Sterling Price's "victory" at the Battle of Pilot Knob.

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Aug 25, 2012
Major General Sterling Price invaded Missouri with the intent of challenge the Union for the control of Missouri. Price took about 13,000 Confederates in to a state that was held by approximately 10,000 Union soldiers. At least from a force analysis Price might have had a reasonable chance of success, but he had to move quickly before the Union sent reinforcements. Price decided to seize Pilot Knob as part of his campaign. Union Brigadier General Thomas Elwing was in command at Fort Davidson which was the key to the defensive of the town of Pilot Knob.

Price came up with a plan to attack Fort Davidson from multiple directions. On the first day the Confederate attacks were unsuccessful and the Confederates suffered casualties in a fruitless attack. Price demanded three times that the fort surrender but in the end the outnumbered General Elwing decided to abandon the fort overnight. The Confederates pursued the Union soldiers but were unsuccessful in destroying them or even greatly impacting the withdrawal. The exact number of causalities is not know but the Confederates suffered between 500 and 1,000 casualties to the Union 200. Perhaps ever more important was the three days it took to take Pilot Knob.

Although General Price did capture Fort Davidson and the town of Plot Knob it was a costly victory in both men and time. The battle probably influenced General Price to abandon the thought of capturing St. Louis. Why did Price decide to take Pilot Knob is the first place? It is said that the Confederate army under Price was not well equipped nor real reliable. However, much the same can be said of the Union forces with almost half of them being either Missouri militia or enrolled civilians. Should we even call the Battle of Pilot Knob a Confederate victory?

The reason I started this thread is because I purchased this book/booklet.
Misso hist.jpg

I bought it for the Bonnie J. Krause article German Americans in the St. Louis Region, 1840-1860. I liked the article by Krause but am trying to decide if I should read the other article; The Great-Little Battle of Pilot Knob (part II) by Joseph Conan Thompson. I have read magazine articles about the Battle of Pilot Knob and one book about the battle, but do not really know much about the battle. Still I do not have Part I and Part II stars on the day of the battle. Perhaps I should read the article regardless of not having Part I.

Extra question. Has anyone visited the battle site of The Battle of Pilot Knob? I understand that it is a Missouri State Historical Site and has a visitor center. I am not sure how much there is to see there. I might be going to New Mexico to visit my sister this coming year and might want to stop by and see the place.

Rusk County Avengers

1st Lieutenant
Forum Host
Apr 8, 2018
Coffeeville, TX
Sterling Price was a General where every victory he had, which wasn't very often, came with the word "BUT" in all caps before the blunder was explained. Pilot Knob is but one one example.

General Jo Shelby, Missouri's greatest General and CW hero in my book, said it best in a letter to friend concerning a fundraising campaign after the war to buy Price a house, "Better the money go to the widows and orphans created his da*ned blunders!"
Sep 17, 2011
It's largely from the unrealistic orders he was under. He had been given rather grandiose objectives from Kirby Smith and little in the way of men/equipment to accomplish them. To take St Louis or Jefferson City as ordered would only be possible if had increased his strength which would have required trying to capture garrisons.

One of things that's always stood out to me how unrealistic his orders were.....was while ordered to try to take fortified cities.....the artillery he was gave was 6 pdrs....and he had been given 1000's of men without arms.

The site is considered one of the better examples of surviving earthworks, the museum is rather small. The attraction is the actual earthworks.
Last edited:
Mar 2, 2019
Reno, Nevada
The three companies of the 14th Iowa Infantry deserve credit for the experience they brought to the battle. I covered it in my book (see my signature), but there are more complete histories available (Ronald Smith comes to mind). I understand there is still a crater left in the earthworks where Ewing had the munitions pile blown up as a diversion when they escaped during the night.

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