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

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Joined
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
Joined
Apr 8, 2018
Location
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!"
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
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:
Joined
Mar 2, 2019
Location
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.
 

BLTinMO

Cadet
Joined
Mar 13, 2021
Location
Missouri
The Missouri Historical Review is available on-line. I refer to it often when looking for information on battles. I find it especially interesting and entertaining how the writings about the Confederacy have changed from early 1900's to now. Part I of your article can be found here: The Great-Little Battle of Pilot Knob, Part I.

I'm just starting to study the CW and went to Pilot Knob/Fort Davidson late last year. I am interested in why battles were fought where they were. Especially since so many of them seem to have been fought in (what are now) out of the way towns. There was a railroad that went from Pilot Knob to STL, so maybe that helped to make his decision to take that route? Fort Davidson is nestled in a tight valley, so if you go that way, there is no way around it.

Below is the inside of the fort, showing the crater. Unfortunately the museum was closing right as we arrived, so we only spent about 10 minutes inside. It's a very small historic site (it's no Gettysburg!), but nice.

DSCF7625.JPG
 

Borderruffian

1st Lieutenant
Joined
Aug 4, 2007
Location
Marshfield Missouri
A large number of Prices force were Arkansas Conscrips who might or might not have had their hearts in it. Fort Davidson bogged him down and slowed his advancement down to a crawl. It was a pharic victory at best.
Price had planned his 64 action as a full scale invasion to retake the state, however Richmond and the head shed down graded it in essence a diversionary raid to take pressure of the AOT.
 
Joined
Sep 17, 2011
Location
mo
The sad part is his losses didn't really matter........in fact it's why he had to try to take it in the first place. Kirby Smith sent units who in many cases were lacking arms.
 

Lampasas Bill

Sergeant
Joined
Sep 24, 2018
Having been a former museum curator for the Missouri Division of Parks and Historic Sites, I've been to Pilot Knob many times. I designed the temporary exhibits for the visitor center when it originally opened, some of which were retained by the design firm who later installed the permanent exhibits that can be seen today (the map of the fort on the information panel, shown in the photo of the magazine, was part of my handiwork). It is a small site, but the fort sits in a wonderful historic setting, surrounded on two sides by Pilot Knob and Shepherd's Mountain, which saw considerable fighting and were the jumping-off points for the final Confederate assaults. Fortunately, veterans of the battle held meetings there for years afterward and many of their memories of the fight were recorded. I was able to draw on these and other sources for the thread I posted earlier:

https://civilwartalk.com/threads/th...-a-prettier-place-to-die.177908/#post-2314990

Missouri Parks also sponsors a well-attended reenactment there every three years, the next is scheduled for Sept. 25-26 of this year.

https://mostateparks.com/event/89981/157th-anniversary-battle-pilot-knob-reenactment
https://www.battleofpilotknob.org/reenactment-information.html
 
Top