“Our men were generally armed with the old Springfield rifle, while the Confederates had in many instances only shotguns. Most of our wounded were disabled by buckshot or buck-and-ball. Some of the Confederates used old double-barreled guns,” remembered Major John Halderman of the First Kansas Infantry. He was not writing about just any Trans-Mississippi Confederate troops. In fact, he was recalling the troops of the Missouri State Guard at Wilson’s Creek, who went into battle there with a hodgepodge of firearms. 
Due to the speed of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s movement at the start of the campaign, Governor Claiborne Jackson and the state legislature was unable to properly supply the newly-formed Missouri State Guard was uniforms or weapons. The units of the Guard were either former militia or they were newly-formed. Roughly 30% of the Guard was properly uniformed.
In terms of weapons, the state quartermaster had less than one thousand rifles and muskets, all outdated, that could be distributed to the Guard. Additionally, roughly 1,500 muskets and 1 cannon were seized from the Liberty Arsenal in April 1861 by secessionists, and many of those weapons were then utilized by the State Guard. By the time Price’s Guard is on campaign in the summer of 1861, roughly 2,000 were unarmed, or not armed with a proper firearm. Because the Guard was not a Confederate government volunteer unit, the Confederate government did not supply them with proper weaponry. Instead, the Guard had to rely on its own men to bring with them antiquated firearms from home, utilizing the Liberty Arsenal’s small supply, or receiving assistance from the two coalition forces (McCulloch and Pearce).
As suggested in the photograph at the top of the post, there was such limited consistency in the weapon types and ammunition calibers due to the variety of weapons. The two Guardsmen in the image are seen with an 1841 Mississippi Rifle (.54 ball, .58 Minie) and a long rifle (most likely .48). Others are armed with hunting or squirrel rifles, shotguns, or carbines.
The high number of Missouri State Guardsmen without weapons – or armed with unusable weapons – can certainly be seen in the way Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch reacted when he found out. At Cowskin Prairie, the early training camp of the Guard, McCulloch told Price to not allow the unarmed men to follow the army as they crept closer to Lyon’s Army of the West at Springfield. By the time the Guard and the Western Army arrived at Cassville, the unarmed men continued to follow them.
In his after-action report, McCulloch explained the dangers of the “unarmed men” and “camp followers”: “The scarcity of supplies and the danger of a panic as a reasons why they should be left. Knowing the danger of a divided command when brought in contact with one well united, well drilled, and under one efficient leader, I considered it of vital importance to rid the army of these men until after the battle was fought.”
Though Price and McCulloch had an unofficially agreement to leave these men back at Cassville and Cowskin Prairie, they somehow make it with the army at the encampment along the Wilson Creek. How do we know this? Taking a look at the primary sources, we can see that some of these Missouri men actually took the arms and ammunition from their own dead. Once again in his after action report, McCulloch states that after the battle, “it was ascertained that the camp followers, whose presence I had so strongly objected to, had robbed our dead and wounded on the battlefield of their arms, and at the same time had taken those left by the enemy. I tried to recover the arms thus lost by my men, and also a portion of those taken from from the enemy, but in vain … He [General Pearce] recovered only 10 out of the 615.” According to a veteran of the First Iowa Infantry, at Wilson’s Creek, they noticed that “none anywhere to be seen with weapons in their hands,” referring to the Confederate dead who most likely had their weapons taken from them by fellow Rebels.
This briefing on the Missouri State Guard’s “hodgepodge” of weapons shows just how chaotic and unorganized the force really was. The speed at which the Guard was formed in reaction to Lyon’s lightening-fast movement prevented them from becoming more organized, armed, and trained. If it were not for the Arkansas State Troops and the Confederate volunteers, victory against Lyon’s Army of the West would have been difficult.
- John Halderman, “Wilson’s Creek,” The National Tribune (Washington, DC), August 22, 1901.
- William Garrett Piston and Thomas P. Sweeney, “Don’t Yield an Inch! The Missouri State Guard,” North & South Magazine, June 1999, 18.
- Randy McGuire, “Solving the Mystery of the Arsenal Guns,” Civil War St. Louis, June 20, 2003, accessed February 16, 2019, http://www.civilwarstlouis.com/arsenal/index.htm.
- Report of Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, December 22, 1861, in OR, ser. 1, vol. 3, 745.
- Ibid., 746.
- E. F. Ware, The Lyon Campaign in Missouri (Topeka, KS: Crane & Company, 1907), 328.