When you think of names of Civil War generals who had a profound influence before, during and after the Civil War, the name Major General Thomas Ewing Jr. usually does not pop-up. However, his role during the war had a huge impact on how some of the events unfolded. His life after the war was noteworthy.

Born 7 August 1829 in Lancaster, Ohio, Thomas Ewing Jr. was the third son of influential Ohio Senator Thomas Ewing Sr. and brother-in-law to General William Tecumseh Sherman. He studied law in Cincinnati and moved to Leavenworth, Kansas to practice law and became highly involved in the free-soil movement. When Kansas was admitted to the Union, Ewing became the state’s first chief justice.

When the Civil War began, Ewing raised the 11th Kansas Regiment to fight for the Union and was elected Colonel of the regiment and served with the regiment at the battles of Cain Hill and Prairie grove. His real distinction begins when, as a Brigadier General, he is placed in command of the highly volatile Border District.

Since the days of Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s, tensions between pro-slavery Missouri and the now free-state of Kansas ran high. Missouri bushwhackers and Kansas Jayhawkers and Red Legs were constantly at each other’s throats, and when William Quantrill and his band of guerrillas arrived in Lawrence, Kansas at five o’clock in the morning on 21 August 1863 and completely ravaged the town, killing 150 men and boys, and robbing, looting and burning the town, Thomas Ewing had to do something about the guerrilla hostilities.

His answer (with some prodding from fire-brand Senator and Jayhawker James H. Lane) was to draw up the infamous “Order No. 11.” With its harsh treatment of the civilian population, it was what Ewing believed the only solution to curtail guerrilla activity in the region. However, the methods used to enact the order (mainly, his use of Kansas troops that were mostly made up of Red Legs) and the resulted slaughter and desolation of four Missouri counties left a permanent stain on Ewing’s resume.

General Ewing and Order No. 11

Order No. 11 had indeed put a quiet over Kansas and in March, 1864, Ewing was ordered to St. Louis as a member of the staff of Union Major General William Rosecrans. It was during this period that Ewing would pull off one of the most incredible stands of the Civil War that has sometimes even been called the “Thermopylae of the West.”

Confederate Major General Sterling Price had begun his march into Missouri to attempt to seize St. Louis and its supplies, rally the citizens to the Confederacy, and put in place Thomas Reynolds as governor. On September 26th, 1864, Ewing was dispatched with the veteran 14th Iowa Infantry to ascertain the forces operating in southeast Missouri, and to hold Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob against what was considered a detachment of Price’s army. Prices army numbered well over 12,000 soldiers against a little over 1,000 men. However, lack of reliable information and the strong spirit of the Union defenders, would see Price’s army cut down as they attempted to take the tiny Fort. Ewing, aware of his reputation in regards to Order No. 11 was demanded to surrender, in which he replied, “They shall play no Fort Pillow game on me” and resolved to hold the fort. The ensuing and repeated attacks on the fort by the superior numbered Confederates and the tenacity and will of the Union defenders to not give it up is its reference to the famed battle at Thermopylae. The Union defenders lost about 29 men with 44 wounded, the Confederates however, saw over 1,500 of their troops killed or wounded by this small detachment of soldiers.

As night fell however, it was apparent that come morning, Price would once again press a full frontal assault on the fort, complete with artillery, and there would be no saving themselves or the fort. Ewing chose to evacuate the fort under cover of darkness, blow up the powder magazine and attempt to retreat to the safety of Rolla, Missouri. The Union soldiers made it to Leasburg, just outside of Rolla, and held defense there against the pursuit of Confederate Generals John S. Marmaduke and J.O. Shelby, who by the morning of October 1st, had rode off to join Price in Jefferson City, believing the attack on this new position would be too costly.

The time wasted on this futile pursuit, the huge loss of life at Pilot Knob now altered the original plans of Price’s raid, and the conflict and stand by Ewing and his troops at Pilot Knob, in effect, ended the raid as it begun. Price would attempt to cross Missouri and by the end of October, his army was defeated and shut down at Westport and then at Mine Creek in KS. Price’s infamous raid of 1864 was over and it had been by the brave and wise action of General Ewing.

In February 1865, Ewing resigned his commission in the Army to his good friend the President, Abraham Lincoln, and went back to public life. A month later, Lincoln was dead. Ironically, Ewing agreed to represent three of the conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold and Edmund Spangler. His efforts, in effect, kept those three men from meeting the same fate as the other conspirators and they were sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson in Florida. Ewing also successfully obtained a pardon for Dr. Mudd at the end of President Johnson’s term of office.

Last years of life

Ewing practiced law in Washington D.C. from 1865 until 1870 when he moved back to his home in Lancaster, Ohio to practice law and became a Congressman for his state. In 1880 he ran for Governor of Ohio and narrowly lost the election. IN 1881 he moved to New York to again practice law and ended his career in public office. Thomas Ewing Jr. died after he was struck by a New York City omnibus in 1896 and is buried in Yonkers, NY.

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,

Assistant Adjutant-General.

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.



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.



However, this would not materialize for Marmaduke.  Southeast 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.

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.

Missouri saw many battles during the Civil War being only third behind Virginia and Tennessee. The Battle of Pilot Knob (Fort Davidson) was the beginning of Confederate General Sterling Price’s final raid to secure Missouri for the Confederacy in 1864. It also marked the beginning of the end of his raid and would be a harbinger of what was to come for the rest of his campaign.

Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith, commander of the Trans-Mississippi Army hastily put together a final raid into Missouri to be commanded by former Missouri Governor and Confederate Major General Sterling Price. Price’s objective was to seize St. Louis, capture the armory, enlist southern sympathizers and then to march on to Jefferson City, seize the capital and install Thomas Reynolds as governor and thereby claim the state for the Confederacy.

