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Sterling Price was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, on September 20, 1809. He attended Hampton-Sydney College from 1826 to 1827, and then studied law under Creed Taylor. In 1831, he and his family moved to Fayette, Missouri. In 1832, he moved to Keytesville, Missouri, where he operated a hotel and a merchandise store. On May 14, 1833, he married Martha Head, with whom he would have seven children (five of whom survived to adulthood).
Early Political Career
Price served as a member of the Missouri House of Representatives from 1836 to 1838, and again from 1840 to 1844, including a stint as Speaker. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1844, and served there from March 4, 1845, to August 12, 1846, when he resigned to participate in the Mexican-American War.
Appointed Colonel of the Second Regiment, Missouri Mounted Volunteer Cavalry, upon leaving Congress, Price marched with his regiment to Santa Fe, where he assumed command of the Territory of New Mexico. As Military Governor of New Mexico, Price put down the Taos Revolt, an uprising of Native Americans and Mexicans, in January 1847. President James K. Polk promoted him to Brigadier General of Volunteers on July 20, 1847. He commanded the Army of the West in the Battle of Santa Cruz de Rosales, Chihuahua, on March 16, 1848, the last battle of the war, and was honorably discharged on November 25, 1848.
Second Political Career
After returning to Missouri, Price became a slaveowner and major tobacco planter. He was elected Governor of Missouri in 1852, and served in that capacity from 1853 to 1857. As Governor, he was instrumental in expanding the railroads in the state. After leaving office he became State Bank Commissioner, serving in that capacity until 1861. On February 28, 1861, he was elected presiding officer of the Missouri State Convention, which opposed secession.
Price initially opposed Missouri's secession from the Union, but he changed his mind after federal forces seized the state militia's camp in St. Louis. In May 1861, Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson assigned Price to command the newly reformed Missouri State Guard. Price made it his mission to secure southwestern Missouri for the Confederacy.
After collecting 5,000 troops, Price united with the forces of Confederate General Ben McCulloch and won the Battle of Wilson's Creek, Missouri, on August 10, 1861. After capturing 3,000 Union troops at Lexington, Missouri, in September, he retreated into Arkansas. He became a Major General in the Confederate Army on March 6, 1862, but won no further major victories. He met setbacks at Corinth, Mississippi, Pea Ridge, Arkansas, and at Helena, Arkansas, in 1864, before defeating Union General Steele at Red River.
Price is most remembered for his ill-fated Missouri Campaign of 1864, during which he led his army of Missouri State Guardsmen out of Arkansas and into Missouri. His first major engagement occurred at Pilot Knob, on September 27, where he attempted to capture Fort Davidson. Although he defeated a much smaller federal force, his army suffered such devastating losses that he was forced to give up his planned attack on St. Louis. Turning west, he led his army along the southern bank of the Missouri River towards Kansas City, destroying several miles of railroad tracks and capturing some small towns along the way. After several small victories in the Kansas City area, Price finally met his match at Westport, where, on October 23, a combined force of Kansas militiamen and Union Army regulars forced him to retreat down the state line. On October 24, Price's army was overtaken by federal forces at Mine Creek and defeated in one of the largest cavalry engagements of the war. Rather than officially surrendering, he led what was left of his army to Mexico, where he sought service with Emperor Maximilian.
Price became a leader of a Confederate exile colony in Carlota, Veracruz. The colony failed, however, and he returned to Missouri, impoverished and in poor health. He died in St. Louis on September 29, 1867.
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This page was last updated on September 23, 2017.