Monday, June 13, 2016

Lause: "THE COLLAPSE OF PRICE'S RAID: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri"

[The Collapse of Price's Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri by Mark A. Lause (University of Missouri Press, 2016). Hardcover, notes, index. Pages main/total:201/269. ISBN:978-0-8262-2025-7. $32.95]

Mark Lause's Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri (2011) concluded with no indication that a second volume was forthcoming. However, it didn't take long for interested readers to learn that a follow up study that would take the operation to its conclusion was in the works. Released earlier this year, The Collapse of Price's Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri continues the narrative from a natural turning point, when the Confederate campaign switched over from one of conquest (or liberation, depending on one's point of view) to that of a raid, albeit on a much larger scale than those previously conducted in the state at regular intervals throughout the war. To modern observers, the 1864 Missouri Campaign seems doomed from the start, but the campaign's conversion to a raid became inevitable when Confederate forces failed to capture any key point of political and/or strategic significance (like St. Louis or state capital Jefferson City) and the popular uprising envisioned by the most optimistic (or delusional) Confederate partisans did not occur.

The book's promotional description positions it as a work heavily focused on the social and political context of the campaign, but description and analysis of military events are what really predominates. Lause's study recounts what essentially was one long running battle fought westward across the state (between Jefferson City and Kansas City) and then south through eastern Kansas and Indian Territory before finally returning to Arkansas. Lause describes Missouri River Valley skirmishes great and small (including those at Boonville, Glasgow, Sedalia, and Lexington), all of which set up the campaign's great sprawling battle around Westport, with fighting at the Little Blue River, Independence, the Big Blue River, and Brush Creek (a stream located a short distance south of the town of Westport itself). Actions fought during the retreat (at the Marais des Cygnes River, Mine Creek, the Marmiton River, and at Newtonia) are also briefly discussed.

Some of Lause's battle descriptions, like those sections of the book covering Brush Creek (the heart of what most people consider the Battle of Westport), are quite good but they suffer from the fact that superior accounts were published less than nine months earlier in Kyle Sinisi's The Last Hurrah: Sterling Price's Missouri Expedition of 1864. But that's not to say they lack items of unique interest. One of Lause's most intriguing contentions is that the strength of the Union Army of the Border (particularly Kansas State Militia numbers present at Westport) has been vastly exaggerated in prior histories. Most historians place KSM numbers alone at 10-15,000 men, but Lause has determined that less than 5,000 were actually present during the fighting. If accurate, this shortens the odds between contending forces considerably and makes the Battle of Westport a less quixotic affair from the Confederate perspective. One great omission stands out like a sore thumb, though. Books cannot be blamed for being victims of timing, but self-inflicted wounds are another matter entirely and Collapse commits a grave one by having no maps.

Unlike some earlier writers, Lause avoids grand pronouncements about the operation having a major effect on national elections or that it significantly prolonged the war. On the subject of analyzing the performances of opposing leaders, there is more agreement. The author's assessment of Sterling Price's conduct of the campaign is unequivocally negative. Lause follows in the footsteps of others in criticizing the size of Price's wagon train of loot (the true scale of which has come under renewed debate) and reluctance to part with it. The two Union military departments (Missouri under William S. Rosecrans and Kansas under Samuel R. Curtis) were more distrustful than cooperative. Rosecrans and chief subordinate Alfred Pleasonton were unduly cautious in their pursuit of Price across Missouri and failed to make any reasonable attempt at cutting off the retreat of the Confederate army. Curtis had gather his own forces quickly, all the while negotiating a political battle with Governor Carney of Kansas (who was extremely reluctant to call out the militia, discounting the Confederate threat until it was almost too late) and an uncooperative Rosecrans. James G. Blunt was Curtis's most aggressive instrument, but the early abandonment of the pursuit by Rosecrans and Pleasonton meant rendered Price's complete destruction out of the question.

The book is largely presented from the point of view and perspective of the Union side. Much of this can be attributed to source availability, but selection plays some role, too. Neither Lost Campaign nor Collapse contains a bibliography, but a perusal of the endnotes in Collapse reveals three bedrock sources for its narrative: the Official Records [Union reports always outnumber those of the Confederates in the O.R. but the disparity is even more pronounced here, which isn't surprising given the nature and outcome of the operation as well as its late date], the St. Louis Missouri Democrat, and Kansas officer Richard Hinton's classic memoir Rebel Invasion of Missouri and Kansas and the Campaign of the Army of the Border Against General Sterling Price in October and November 1864. In terms of source type, they certainly are representative of three pillars of modern Civil War scholarship (official government documents, newspapers, and letters/diaries/memoirs written by participants), but, in this case, neither of the latter two could be described as anything but partisan.

In spite of the reservations mentioned above, Lause's two-volume set (Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri and The Collapse of Price's Raid: The Beginning of the End in Civil War Missouri) is still worth reading and keeping around on the bookshelf. But given the current improved state of the literature of the 1864 Missouri Campaign, it is this reviewer's opinion that most of the scholarship value going forward resides in the first book.


More CWBA reviews of UM Press titles:
* The Fishing Creek Confederacy: A Story of Civil War Draft Resistance
* The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History
* Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri
* Demon of the Lost Cause: Sherman and Civil War History
* Yankee Warhorse: A Biography of Major General Peter J. Osterhaus
* General Sterling Price and the Confederacy (for Missouri History Museum)
* Thomas Ewing Jr.: Frontier Lawyer and Civil War General
* Man of Douglas, Man of Lincoln: The Political Odyssey of James Henry Lane
* Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register
* Peacekeeping on the Plains: Army Operations in Bleeding Kansas
* Missouri's Confederate: Claiborne Fox Jackson and the Creation of Southern Identity in the Border West
* The Civil War's First Blood: Missouri, 1854-1861 (for Missouri Life)
* Key Command: Ulysses S. Grant's District of Cairo

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