Battle of Pilot Knob and Fort Davidson, Missouri

2002 Photos courtesy of Loren Drummond, St. Charles, MO
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Aerial Photos
1. Battle of Fort Davidson - Wikipedia
2. Fort Davidson State Historic Site
3. Fort Davidson, Missouri and the Battle of Pilot Knob


On Sept 27, 1864, after the Confederates pushed back the Federal Troops at Ironton and Arcadia, Missouri, Union Brigadier General Thomas Ewing decided to hold Fort Davidson at Pilot Knob. The fort was a hexagonal, earthen fort surrounded by a dry moat, which was in a valley surrounded on three sides by large hills. It contained the following artillery: four 32 pound siege guns; three 24 pound howitzers; and six 3-inch ordnance rifles. In the center of the fort was a buried powder magazine. Confederate Major General Sterling Price decided to take the fort instead of bypassing it, in his bid to take St. Louis to win support for a Southern Missouri Government in the 1864 Elections.

Gen. Price’s Confederates under Maj. Gen. John Sappington Marmaduke and Maj. Gen James Fagan (See Note 1) proceeded to push the Federals through Ironton Gap, which was defended by Major James Wilson's (See Note 2) cavalry posted between Pilot Knob and Sheppard Mountain. In Fagan's movement around Pilot Knob, he captured Major Wilson and some of his units. Gen Marmaduke's units deployed on, and around Sheppard Mountain. Two guns were positioned on the mountain to bombard the fort.

After desperate assaults, which were supposed to be in unison, but ended up piecemeal, the Confederates retired for the night. They had surrounded the fort with the intention of taking it the morning of the next day. During the night, Gen Ewings retreated through the confederate lines to Potosi, leaving a small force which blew up the powder magazine and all expendables. Confederate losses were to much to endure for an assault on St. Louis, they moved on to take Jefferson City.

Note 1: Confederate cavalry generals Marmaduke and Shelby were commanded by Price, an infantry officer. This caused a lot of misuse of the cavalry units in speed and tactics. A political dispute between Price and Marmaduke, which started before the war, also hampered operations at Pilot Knob.

Note 2: Major Wilson, and six of his troopers were executed by a Confederate military tribunal as result of their burning of, and atrocities against the towns of Doniphan and Martinsburg, Mo. In retaliation the Federals under order of Gen. Rosecrans in St. Louis, executed six southern prisoners of war from Gratiot and Alton prisons. The Federals were unable to find a Confederate major to execute. The War in Missouri was notorious for atrocities from both sides, North and South.

Loren Drummond
St. Charles, Missouri


Welcome to Fort Davidson, Pilot Knob, Missouri

The entrance to the Visitors Center at Pilot Knob, Missouri, view looking south. Inside you will find an information and gift area, various displays, a slide show about Pilot Knob, and the battle, a really excellent model of the fort, and last, but not least, an interactive topographic map with a demonstration of the battle and troop movements
Panorama: Looking west toward Fort Davidson

Artillery piece

Model of Fort Davidson. Fort Davidson is a hexagon shaped earthwork surrounded by a dry moat. It was connected by two rifle pits extending north (190 yards) accessed by sally ports (tunnels). The fort had a drawbridge and sat in a valley between the mountains of Pilot Knob (east), and Shepherd (south). It contained the following impressive concentration of artillery: four 32 pdr siege guns; three 24 pdr howitzers; and six 3-inch ordnance rifles. A buried powder magazine was in the center of the fort

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