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A Day Late and a Dollar Short: The Fate of A. J. Smith?s Command during Price?s 1864 Missouri Raid Paperback – September 26, 2014
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About the Author
Dick Titterington is theCivilWarMuse, an amateur historian with particular interest in the American Civil War. Dick maintains a website, http://www.thecivilwarmuse.com/ that provides virtual tours of Civil War battlefields with interesting facts about the battle and biographies of key individuals. The virtual tours allow you to travel back in time and personally take walking and auto tours of various battlefields and expeditions. Area maps, waypoints and pictures are provided to orient and guide you through your visit. Dick also has a blog Trans-Mississippi Musings (http://www.transmississippimusings.com/) writing about interesting stories that took place in the Trans-Mississippi theater during the American Civil War, including the Reconstruction era following the war.
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In these terms we must view Price's raid into Missouri lest we forget that the forces which contributed to its inception, organization, and conduct were not strictly military goals, but were mixed with political goals: the wider goals of the Confederacy, and the political goals of Sterling Price personally, for example. Price did not necessarily have to successfully capture St Louis or Jefferson City to be successful. If he could merely continue putting pressure on the Yankee Army so that Northerners were sufficiently discouraged to not vote for Lincoln, he could claim some success. Alas for Price and the South, Sherman would capture Atlanta early during Price's raid, and the resulting rising spirits in the North would insure a Lincoln landslide.
Price was then compelled to conduct a campaign that was primarily of a military, not a political, nature. Unfortunately, as always, Price's troops were insufficiently armed, insufficiently fed, insufficiently clothed, and insufficiently disciplined. He conducted a rabble into Missouri. Fortunately for Price, at least until he reached Westport, the Union Army, sufficiently armed, fed, clothed, and disciplined, was unable to do him much harm, excepting in a few limited encounters.
Dick Titterington considers primarily the Union response directed by William Rosecrans out of St Louis in this book. Although Titterington calls himself an amateur historian, he certainly knows his chops and he can be counted on to get his facts straight, to dot every i and cross every t, and to provide excellent documentation all along the way. Moreover, when presenting a broad story like this one with so many characters and changing places, Titterington does something which is difficult: he organizes his tale in an order that is easy to follow. That takes some real storytelling skill, particularly when you're dealing with nonfiction which can't be rewritten to heighten dramatic effect.
This book aims to show Rosecrans' field officers in a better light than that in which they are usually remembered, to provide an accounting for why they kept not quite catching up and closing with Price, to emphasize how absence of reliable military intelligence encouraged a conservative approach to tangling with Old Pap. I've read other accounts of this raid, and the analyses put forward by others, and I confess I'm unpersuaded by Titterington's thesis. In military terms, Price made numerous errors during his raid, and the Union Army was almost never in a position to capitalize on them. I have a feeling we would be less willing to forgive Grant or Sherman for paralysis due to absence of intelligence as we are asked to do for Rosecrans. Nevertheless, although my interpretation is not the same as Titterington's, the events he documents are unshakably solid.
Some might find fault with Titterington's unwillingness to move away from absolute historical objectivity and reveal some of his own interpretive and subjective opinions about the people involved. I myself understand exactly why he does not do this, as it necessarily would taint the objectivity of the story he's setting down. What I do think would help, however, would be to add a layer of sensation: to better show the country and the weather, the cold and the rain of the surroundings, to hear the wagon wheels creak and the mules bray, to smell the ears of corn cooking and feel the campfire smoke burning in our eyes, to make us feel we as readers are more present in the world of 1864. Just a few paragraphs of such strategically placed throughout a text like this can work wonders.
As far as books about Price's raid go, this is a very good one, and one told with a different emphasis than I've seen before. I'd like to have seen more of the action around Westport and beyond, but no doubt that's for a later book in the series. I'd recommend this concise and absorbing story to everyone interested in the western conflicts of the Civil War, and to everyone who lives in the region now.