A Fatal Detour, Part Two

Link to Part One

After the Battle of Fort Davidson/Pilot Knob:

fortdavidsoFort Davidson moat and modern entrance.nmoat

Fort Davidson moat and modern entrance.

During the night two important things happened.  First, Confederate wounded were located everywhere in Ironton that had shelter and Price sent word north for Union medical help. Price also sent a rider to find and bring Shelby back to Ironton and had the cannons sent up Shepard Mountain.  Second, Ewing figured that morning meant Confederate cannons on the mountains and an attack by all of Price’s army, including Shelby’s division, so he executed his evacuation orders.  The wheels on the portable cannons were muffled and all but a handful of troops left via the north rifle pit.  The Union troops left on the Potosi Road (likely modern day Missouri Highway 21), right through the Confederate lines.  The Confederates thought that Ewing’s men were their people and did not attack.

Also during the night Dr. Seymour Carpenter aided the wounded.  Dr. Carpenter, who served as the Union field doctor, went out onto the battlefield and gave the dying Confederates water and whiskey to ease their pain.  When Ewing and his troops evacuated, Dr. Carpenter went, under a flag of truce, to the Confederate camp at Ironton with medical supplies to care for the wounded.  Dr. Carpenter stayed several days before returning to St. Louis.

At two in the morning, a blast rattled the earth.  It was said to be felt as far as twenty miles away.  The handful of men left behind at Fort Davidson had blown up the powder magazine, destroying the fort.  The Confederates thought the blast was an accident and did not investigate.  In the morning, Price found an empty fort.

Fueled with anger, Price ordered Marmaduke’s division to try to follow Ewing’s forces.  Ewing first ran into Shelby’s division on his retreat and later the combined force of Shelby and Marmaduke.  Eventually, Ewing and his troops made their way to Leasburg where the last skirmish of the battle took place.  The Confederates did not renew an all-out attack at Leasburg because the Union troops managed to fortify it and the Confederates were starving.  After that, the Union troops marched on to Rolla.


Price realized St. Louis could not be taken.   It had been reinforced by General A.J. Smith, who was diverted from Sherman’s “March to the Sea”, with 8,000 infantrymen.  Price had also lost most of his men.  He did try to capture Jefferson City and found it reinforced.  The last battle of the Price’s Raid was at Westport near Kansas City, which Price lost.  Price knew he had failed in the Missouri Expedition.  Upon returning to the South, Price put himself in front of a Court of Inquiry to investigate his failure. Price may have won the Missouri Expedition if he had not detoured to Pilot Knob and gotten most of his men killed.  The Battle of  Fort Davidson/Pilot Knob could have been avoided if he had attacked St. Louis first, therefore the victory definitely prevented Missouri’s capture and return to the complete Southern leadership.

Crater created by the powder magazine explosion.

Crater created by the powder magazine explosion.

Fort Davidson/Pilot Knob had long-lasting effects.  It is estimated that the Missouri Expedition caused the war to last four more months and delayed Sherman’s March to the Sea by 42 days.  Pilot Knob also allowed Rosecrans to reinforce St. Louis’ defenses with troops from other states.  About a month after the battle, Thomas C. Fletcher was elected as the Radical Republican governor of Missouri.  The Missouri Expedition had no affect on the elections like Price and his commanders thought.  Obviously, Reynolds was never reinstated.

In conclusion, the Battle of Pilot Knob was a terrible tragedy.  They only good outcomes were Price’s inability to capture the St. Louis arsenal and reinstate Reynolds.  There are many ways Pilot Knob could be described, best by those who were there.  Here is how some of the participants described it: Ewing, in an order, written to Captain Campbell “I resolved to stand fast and take a chance.” Other soldiers described the raging battle as “Uncomfortably close to our heads,” “A hot time down there,” “Going to death or capture,” and “Like wheat before the reaper.”  A Confederate soldier, Private James H. Campbell, exclaimed “Our bravest and best soldiers were sacrificed for no good reason.”  

Fort Davidson Today:

Fort Davidson has been preserved as a state historic site.  More information can be located here.  If you decide to visit, the Fort Davidson Cafe across the street serves a wonderful fried chicken special.  Also consider visiting and exploring the nearby, beautiful state parks, Elephant Rocks, Johnson’s Shut-Ins, and Taum Sauk Mountain, and the Amidon Conservation Area.  Each site offers amazing views, hiking, and unique sites not seen elsewhere in the world.

Did you expect that a smaller battle in Missouri would have had effects on the whole war?  Do you have any questions?

Further Reading/Sources:

Research Resources at Fort Davidson

Official Battle Reports:  Thomas Ewing, Joesph Shelby, and Sterling Price

Fort Davidson.” CWSAC Battle Summaries.

Brownlee, Dr. Richard.  The Battle of Pilot Knob Centennial Observance Commemorative Program and History of the Battle.  Missouri Civil War Centennial Commission, 1964.

Carpenter, Dr. Seymour.  The Battle of Pilot Knob As Told By Dr. Seymour Carpenter, an Eyewitness and Participant.  Transcribed by Carolyn M. Bartels.  Independence: Two Trails Publishing, 1995.

Peterson, Cyrus A. and Joseph Mills Hanson.  Pilot Knob: The Thermopylae of the West.  Cape Girardeau: Ramfre Press,1914. (link is full text)

Scheel, Gary L. Sixty-Six Miles in Thirty-Nine Hours:  The Retreat From Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob to the Battle of Leasburg. Privately Published, 2002.

Shalhope , Robert E.  Sterling Price:  Portrait of a Southerner.   Columbia:  University of Missouri Press, 1971.

Sterling Price, et al.  Pilot Knob Mo. 1864….1989 125th Anniversary Commemoration.  Jefferson City: Missouri Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation, 1989.

Winter, William C.  The Civil War in St. Louis. St. Louis.  Missouri Historical Society Press, 1994.

While WordPress doesn’t support footnotes, if you’d like to see a copy of this with them, please let me know.


3 thoughts on “A Fatal Detour, Part Two

  1. Amy – I’m originally from Ohio so I don’t know that much of Missouri’s history.  I have enjoyed this series on the Civil War battle around Pilot Knob. 

    I’ll be having my husband make a detour to the park on one of our next trips to or from Wappapello.  Thank you for sharing.

    (Just an FYI – My husband is a great grandson to Laura Oliver Vickers Faries)


    Cathy A. Valentine


    • Cathy,

      You’re welcome! I’m glad you enjoyed this series and that you plan to detour to the historic site on a future trip to Wappapello! Besides seeing the remains of the fort, the site also has a small museum.

      Also, thanks for the further details about your relationship to the family line. I remember you from the family Facebook group, but couldn’t remember the exact relationship.


  2. Pingback: A Fatal Detour, Part One | Amy's Scrap Bag: A Blog About Libraries, Archives, and History

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