A freshly cut log lying in a ditch. The shadow of a tree and my shadow, a little ghostly against the landscape of this Missouri field. In the far distance, the hills of the Arcadia valley.
Not the best view of the ditch. This one to the side gives a better idea. I was standing on the top of that steep slope when I took the picture above, having walked a little way further on.
A pretty pastoral scene today. But on September 27, 1864, this ditch and the fields beyond were strewn with the bodies of over one thousand men. Most of whom were hastily buried in an abandoned trench, unknown and unmarked. The bones of those men still lie under this earth.Now, however, a single stone memorial stands to mark their grave.
These are the dead of the Battle of Fort Davidson. In 1864, the Confederacy, by now reeling from Union successes further the east, sanctioned a raid into Missouri. Price's Raid this was, led by former Missouri Governor Major General Sterling Price, in an attempt to wrestle Missouri from Union control and perhaps influence the upcoming Presidential election against Abraham Lincoln.
Price led his men up from Arkansas. Pilot Knob, a Missouri railroad and mining town stood in the way of his path to St. Louis. A small contingent of Union soldiers until the leadership of Brig. General Thomas Ewing manned the small earthen Fort Davidson and stood in his way.Small but well armed with a number of powerful cannon and two defensive rifle trenches to repel infantry assault.
The Confederates had a number of cannon themselves, but rather than set up them all up in a position to bombard the fort, Price chose to assault it directly. Furthermore, he failed to coordinate the various assaulting groups well enough to ensure a simultaneous attack from a number of different directions. Instead, attacks were made piecemeal, and only a limited attempt was made to attack the fort with artillery.
The Confederate infantry rushed the high ramparts of the fort repeatedly, only to retreat taking dreadful casualties. By the end of the day, the dead and dying lay piled up all around.
Brigadier General Ewing, with only limited ammunition left, and under orders to retreat, then made a stealthy exit that night. A delayed action fuse was set in the central ammunition dump, and the resulting explosion blasted a large hole in the fort. Today this is a round pond.Price did not investigate until the next morning. By that time, Ewing's garrison had successfully slipped through Confederate lines and headed north. The time bought by this battle allowed the Union to strengthen Jefferson City, St. Louis and other Missouri towns, effectively denying Price any chance of a successful campaign.
The Confederates were left to bury the dead that following morning. Of those, 28 dead were Union soldiers. Hundreds more were Confederate.Today the site of this bloody battle stands as a memorial to all those who died. Walking those fields and ramparts today, I felt the shadowy ghosts of those lost boys reaching up through the soil.