Traces of their legacy dot the state's landscape
Missouri offers a wealth of military history if you know where to look.
According to the Dictionary of Missouri Biography, there are roughly 30 generals with a strong connection to the state, a majority of them with connections to the Civil War era. William T. Sherman, John Pope, Enoch Crowder, and Maxwell Taylor are four prominent names worthy of a mention, but the most famous five generals related to Missouri are Alexander "Will" Doniphan, Sterling Price, Ulysses S. GRant, John J. Pershing, and Omar N. Bradley.
One of Missouri's least-remembered generals in the public mind today is Will Doniphan, but in his era, he was a superstar. Once a state representative, he might have been a Missouri senator or governor if border warfare and the Civil War hadn't torn apart his Whig Party.
Doniphan is best known for leading the Frist Missouri Volunteers to victory in the Mexican War. He marched his ragtag band on a 5,500-mile trek. one the way, he read about how to be a general from books on infantry tactics he borrowed from his commander.
A quick study, he defeated larger Mexican forces in two majory battle at El Brazito and Sacramento and occupied the cities of Santa Fe, El Paso del Norte, and Chihuahua. While parked in Santa Fe for a month, this lawyer from Liberty led a committee that created a enw government for the New Mexico Territory by melding legal concepts from Spanish, Mexican, and U.S. law to create a new code.
When the Civil War came to Missouri, Doniphan was a firm supporter of the Union, though he tried to remain neutral and find a midle ground between strong positions on both sides of the conflict. He refused to choose sides, and in an era of such strong feelings, those remained neutral became politicall irrelevant.
A good place to begin exploring Donpihan's life is Liberty, northwest of Kansas City, where he made his reputation as a lawyer. There is a downtown park dedicated to Donpihan one block north of the town square. His 1830s home was located on the south side of the park.
Doniphan's name lives today in the annals of hte Mormon Chrch because he first gained notoriety as the attorney for the Mormon leadership. When armed conflict broke ot between Mormons and their neigbors in 1838 in wester Missouri, Doniphan was a brigadier general in the state militia. After a kangaroo court-martial of Mormon leader Joseph Smith and six others, Donpihan's commanding general, Samuel D. Lucas, ordered Donpihan to execute them. Publicly refusing the order, Doniphan stalked out of camp at the head of his troops and dared Lucas to charge him with insubordination.Lucas blinked, the captives were saved, and Donpihan became a hero to the Mormons.
Another trace of this general can be foun din the name of the soutehrn Missouri town of Donpihan, the seat of Ripley COunty, named for him in 1847. But perhaps the most fitting tribute to Missouri's lawyer general is a bronze statute of him on the west side o the Ray County courthouse in Richmond, where he spent his final years until his death in 1887.
A gentleman farmer from the Keytesville area, Sterling Price also found himself in the middle of the Mormon War of 1838. Although this favorite son of Missouri thought many of the accusations against the Mormons were unfounded, he nevertheless supported Governor Lilburn Boggs when he called up the state militia. Price commanded a militia unit from Chariton County that answered to General John B. Clark, who had received the governor’s execution order. After Doniphan’s public refusal to carry out their execution, Price took the Mormon prisoners to trial in Independence.
After the Mormon War, Price served in the Missouri legislature as a Democrat until 1844, when he was elected to the U.S. Congress. He resigned his seat in 1846 to accept a commission to lead the Second Missouri Volunteers in the Mexican War. Price’s unit occupied Santa Fe when Doniphan’s First Missouri Volunteers headed south into Mexico. After quelling a bloody rebellion in Taos, he later followed Doniphan’s footprints to Chihuahua after Doniphan had sailed home.
Price defeated the Mexican army in battle at Santa Cruz de Rosales, and his exploits helped gain him election to governor of Missouri in 1852. After his constitutionally limited single term ended in 1857, Price served the state as its bank commissioner until 1861, when he was elected presiding officer of the Missouri State Convention, tasked with deciding whether the state would secede from the Union. The convention voted against secession but also stated its opposition to the Federal government keeping Missouri in the Union by force, a stance with which Price agreed.
