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Price's Commissary Department

Contributor: Boxwell Hawkins

John S. Melon, "Price’s Commissary Department," The Southern Bivouac, Vol. III, No. 6 (February 1885), pp. 261-262.

PRICE’S COMMISSARY DEPARTMENT. The capture of Lexington by Price’s army was a crushing blow to Fremont’s ambition. He had permitted a disorderly mass of citizen soldiers to defy his army of occupation. Something had to be done at once to retrieve the disaster or off would go his official head. At once from every direction the scattered bodies of Federals were ordered to converge upon this single point. From all quarters came reports to Price of the advance of the hostile legions, and he was forced to beat a hasty retreat. Some idea may be formed of the disorganized condition of his commissary department from the following brief narrative by Colonel John S. Melon, commissary-in-chief of one of the largest divisions: "I enlisted in General Sterling Price’s Confederate army in 1861 in the month of September, at Lexington, Missouri, and for the war that commenced in 1861 and has continued up to 1884, but may cease after March 4, 1885, was at and engaged in the battle of the siege and capture of Colonel Mulligan and 3,500 of his command, and a large lot of commissary and quartermaster’s stores. The names of the prominent officers mentioned will comprise all necessary in my short article. When I went into camp at Lexington, Missouri, the night after the surrender of the federal garrison, I met General Harris in command at the Second division of the Missouri State Guard, comprising some 3,500 men. Colonel E. C. McDonald, whom I also met, was in command of his battalion composed of some five hundred men, with Ben Hawkins, major. The next morning, General Harris appointed me commissary-in-chief of his command, with rank of lieutenant-colonel of subsistence. I at once made requisitions on the Commissary-General and Quartermaster-General for commissary stores and transportation for the same, but without success for several days. Finally, orders were given to prepare to retreat at once with all my stores in the direction of Clinton, Henry county, Missouri, and to be ready to march at daylight. I was ready and anxious to start at a minute’s warning, as my whole outfit consisted of one pony and one pair of blankets. The army commenced moving out at daylight. I made vigorous demands for commissary supplies and transportation for same. About two o’clock P.M., five large United States wagons, with six mules each, arrived in charge of a wagon master, who inquired lustily for Colonel Melline. I was quite happy to think my requisition for commissary stores and transportation had at last been honored. But, lo and behold! the teamsters unloaded in great haste--forty-six barrels of Bourbon whisky, and moved rapidly away with the wagons and teams, leaving me in sole charge of the whisky, with no assistance or orders of disposition, or any one to help to drink it. Personally, I did not feel in a drinking mood. About four o’clock P.M. our chief surgeon, Dr. Baily (now of Demopolis, Alabama), called on me for one barrel of whisky, turning over to me one small wagon and two mules. I placed the barrel of whisky in the wagon, which contained medical stores, salt, and sugar. I now had a train, and moved off after the procession vigorously. At 2 o’clock A.M. on the third day after our march commenced, we came in sight of the army encamped on the bank of the Little Grand river, in Henry county, Missouri, a tributary of the Osage river. The roads being muddy, my wagon train became stuck in a hole, and I had to loosen my mules, abandon it, and go into camp. The distance from Lexington to Little Grand river is seventy miles. Our sappers and miners were building a bridge across the stream mentioned. When in camp, I at once proceeded to establish my headquarters under a wagon belonging to Colonel McDonald’s command, with my chief of staff, the teamster. The wagon sheltered us from the rain. About four o’clock in the morning, I was called up by Dr. Baily, saying he must have whisky from my train at once, as Major Ben Hawkins had been snake bitten, and whisky was the only known infallible remedy for its cure. We, the teamster and myself, at once returned for our wagon and medical stores, in order to furnish the whisky as soon as possible. On our way, we met a great many soldiers returning to camp with from two to three canteens, and, on inquiry, I found they contained whisky taken from my train, and were intended for Major Ben Hawkins to cure his snake bite. On our arrival at my train, I found it surrounded by about seventy-five soldiers, all actively engaged in filling their canteens with whisky to cure Major Ben Hawkins’ snake bite. The barrel being emptied of its contents, I tumbled it out, hitched up our mules, and took my train into camp, still having intact our medicines, sugar, and salt, By this time the sun was up and shining brightly, the first time in three days. The bridge being finished, the army was ordered to march by double quick toward Parson Smith’s in Cedar county, Missouri. But, the best of all, Major Ben Hawkins was cured of the snake bite. Being a Kentuckian, one barrel of Bourbon whisky used was not unreasonable.