Sterling Price

Sterling Price (1809-1867)

Hero in the Mexican War and Governor of Missouri 1853-1857. A "Conditional Unionist," he led the Missouri State Guard into the Confederate Cause [Kansas State Historical Society]

Sterling Price was born in Prince Edward County, Virginia, briefly attended Hampden-Sidney College and studied law before moving with his parents to Missouri in 1831. His father bought land near Keytesville in Chariton County, eventually owning almost 5,000 acres. Sterling Price was twenty-two years old when he came to Missouri, an imposing young man over six feet tall, and within two years he was elected to command the county militia. Price soon married and opened a general store in Keytesville.

He was elected to the 1834 Democratic State Convention and began a political career that lasted twenty-five years. "The Central Clique" of Boons Lick politicians took control of the party in 1835. The most influential planters and merchants of central Missouri formed the faction, including many who were later found in the Kansas pro-slavery movement.

Sterling Price was elected to the Missouri House of Representatives in 1840, was chosen Speaker, and reelected in 1842. [Shalhope, Sterling Price, 14ff.]

Price was elected to the United State Congress in 1844, resigning his seat when the Mexican War broke out. He raised and commanded the Missouri Volunteer Regiment assigned to occupation duty in New Mexico. In 1847, Price suppressed an uprising against American rule in New Mexico and was chosen to conduct a campaign into Mexico, capturing Chihuahua and being promoted to Brevet General rank. Returning home, Price was hailed as a hero in a St. Louis newspaper, "beloved by his soldiers, respected by his fellow citizens, and with laurels encircled around his brow that will perpetually bloom in the affections of his countrymen." [Website, Sterling Price Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans]

The "best-loved man in the state," Price was elected Governor of Missouri for a single term 1853 to 1857. As the Kansas issue heated up, Price took "no overt action to place his views on Kansas before the public." But in July 1855 he was compelled to speak, stating his sympathy with the radicals but his opposition to their methods, which he felt were a threat to the Union. . [Shalhope, Sterling Price, 116] Nonetheless, he was present at the Lexington Convention and in deference to his office, was invited to sit within the bar. [Craik, Southern Interest,373] Price continued to take a moderate position, in favor of slavery but disdainful of Atchison and his followers who threatened the Union. As governor, his administration floundered because he was "unwilling to pander to the pro-slavery radicals who looked to him as a leader and who grew in number and strength as the violence on the western border reached its apex." [Phillips, Missouri's Confederate, 221]

During Missouri's secession crisis of 1860-1861, Price was a "Conditional Unionist;" a moderate who wanted Missouri to stay in the Union but only so long as the Federal Government did not coerce the state's right to determine its own course. Hoping that peace could be preserved, he presided over the Missouri "Secession Convention" in February 1861. After events forced him to do so, he joined the secession forces and was appointed commander of the Missouri State Guard with the rank of major-general. [Shoemaker, Missouri-Heir of Southern Tradition,437]

During the Civil War General Price led the Missouri Guard into Arkansas for the Battle of Wilson's Creek, and then on a raid into Missouri, besieging Lexington in September 1861. He later led the Missouri forces east for the Battle of Shiloh and the defense of Corinth, Mississippi. Returning to Arkansas in 1863, Price became commander of all forces in that state. With 12,000 men, he entered Missouri in September, 1864 with a hope of driving out the Federal troops. His efforts culminated in the Battle of Westport in October 1864 and a long retreat southward. In 1865, Price went to Mexico where he was the leader of a colony of Confederate exiles in Vera Cruz. The colony was " ruined by guerrilla attacks, crop failure, and illness," and Price moved to St. Louis in 1867 where in he died in September. [Website, Sterling Price Camp, Sons of Confederate Veterans]

Charles Clark