Mozarks Moments

Clockwise from top left: Sterling Price; the Sterling Price Monument at Springfield National Cemetery; David R. Atchison; Alexander Doniphan and Francis P. Blair Jr.

For those Missourians who helped open the west, many of them had to cross the Great Divide of the Rocky Mountains to get to the furthermost regions of the new land, but it failed to compare to the Great Divide that was the Civil War.

In addition to Sterling Price, Alexander Doniphan and David Rice Atchison, another Missourian, Francis P. Blair Jr. rubbed shoulders with the Bent Brothers out west.

Born in Kentucky in 1821, he graduated from Princeton in 1841, studied law, was admitted to the bar and set up a practice in St. Louis in 1842.

Either just prior to setting up his practice, Blair traveled from St. Louis to Bent’s Fort by wagon train one summer and remained until the following spring.

Like the others, he was active in the military during the Mexican War and afterwards Gen. Kearney appointed him attorney general of the New Mexico Territory. Blair became close friends with Missouri’s venerable senator, Thomas Hart Benton. He served in the Missouri House from 1852 to 1856, when he was elected to the U.S. House.

At the onset of the Civil War Blair resigned to become a colonel in the Union Army. When Missouri became embroiled in the early stages of the war, Blair and Capt. Nathaniel Lyon moved the arms out of the U.S. Arsenal in St. Louis into Alton, Ill., to keep them out of Confederate hands. Lyon would soon be promoted to general.    

Meanwhile, Sterling Price, who had opposed secession by the south leading up to the war, but when Blair and Lyon seized Camp Jackson and St. Louis and moved the weapons from the armory, Price was outraged and joined the Confederates. He was given the rank of general and placed in charge of the Confederate’s Missouri State Guard in May of 1861.

It was generals Price and McCulloch who pitted their forces against Lyon’s at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek where Lyon would become the first Union general killed in the war.

In March of 1862, Price was promoted to major general and the next day fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge just across the line in Arkansas. Price was wounded and lost the battle.

After the Second Battle of Corinth (Mississippi) in October, Price was so disenchanted with his commanding officers that the got an audience with Confederate President Jefferson Davis. After the meeting, Davis remarked that Price “was the vainest man he had ever met.”

To be fair though, Price’s men seemed to have a real fondness for him and affectionately called him, “Pap.”

In the autumn of 1864, Price convinced his superiors to let him invade Missouri. With 12,000 troops, Price fought battles in Missouri at Pilot Knob where he captured Fort Davidson, and at Glasgow, Lexington, Little Blue River and Independence, before being defeated at the Battle of Westport, which ironically took place on William Bent’s farm.

Meanwhile, David Rice Atchison had a falling out with Missouri’s other senator, Thomas Hart Benton, prior to the war because Benton opposed slavery and Atchison favored it. He also had a falling out with his friend and law partner, Alexander Doniphan over succession. Atchison was for it and Doniphan was opposed.

Doniphan, who had hopes for a Peace Conference held in Washington, D.C. in February of 1861, was disappointed when war came. He was offered a commission as a colonel in the Confederate Army and later an officer’s rank in the Union Army, but declined them both. He moved to St. Louis in 1863 and lived out the war there.

Atchison, however, accepted a commission as a general in the Missouri State Guard and served with Price in 1861 at Wilson’s Creek and Pea Ridge. But when the two men disagreed on strategy, Atchison resigned and moved to Texas.

 At the war’s end, Sterling Price led the remnants of his troops into Mexico where he attempted to offer their services to Emperor Maximilian. The plan failed, but a century later it became the inspiration for a John Wayne movie called “The Undefeated.”

Price contracted typhoid fever in Mexico and after returning to St. Louis he died of “cholera-like symptoms” in October of 1867 at the age of 58.

In 1901 a monument to Sterling Price was erected in the Springfield National Cemetery by the United Confederate Veterans of Missouri.

After the war, Alexander Doniphan returned to his law practice in Richmond and died in 1887 at the age of 79.

David Rice Atchison retired after the war to his farm at Gower. He died in January of 1886 at the age of 78. In 1991 he was inducted into the Hall of Famous Missourians.

Francis P. Blair Jr. resigned his seat in the House in 1862 and was appointed as a colonel in the Missouri volunteers. Rising fast in the ranks, he gained the rank of brigadier general later that year and then major general by the end of the year.

Blair served at the Battle of Vicksburg and then with General Sherman. After the war, he was the Democratic candidate for vice-president in 1868 but the ticket lost. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1871 and served one term. He died in 1875 at the age of 54. A statue of Blair stands in the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.

Next week: Two more Missourians who rubbed elbows with the Bent Brothers—the Pathfinder and the Mountain Man.

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