Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, C.S.A.

Biography By Col. John C. Moore,

Volume 9, Confederate Military History

     Major-General Sterling Price, called lovingly by his soldiers "Old Pap," was born in Prince Edward county, Va., on the 14th of September, 1809. His early education was acquired in the schools of his native county, where he was prepared for Hampden-Sidney college. After completing the usual course in that institution he returned to his home and became a deputy in the clerk's office. At the age of 21 he emigrated to Missouri, when the city of St. Louis was little more than a depot for the Indian trade, and when the population of the State was very scattering. He made his home in Chariton county and soon after received an appointment as brigadier-general in the State militia.

     From his earliest manhood, General Price was a Democrat and in 1836 was elected as such to the general assembly of Missouri. He was again elected a representative in 1840 and 1842 and at each session was chosen speaker of the house. In 1844 he was elected to Congress and served until the opening of the war with Mexico, when he raised a regiment and had an independent command in New Mexico and Chihuahua. He gained victories over greatly superior forces at Cancada, Lambonda and Taos. In this latter battle with 300 men he captured 1,500 prisoners. For these services President Polk appointed him a brigadier-general. Moving next against Chihuahua, at Santa Cruz de Rosales, he captured the army of General Trias, double his own. This was really the last battle of the war; for a treaty of peace between the United States and Mexico had been signed a short time before.

     At the next State election General Price was elected governor of Missouri by a majority of 15,000 votes. Upon the election of Abraham Lincoln as president, Missouri called a convention of which Price was elected president. He was at the time an ardent Union man, and at the first there was not a secessionist in that body. But when it was evident that President Lincoln intended to pursue a coercive policy, the Missouri State Guard was formed, with Sterling Price as major-general. General Price still attempted to preserve the peace of Missouri, but when General Lyon captured Camp Jackson and shed the blood of the Missourians unnecessarily, as Price and many other of the best people of the State thought, the Missouri State Guard and their leader prepared for resistance.

 Battle flag of the Missouri State Guard
bearing "The Great Seal of the State of Missouri".
     The military events which followed have been narrated, and the part of General Price fully told. Could Price have secured the support and co-operation that he desired, he would probably have saved Missouri to the Confederacy, notwithstanding the strong Union sentiment that prevailed throughout the northern and eastern sections of the State. The battle of Elkhorn Tavern or Pea Ridge, in North Arkansas, was really won by Price and his Missourians, but Van Dorn, discouraged by the death of McCulloch and Mcintosh and the consequent confusion in the wing commanded by them, and mistakenly thinking the enemy's force greatly superior to his own, gave up the victory in his grasp and retreated.

Battle flag of Missouri Confederate troops,

sometimes referred to as the "Sterling Price Flag".

     General Van Dorn in his report says: "During the whole of this engagement I was with the Missourians under Price, and I have never seen better fighters than these Missouri troops, or more gallant leaders than Price and his officers. From the first to the last shot they continually rushed on, and never yielded an inch they had won; and when at last they received orders to fall back, they retired steadily and with cheers. General Price received a severe wound in the action, but would neither retire from the field nor cease to expose his life to danger." After the battle of Elkhorn, Price received his commission as major-general in the Confederate army, dated the day before that battle. Shortly after the battle of Shiloh, General Price with his Missourians accompanied Van Dorn to the east of the Mississippi, and after Bragg had departed for Kentucky they were left to face greatly superior numbers under Grant and Rosecrans.

    At Iuka and Corinth he and his men fought with great valor. The year 1863 found Price again in the Trans-Mississippi. But he was always under the orders of others, some of whom were inferior to himself in ability. At Helena, on July 4, 1863, Price's men were the only part of the army that carried the enemy's works. He co-operated with Kirby Smith in the campaign against Banks and Steele in 1864. General Price made his last desperate effort to recover Missouri in the latter part of 1864. His campaign was marked by brilliant achievements, but at last, when within a short distance of Kansas City, he was confronted by overwhelming numbers of the enemy and forced to retreat. At the close of the war he was included in Kirby Smith's surrender, but preferring exile to submission he left the country and found refuge in Mexico. There he engaged in a scheme of colonization under the imperial government, but it proved a very unsatisfactory enterprise. He returned to the United States and died at St. Louis, Mo., on the 29th of September, 1867.

Grave of Gen. Sterling Price,
Bellefontaine Cemetery, St. Louis, Missouri

"General Price's record in the Confederate army is so familiar to his countrymen that it would be almost presumptuous in me to testify to its excellance; but it is impossible for any one who knew him personally to mention his name without some tribute to his exceeding kindness of heart and grandeur of character.  He impressed all who approached him with the conviction that he was a good, as well as  a great man."

--Gen. Basil  W. Duke, former St. Louisan (Police Commissioner)



From the Missouri Army Argus-Extra

(December 1861)

Gen. Sterling Price's Proclamation

To the people of Central and North Missouri.

 Fellow citizens:  In the month of June last I was called to the command of a handful of Missourians, who nobly gave up home and comfort to espouse, in that gloomy hour, the cause of your blood country, struggling with the most causeless and cruel depotism known among civilized men.  When peace and protection could no longer be enjoyed but at the price of honor and liberty, your Chief Magistrate called for fifty thousand men to drive the ruthless invader "from a soil made fruitful by your labors and consecrated by your homes."  o that call less than five thousand responded; out of a male population exceeding two hundred thousand men, one in forty only stepped forward to defend with their persons and their lives, the cause of constitutional liberty and human rights!


