about half had no weapons, Porter fought a series of skirmishes and battles with Union forces that whittled away his numbers and led to a mass desertion of some 500 men in a single day. His ranks much reduced, he fled south and ended up under Marmaduke's command.

My books American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics and Ride Around Missouri: Shelby's Great Raid 1863 delve more deeply into this subject. I'm hoping to do another book on guerrillas in the Civil War this year. We shall see!

Since no photos of Porter are known to exist, here's a Wikipedia image of the flag he flew under, the state battle flag of Confederate Missouri.


  1. It's weird now to think that someone could go his whole life without being captured in a single photo.

    1. A different time. Those who got their pictures taken in that era really had to have a good excuse.

    2. There's a Porter family story that he only had one photo ever taken of himself, and that burned when the Yankees torched his home.


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