A German Soldier Saved by the Enemy

Just days after surviving the first major battle west of the Mississippi River – the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – German-born Sergeant Otto C. Lademann of the 3rd Missouri Infantry promised Colonel Thomas Snead of Major General Sterling Price’s staff that he would never take up arms against the enemy in order to return home to St. Louis. He, along with most of Colonel Franz Sigel’s column, had been routed and captured on the south end of the battlefield.

Sergeant (later promoted to captain) Otto Lademann is seen on the left, and the Confederate officer who saved his life – Captain Emmett MacDonald. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.

On August 20, Lademann, along with eight commissioned officers and one fellow non-commissioned soldier, departed Springfield in the wagon of a pro-Union man who offered to take them to Rolla for sixty dollars. By wagon, they would travel along the Wire Road to Rolla. There, the Union soldiers would depart for St. Louis by train on the Southwestern Branch of the Pacific Railroad.

On the second day of the journey, they were four miles southwest of Lebanon and sixty miles from Rolla. Lademann’s wagon was stopped by a dozen armed pro-Southerners who were on their way to join Price’s army.

They were well mounted and armed with rifles, shotguns, pistols and bowie knives. They halted our wagons and wanted to know who we were. They were not drunk, but had whiskey enough in them to make them very ugly. We explained to them that we were officers on parole going back to St. Louis, and showed them our written paroles. After some consultation, the leader, a strapping Missourian, said: “Get out of the wagons, you d— Dutch sons of female dogs, and get in line alongside the road and then you hurrah for Jeff Davis, or you die!” They being heavily armed, and we possessing nothing but pocket knives, of course, we complied with their polite request, but refused to hurrah for Jeff Davis, and argued the case with them. Our spokesman was 2nd Lieut. Gustavus A. Finklenburg, of the First Missouri Infantry, then commanded by Colonel Francis P. Blair, Jr. Finklenburg was a young St. Louis attorney and pleaded eloquently. He died about two years ago in Colorado, having resigned as U. S. District Judge of the First District of Missouri, on account of ill health, to which important office he had been appointed by President Roosevelt. Things were rapidly approaching a tragedy; those Missouri scoundrels were getting their shooting irons ready to execute their threat, when at the nearest bend of the road, east of us, appeared a buggy drawn by two mules, a little mulatto boy driving, and a grey-coated officer sitting in it. As the buggy rapidly approached we recognized the officer as Capt. Emmet McDonald, whom we had captured at Camp Jackson, St. Louis, Mo., May 10th. He was the only officer who refused to give his parole and was released by the United States District Court on a writ of habeas corpus, while the others all gave their parole and many of them broke it, Capt. McDonald, was a young St. Louis attorney and cordially greeted Lieut. Finklenburg, as a brother lawyer. When Finklenburg had explained the situation to him, he reached under the buggy seat and pulled out two Colt navy revolvers, cocked them, and, pointing them at our valiant captors, he said: “Boys, I am Capt. Emmet McDonald of General Price’s staff. The first one of you who touches a hair on the head of any of these gentlemen, I will kill him like a dog. Now go On to Springfield and get away from here!” and our captors slunk away like whipped dogs. After fervently thanking Capt. McDonald, for he had undoubtedly saved our lives, we proceeded on our journey.

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The town of Lebanon was a small settlement established along the Wire Road (runs parallel to I-44 today) around 1820. As seen from the account above, Lebanon was mostly pro-Southern by the fall of 1861. The modern photograph on the left shows the Wire Road near Elkhorn Tavern in Arkansas. At the time of the Civil War, the entire Wire Road, especially from Springfield to Rolla would have been dirt. Courtesy of the Civil War Muse and Legends of America.

Though he made the promise to Snead, Lademann was paroled and re-enlisted in the 3rd Missouri Infantry for three years. He was eventually promoted to captain. He would fight from Pea Ridge through the Atlanta Campaign and the beginning of Hood’s Tennessee Campaign. Lademann survived the war and entered the brewery business. He owned the Joseph Urich Brewing Company, a main competitor of Anheuser-Busch. Lademann passed away in 1914. He is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis.

Captain Emmett MacDonald was not as fortunate. He grew out his hair and promised not to cut it until the South had won the war.  According to popular legend, MacDonald also protected the body of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon atop Bloody Hill. The Confederate officer went on to fight Lademann and the Federal army at Pea Ridge. In 1863, he was killed by artillery fire during an engagement at Hartville, Missouri. Remarkably, MacDonald is also buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery – the same as the enemy officer who he saved two years prior.


Sources:

Lademann, Otto. “A Prisoner of War: Sequel to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.” War Papers Read before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States. Vol. 4. Milwaukee, WI: Burdick and Allen, 1914. 439-443.


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