"The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in Arcadia Valley" is a very well documented history of the Battle of Pilot Knob and the early parts of Price's Missouri Raid, but why should anyone who is not interested in Missouri History be interested in this book?
There are two major reasons:
1. It is a great David v. Goliath story-- General Price's Army of 12000 men, sized to capture St. Louis, attacked a small mining village with a Union force of about 1300 men supplemented by 150 civilians, including free men of color and ex-slaves, defending a fort near the town. Price's army was repulsed the first day and that night the fort was evacuated, the Union troops passing within several hundred feet of parts of Price's Army. The Union defenders and some civilian refugees were pursued for over 60 miles by a division of cavalry as they fought a rear guard action and then fought a second battle with elements of another division of cavalry as they made their improbable escape by virtue of their skill, guile and considerable good luck. This story would make great fiction but the unbelievable events really happened.
2. Although the Battle of Pilot Knob was a minor battle away from the major action of the Civil War, it had the potential for indirect impact of some importance. Gen. Price's raid was intended to divert Union troops away from action in theaters further east into the Trans-Mississippi Theater and provide victories and encouraging news for the Southern war effort which was not going well. It did successfully hold two large detachments of veteran Union troops from their intended use in other Campaigns. Gen. AJ Smith was to join Gen. Thomas for the Battle of Nashville and Gen. Mower was to join Sherman in Georgia. Gen AJ Smith's absence almost certainly delayed Thomas's attack on Hood. However, instead of glorious victories Price's Raid provided a series of humiliating defeats ultimately resulting in Price's Army returning to Arkansas with its tail between its legs.
The lopsided nature of the order of battle was not as extreme as it looks. Gen. Shelby's Division with the majority of Price's veterans was sent to cut the iron Mountain Railroad and telegraph lines. Of the 9000 men remaining about 3000 had no arms and many of the others had inferior arms such as hunting rifles and shotguns. This still left a force of 6000 armed men, including two veteran brigades available to assault the fort. There were at least four battle ready confederates to each Unionist in the fort.
Just as Price's army arrived on the scene Gen. Ewing also arrived by rail with 134 veteran soldiers from the 14th Iowa, a detachment from AJ Smith's battle hardened troops. There were no better infantry in either army. Gen. Thomas Ewing himself had only served in two minor battles as the Colonel of the 11th Kansas and had largely been an administrator in the Kansas City area where he had alienated large numbers of secessionists and more than a few Unionists with his infamous Order No. 11 that called for the evacuation of the counties to the south-west of Kansas City. At Pilot Knob he would show courage and determination worthy of his brother-in-law WT Sherman. He made mistakes expected of an inexperienced general but overall he was a rock of confidence when guiding his officers and men. His troops, other than the 14th Iowa, were about half raw recruits and half MSM cavalry with a lot of experience fighting guerillas. There was also a skilled but untested battery of light artillery and an excellent artillerist David Murphy, to supervise the 7 heavy guns of the fort. Ewing had the advantage in artillery while he was in the fort and about half his men were capable troops. About 20% of the veterans were the elite infantry of the 14th Iowa. Price and his two division commanders Marmaduke and Fagan under estimated their opponents and paid for it. If he had simply bypassed Pilot Knob as Gen. Shelby suggested he might have been able to temporally take St. Louis or Jefferson City but the fatal diversion to capture Pilot Knob spoiled his chances.
The Battle of Pilot Knob did to Gen. Price's Army what Spring Hill and the Battle of Franklin did to Hood's Army of Tennessee. Both were Pyrrhic victories* over a vastly inferior forces resulting from foolish frontal assaults on a strong fortifications. Both involved illogical, angry responses of the commanders that compounded their losses and both crippled a Southern Army dooming it to failure in the future. Both also involved letting a smaller enemy force literally slip through their lines and escape in the night.
The book has excellent maps and interesting illustrations. Its usefulness as a reference is limited by its lack of an index.
* Suderow and House call Pilot Knob a Union victory but Price did capture the town and fort, paying for it with 10% of his army and more like 20-25% of the best men in Fagan and Marmaduke's divisions. The cost also included the moral of his entire army and a lot of bad press.