However, Price had a ragamuffin band of men to support Him. Of his 12,000 strong army, 3,000 were deserters captured at gunpoint along the way, and most of his men had no supplies or even shoes. When he arrived in Missouri many of his troops didn’t even have weapons.

Union General Rosecrans fortified St Louis and sent General Thomas Ewing Jr, infamous for his General Order No. 11 in the west, who was in command of the district of St Louis down with a detachment of the 14th Iowa to Ft Davidson in Pilot Knob to ascertain the overall composition of Price’s army. One of Price’s division commanders, Joseph O. Shelby felt any action against the tiny fort was pointless and that they should move directly on St. Louis. However, the other two division commanders, James Fagan and John S. Marmaduke, felt leaving an armed garrison in the rear was a mistake. Price agreed with Fagan and Marmaduke and they made plans to seize the tiny fort.

On the afternoon of September 26, 1864, a Union scouting party ran into an advance group of Fagans Confederates near Shut-Ins gap. The Rebels pushed the Union soldiers back to Ironton and heavy fighting broke out. The Union soldiers pushed on their own and forced the Rebels back to the gap. Nightfall and a heavy rain ended the fighting for the day.

At dawn fighting again broke out and the Union soldiers were pushed back to Ironton and then further repelled back to the fort in Pilot Knob. Confederate soldiers swarmed into the open valley while Union forces tried to hold them back from the spurs of the two mountains and with artillery fire from the fort.

The fort lay in between two mountains, Pilot Knob to the east and Shepherd Mountain to the west leaving a wide open valley in between which they would have to cross. Price, under the recommendation of one of his colonels decided on a frontal assault rather than securing the two mountains with large artillery. This would be a deadly mistake.

As the rebels closed in on the fort, Union Major James Wilson and his troops were cut-off on the spur of Pilot Knob and captured. Wilson and five of his men would be marched to Union and eventually executed by the Confederates. The rest of the Union soldiers now had no choice but to retreat to the confines of the fort. Price sent a messenger to Gen Ewing demanding his surrender which Ewing curtly refused.

Around 2:00PM The rebels then advanced across the field and suffered heavy losses under a barrage of Union artillery and musket fire and then fell back. The smoke became so thick that Union soldiers could only see the legs and feet of the oncoming Rebels. The Rebels then made a second charge coming within 30 feet of the fort only to again be repelled by heavy fire from the fort. The Confederate’s then made a third and final advance on the fort, this time making it into the moat surrounding the fort and began to scale the walls. However, Union soldiers fused artillery shells as grenades and began tossing them over the side, blowing up bodies as high as the fort walls. The rebels retreated and the battle ended around 5:00PM. However, the loss of life for the Confederates was major, well over 1,000 rebels lost their lives.

Ewing convened a council of war in his tent that evening and realized that in the morning Price would place his large artillery on both peaks and the fort would be overrun. He planned a daring midnight escape through the rebel lines and made his way west towards Rolla, leaving a small detachment to blow up the powder magazine in the fort. In the morning when the rebels awoke they found the fort empty. Price was livid and sent Shelby and Marmaduke after Ewing. Skirmishes were fought along the way, but Ewing finally made it to Rolla.

The victory for the Confederates came with a very high price in lives. Price knew advancing to St Louis now was futile, and he had wasted manpower and resources chasing Ewing. Price would make his way across the state, ultimately ending in final defeat at Westport. However, the battle at Ft Davidson by a small number of Union soldiers against a much larger Confederate force, earned it the title of the “Thermopylae of the West”.

You read that right… sort of… Most people do not associate hand grenades with the Civil War. They were, however, used in the sieges at Vicksburg and Petersburg and even in the west at the Battle of Pilot Knob.

The “Ketchum Hand grenade” was patented by William F. Ketchum and looked like a large dart. This design meant for the grenade to land on it’s nose, behind of which held a percussion cap. Unfortunately, they didn’t always land on their noses. Many times they were tossed at the rebels who would “Ketchum” (catch them) in blankets without detonating and then hurled them back whereupon they did indeed detonate.

Obviously, they were not as useful as they appeared. Or were they?

At the Battle of Pilot Knob in September 1864, at the onset of Confederate General Sterling Price’s infamous raid into Missouri, the grenades had a different effect.

The confederates had advanced, fell back, advanced and fell back once again, slowly making ground on the fort and pushing the Union soldiers off the field into the fort. However, on the third and final advance, the Arkansas troops of Confederate General William Cabell’s brigade were able to advance into the moat at the foot of the steep, earthen mound walls of the fort. It was at this point, the Yankees were issued Ketchum Grenades from their powder magazine and began hurling them over the walls of the fort at the advancing Rebels.

The results were disastrous for the Rebels. Union Captain William J. Campbell of the 14th Iowa Infantry would recall,

…we rushed back to the banquette with the grenades and passed them to the men in the front, with orders to throw them into the ditch. Pandemonium instantly broke loose…men were blown above the parapet and fell back dead; the ditches were cleared as if by magic. It struck terror to the enemy’s lines, and they fell back in disorder…

By the time of World War I, the grenade had been modified and Serbian Army Colonel Miloš Vasić perfected the grenade design into the “Vasić” M.12 model” which continued to be used until the end of World War II.

But for many of the common Civil War soldiers, their first encounters with grenades were mysterious. Many of the more educated soldiers had knowledge of ancient weapons similar to grenades, but these common soldiers faced something they had never heard of or seen before – a weapon with significant destructive power at close range. Once again, the Civil War would foreshadow the brutality of wars to come.