Cross Purposes

by G. E. Rule

Jeff Davis and Sterling Price disliked each other from the start. The starchy Confederate President distrusted Price’s conversion from “Conditional Unionism” and his efforts in the spring of 1861 to buy time for the Missouri State Guard to organize by negotiating with Union General Harney. Further, when Price became a hero across the south after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, some pushed Price as a possible successor to Davis. The galling fire kept up by Price’s editorial crony, Joseph W. Tucker, on CSA policy towards Missouri also soured Davis’ opinion of the Missouri hero. But worst of all was Price’s incessant badgering of Davis for more men and resources to reclaim Missouri from the Union or, failing that, at least allowing the Missouri Confederates to try to retake the state on their own.

For Sterling Price, it was Missouri above all else. He became a good Confederate, but only because he felt the Union had abused his beloved state at Camp Jackson. Price and most of the Confederate Missouri leadership never fully trusted the CSA government at Richmond. They felt Missouri was being neglected for the benefit of other theatres, and too many of her finest sons were spilling their blood on the wrong side of the Mississippi River. More seriously, Price was deeply concerned that when push came to shove, if the CSA government were offered a deal that gave independence to the South but continued Missouri in the Union, they would accept it.

Further Reading: General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West
by Albert E. Castel

It was felt a unified North would never accept Missouri as part of the Confederacy. The importance of St. Louis as “the Gateway to the West”, and its sizable pro-Union German population, would lead them to insist on keeping Missouri above any other state. Perhaps, went the argument, the North could eventually be forced to allow the Deep South its independence, but never Missouri.

Enter the Order of American Knights. OAK was born in St. Louis to encourage the creation of a “Northwest Confederacy” (today’s Midwest). Should the Northwest Confederacy be formed, the remaining northern states would no longer have the strength, nor the geographical consanguinity, to insist on keeping Missouri. Sterling Price was its military head, and Clement Vallandigham its civil one.

OAK engaged in conspiracy, sedition, and sabotage towards this end. Price lieutenants like Tucker, Courtenay, Grimes, and Louden were prominent participants. While the success of OAK and the Northwest Confederacy would have benefited the entire CSA, there is no doubt that the primary beneficiary was always intended to be Confederate Missouri.