Then Captain Nathaniel Lyon used just the sort of military force that Price opposed. Lyon and Price’s political rival, Congressman Frank Blair, led the mostly German Home Guards to surround and disarm the state militia troops meeting at Camp Jackson in St. Louis and marched them out of town.
Shortly afterward, Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson named Price commander of the state militia, and he and Price parlayed with Lyon and Blair on June 11, 1861, in St. Louis to see if peace would be possible. Although versions differ regarding what happened at the meeting, it is commonly agreed that Lyon stood up, claimed something to the effect that it would be better if all Missourians were to die than to defy the Federal government, and stomped out of the room. His statement amounted to a declaration of war.
Price and Jackson headed back to Jefferson City by railroad, and they burned the bridges and cut the telegraph wires behind them. Lyon followed quickly by boat and occupied the capital, barely missing the governor, state officials, and secessionist legislators who fled shortly before the Union troops arrived. Lyon routed some of Price’s raw state militia troops in an engagement at Boonville (see story, page 48), so Price established his base in southwest Missouri, trained the men, obtained supplies, and waited for Governor Jackson to arrive with more men. Colonel Franz Sigel intercepted Jackson’s 6,000-man force with 1,100 Federals northwest of Carthage on July 5.
After Jackson defeated Sigel’s force, Jackson linked up with Price. Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, commander of the Confederate Western Army in Arkansas, joined them with four thousand men. Price planned to attack Springfield with their combined force of twelve thousand.
Joining Sigel at Springfield, Lyon decided to attack Price at Wilson’s Creek southwest of the city on August 10. Lyon split his six-thousand man force, hoping to sandwich Price’s encampment on the creek bank between his Federals attacking from the northwest, over a knoll that would come to be known as Bloody Hill, and Sigel pushing from the southeast. Although surprised by Lyon’s bold maneuver, Price’s men rallied and defeated the Federals, killing Lyon and routing Sigel’s brigade. The Union troops retreated all the way back to Rolla.
Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Park offers a self-guided driving tour around the battlefield with some walking involved.
With McCulloch unwilling to follow Price in pursuit of the remnants of Lyon’s army, Price decided to take his militia north instead, hoping to pick up recruits in the Little Dixie area along the Missouri River. On September 20, 1861, at Lexington, he defeated Federal troops under Colonel James A. Mulligan using wet hemp bales as cover. Price’s Missouri State Guard troops surrounded Mulligan’s position at the town’s Masonic College and forced him to surrender after a three-day siege. Visitors can take a walking tour of the battlefield at the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site and can tour the Anderson House, which was used as a hospital during the hostilities.
Threatened by a larger Union army under General John C. Fremont, Price was forced to return to southwest Missouri and retreat into Arkansas, where he and McCulloch were placed under the command of General Earl Van Dorn. They lost a major battle March 7 and 8, 1862, at Pea Ridge in northern Arkansas, a defeat that kept Missouri in the Union. Promoted to major general in the Confederate army, Price was transferred east of the Mississippi, where he fought in several engagements. Eventually Price transferred back to Arkansas, and when his commander fell ill, he decided to mount an invasion of his home state in September 1864. Entering southeast Missouri on September 26, Price chose to attack a Union force under Thomas Ewing holding Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob.
Visitors can walk the earthen fort’s battlements and tour the visitors’ center at the Fort Davidson State Historic Site. Although the Union troops were forced to evacuate the fort in the middle of the night, allowing Price’s troops to capture it and technically win the battle, Price’s army was so weakened by the casualties received in taking the fort that he abandoned plans to attack St. Louis and Jefferson City. Instead, Price headed west, fighting engagements at Independence and at the Battle of Westport, in what is now part of Kansas City, where he was soundly defeated. History fans can drive and walk an extensive walking tour, designed by the Westport Historical Society, of the area. After the defeat at Westport, the remnants of Price’s army retreated to Texas. A few months later, Robert E. Lee surrendered in the East and marked the Confederacy’s doom. Price then fled to Mexico rather than surrender and lived there until, gravely ill, he returned to St. Louis in 1866 and died there a year later.
