One of Hannibal’s Railroad Men

Many of us know famed Missouri author Mark Twain’s short story, “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed,” which he pokes fun at his two-week-long service in the pro-Confederate Marion Rangers company. Not particularly invested in the greater issues of secession and slavery, Twain joined the unit following the Camp Jackson Affair, saying “our state was invaded by the Union forces.” While many men from Hannibal and Marion County, Missouri identified with the pro-Missouri and pro-Confederate cause, there were still many from that area who felt otherwise and supported the state remaining with the Union.

John Jay and Elizabeth Treat, ca. 1860. Courtesy of Paul Blackham.

Pvt. John Jay Treat (known as “Jay” to his wife) of Hannibal was one of those men, who volunteered to serve in the Home Guard and the Enrolled Missouri Militia throughout the war. His great-great-great grandson kindly sent me John’s information, letters, and photographs to share with all of you on the blog.

Treat’s story did not begin in Missouri, actually, which is like many others who served in Missouri units of both sides. He was born in Orleans County, New York in 1834 and would later move to Marion County, Missouri to work as a foreman for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. His wife Elizabeth was also born in the North, specifically at Hillsborough, Pennsylvania in 1838. Remarkably, Elizabeth was well-educated and graduated from the Women’s Seminary of Waynesburg College (Pennsylvania) in 1856 as valedictorian of her class. She was also a gifted writer and artist, who discussed her belief in abolition. Jay and Elizabeth were married in Winona, Illinois in November of 1860. Soon after, they welcomed their first of eight children.

Circa 1860 map of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad line. Courtesy of Wikimedia.

Soon after the infamous Camp Jackson Affair and the passing of the Military Order by Missouri’s General Assembly in May 1861, Treat enlisted in Company A of the Marion Battalion, Missouri Home Guards armed with his grandfather’s flintlock. His records reveal that he enlisted for 90-days and mustered in on June 4, 1861 in St. Louis. Home Guard units, like the Marion Battalion, were mobilized under the direction of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon to protect vital lines of supply and communication from irregulars, hostile civilians, and Missouri State Guardsmen. According to his family, Treat helped to operate the train that the 21st Illinois Infantry (commanded by Col. H. Ulysses Grant) used along the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad that summer until deployed to Ironton.

“You ask how I like fighting,” Treat wrote to his wife’s family about the war in Missouri, “I must say there is some thing about it that has an attraction to me that is hard to resist … was in one or two little Bush fights with what we style Bush Whackers they fire and then skedaddle off.” Though the engagements were small, they were of significance for Treat. The carnage against the enemy was justified, according to Treat. He wrote, “riddled with shot it looked hard but it was no more than they deserved for they were trying to kill innocent people.” The Marion Battalion disbanded in September, like other Home Guard units, but Treat wanted to continue his service.

The next year, Treat continued to work for the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. At that time, Union forces continued to occupy the state and implemented martial law. To vote and to prevent imprisonment, civilians were required to take the loyalty oath. Treat did in February 1862 as required by the railroad company. By October 1862, he was in a local militia company out of Hannibal (most likely the 38th Enrolled Missouri Militia (EMM), but is difficult to confirm). His wife wrote in a letter to her family about his service on October 11. “Only a short time ago,” Elizabeth wrote, “the Hannibal companies were called out to go in pursuit of Rebels. They overtook and captured several prisoners and one of them, a lieutenant who had broken his oath was shot. Jay was there when they put him to death of which according to the rules of war he was worthy but I could never enforce such a rule or look upon its being carried out.”

Two years later, Treat enlisted in Company A of the 38th Enrolled Missouri Militia under the command of Capt. Henry Farley. The unit, consisting of men from Marion County, was originally mustered in August 1862, but was disbanded in April 1864. It was not until October that they were mobilized again at the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad. They continued to operate in Linn County, Missouri until discharged January 1865.

After the war, Treat and his family resided in Hannibal, Missouri until his wife and newborn child passed away in 1877 in childbirth. Five out of the eight children he and Elizabeth had together survived until adulthood. For some reason, he was admitted to the hospital at Leavenworth, Kansas in 1902 from Kansas City, Kansas. In 1907, Treat passed away at the Home for Disabled Volunteers there from an unknown illness. He was buried at the Leavenworth National Cemetery.

Clipping of Treat’s obituary in The Leavenworth Weekly News in 1907. Courtesy of

All images and quotations are courtesy of Paul Blackham and Treat’s descendants. Please do not use without permission from the family. 

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