‘The Battle of Pilot Knob’: A Master’s Thesis Metamorphosis

Pilot Knob frontcover (2)CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Dec. 4, 2014 — “The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley,” co-authored by Bryce Suderow (Washington, D.C.) and R. Scott House (Cape Girardeau) and recently released by the Southeast Missouri State University Press, offers new insight and information into the Union troops’ miraculous escape from a Confederate-surrounded Fort Davidson and their 67-mile march to safety.

Begun as a master’s thesis by Suderow about the Civil War battle in Missouri’s Arcadia Valley known as “Missouri’s Thermopylae” and published in 1986 by Southeast Missouri State University’s Center for Regional History, the volume has metamorphosed into a book twice the original’s size, with new maps of troop movement, and many additional photos and journal entries.

reenactmentSuderow is the author of five books and provides Civil War research for several Civil War authors. He wrote the first version of the book, entitled “Thunder in Arcadia Valley: Price’s Defeat, September 27, 1864” while earning his master’s degree in American History at Sonoma State University.  Dr. Frank Nickell, former director of Southeast’s Center for Regional History, contracted it for publication in 1986, but the book then went out of print. There was still quite a bit of interest in the information among the Civil War historians, who praised the volume, but opined its lack of sufficient maps.

House, an active Civil War reenactor and Civil War writer who helps interpret and manage the Fort D Historic Site, talked with Suderow about expanding the book and including more research and photos. Suderow agreed. Southeast Provost Bill Eddleman, president of the Cape Girardeau County Genealogical Society and a fellow Civil War reenactor, suggested to House that he contact the Southeast Missouri State University Press to gauge interest in publishing the book. Dr. Susan Swartwout, publisher and editor of the Southeast Missouri State University Press, was intrigued with what House was bringing to the new edition in terms of maps and additional information.

House Scott

R. Scott House

“Scott’s idea was to create a number of new and necessary maps for the revised book and to incorporate journal entries and descriptions written by regular militia, in addition to the standard officers’ reports of the battle,” Swartwout said. “He begins the book with the tale of Henry C. Wilkinson, a soldier in the battle who, at age 61 and in ill health, rode some 30 miles to Fort Davidson from his home in Wayne County, then retraced the entire 67-mile march from Pilot Knob to Leasburg, Missouri, recording his route in detail for posterity, which he was unable to do during the actual escape 39 years before.”

The original copyright was cleared with the assistance of Dr. Adam Criblez, director of the Center for Regional History, and the new contract signed by the co-authors and the University Press. When “The Battle of Pilot Knob” was published, its first debut was, appropriately, at the Sesquicentennial Reenactment of the Battle of Pilot Knob in Arcadia Valley on September 27, 2014.  Park officials reported a record number of spectators, estimated at around 30,000. House and Eddleman participated in the reenactment.

The book, which retails at $20, is available at Southeast Missouri State University Press, 810 Normal Street, Cape Girardeau, or online at Amazon.com, the Fort Davidson Visitor’s Center, and Barnes & Noble.