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The Battle at Pilot Knob


Contributed by Tom Caulley

The Forge

Ironton, Missouri October 19, 1865

(Written for the Forge)

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Pilot Knob Missouri -- The Battle Fought There, September 26th, 27th 1864
By Robt. L. Lindsay
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Pilot Knob is one of the most prominent peaks of the Ozark range of mountains in South-east Missouri, and is situated at the present terminus of the Iron Mountain railroad, eighty-six miles from the city of St. Louis. Its name indicates its physical character. It rises boldly and steep from its base to an altitude of nearly 600 feet, with its pinnicles formed by massive pillars of ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~the rock points in the distance; which at an early day served as a pilot or guide to the piloneer or hunter, when wandering in the gloomy depths of mountain wilderness.

Probably the Indian and the hunter, when they chased the elsk, or hunted the bear therough the labryinthical windings in those wild and dreary regions, and saw that towering knob of rocks overlooking almost every portion of the country, thought that the Great Spirit or benificient God had made it, in His goodness, only as a landmark to serve their necessities when wandering in the unknown wilds. The deer and the bear have gone toward the setting sun, and the Indian and the daring hunter have followed them. A tide of industrious population, accustomed to the usages and versed in the requiremnts of civilization, have setted in the fertile contiguous counties, and have a necessity for iron which is inseperable from every dwelling, and subserves a thousand purposes in domestic commercial life; when lo! the votary of Science in his useful investigations, soon discoveres that the lofty peak of rocks formed the apex of a whole mountain of iron, just at the time the state needed the important metal.

The amount of iron contained in the area of the elevation known as Pilot Knob cannot be accurately estimated, but probably exceeds, by ten times, th 13, 972,773 tons estimated by Dr. Litton of St. Louis, in his report published in the Geological Survey of Missouri. He makes his calculations by making the beds of iron which he found on the northern side of the mountain at a distance of 141 feet below the summit, and 440 feet above the base, as the lowest point where solid iron exsists. Admitting such to be the fact, although it is known to exist at lower points on that side, yet there is no calculation made for the dip of the rock, which doubtless continues through the hear of the mountain, in a south-wetern direction.

The lover of nature -- to one who can readily appreciate her beauties, and whose delicate emotions will quickly awaken to the impression of scenes of grandure and beauty, a view from the summit of Pilot Knob would be hailed with rapture, and would ever be impressed upon the tablets of his memory. From this point can be seen the lofty elevations, which invest the prospect with sublimity, with the hard front of the rocks everywhere visible on their sides, softened by a lichen covering. -- At the base on the north-west side is the thriving town of Pilot Knob , containing some 1,000 inhabitants, beautifully situated on a creek of water, transparent from its mountain purity. On the south side is the beautiful valley of Arcadia, looking away to the south-east and south, in which is situated the busy little city of Ironton, and the quiet and attractive little village of Arcadia, at which is located Arcadia High School, an institution of learning so favorably known throughout the country.

Shepherd Mountin, which is south-west of Pilot Knob, and eighty-two feet higher, contains an inexhaustable supply of iron possessing strong magnetic properties, and particularly adapted to bloomery purpose, thereby differing from Pilot Knob, whcih is better suited for foundry iron, and makes the best steel of any iron yet discovered, and taken all in all, is better adapted for all purposes for which iron is used, and from the immense amount contained in it, it will be ages before it is exhausted.

There is not the slightest doubt but what Missouri will, before long, manufacture her own railroad iron, and it is already understood that preperations are being made, and rolling mills erected in St. Louis, to be under the control of Gen. Fremont, for the manufacture of railroad iron. Already many of the leading States have with success, manufactured their own railroad iron, and Missouri will soon have her millions of dollars by following their example.

Pilot Knob, and also Shepherd Mountain, we have every reason to believe is of igneous origin, and at some distant period beyond human calcularion, in some paroxsym of nature, there was a vast upheval from the bottom of the ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ rocks were thrown in towering piles and unnatural position in which we now find them. The mountains still furnish matter of study and inquiry to the votary of Science; and a thorough investigation of the respective ages of some of the igneous piled together, would still further dispel the mystery which hangs over the past , and afford another landmark to the searcher in the scientific world.

