Thomas Ewing and the Union Battle of Leasburg

The Battle of Leasburg was fought in Leasburg, MO. (which is located about 30 miles east of Rolla, MO. and 79 miles southwest of St. Louis) on September 29-30, 1864. On the night of September 27, 1864, Union troops under the command of Brigadier General Thomas Ewing Jr., were forced to evacuate their position at Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob, MO. (which is in the south-eastern portion of Missouri) after valiantly fending off the advances of Confederate General Sterling Price and his 13,000 soldiers as they prepared to embark on his infamous raid of Missouri in 1864.

General Ewing and his soldiers opted to make, and were successful, a daring and bold escape under the cover of darkness and between the enemy lines, even detonating the powder magazine in Fort Davidson, in an effort to make their way to Rolla, where reinforcements were available. Price was livid when he awoke at dawn and found the fort completely abandoned and the powder magazine destroyed. In his anger he directed Generals John Marmaduke and J.O. Shelby to pursue the Federal soldiers.

Captain W.C.F. Montgomery of Battery H, Second Missouri Light Artillery, gave a report on November 14, 1864, that included the following excerpt that explains the movements from Pilot Knob to Leasburg,

That night at 12 o’clock General Ewing ordered me to fill the limber chests of the pieces, select the best horses, leave the caissons, and get ready to march immediately. We were soon ready to march; we drew the caissons near the magazine where they would likely be blown up, leaving 100 rounds of ammunition in them that we could not carry. At 3 a. m. Wednesday, September 28, we silently drove out, taking with us all the horses and mounted cannoneers on them. We marched thirty-one miles that day, stopped at Webster, rested till midnight, when we started, feeling our way in the darkness of the night, raining and blowing so it was a difficult matter to travel. We then had thirty-five miles to march to Leasburg on the Pacific Railroad. At 8 a. m. the rebels attacked our rear guard, driving it in. Lieutenant Simonton formed his section in the road ready for action, but the enemy never came in sight. We marched three miles farther and we were again attacked from both sides and from the rear. We formed the battery in the edge of the field, firing lively from two sections, driving the rebels all out of sight. We then marched within three miles of Leasburg, when we were again attacked. We formed the battery on the hill-side, fired a few shots from Lieutenant Simonton’s section; we again marched for Leasburg, infantry in line of battle. By this means we kept them back till we reached the station, were we formed our line and took up quarters for the night; sheltered the horses in the ditch by the track. By this time it was dark, and the rebels still firing at us from the brush; there was no time lost in preparing breast-works to shelter the infantry, who were so worn out that they were unable to march farther. At 9 p. m. the train came in from Saint Louis. We were ordered to dismount the guns and load them into the cars. The pieces, carriages, and harness were soon loaded. By this time it was discovered that the road was cut above and below. We could do nothing more for a move, so we commenced to unload and mount the guns again and made the necessary preparations for a morning attack. At 10 a. m. the enemy came in sight but made no assault except skirmishing, which they kept up continually. At 12 p. m. we started for Rolla, Mo.; reached that place the same evening.

As stated, the Confederates were ordered to pursue General Ewing and his soldiers. Confederate Assistant Adjutant-General of Major General Sterling Price’s Army, Lieutenant Colonel L.A. MacLean, wrote to Brigadier General William L. Cabell and informed him that,

GENERAL: I am directed by Major-General Price to say that you will move forward your force as rapidly as possible and destroy effectually the railroad and telegraph east of Franklin Station; then move upon Franklin and take the place, and march to Union and report from that point (Franklin County). Should you find the command at Franklin Station too strong for you, you will rejoin this command. Please report progress by courier.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

L. A. MACLEAN,
Assistant Adjutant-General.
HEADQUARTERS MARMADUKE’S DIVISION,

On Southwest Branch of the Pacific Railroad,
Sullivan’s Station, September 30, 1864-10 p. m.

When they finally arrived at Leasburg, Major General Marmaduke reported that,

COLONEL: I came up with the enemy yesterday at 11 a. m. and pursued them to Leasburg Station, on Pacific Railroad, thirty-five miles above Rolla, where during last night they fortified a strong position. I did not deem it advisable to attack them, and have to-day marched to this point, twenty-four miles from the point for the junction of our forces. I will join you to-morrow night. The enemy numbered about 1,000 and six pieces of artillery.

Respectfully,

J. S. MARMADUKE,
Major-General.

P. S.-I have broken the railroad below Leasburg, between this point and Leasburg, and here. Will continue to break it as I march. I hear of no Federal forces except the force pursued (General Ewing’s, now at Leasburg) and 2,000 or 3,000 militia, under McNeil, at Rolla.

Respectfully,

J. S. MARMADUKE,
Major-General.

However, this would not materialize for Marmaduke. ┬áSoutheast of Leasburg, the Confederate cavalry caught up with Ewing’s rear guard and what is known as the Battle of Red Haw took place on October 5th. The fighting allowed the main body of Ewing’s troops to make it to Leasburg. At Leasburg the Confederates made a valiant attempt to break the Union entrenchment, but Ewing’s entrenchment in Leasburg was well fortified, a train coming from St. Louis with “two car-loads of hard tack and two of ammunition” supported them while the Confederates were down to approximately six-hundred men and artillery with little to no ammo left to utilize in attempting to break the Union entrenchment.

The Confederates realized that storming the breastworks would result in more losses for them and would gain them little in terms of furthering the rest of Price’s raid. The rebels decided to “leave a small force to make a show of siege, and go on and join Price’s column.” What was left of the Confederate’s left in pursuit allowed Ewing and his troops to make their continued retreat to Rolla.

Had Shelby and Marmaduke pressed on at Leasburg, they would have probably broken the Union lines, but again, to very little gain with the amount of casualties that would have come of the attack. Ironically, back in St. Louis, Major General William Rosecrans saw this as a sign of “whipping the rebels” and in a dispatch stated that,

You are doing well. Say to Generals McNeil and Sanborn what I telegraphed General Brown. Take advantage of everything; strike the hardest kind of blows. The great object is to get them where we can hurt them, and then mow them. The last, not less than 800 to 1,000, put off the fight at pilot Knob, and did not dare storm Ewing’s little breast- works at Leasburg.

W. S. ROSECRANS,
Major- General.

Ultimately, what the Battle at Pilot Knob did was to throw a monkey wrench into Price’s grand scheme, and this jaunt to chase the small detachment of Union soldiers who had bested him at Pilot Knob days before, was a fools errand. Being stopped yet again at Leasburg, was yet another sign that Prices Raid of 1864 was doomed from the start.

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