Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Review - "'We Gave Them Thunder': Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas" by Piston & Rutherford

["We Gave Them Thunder": Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas by William Garrett Piston and John C. Rutherford (Ozarks Studies Institute, 2021). Softcover, 13 maps, photos, illustrations, footnotes, orders of battle, bibliography, index. Pages main/total:xiii,278/356. ISBN:978-1-7346290-1-9. $29.95] [NOTE: There is also a Special Library Limited Edition (ISBN: 978-1-7321222-3-9) in hardcover]

There were some shaky moments (though less dangerous in hindsight) during the first eighteen months of the war, but Union military forces and the pro-Union provisional state government under Governor Hamilton Gamble were in solid control of Missouri by the beginning of 1863. The guerrilla problem was intractable, and in some places growing in intensity, but the overall situation was manageable, and the high command was confident enough by that time to withdraw most volunteer forces for deployment elsewhere. That left Missouri's defense largely to the militia forces created in 1862—the federally armed and funded Missouri State Militia with local support from the part-time and much less professionalized Enrolled Missouri Militia. A solid core of MSM units became highly proficient in counterinsurgency operations, and a number of them eventually attained a combat effectiveness in traditional mounted roles comparable to experienced volunteer cavalry regiments. Drawn from the general population, the EMM suffered from issues of dependability and divided loyalty that were later addressed by the creation of yet another militia organization, the Provisional EMM.

Confederates forces were not content to concede control over all parts of Missouri, however, and military incursions of varying strength and range continued. Those operations typically took the form of cavalry raids, of which there were three major ones in 1863. None of the trio has been the subject of exhaustive treatment in the literature. General John S. Marmaduke's Second Raid (which was capped by an inconclusive demonstration at Cape Girardeau on April 26, 1863) is the least well documented. Jo Shelby's "Great Raid" of September-October 1863, the longest and most sustained of the three, has received book-length attention in Sean McLachlan's Ride Around Missouri: Shelby's Great Raid 1863 (2011) and Mark Scott's converted thesis The Fifth Season: General "JO" Shelby's Great Raid of 1863 (2001). Conducted during the winter of 1862-63, Marmaduke's First Raid has also been accorded book format coverage on more than one occasion. For over two decades now, the standard account has been Frederick Goman's Up From Arkansas: Marmaduke's First Missouri Raid, Including the Battles of Springfield and Hartville (1999). Most recently, Larry Wood addressed its central event, the Second Battle of Springfield, in Civil War Springfield (2011)1. Goman's book is also very usefully supplemented by Daniel Plaster’s privately printed Marmaduke’s First Missouri Raid, 1862-1863: The Roles of Federal Scouts and Outposts in the Defense of Springfield (1999). However, a much more comprehensive treatment of the raid as a whole, with in-depth accounts of both the January 8, 1863 battle at Springfield and January 11 clash at Hartville, is finally now available through William Garrett Piston and John Rutherford's "We Gave Them Thunder": Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas.

In the opening chapters Piston and Rutherford do a fine job of contextualizing the raid, explaining the reasons why and where it was conducted. The importance of the southwest-northeast running transportation/invasion corridor between Fort Smith, Arkansas and St. Louis, Missouri is well established through the volume's summary of campaigns fought along that axis between the time of General Lyon's 1861 Missouri campaign and the Battle of Prairie Grove in December 1862. The corridor's transportation network and geography are also described in a manner that effectively contrasts the extremes in logistical apparatus and capability that existed at each end. Indeed, supply and communications at the Arkansas end of the corridor were so tenuous that when Fort Smith finally fell to Union forces in September 1863 the attackers arrived from an entirely different line of direction. During the retreat after Prairie Grove and in the wake of the surprise Union raid across the Boston Mountains that wreaked destruction upon the supply depots at Van Buren, the Confederate Trans-Mississippi army raised through General Thomas Hindman's draconian measures started to melt away. Something needed to be done to take the pressure off that cascading disaster, and that would be a return to the corridor in the form of a cavalry raid led by General Marmaduke.

Piston and Rutherford note that Union authorities that winter in Missouri, through the experiences of 1861-62 (particularly the sweeping Confederate recruitment drives of the previous summer2), were well cognizant that swift-moving mounted raids formed the primary threat to the state and had instituted measures to address them. These included major earthwork fortification networks at key Missouri cities and towns (ex. St. Louis, Jefferson City, Rolla, and Springfield), the construction of wooden blockhouses at more isolated strategic locations, and the fortifying of county courthouses3. The works would be manned by militia forces stiffened by a cadre of experienced volunteer units, the latter mainly from neighboring Iowa and Illinois. All of these elements of the Union defense network in Missouri would be encountered by Marmaduke's men during the raid.

As recounted in this book (see also Plaster's aforementioned study), Marmaduke's division—divided into two columns, one led by Marmaduke himself and the other by Col. Joseph Porter—captured and burned a number of blockhouses and dismantled the courthouse palisade at Hartville during the early stages of the winter raid. While these actions eliminated major parts of the outer ring of established defenses in Union-held SW Missouri, the authors note that the Union "tripwire" system nevertheless did its job in alerting authorities to the presence and general direction of Marmaduke's raiding force. This early warning allowed the Union commander, General Egbert Brown, the time necessary to prepare Springfield for an attack and call in neighboring units to the town's defense. Brown's hurried but orderly arrangements included the manning of fixed defenses (five mostly unfinished forts surrounded Springfield in a south-facing arc) by a mixed force of militia and volunteer units along with the cobbling together of a reserve (the celebrated "Quinine Brigade") gleaned from military hospitals.