The localities which we have above described, was once the scene of a most deadly conflict between contending armies. It is a matter of history familiarly known to thousands, as having been the most desperate and unequal combat fought at any time during the late war. The write of this sketch was an eye witness and participator in the whole affair , and therefore writes from a personal knowledge of the facts and incidents connected with the affair.

For many days and even weeks, rumors were rife throughout the whole country that Prrice, Marmaduke and other rebel leaders, were certainly marching towards Missouri with a large army, and estimated 28,000 strong and with the avowed intention of invading and laying waste to a large portion of the state. These rumors and reports were little heeded by all citizens as well as the military, as no definite information could be obtained as to the exact whereabouts, or the probable point the state would be entered. In the mean time however, in anticipation of trouble in Missouri, Major Gen. Smith's 16th Army Corps was moved up the Mississippi, and landed on the Missouri side below St. Louis, and afterwards was thrown all along down the line of the Iron Mountain Railroad as far as Mineral Point, which is twenty-six miles from Pilot Knob, and while all this was being done, Price's army was slowly entering the state by the south-east. General Moury was also close behind him with 15,000 federal troups, and at one time on Spring River, would have attacked Price's whole army but for the positive orders of Maj. Gen. Steele, commanding in Arkansas to the contrary, and ordering a halt of his entire command for nine days, which gave the rebel army all the time desired to move at its leisure.

