CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., July 22, 2014 — The Missouri Humanities Council has awarded a $2,500 grant to Southeast Missouri State University Press to support the printing of “Thunder in Arcadia Valley: The Battle of Pilot Knob,” available at the end of September. The release coincides with the Sesquicentennial of the battle at Pilot Knob’s Fort Davidson.
The first edition of the book was written by Bryce Suderow—historian, winner of the Douglas Southall Freeman Award, and author of four books— as his Southeast master’s degree in history thesis. Originally entitled “Thunder in Arcadia Valley: Price’s Defeat, September 27, 1864,” the book was published in 1986 by Southeast’s Center for Regional History.
Out of print for years, the book lay dormant until Southeast’s Provost Bill Eddleman introduced Dr. Susan Swartwout, publisher of the University Press, to Cape Girardeau resident Scott House, a Civil War interpreter, scholar, cartographer, and reenactor. House and Suderow proposed a co-authored new edition with both revised and additional materials. This second edition has been expanded from the original 166 pages to more than 400 pages of text, new maps and photos.
The battle at Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob, Mo., has been called “Missouri’s Thermopylae.” In the fall of 1864, Confederate armies east of the Mississippi River had suffered a string of defeats. Confederate Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith decided to send a massive mounted raiding force far behind federal lines into Missouri. He appointed Major Gen. Sterling Price, Missouri’s most famous Confederate, to lead the raid and to capture St. Louis or Jefferson City. Price entered Missouri on Sept. 19, 1864, with an army of 12,000 men headed for St. Louis, but he decided to attack the weakly defended post of Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob.
Price’s leading regiments engaged Union pickets on Sept. 26, entering Ironton. The small Union force was pushed back toward the fort. On the morning of Sept. 27, the Confederates attacked; however, the garrison stopped their assault. The Confederates retreated to plan an attack the next day. Despite the large number of Confederate troops camped around the fort, the Union soldiers silently exited the fort at 2:30 a.m., traveling north past Confederate guards under cover of darkness. At 3:30 a.m., a small group of soldiers detonated the fort’s powder magazine, destroying the fort’s remaining supplies. The Union soldiers escaped Price’s pursuing columns, marching 67 miles to Leasburg.
Besides assisting in the printing of the Pilot Knob text, Missouri Humanities Council has also shown generous support in the study and archiving of American military history by funding the award-winning “Proud to Be: Writing by American Warriors” series of anthologies and its writing contest for veterans and military-service personnel, juried and published by Southeast Missouri State University Press and now in its third year.