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While reading through the Reports of the Union and Confederate Navies, I happened upon a Letter dated December 9, 1861, sent from Memphis by D. M. Frost to the Honorable E. C. Cabell. The letter details Mr. Frost's observations during his recent stay in St. Louis; and while in transit south down the Mississippi River from that Federal Headquarters:


Contained in the letter:

  • estimation of 35,000 Union troops available in Missouri for an 'expedition into the Confederacy'
  • assessment of Halleck's intentions: to advance upon Fort Columbus from Cairo, latter part of December/early January; strength of force would be 75,000 men; 20-30 Federal gunboats, some with 2 1/2 inch armour plate would assist the Federal army; 30 mortar rafts (each one carrying a 13-inch mortar) would be towed into the area of operation;
  • ultimate analysis: Halleck intended to 'take Fort Columbus at any cost' (even if it meant 20,000 casualties).

The writer assesses the strength of Fort Columbus: 'tolerably well fortified' with the usual field works to the east (landward side) and a steep bluff to the west (river side) providing sufficient protection. Fort Columbus was positioned so as to hurl plunging fire against armored gunboats... But the Union mortars 'will play havoc, and may demoralize green troops.' Also, Mr. Frost acknowledges that there are 'few experienced officers in the Columbus garrison.'

Fort Pillow was also visited; and Frost pronounces it 'a greater natural strength than Fort Columbus,' with sixty guns able to cover the whole of the river with their arc and range. Fort Pillow promises to be 'a great fall-back position (if that eventuality should arise.)'

Concerning the state of affairs in Missouri:  'General Price has called for an additional 50,000 troops; and he should get them.'  Once 50,000 troops are available, they should move on St. Louis (to hold Halleck at that place, and prevent his Southern Expedition.) Afterwards, Frost advises: 'take Fort Leavenworth and the $8 million worth of military stores there... and cripple the Hannibal & St. Joseph RR on the way to Leavenworth.'

As a final bit of advise, D. M. Frost states:  'We must keep Fort Columbus and Fort Pillow strong, in order to protect Memphis [Memphis is too important to lose.] And we must assist the fight in Missouri.'

The reasons I found this letter of value:

  • the awareness (by Confederate operatives) in December 1861, that 'mortars were coming'
  • the belief that Halleck would assault Columbus head-on, once the mortars arrived;
  • acute awareness of the physical defenses of St. Louis (initiated by Lyon and Fremont; halted by Halleck)
  • acknowledgement of the importance of the Hannibal & St. Joe RR

This letter expresses the Confederate belief in the state of affairs, as they existed in the west at that time: Fort Columbus was the target that Halleck was determined to bring down. But General Halleck found another way to turn Columbus... without mortars... without a head-on assault...

Fort Henry. 



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D. M. Frost was Brigadier General David M Frost of the Missouri State Militia. 

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Thanks for contributing to this topic. David M. Frost was a Northerner from New York who attended West Point (Class of 1844), saw service during the Mexican War, and afterwards was assigned duty 'in the West.' Leaving the U.S. Army in 1853, he settled in Missouri, got involved in the politics of that State (as member of a faction opposed to the Benton Faction) and in 1858 joined the Missouri Volunteer Militia (appointed as Brigadier General of the MVM.)

With the developing Secession Crisis, the newly-elected Missouri Governor, Claiborne Jackson assumed control of the State in January 1861, and began 'behind the scene' efforts to move Missouri into alignment with the Rebels: this included making use of Frost's MVM (and secretly appointing Edward Carrington Cabell as Commissioner from Missouri to the Confederate States. It may have been Cabell's efforts that resulted in Jefferson Davis providing arms to the MVM that were intended to be used for capture of the United States Arsenal at St. Louis.) However, while General Frost was organizing his men at Camp Jackson for the operation against the Arsenal, Colonel Nathaniel Lyon caught wind of the proposed attack... and led his own pre-emptive effort against General Frost and the MVM. Frost and his secessionists were taken into custody, and marched to confinement in St. Louis (during which an unfortunate exchange of gunfire resulted in the death of one Federal soldier, and several St. Louis civilians.) Daniel Frost was held until his exchange in November 1861 (and made use of his time as prisoner to compile the information sent to E. C. Cabell at Richmond.)

Frost made his way to Memphis, joined the Confederate Army (as Brigadier General) and was in Memphis in March 1862, acting as go-between for the forces building at Corinth and General Sterling Price (of the Missouri State Guard.) Frost joined Braxton Bragg's Army sometime after the Battle of Shiloh; was re-assigned to the Trans-Mississippi late in 1862; and saw action in Arkansas... before leaving the Confederate States for Canada in late 1863. Daniel Frost returned to Missouri after the war was over; he died in St. Louis in 1900.



References:  http://www.civilwarmo.org/gallery/item/CWMO-154?nojs=1    (Portrait of D.M. Frost in Confederate uniform)

Confederate Tales of the War in the Trans-Mississippi, edited by Michael Banasik, Camp Pope Publishers (2010)



N.B.    The Missouri Volunteer Militia was disbanded after the Capture at Fort Jackson; the new organization was named Missouri State Guard. [The Federal-supporting military organization in Missouri was known as the Missouri Home Guard.]

Edward Carrington Cabell was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1816. He was resident of Florida from 1837; U.S. Congressman from Florida from 1845/6-1853. He moved to Missouri in 1859 (and served as Commissioner to the Confederate States from Missouri from May 1861 until late 1862.) In 1863 served on the staff of General Sterling Price as Paymaster. Practiced law in New York City after the war; returned to St. Louis about 1873, and became involved in Missouri politics. Died 1896.

[Confederate Tales of the War in the Trans-Mississippi... and wikipedia]



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A connecting thread...

When I first read how General PGT Beauregard ordered the complete withdrawal of troops, resulting in Confederate abandonment of Fort Columbus -- without ever having visited the place, in person, to see how strong it really was -- I was mystified. After all, Fort Columbus had the mighty chain, protected by torpedoes; and over 140 artillery pieces; and the ability to resupply men, ammunition and foodstuffs via steamers on the Mississippi River...

But the December 1861 letter from D.M. Frost to E.C. Cabell brought it home: Beauregard knew about the mortars. And it was understood that as soon as those 13-inch mortars (firing 215-pound exploding shells) arrived in the Mississippi River above the fort and began operating, probably in conjunction with a land attack from the east, that Fort Columbus was doomed.

The mortars arrived at Cairo, Illinois on February 16th 1862. The evacuation of Fort Columbus was ordered soon afterwards.



References:  "Rebel Intelligence" post of 2 August 2016 in SDG.

http://archive.org/stream/milloperations01romarich#page/246/mode/2up   Military Operations of PGT Beauregard page 233.



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