A smal federal garrison occupied Patterson, which is thirty miles south of Pilot Knob, which was composed of parts of two companies of the 47th Missouri Volunteers, under command of Lt. McMurtry. As the rebels approached, some little skirmishing ensued, when the detachment fell back to Pilot Knob. Price's whole force moved from Patterson to Fredericktown, which is twent miles east of Pilot Knob. During all this time a dead calmness seemed to prevail over the whole country -- nothing could be seen moving save the brisk stir among the little band of soldiers around the fort -- no citizens, either men, or women or children came in to bring any intelegence of the enemy, and we were compelled to wait the movement of our foe. In the meantime, however, a large force was detached from the main army and numbering nearly 8,000 men, under Shelby, left Fredericktown and moved off in the direction of Farmington, from there to Potosi in Washington County, 26 miles north-west of Pilot Knob. At Potosi they met a company of the 50th Mo. Vols., under Capt Cook. (Who was afterward so ungratefully treated by the bogus hero of Pilot Knob,) who took position in the court house, and fought the enemy until overwhelmed and compelled to surrender. During all this time a part of Smith's command lay at Mineral Point , four miles distant. What the large force was doing that it did not ~~~ relief of the garrison at Pilot ~~~~we have up to this time ~~~~over. It is said however ~~~~~ was kept back to protect ~~~~~St. Louis militia who were ~~~~tered behinf the immense for~~~~~ around that city.

~~~~mming of the 26th of September~~~~garrison at Pilot Knob ~~~~~told not over 1,000 ef-~~~~~began to realize their true~~~~~~resigened themselves to the ~~~~ battle, and calmly awaited ~~~~ of the enemy . Gen. ~~~~ of the follow-~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

47th Mo. Vols
Two companies 14th Iowa Infantry under Captain Campbell.
Three companies of the 3rd M.S.M. cavalry under Maj. James Wilson.
One company 50th Mo., Vol. Inft'y under Capt. Rob't L. Lindsay
One field battery of six guns under Captain Montgomery.

The seige guns were in charge of Lieut. David Murphy of the 47th Missouri Volunteers, who some say was the real hero of Pilot Knob. Early Monday morning the rebels commenced to advance their skirmish lines from the direction of the Shut-ins on the road leading to Fredericktown, and slight firing was heard all day long until late in the afternoon, when the enemy advance in considerable force and drove our skirmish lines into Ironton, where a running fight ensued for sometime, when the enemy were inturn driven back with some loss. Lt. Tetly, with a detachemnt of the 47th Mo., Vol., took position in the court house and held it for some time, when all the skirmish lines were drawn in, with exception of a small detachemnt of cavalry posted on the road leading to Fredericktown, and along down Stuart's Creek, which remained until morning, (Sept. 27th) when it was hastily driven in by the advancing enemy. Every movemnet indicated that the enemy intended to make a general attack, and if necessary, to take the fort by storm. But in the meantime while all these preperations were going on, other scenes were being enacted; robbery, pilliaging, plundering indiscriminatley -- houses broken open, property destroyed, families were not even spared a substenance , and were compelled to live here and there as best they could. By 9 o'clock the enemy had planted a battery in the hollow between Pilot Knob and Shepherd Mountain, and had already commenced a brisk artillery fire on the fort, while their lines of infantry were being extended to the right, up the steep sides of Pilot Knob, and over as far north as the furnaces. On Shepherd Mountain they also advanced a portion of their infantry with a battery, from which place they commenced a heavy fire on the fort, but their guns could not hold any position they would take, as the fire from our heavy seige guns was too much for them, and would invariabley compel a change of position. The little garrison in the fort were not idle, for now the reble lines could be plainly seen advancing, while fighting was going on in every direction. South of the fort a short distance, and over against Pilot Knob, was Major Wilson and his tired little band, fighting as they slowly fell back toward the fort , but was finally overwhelmed by numbers, when an almost hand to hand fight ensued, in which Major Wilson and six of his brave followers were taken prisoner only to be brutally murdered. The detachment of the 14th Iowa were sent out to the west of the fort and under the brow of the the mountain to feel for the enemy, and soon the sharp rattle of musketry soon told the story. They too were compelled to fall back to the fort for safety. "Fort Davidson" -- named after a man for whom the the people of South-East Missouri have very little respect -- is apparently a large pile or mounf of earth; but has upon closer observation , it is found to cover a space of about one hundred and fifity yeards long, by seventy-five wide; embankments ten feet high, with a ditch all around the outside, twelve feet deep and 16 feet wide, with long rifle-pits extending north and south. A regiment of rebels (Freeman's) cavalry could be seen filing its way down Shepherd Mountain, away to the west; and charging across an opening of old fields, circling around and attempting to pass between Cedar Hill on the north, and the rifle-pits leading north from the fort almost to Cedar Hill; but they had no sooner made this attempt that they were attacked by the men from the rifle-pits -- parts of Company G, 47th Missouri and Company F, 50th Missouri, under Capt. Mace and the writer of this sketch. The enemy's column was soon broken while several were killed and wounded. By two o'clock in the afternoon the engagement had become general: many already had been killed and wounded, and the dead bodies of men ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ be seen to every direction -- A heavy volume of inf. -- 10,000 strong had been ~~~~ the side of Pilot Knob, led by Fagan, Marmaduke and Cabell, came down the sides of the mountain like a torrent. On they came, towards the little fort, confident of sweeping everything before them, and the fighting for some time was terrific; on they came even to within a few yards of the walls of the fort; but the fire of that noble little band was too much for them : they could not stand so galling a fire, and they began to waiver -- their lines became broken, and soon began to retreat in utter confusion and disorder. Their officers could be heard, very disticntly, at times, trying to rally their men, but to no purpose; it was a complete repulse , with a loss of over 1,000 men in a single charge. Nor could they be induced to attempt it again that day, as the mend positively refused to make a second attack.

