Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Lause: PRICE'S LOST CAMPAIGN: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri"

[Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri by Mark A. Lause (University of Missouri Press, 2011). Hardcover, 2 maps, photos, appendices, notes, index. Pages main/total:193/264. ISBN:978-0-8262-1949-7 $29.95]

Given the scale and significance of General Sterling Price's 1864 Confederate campaign in Missouri, it is almost inexplicable that its standard history remains Howard Monnett's dated Action Before Westport 1864, first published in 1964 and revised slightly in 1995 by the author's son for a new University of Colorado Press edition. Several fine modern accounts of individual battles exist, but no comprehensive history of the operation exists beyond an unmentionable amateur effort from the late 1990s. Historian Mark Lause's Price's Lost Campaign: The 1864 Invasion of Missouri does make an important contribution by filling some gaping holes, but the book is also regrettably flawed on many fronts.

The early stages of the Missouri operation, the period from the disastrous Confederate attack on Pilot Knob to the Union garrison's escape to Leasburg, have been covered well by authors Bryce Suderow and Gary Scheel. In his own book, Lause has put their pioneering work to good use, but where Price's Lost Campaign really shines is in its painstaking recounting of the period between the defense of Leasburg and the Confederate decision to bypass the fortified capital city of Jefferson City and continue west across the state. The level of detail found in Lause's depictions of the fighting at places like Pacific, Union, and at the many bridges and fords along the approaches to the capital cannot be found elsewhere in the published literature. The author's quest to locate and trace the movements of a bewildering array of home guard, militia, and volunteer units as they attempted to thwart the Confederate cavalry is admirable. A listing of these formations is also nicely reproduced in an order of battle appendix. Attempting to grasp the mindset of the Union commanders defending the department, the author relentlessly criticizes the sluggish response times of generals William S. Rosecrans and A.J. Smith. Rosecrans clearly could have acted more decisively, but he did, in the end, successfully defend without any major disaster all the major points under his charge. In his harshness, Lause perhaps does not sympathize enough with the difficulties of commanding such an eclectic mix of forces (most useful only in static operations).

However, the substantial body of good information presented by Lause is countered by a number of serious flaws. Perhaps most glaring was the author's decision to abruptly end his book only partway through the campaign.  The lack of any original maps is another serious deficiency in a study intending to offer useful military detail. The pair reframed from much larger O.R. atlas plates and reproduced inside the book are, to put it kindly, minimally helpful. In addition to rampant typographical errors in the form of missing words and incorrectly spelled proper names, careless factual errors (e.g. Missouri State Guard involvement in events occurring before they were even formed and an erroneous awarding of a Confederate officer commission to bushwhacker Sam Hildebrand) spring up occasionally. No one will deny that both guerrillas and individual Confederate soldiers murdered civilians and captured soldiers and militia in Missouri, but there is a general disinclination on the part of Lause to separate the acts and intentions of independent guerrillas from those of the Confederate army. He allows the whole to be too generally associated with the deplorable actions of the relative few. What is most often missing in this litany of atrocities is context, with the realization that this particular scale of killing and property destruction was not as unusual, or as one sided, as depicted in the text. By the time of the Price Raid, shocking violence against civilians and surrendered combatants had been occurring for years inside Missouri at the hands of the supporters of both sides. The high level of looting and destruction directed against public and private property during the campaign was also not all that unusual. One need only look to the behavior of A.J. Smith's men earlier that year in Louisiana. Finally, the narrative is quite imbalanced. A wider use of source material, as well as a less trusting judgement of the veracity of uncorroborated newspaper allegations, might have been employed to provide a fairer and fuller Confederate perspective of the campaign.

In its coverage of badly neglected subject matter, Price's Lost Campaign is alternately gladdening and maddening.  While it may not always be pulled from the shelf and reexamined frequently with admiration of its scholarly analysis, it does provide more than enough to at least deserve a place there.

More CWBA reviews of UM Press titles:
* 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


  1. I was hoping this would be a nice overview of Price's Raid utilizing a host of primary sources. Sadly, this was not the case. The source material is out there, but it will take a lot of effort to sort through it all. It still puzzles me why this amazing campaign continues to be ignored by CW historians.

    1. Bill,
      I am fairly confident that Kyle Sinisi's book, whenever it finally gets published (and I have no idea how close it is to completion), will fit the bill.

  2. I think that is a very accurate assessment of the book. It has definite shortcomings that could have been avoided.


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