At the General Sterling Price Museum in Keytesville, open from 2 pm to 5 pm Mondays through Fridays during the summer, you can see furnishings reputedly owned by Price at Val Verde, his nearby home, which no longer exists. Also, make sure to visit Price’s statue, erected in 1915 in the city park and rededicated in 1990. Keytesville celebrates its annual General Sterling Price Days the second weekend in September. Price is buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.
ULYSSES S. GRANT
Although Ulysses S. Grant grew up in Ohio, he spent many of his happiest years in the 1840s and 1850s in his adopted state of Missouri. Before the start of the Civil War, he worked for his father for about a year in Galena, Illinois, and in 1861 returned to Missouri in command of a Union regiment.
After graduating from West Point in 1843, Grant began his military career stationed at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, along with his West Point roommate, Fred Dent, who took him to the Dent family farm outside St. Louis whenever they had free time. The grounds of this historic military post now house Missouri National Guard facilities, the Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, and Jefferson Barracks County Park, home to several notable historic buildings.
At Dent’s home, Grant met Dent’s sister, Julia, and sparks flew between them. He and Julia married in 1848 and moved into a log cabin built by Grant on land given to the couple by his father-in-law upon his return from the Mexican War, where he served with distinction.
The Grants christened the cabin “Hardscrabble,” and it can be seen on the tour of Grant’s Farm, which is now a tourist attraction owned by Anheuser-Busch. Grant’s Farm is located on Gravois Road in southwest St. Louis County. Across the street lies White Haven, the historic home that anchored the Dent and Grant estate. Now a national historic site, the home was purchased by the National Park Service in the early 1990s. A new visitor center opened at the Ulysses S. Grant National Historic Site two years ago, and a new museum dedicated to the general and president is set to open in the Grants’ former stable building in June.
Ulysses S. Grant was an ordinary man who failed at almost every career he tried except military leadership, and success in that endeavor led to the White House. Although known for its scandals, one of which, the Whiskey Ring, involved his St. Louis friends and family, Grant’s presidency laid the foundations for modern America. After getting less than satisfactory results from his other Union generals, President Abraham Lincoln turned to Grant because he seemed capable of using the tools given him to win the war. He was willing to listen to others brighter than himself to help develop the grand strategy needed to win the war.
Grant’s first Civil War command as a colonel of the Twenty-first Illinois Volunteers brought him to Mexico, Missouri, to guard the Northern Missouri Railroad. While posted there, he fought a small engagement at the Monroe Seminary in Monroe City, before receiving his promotion to general and transferring to Ironton in August 1861 near what would later become Fort Davidson. General John C. Fremont ordered him first to Jefferson City to build defenses and then to Cape Girardeau, the post from which he attacked a rebel camp at Belmont with mixed results.
Yet, Grant’s later triumphs gained him many accolades. For instance, the northern Missouri town of Grant City was named in his honor. He turned near disaster into a bloody victory at Shiloh in April 1862; captured the vital town of Corinth, Tennessee, a month later; and then worked to secure Vicksburg, the last Confederate stronghold on the Mississippi River, in a campaign and siege that lasted nearly six months.
In March 1864, after Grant defeated the Confederates at Chattanooga, President Lincoln appointed him general-in-chief of the Union armies, and Grant slowly squeezed Robert E. Lee’s army until it surrendered at Appomattox on April 9, 1865.
After two terms as president, he toured the world with his wife. Upon his return, he tried his luck as a financier on Wall Street with his son, but the Grants lost their fortune to a swindler. In the end, Grant would fight one last battle against throat cancer while struggling valiantly to complete his memoirs to aid the family finances. He completed writing it only a few days before his death in 1885.
John Pershing was tough, brave, and practical. As a teacher, he once fist-fought a parent who threatened him with a revolver and beat the man so badly he needed medical attention. Likewise, as a young officer, he cold-cocked a rebellious trooper into submission and rounded up a trio of desperate bandits by kicking in the door of their hideout, pistols blazing. He defeated rampaging Moro tribesmen in the Philippines, attacked the Spanish in Cuba under deadly fire on the San Juan heights, and chased the elusive Pancho Villa around northern Mexico.