Within the fort was a sad sight, not to be forgotten by those who were there -- the dead, the dying, the wounded, the living all piled up here and there, with the fragments of dietruction in every direction. It was the most mournful sight I ever witnessed. Gen. Ewing saw that it would be useless to attempt to withstand another attack, so he decided to evacutae the place, as the rebels withdrew out of the range of our guns, and began immediately to prepare ladders to scale the walls of the fort, and I am confident they would have succeeded, under the circumstances, as our force was completely worn out with two days' hard fighting and working on the entrenchments all night.

At two o'clock Wednesday morning the command began to move out. It was hard for those to do whose homes and all were in the possession of the enemy, to be compelled to retreat and leave everything in the hands of the enemy, was humiliating in the extreme. There were, also, within the fort, nearly all the Union citizens of the Valley , who stood up and fought with desperation equal to veterans; and many of them followed the little army on its retreat, and shared the hardships common to a sooldier's life. When the command marched out of the fort, and started on the road leading to Caledonia, the encampment of the enemy could be seen distinctly on either side of the road, and apparently not over three hundred yards distant. We moved as quietly as possible, yet made considerable noise on the rocky road over which we had to pass. Shortly after we left the fort, a terrific explosion was heard, which shook the earth, and was distinctly heard for 30 miles around; it was the magasine of the fort blown up, which threw immense timber for nearly a half mile. -- The dirt was thrown in every direction and fell like a torrent of rain in the vicinity of the fort. Shells were thrown in every direction, and from their bursting, one would suppose that an engagement was actually going on. But to return to the retreating column, which was moving towards Caledonia, and intending there to take the road leading to Potosi, supposing that General Smith was still at Mineral Point with his large force. On reaching Caledonia we met the advance of Shelby who had been ordered down, with his guerrillas, under Reeves and others, to murder the garrison is captured. A sharp little fight ensued, when the enemy retreated back to thir main body, which was forming in line of battle, with the intention of attacking Gen. Ewing's command, but while they were forming their lines, we turned off on the road leading to Rolla, and by this means gained thrours the start. We hurried on to Webster where we rested a short time then started, traveling through the darkness of the night, which was pitchy black. It was the darkest night I ever knew -- you positively could not see anything, and the column moved slowly on, and kept together one holding to the other, and this traveling in the dark is what saved us. It gave us a start, and instead of following the direct route to Rolla by taking a road which lead over the ridge between the waters of Courtois and the Huzzah, which road leads down into a mountain gorge, through which the Huzzah flows, got on a line of retreat which saved the command from utter destruction. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~able to be flanked. We had not advance far on this ridge when the enemy came yelling on our track; for a time it seemed that all was lost , for the men, worn out and fatigued had become reckless, and for a while the whole army seem on the stampede; but order was soon restored and lines formed to receive the enemy, who did not seem disposed to make any considerable attack. The command was soon in order of column again, and when near Leesburg, on the S.W.B. Pacific Railroad, the ememy came upon us again, and here a fight in earnest took place, and in which the enemy were driven back with loss. We reached Leesburg late in the evening nd began at once to fortify ourselves as best we could, by piling up cord wood and railroad ties on each side of the tracks. We had not been there long, however, when we were again attacked, and with the same success to the enemy -- beaten back. We remained here two days, with more or less fighting all the time, when the 17th Illinois Cavalry came out from Rolla to our assistance. Their timely arrival was greetd with joy by all of the wearied and worn out command of General Ewing, and while the 17th Cavalry was engaging the attention of the enemy it gave the infantry time to get a sufficient start on the road to Rolla, to enable us to reach that place without further trouble.

There were in that struggle, however, asside from the more stirring incident of the fight and pursuit, some very peculiar features. There were gathered within that fort the new companies that had just been formed, of Col. Maupin's regiment, and others which had been raised down on the borders of Arkansas -- men who had sternly withstood the ravages and fierce assults of civil war, but at last almost in despair abandoning their families and their homes, had joined the service for the purpose of aiding in finishing the fight . They were the men who had made the borders fearful to the murdering guerrillas; they were the men who, in many a bloody fray, for the last three years, had watered the bridle-paths of that region with the blood of the murdering guerrillas.

As I stated above, the command arrived in Rolla, and do not, therefore propose to follow it any further in connection with this article. Our loss of killed, wounded, and missing did not excede 89. The enemy's loss was heavy and will not fall short of 1,500 killed and wounded. The enemy held possession of Pilot Knob and the battle-field for two weeks, and did not, even within that time, bury all their dead, as many can be found even now, on the sides of the mountain, unburied -- their bones bleaching in the sun to tell a sad tale of folly.
Ironton, Mo., Oct. 17, 1865

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