The film project I'm developing that has the most momentum currently, and has the greatest chance of being made, is a horror feature I wrote last year... that I can't talk about, or even divulge the title of yet. The first draft was completed last summer, and since then I've been working with my producer to fine tune the screenplay. (He's not the "meddling" type of producer - his input on the screenplay has only improved it.) I turned in a fourth draft a few weeks ago, along with a small stack of presentation materials he's currently using to nail down the funding for the film.
One of the things I did for the fourth draft was create a whole new opening "b-story" to get us introduced to the main character in a more interesting way, to better establish what his day-to-day life is like, and to bring some impactful horror beats up sooner in the script.
As I often do, I turned to research and history for inspiration in writing this new opening. I set most of the new material in an abandoned mine, and I selected one actual abandoned mine to research, hunting for something to spark my imagination. Most of what I discovered of the mine's past was pretty ho-hum, but then I stumbled upon one blood-soaked page in this Missouri mine's history. It was attacked by the Confederates during the Civil War.
Price's Raid (or more formally, Price's Missouri Expedition) was a Confederate cavalry raid through Missouri in 1864. Ultimately a disaster for the South, it was the largest Confederate cavalry raid of the American Civil War.
The invasion of Missouri was spearheaded by Major General Sterling Price, whose primary objectives were to capture St. Louis to loot the plentiful supplies available in the city, then head west to capture state capital Jefferson City - all part of his scheme to recover the fiercely contested border state Missouri for the Confederacy, contribute to Abraham Lincoln’s defeat in the upcoming presidential election, and possibly even end the war, bringing the Union to its knees before the victorious Confederacy. Major General Price and his three divisions, named the Army Of Missouri, would fail miserably at all of the above.
Price set out from Camden, Arkansas on August 28th, 1864. He blazed north into Missouri, caused ten million dollars in property damage (that's $145 million in today's dollars), and brought about more than fifteen thousand deaths - Union, Confederate, and civilians. Price's soldiers were mostly low-life hooligans who occasionally inflicted Union casualties when they weren't busy terrorizing civilians, vandalizing their properties, and looting their belongings. A quarter of Price's soldiers were deserters who had been recovered and folded back into Confederate duty. They were undisciplined, underequipped, and hundreds of Price's men were barefoot. Price hoped to offset his negatives by convincing Missourians to rally to his side. Unfortunately for Price, most Missourians did not want to become involved in the conflict, and the repugnant behavior of his troops further influenced Missourians to turn their backs on him. Only Confederate guerrillas, as many as 6,000 of them, joined Price's forces during the raid - but it would not be enough to penetrate St. Louis or Jefferson City... or accomplish much of anything beneficial to the Confederacy.
The Bonne Terre Mine, in Bonne Terre, Missouri, was the first of the St. Joe Minerals lead mines (a network that would lead to the Southeast Missouri Lead District producing 70 percent of the United States' lead). Intending to disrupt the flow of resources reaching Union forces, Price's troops attacked the mine, and caused enough destruction to disable the operation. This assault was one of the few, small successes Price's Army Of Missouri managed to pull off in an otherwise disastrous campaign. It was this assault that I zoned in on while writing the new opening pages of my screenplay.
Price's blundered raid took him, at a lethargic pace, all the way across Missouri. His unruly forces (already thinned by heavy battlefield losses, disease, and desertion) were severely crippled in The Battle Of Westport, a failed attack on Union troops near the Missouri / Kansas border - a battle known afterwards as "The Gettysburg Of The West". This spectacular catastrophe flung Price into chaotic retreat. His tattered Army Of Missouri escaped south, crossing into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma), and eventually arrived at Laynesport, Arkansas on December 2nd. Less than half of Price's men survived.
Price had inadvertently provided a valuable service to the Union Army: he had cleared Missouri of the Confederate Guerrillas - all who had joined in his raid were either killed or had retreated out of the state with Price. The destructive, bloody raid was the final Confederate offensive in the Trans-Mississippi Theater (the region west of the Mississippi River) during the American Civil War. The bungled mission actually helped Abe Lincoln get reelected, and it cemented Union control over Missouri.
The events of Price's Raid and its assault on the Bonne Terre Mine don't snap perfectly into place with my screenplay. I've bent and twisted history to fuse it with my fictional narrative, plundering the details of Price's Raid for my own devious agenda. After my research, and planning out how I wanted to use it, I typed up the new first fifteen pages in about a day. Who knows... after additional rewrites, shooting, and editing, almost none of Major General Sterling Price's contributions to the film may remain. No matter how much sticks, it was fun conducting the research, and building some intriguing fiction upon a fascinating moment in history.
Thanks for reading.
- Eric Stanze