Author Archives: kpawlak1863

Finding Missouri Governor and Union Brigadier General Thomas C. Fletcher in Hillsboro

This post was originally published on Emerging Civil War by Kristen M. Pawlak on December 26, 2020.

For many history buffs and road trippers, rural Jefferson County, Missouri is usually not very high – or maybe not at all – on the Civil War bucket list of sites to see. Sitting due south of St. Louis is the county seat, Hillsboro, where one of Missouri’s most influential Civil War and Reconstruction governors had his antebellum home.

Located in Hillsboro, Missouri is the 1850s home of Missouri Governor and Civil War veteran Thomas C. Fletcher. Courtesy of the author.

Bvt. Brigadier General and Missouri Governor Thomas C. Fletcher was actually born in Jefferson County, specifically the town of Herculaneum. The first county seat of Jefferson County (until the 1830s), Herculaneum was known for its lead mining and production, as well as its proximity to St. Louis, which is what most likely drew Fletcher’s parents to immigrate there from Maryland prior to his birth in 1827.[1] His family was well-off financially, having owned several slaves, and allowed him to receive an education and pursue a career in law.

Fletcher was quite politically active early in his adult life and career. At the age of 22, he became Circuit Clerk in Jefferson County; and after seven years of clerk service, Fletcher was admitted to the bar. It was while he served as the Circuit Clerk in Jefferson County’s seat of Hillsboro that he lived in this quaint home. Unlike his parents and upbringing in a slave-owning household, he became a Republican and abolitionist in the mid-1850s. Fletcher’s loyalty to the Republican Party and county greatly shaped the rest of his career and life.

A portrait of Col. Thomas C. Fletcher in his Federal uniform. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.

A love of Union, freedom, and equality, as well as having a distinguished political career, led Fletcher to become a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1860. When the Civil War broke out, two of his brothers – Perry and Charles – both enlisted in the 6th Missouri Infantry. In an accident at the St. Louis Arsenal in June 1861, Sgt. Perry Fletcher died. Two years later in October 1862, Fletcher enlisted and became Colonel of the 31st Missouri Infantry.  At the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou during the Vicksburg Campaign, he was captured by Confederate forces and imprisoned at the infamous Libby Prison until the spring of 1863. Though he was able to command troops in the field with the Army of the Tennessee, Fletcher was forced to return to Jefferson County in early 1864 due to lingering illness.

By the early fall of 1864, as Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri advanced into Missouri, a recovered Fletcher organized the 47th Missouri Infantry. Part of the Union garrison at Fort Davidson, Fletcher and the 47th Missouri were heavily involved in the Battle of Pilot Knob on September 27, 1864. Though forced to withdraw from Fort Davidson after repeated Confederate attacks, the battle itself was a major factor into why Price did not attack the vital Union city of St. Louis. Additionally, the political aspirations of Fletcher and the garrison’s overall commander Thomas Ewing contributed to the Federals’ decision to stay at Fort Davidson and fight it out against Price. Fletcher’s involvement in the battle, which certainly contributed to Union victory in the overall campaign, led to his promotion to brevet brigadier general.

Just two months after commanding troops in the field at Pilot Knob, Fletcher won a decisive victory over Democrat Thomas Price in the Missouri gubernatorial election of 1864. A border state, Missouri was immune to the Emancipation Proclamation, allowing slavery in her borders due to her loyalty to the Union. With his strong abolitionist beliefs, Fletcher was determined to end slavery.

On January 11, 1865, he helped lead Missouri and the General Assembly to formally abolish slavery in the state. That day at the Missouri State Capitol, Fletcher addressed the state with a public endorsement of abolition: “In the lightning’s chirography the fact is written ere this over the whole land – Missouri is Free! … Forever be this day celebrated by our people.”[2] Just twenty days later, Congress passed the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery nationwide. Fletcher holds a special legacy in Missouri as helping lead the charge to end slavery in this divided border state.

Serving from 1865 to 1869, Fletcher oversaw Missouri’s tumultuous post-war era. Unlike the states in the former Confederate South, Missouri was not under Congressional Reconstruction. However, it faced fierce division between Republican wings and what a post-war Missouri would look like. Fletcher’s administration addressed issues regarding state railroad debt, education reform, post-war violence, Native American rights and the Constitutionality of test oaths.[3]

After his governorship, Fletcher returned to the practice of law, first in St. Louis then in Washington, DC. He ran for U.S. Congress in 1880, but lost. He passed away at the age of 72 in Washington, DC and was interred at St. Louis’ famous Bellefontaine Cemetery.

As Missouri’s first Republican and first native-born son to serve as Missouri Governor, Fletcher is a remarkable figure in Missouri, Civil War, and Reconstruction history. Leading the fight for abolition in Missouri and leading the state through some of its most chaotic years, he should be remembered more often. Next time you are in the St. Louis area, make sure a visit to Fletcher’s modest, unassuming, but beautifully-preserved home in Hillsboro is on the list.

