The Burning of Doniphan






In September, 1864, General Sterling Price formed an army of some 12,000 troops with 14 pieces of artillery in Arkansas and began “Price’s Invasion” of Missouri. The objective was to reclaim Missouri for the South by retaking Jefferson City and installing the exile government. It was the last attempt of the dying Confederacy to gain victory in the west. General Price, a Mexican War hero and
former governor of Missouri, divided his army into three divisions. General Shelby,  with his cavalry, formed the column on the left flank and General Marmaduke’s division was on the right. General James Fagan commanded the center column.   Price, who weighed over 300 pounds, was there on a special wagon made for the occasion and accompanied by a small brass band. There was about 20 miles between the columns as they moved forward.

As the invasion advanced on Ripley County, a detachment of Union troops commanded by Lt. Erich Pape, arrived in Doniphan at daybreak of September 19, drove Reeves’ soldiers out and burned the wooden courthouse and the town with it, sparing only the Methodist Church and Aden Lowe’s home. The widow Lowe was apparently feeding some Union troops while others torched the town. While the burning of Doniphan was tied to Price’s raid, it was also an act of retribution for guerrilla attacks. 

Shelby’s cavalry arrived in the afternoon, crossing Current River about a half mile above the present bridge, but the Yankees had fled to the north, burning farmhouses and outbuildings as they went. Shelby’s troops caught up with Pape’s unit at Ponder’s Mill on Little Black just over the Butler County line. In the battle that followed 16 of the 80-man Yankee force were killed or captured while the Rebels lost only six. Generals Price and Fagan crossed the river at Indian Ford near Pratt while Marmaduke’s division entered at Pitman’s Ferry. Once again the Old Military Road was the scene of history as Price’s army moved north.

"Civil War in Ripley County - The Burning of Doniphan"  Publication by the Current River Heritage Museum a project by DNAP
Entire article in file at bottom of page.


OFFICIAL RECORDS OF THE WAR OF THE REBELLION
Related to the burning of Doniphan

From the Itinerary of Price's Army
September 19 (Camp Numbers 21).-At Indian Ford, on Current River. To-day the army marched in three columns-Marmaduke on the right, Shelby on left, with Fagan and the headquarters in the center. A scout of Federals at 10 a.m. to-day burnt up Doniphan and retired; two scouting parties sent in pursuit. Marched twenty-two miles and entered Missouri.

September 20 (Camp Numbers 22).-Marched to Ponder's Mill, on Little Black; passed several houses burnt; women and children around the smoking ashes; the burning done by a portion of the Twelfth Missouri (Federal)*, commanded by Captain [Lieutenant] Pape, the same that burnt Doniphan yesterday. This morning our men attacked them at this point; killed a lieutenant and 3 men, wounded 4, and took 6 prisoners. Our loss 2 killed and 5 wounded. We captured several horses and small-arms; distance, twenty miles.
Official Records: Series I, Vol 41, Part 1 page 643


HEADQUARTERS SHELBY'S DIVISION,
Doniphan, Mo., September 19, 1864
Colonel L. A. MACLEAN:
I arrived here with my command at 3.30 o'clock this evening, and am encamped in and around the place. A Federal scout about 100 strong came into town this morning at 10 o'clock,
burnt it
, and left again rapidly. They were supposed to be either from Ironton or Patterson, and had no intimation of our approach, so the citizens say. Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson with forty men fought them long enough this morning to prevent them from burning the mill one mile below the town. I will send 150 men, under Johnston, to surprise and attack them at daylight in the morning, believing they will encamp at Ponder's Mill to-night. Although this mill is directly on your road, yet the distance from where you will encamp to-night will be too great for you to reach them, and, therefore, I have taken the liberty to send after them. Am I right or not? Johnson has recruited 100 Missourians in the last week, and I have ordered him with his men to report to his regiment. I send him because he is well acquainted with the country. I desire to make due apology to General Fagan for trespassing on his line of march. Johnson will join him to-morrow.
Very respectfully,
JO. O. SHELBY,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Let me know where you will camp to-morrow night by return courier.
Official Records: Series I, Vol 41, Part 3 page 946


HEADQUARTERS SHELBY'S DIVISION.
Camp Twelve Miles from Patterson, Mo., September 21, 1864.
Colonel L. A. MACLEAN, 
Assistant Adjutant-General:
COLONEL: I am this far on the way and am encamped at Captain Leeper's U. S. Army, a notorious robber, house-burner, and marauder, where I found plenty of forage and beef. The scout I sent out night before last after the Federals that burnt Doniphan overtook them the next morning, attacked and routed them, losing 6 men killed and wounded. Federal loss unknown. Killed some Union guerrillas to-day. They fired on my rear twice, but paid for their temerity with their lives. The country passed over has been rough and sterile in the extreme. Let me know where you will camp to-morrow night.
Very respectfully,
JO. O. SHELBY.
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Official Records: Series I, Vol 41, Part 3 page 948