The attack and repulse of Marmaduke's force (Jo Shelby's brigade and the regiment of Col. Emmett MacDonald) at Springfield on January 8 is recounted in the text in a detailed manner. The authors persuasively view the result as a success story of the integrated Union defense system for Missouri, but the action also served as another clear lesson, repeated throughout the war, of the ineffectiveness of light cavalry in attacking fortified towns. Having only a section of obsolete artillery available and a limited ammunition supply overall, Marmaduke could not batter his way into the enemy defenses. Piston and Rutherford surmise that the result of the battle may have been different had Porter's brigade been present. Earlier, deeming Springfield vulnerable to a coup de main, Marmaduke altered the raid's original plan (with its initial rendezvous point at Hartville) by attacking Springfield on his own and hoping that Porter might arrive on his right in a timely manner to attack the town from the east. Brown himself worried about the eastern and northern approaches to his lines, but they were not tested. In support of the text are a series of color battle maps that trace the movements and positions of the units of each side. Based on the Springfield map found in the atlas to the O.R., the map set materially aids reader understanding of the course of the battle.

Failing to capture Springfield and its abundance of much needed horses, arms, and supplies, Marmaduke broke off his attack and moved off to the east, where he finally combined forces with Porter west of Hartville. This latter stage of the raid is the part least well covered in the literature, and the account provided in the book of the January 11 clash between Marmaduke's reunited division and a much smaller Union force commanded by Col. Samuel Merrill should be considered the new standard history of the Battle of Hartville4. Each stage of the battle, from the initial race to Hartville to the pitched battle fought along the high ground just northwest of the town, is recounted at length and is once again supported by a good set of tactical-scale maps that trace each step of the action. The Union defenders were vulnerable and had an oversized wagon train to protect, but the authors credit their successful defense of the heights (and the failure of Jo Shelby's vaunted brigade to make a dent into the Union line) to an astute selection of ground and steady volume of fire. Merrill's veteran force of volunteer infantry, cavalry, and artillery (always a strong combination with which to oppose an enemy command composed entirely of cavalry and few supporting guns) was effectively able to keep the enemy at range and off its flanks. On the other side, Marmaduke's fatigued men suffered from a severe post-Springfield ammunition shortage, and Porter's brigade, formed in a dense column, was broken up by Merrill's concentrated fire. Post-battle Confederate claims that the lack of proper military arms was a major factor in their inability to overwhelm Merrill are mostly discounted by the authors, who note that infantry rifles had been distributed to many of the men in Marmaduke command by the time of the raid5. Already limited Confederate command talent took a significant hit as well with the deaths of Porter and MacDonald.

On the face of it, the raid's benefits to the Confederate war effort seem meager. Marmaduke's division failed to capture Springfield's depots, allowed Merrill's brigade to escape a potential trap at Hartville intact, further exhausted its already critical supply of horseflesh, and suffered significant high command losses along with relatively small but not inconsiderable rank and file casualties. As the authors note, this was in exchange for the destruction of much of Brown's tripwire system in the region as well as the redirection of some Union forces from the corridor's active front. It is the book's conclusion that, upon weighing results versus cost, the raid was worth it, but one might reasonably argue otherwise. Such things are always open to healthy debate.

The product of deep research in both unpublished and published sources, Piston and Rutherford's study represents by far the most comprehensive description and analysis of Marmaduke's First Raid. It is a notable new contribution to Trans-Mississippi military history studies, the publication record of which has been undergoing a bit of a drought in recent years. The Missouri State University system's Ozarks Studies Institute also deserves a great deal of credit for putting out such an attractive package of well-edited manuscript and uncommonly rich collection of color maps, photographs, and other illustrations. One hopes that they will continue to publish more works of this kind.

1 - Follow the links provided here for CWBA reviews or commentary on: Sean McLachlan's Ride Around Missouri: Shelby's Great Raid 1863, Mark Scott's The Fifth Season: General "JO" Shelby's Great Raid of 1863, Frederick Goman's Up From Arkansas: Marmaduke's First Missouri Raid, Including the Battles of Springfield and Hartville, and Larry Wood's Civil War Springfield.
2 - See Michael Banasik's Embattled Arkansas: The Prairie Grove Campaign of 1862 (1996) for the best available single source documenting the Confederate recruitment drives that swept across Missouri during the summer of 1862 and resulted in numerous small-scale but sharply fought skirmishes and battles.
3 - See McLachlan's American Civil War Guerrilla Tactics (2009) for a useful overview of the practice of fortifying county courthouses for local defense against irregular forces.
4 - There is one book-length publication dedicated to Hartville that is at least worthy of mention. In 1997, the Wright County Historical Society published The Civil War Battle of Hartville and Related Events, a spiral-bound collection of historical source material related to the battle.
5 - It is a common refrain among Trans-Mississippi Confederates that their mounted forces were often armed only with civilian-use shotguns. It is such a widespread contention/complaint lodged by officers and soldiers of all ranks that it has become part of the accepted historical record, yet recent battlefield archeological investigations by teams led by Douglas Scott have challenged the veracity of such claims. For one example, see "The Battle Raged... With Terrible Fury:" Battlefield Archaeology of Pea Ridge National Military Park.

[Special thanks to James Baumlin (consulting editor, Ozarks Studies Institute/Ozarks Books Series) for sending me an early copy of the book, which will be available for general purchase in August]

1 comment:

***PLEASE READ BEFORE COMMENTING***: You must SIGN YOUR NAME when submitting your comment. In order to maintain civil discourse and ease moderating duties, anonymous comments will be deleted. Comments containing outside promotions and/or product links will also be removed. Thank you for your cooperation.