|For Fort Davidson lodging, accommodations and campgrounds near Missouri's Fort Davidson State Historic Site, please click here.|
September 1864, an army of Confederate soldiers 12,000 strong
marched into Missouri from Arkansas, led by Major General Sterling
Price. Headed north toward St. Louis, this massive cavalry soon
arrived at the southern terminus of the St. Louis and Iron Mountain
Railroad in Pilot Knob. There, a federal fort, Fort Davidson,
stood, garrisoned by only 1,500 Union soldiers led by Brigadier
General Thomas Ewing Jr. Seeing a chance to obtain arms for
his 3,000 unarmed soldiers and to gain combat experience for
the nearly 6,000 untested draftees, Price sent men to rip up
the tracks to the north, cutting off Union reinforcements to
Feeling one swift assault would overwhelm the fort, Price ordered his men to divide up and move in from different directions. One brigade went over the top of Pilot Knob Mountain, taking the small Union force stationed there, while another went over Shepherd Mountain with plans to use the cannons atop the mountains to fire on the fort as the attack began. A third brigade went around the base of Shepherd Mountain, toward the northwestern sides of the fort, and the fourth charged through the valley between the mountains.
for Price, it didn’t work out quite as he had planned.
The assaults were poorly timed and the Union soldiers had time
to direct their fire at each advancing brigade. As thousands
of men charged the fort, gunfire echoed off the mountains and
the bloody battle waged on beneath a thick cloud of sulfurous
smoke supplied by the cannon and musket fire. Only one brigade
succeeded in reaching the fort, but the soldiers were unable
to conquer the fort’s steep walls and became victim to
assault from wooden-finned impact grenades thrown by the Yankees.
The over-confident Confederate troops believed an accident had occurred at the fort and the survivors would surrender at dawn. However, upon inspecting the fort’s condition the following morning, Price discovered that Ewing and his men were gone. Though they had no victory, they now held the field and the fort. Because of this, the Confederates were responsible for burying the dead and created a mass grave in one of the rifle pits. After taking inventory of the supplies that survived the explosion, Price divided the goods and weaponry that could be taken, then destroyed the rest before moving on to a near-endless string of defeat.
Fort Davidson State Historic Site serves as a memorial to the many soldiers who gave their life fighting for their idea of freedom. The earthworks of the fort are mostly intact and visitors can explore this aspect of the battle as well as a portion of the original battlefield. A full-scale reenactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob is staged, drawing in tens of thousands of spectators to the valley. The next reenactments are in September of 2010, and again in 2014 to coincide with the 150th Anniversary (Sesquicentennial) of the Civil War. A wide variety of activities are available to keep almost anyone satisfied, from infantry artillery cavalry drills, to medical demonstrations and the ever-popular blowing up of the fort. Vendors aim to please, offering refreshing beverages and snacks or period objects and clothing to reacquaint you with life during the war. To see images of the 2007 Battle of Pilot Knob Reenactment and to learn about the upcoming events in 2010 and 2014, please click here.
the site, a granite monument marks the place where the mass
grave begins, as well as locations throughout the valley
that were significant points on the battlefield. Maps for
this self-guided tour are available at the Visitor’s
Center and Museum that are also on the site. This free interpretive
center provides detailed information about the battle, offering
visitors an opportunity to see artifacts found just outside
walls as well as from the war in general. Visitors also have
a chance to view a 25 minute film and a 15 minute audio-visual
fiber optics diorama of the battle. Next to the museum is
a picnic area and playground, making this a perfect place
to get away with the family to learn more about history
and fighting for what you believe in.
photo courtesy Mtn. Echo