HEADQUARTERS SHELBY'S DIVISION, 
December-, 1864.
COLONEL: I have the honor to make the following report, embracing a detailed account of my operations in Missouri during the recent expedition of General Price:
On the 12th of September I moved camp from Sulphur Rock, Ark., toward Pocahontas in anticipation of the arrival of the army, and on the 19th, after having received my instructions, started for Missouri, and encamped in Doniphan. Before arriving there, however, couriers from Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson, of Marmaduke's command, brought information that 100 Federals were in the town and pressing him back. I immediately started forward sufficient re-enforcements, but the enemy fled before reaching them, burning the helpless and ill-fated town. That night I dispatched 150th men under Lieutenant-Colonel Johnson to pursue the vandals. They came upon them early the next morning [20th], attacked, scattered, and killed many of them. I pushed on then rapidly for Patterson, destroying on the way the bloody rendezvous of the notorious Leeper, and on the morning of the 22nd I surrounded and charged in upon the town. Its garrison, hearing of my advance, retreated hastily, but not before many were captured and killed, and some supplies taken. All the Government portion of Patterson was destroyed, together with its strong and ugly fort...
I am, colonel, very respectfully,
JO. O. SHELBY,
Brigadier-General, Commanding Division.
Official Records: Series I, Vol 41, Part 1 page 652


Saturday, April 22, 1865 : At a Court of Inquiry, Shreveport, LA
"He encountered the enemy in the vicinity of Doniphan and defeated him without loss to himself, capturing a few prisoners and the telegraph office with its instruments.  He again engaged the enemy at Patterson, defeated him, capturing a few prisoners without loss to himself.  Prior to this engagement the enemy had burned the town of Doniphan.  Doniphan is in Missouri, twenty miles from Pocahontas.  General Shelby's engagement at Doniphan was on the 19th, the day after leaving Pocahontas."
Capt. TJ Mackey, Chief Engineer on staff of Major General Price  
The War of the Rebellion: Series I, Vol 41, Part 1  Page 703 (Price's Missouri Expedition)



Reports of Major James Wilson, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry.(Union)
make no mention of the the burning of Doniphan

PILOT KNOB, MO., September 20, 1864.
The scout sent out according to your order, about eighty in number, were surrounded at Ponder's Mill, on Little Black River, and all but ten were either captured or killed. They report the rebels in large force, and say that Price was reported to be at Pocahontas.
JAMES WILSON,
Major, Commanding.

General EWING,
Commanding District.
PILOT KNOB, September 20, 1864.
Lieutenant Pape, who was in command of the scout, has returned to Patterson with fifty more men. He says there were not more than 4,000 or 5,000 rebels in the fight. The report that Price was at Pocahontas was got from rebel wounded on the field. He places no confidence in the report. Bell was entirely surrounded, and had to charge through the rebels. He escaped them. Thinks they are moving in this direction.
JAMES WILSON,
Major, Commanding.



Letters from Union Soldiers who were at the burning of Doniphan, replying to Dr. CA Peterson, Missouri State Historical Society, request for information about the Burning of Doniphan.

Exert from the William Nevin letter to Cyrus Peterson 1903.  

     I, with Sgt. Steakley, went to the house of the Widow Lowe (the widow of the rebel Colonel who was killed at the Battle of Fredericktown, MO) and asked if we could get dinner.  She told us we could and invited us in, but we told her we would attend to our horses first and she offered to send a boy to attend to them for us.  After we returned to the hose and just as Mrs. Lowe came in to tell us to come into dinner, we heard firing up in town and Mrs. Lowe, looking out, remarked that the town was on fire and "for God's sake," not to burn her house.  We told her that her house would not be burned and mounted our horses and got into line with the boys and drove the rebels again across the river.  As we returned, the hotel and a few other houses were burning.

Sgt William Nevin was with Company K, 3rd Missouri State Militia, USA


Exert from Pvt. Nin Littner letter to Dr. C.A. Paterson 12/11/1903

... Around 10:00 a squad was left to guard the road while the rest of the scout rode back through Doniphan to a ford on Current River and crossed under fire driving the picket back and ahead and rode south through a country devoid of people and returned to Doniphan by noon.
     After we ate half of us were told off as a guard while half set fire to the town.  It was a dangerous business and we were kept busy answering fire from the townspeople and from rebel troops on the mill road.  I don't know how many were killed.  We were nervous but safe.  About 1:00 we left to the east with identical arrangement, I continued to act as guard with a half of the scout to burn houses and barns along the road.


Exert  from Diary of Simon U. Branstetter, Sergeant Co. I, 3rd M.S.M. Cavalry  11/10/1903

          On Monday, Sept. 19th, we started soon after midnight and marched to Doniphan, surprised and captured some of the Rebel pickets and drove a command of Rebels out of Doniphan about sun-up.  As they fled across the Current River on their retreat south they partially destroyed the bridge over which they passed so that we could not follow them in their retreat, but, marching up the river a couple of miles, we started to cross at a ford and found our passage impeded by the Rebels in position on the bluffs on the south side of the river.  We exchanged a number of shots with them driving them away, and then, crossing the ford, pursued them several miles south, passing through their main camp, where a command of several hundred had been lodged over night, but they took flight on our approach and we had no engagement with them.  We then turned back north, passing through Doniphan about the noon hour, and went into camp at Vandiver’s near Ponder’s Mill on Black River about sun down. 

Sgt. Branstetter makes no mention of the burning of Doniphan but describes the battle at Ponder's Mill and his fight for survival after being wounded and left for dead.

 

Websites with additional information about the burning of Doniphan:

Ozarkswatch Vol. IV, No. 4, Spring 1991/Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 1991

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Dan Hill,
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Dan Hill,
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