While tormented by the loss of most of his family in a house fire, Pershing stoically molded the first modern American army, creating the organizational model and training the next generation of generals that would win World War II. Two of Pershing’s prominent protégés were General George C. Marshall, who became known as “the wizard” in World War I and who brought what he learned from Pershing to bear as the chief architect of victory in World War II, and General George S. Patton, the legendary tank commander who cracked the siege of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.
In 1917, however, Pershing arrived in France with the fledgling American Expeditionary Force and his iron jaw to lead it, the proper tool at the right time to win the Great War for the Allies. Pershing’s refusal to allow the majority of his men to be integrated into the British and French armies, his insistence on the formation of an American army with its own training facilities, and his adamant stand for the employment of continuous troop maneuvering rather than a continuation of the static, trench warfare used by the French and British were all key reasons for the Allied victory a year later.
The best place to learn more about Pershing is his boyhood home in Laclede, which is a state historic site. As Highway 36 is transformed into a four-lane thoroughfare across the state and perhaps becomes part of the future Interstate 72, this hidden gem might become even more of an attraction. To reach the historic site, which lies one block north of the Laclede town square, follow the signs from Highway 36, turning north on Route 5 and then east on Dart Road.
Acquired by the state in 1952, the monument includes a statue of “Black Jack” Pershing, a small museum dedicated to the general in the Prairie Mound School, and his childhood home, which is open for tours from 10 am to 4 pm Monday through Saturday and Sunday from noon to 5 pm. Now designated as an official state welcome center, the site stays open an hour later on Sundays in the summer.
The town celebrates Pershing Days annually on the weekend closest to the general’s birthday, September 13. As an added bonus to your trip, consider a visit to the nearby Locust Creek Covered Bridge State Historic Site. Originally built in 1868, and acquired by the state in 1967, the bridge was situated on Route 8, the main east-west highway across northern Missouri. The bridge now sits abandoned in a farm field. Pershing would have crossed the bridge on his way to Trenton to take the West Point exam. In Kansas City, Pershing attended the dedication of the Liberty Memorial in 1921, and a new World War I museum opened underneath the structure in December 2006. Now the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial, the site is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily except Mondays and major holidays. One of its most prominent pieces is the is the flag that flew over Pershing’s headquarters in Chaumont, France.
One of the most important but often overshadowed generals of World War II and the early cold war was Omar N. Bradley, who was born in Clark, lived in Higbee, and graduated from high school in Moberly.
The son of a rural schoolteacher who died young, Bradley’s career displays the growing professionalism of the military that emphasized better training and management. Raised in a poor family, Bradley took the West Point exam as a way to get a free education, took advantage of all possible training available to him in the U.S. Army, sometimes worrying that he was not gaining enough field experience, and spent much of his early military career as a teacher and superintendent in Army schools.
Although he wanted to take part in World War I, his unit was in Iowa training when the guns fell silent on the Western Front. His lack of battlefield experience in the earlier war turned to his advantage during World War II because the tactics of the previous war became outmoded. Maneuver with tanks and airplanes became much more important.
Known as the “G.I. General” because he dressed like an ordinary soldier and showed concern for the needs of his men, he became an expert in human resources, managing the people under his command to get the most out of them.
Although his most storied role was as the commander of American ground forces in Europe during World War II, his greatest contribution to the American military might have come as an organizer and manager in Washington after the war, as director of the Veterans’ Administration, Chief of Staff of the Army, and the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His work paved the way for the modern, professional military that would eventually win the cold war.
Unfortunately, Bradley has been given less attention than other Missouri generals. The Clark City Hall offers some photo displays dedicated to Bradley that locals say were once housed in a log cabin that is no longer standing in Sayre Memorial Park. The early Bradley home in Clark is no longer standing. The Randolph County Historical Society has some items about Bradley on display at its headquarters at Coates and Clark streets in downtown Moberly. According to Ralph Gerhard of the society, at one point during the 1950s, Bradley loaned a collection of weapons to the Moberly library, but teenage vandals broke in and stole some of them. Although the weapons were recovered, the general moved them to safer keeping at Carlisle Barracks in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where they are now part of the U.S. Army Military History Research Collection.