 Some allowances are to be made on the score of want of military organization; a supposed want of arms; the necessary retreat of the army southward; the blockade of the river, and the presence of an armed and organized foe.  But nearly six months have now elapsed; your crops have been tilled, your harvests have been reaped, your preparations for winter have been made; the army of Missouri organized and equipped, fought its way to the river.  The foe is still in the field, the country bleeds, and our people groan under the inflictions of a foe, marked with all the characteristics of barbarian warfare - and where now are the fifty thousand to avenge our wrongs and free our country?  Had fifty thousand men flocked to our standard, with their shot guns in their hands, there would not be a Federal hireling int he State to pollute our soil.  Instead of ruined communities, starving families and desolated districts, we should have had a people blessed with protection, and with stores to supply the wants and necessities and comforts of life. 


Where are those fifty thousand men?  Are Missourians no longer true to themselves?  Are they a timid, time-serving, craven race, fit only for subjection to a despot?  Awake, my countrymen, to a sense of what constitutes the dignity and greatness of a people!  A few men have borne the hardships of the camp - the scorching suns of summer, the privations incident to cour circumstances - fatigue and hunger and thirst -often without blankets, without shoes, with insufficient clothing, with the cold wet earth for a pillow - glad only to meet the enemy on the field, where some paid the noblest devotion known among men on earth to the cause of your country and your rights, with their lives.


      But where one has been lost on the field, three have been lost by diseases induced by privation and toil.  During all these trials we have murmured not; we offered all we had on earth at the alter of our common country our own beloved Missouri - and we only now ask our fellow citizens - our brethren, to come to us and help to secure what we have gained, and to win our glorious inheritance from the cruel hand of the spoiler and the oppressor. Come to us!  Brave sons of Missouri rally to our standard.  I must have fifty thousand men!  Do you stay at home to secure terms with the enemy?  Then, I warn you, that day may soon come when you may be surrendered to the mercies of that enemy, and your substance be given up to the Hessian and the jayhawker.  I cannot, I will not, attribute such motives to you, my countrymen.


    But where are our Southern rights friends?  We must drive the oppressor from our land.  I must have 50,000 men. Now is the crisis of your fate.  Now the golden opportunity to save the State. Now is the day of your political salvation.  The time of enlistment for our brave band is beginning to expire.  Do not tax their patience beyond endurance.  Do not longer sicken their hearts by hope deferred.  They begin to inquire.  "Where are our friends?"  Who shall give them answer?  Boys and small property holders have in the main, fought the battles for the protection of your property.  And when they ask - "Where are the men for whom we are fighting?"  How shall I - explain?  Citizens of Missouri I call upon you by every consideration of interest, by every desire of safety, by every tie that binds you to home and country, delay no longer.  "Let the dead bury the dead."  Leave your property to take care of itself.  Commend your homes to the protection of God, and merit the admiration and love of childhood and womanhood, by showing yourselves MEN, the sons of the brave and free who bequeathed to us the sacred trust of free institutions.  Come to the army of Missouri - not for a week or a month, but to free your country.

"Strike, till each armed foe expires,
Strike for your altars and your fires,
For the green graves of your sires,
God and your native land."


      The burning fires of patriotism must inspire and lead you, or all is lost --lost, too, just at the moment when all might be forever saved.  Numbers give strength.  Numbers intimidate the foe.  Numbers save the necessity, often, of fighting battles.  Numbers make our arms irresistible.  Numbers command universal respect and insure confidence.  We must have men - 50,000 men!  Let the herdsmen leave his folds.  Let the farmer leave his fields.  Let the mechanic leave his shop.  Let the lawyer leave his office till we restore the supremacy of law.  Let the aspirants for office and place know they will be weighed in the balance of patriotism and may be found wanting.  If there be any craven crouching spirits who have not the greatness or soul to respond to their country's call for help, let them stay at home, and let only the brave and true come out to join their brethren on the tented field.


 Come with supplies of clothing and with tents, if you can procure them. Come with your guns of any description that can be made to bring down a foe. If you have no arms, come without them, and we will supply you as far as that is possible.  Bring cooking utensils and rations for a few weeks.  Bring no horses to remain with the army except those necessary for baggage transportation. We must have 50,000 men.  Give me these men, and by the help of God, I will drive the hireling bands of thieves and marauders from the State.  But if Missourians fail now to rise in their strength, and avail themselves of this propitious moment to strike for honor and liberty; you cannot say that we have not done all we could to save you.


You will be advised in time at what point to report for organization and active service.  Leave your property at home.  What if it be taken - all taken?  WE HAVE $200,000,000 WORTH OF NORTHERN MEANS IN MISSOURI, WHICH CANNOT BE REMOVED.

When we are once free, the State will indemnify every citizen who may have lost a dollar by adhesion to the cause of his country.  We shall have our property, OR ITS VALUE, with interest.  But in the name of God and the attributes of manhood, let me appeal to you by considerations infinitely higher than money!  Are we a generation of driveling, sniveling, degraded slaves?  Or are we MEN, who dare assert and maintain the right which cannot be surrendered and defend those principles of everlasting rectitude, pure and high, and sacred like God, their author?  Be yours the office to choose between the glory of a free country and a just government, and the bondage of your children!  I will never see my people enslaved!

  Do I hear your shouts!  Is that your war-cry which echoes through theland!  Are you coming!  Fifty thousand men!  Missouri shall move to victorywith the tread of a giant!  Come on my brave boys, fifty thousand heroic,gallant, unconquerable Southern men!  We await your coming.


                                                        STERLING PRICE
                                                        Major General Commanding



Note Background Music: "The Girl I Left Behind Me", is a tune that Gen. Price's command, the 2nd Missouri Infantry's (Col.Rive's regiment) fifer played during the Battle of Elkhorn Tavern to boost morale (Col. Rive was killed). This is from  a MIDI file produced by Barry Taylor.

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