Sources:

  1. History of Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Crawford, & Gasconade Counties, Missouri (Cape Girardeau, MO: Ramfire Press, 1958), 427.
  2. Thomas C. Fletcher, Missouri’s Jubilee (Jefferson City, MO: W.A. Curry, 1865), 4.
  3. “Reconstruction in Missouri,” Community & Conflict: The Impact of the Civil War in the Ozarks, accessed December 23, 2020, https://ozarkscivilwar.org/themes/reconstruction.

Tour of Pilot Knob with Historian Doug Gifford Coming Up on October 2 and 3

Engraving of Federal troops in the Arcadia Valley in 1861. By 1863, Federals constructed the earthen Fort Davidson to protect the St. Louis & Iron Mountain Railroad line and the rest of the Arcadia Valley. Courtesy of Civil War on the Western Border.

Join historian Doug Gifford and the Civil War Round Table of St. Charles for a tour of the Battle of Pilot Knob/Fort Davidson on October 2 or 3! The tour will cover the story of the battle, including Price’s movement into the Arcadia Valley, civilian experiences, the planning and execution of the attack and defense, artillery, logistics, medical care in its aftermath, the Union withdrawal and Price’s pursuit, and the many lessons learned in the battle’s wake. Doug Gifford, an Army historian and the author of Where Valor and Devotion Meet: The Battle of Pilot Knob, will be leading the tours.

Since tours are one day long each, guests can choose to attend either date (October 2 or 3) – they are the same on both dates. The tour begins at the Visitors Center at 10:00am. It is a free event, but we highly encourage you to pick up a copy of Doug’s book for extra reading.

The tour is held entirely outside, so be prepared for weather. Guests are asked to bring their own vehicles to travel from stop to stop.

For more information, please give Doug an email at historynutt@hotmail.com.

A Member of the 8th Missouri Infantry Reflects on Why He Enlisted

This blog post was originally posted on Emerging Civil War by Kristen M. Pawlak, the same author of Missouri’s Civil War Blog.

One of the most thorough and remarkable diaries I have come across from a Missouri soldier is from a non-commissioned officer in the 8th Missouri Infantry. A German immigrant and Peoria, Illinois resident, Phillip A. Smith joined the “American Zouaves” regiment in St. Louis in the summer of 1861. Like many Missouri Union regiments, the 8th Missouri was largely composed of German immigrants (even though Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon wanted more native-born Americans for this unit, hence the name) and built primarily of Missourians and Illinoians.

Sgt. Phillip A. Smith donned in his 8th Missouri Infantry Zouave uniform. Courtesy of the Peoria Historical Society.

On July 22, 1861, just days after mustering in at the St. Louis Arsenal and encamped at Jefferson City, the state capital that had been occupied by Federal forces at the start of the 1861 Missouri Campaign, Smith laid in bed and penned this diary entry about why he enlisted for three years of service in the Union Army. He reflected on the developing crisis, the rebellion, and “the slave question.” At that time, Lyon’s Army of the West was on an offensive campaign in pursuit of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard into southwestern Missouri. Smith, fervently pro-Union and antislavery, was deeply disturbed and angry toward Confederates, as seen below.

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A Microhistory of Missouri’s Civil War – A Study of Lawrence County

During just four years of brutal military and political conflict, a divided Lawrence County, Missouri was “whipsawed” by the Civil War, “inflicting severe hardships, death, and destruction.” While Lawrence County was similar to other Missouri counties in that it was divided during the war, its location in the southwestern portion of the state made its citizens under constant threat of guerrilla violence and the occupation of Federal and Confederate/Pro-Secessionist armies. Lawrence County was front and center to much of the violence in southwestern Missouri, which took a major toll on its communities. Continue reading

Faugh a Ballagh: The Gateway City’s Irish Soldiers

By the outbreak of the war, St. Louis – the Gateway to the West – was a thriving and diverse, yet divided border town. Unlike many cities in the slave states, St. Louis was home to a growing community of European immigrants. By 1860, over half of the city was foreign born, most from the German Confederation or Ireland. The Germans were, by far, the most populous and influential ethic group in St. Louis. With 50,000 in St. Louis alone and united over the divisive issues of slavery and secession, they made a tremendous impact on the Union war effort in the city and their new home state. Just second to the Germans were the Irish, who accounted for nearly 30,000 (or 20%) of the city’s 161,000 residents. Missouri’s Irish – totally over 43,000 – was the highest population of Irishmen in any state in the South.[1] Typically overlooked compared to the Germans, the Irish were more-so divided over the tense issues encapsulating their community. Their impact on the Civil War in St. Louis deserves more attention and further study.

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A St. Louis-style St. Patrick’s Day in 1874 shows the gathering of  the Irish immigrant community. Courtesy of the Missouri History Museum.

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St. Joseph Residents Call for Law and Order

On May 26, 1864, the The Weekly Herald and Tribune from St. Joseph published an article about a Union militia captain from De Kalb County who was murdered. In light of this murder – after three years of devastating irregular warfare along the western border – citizens of St. Joseph were fed up with a lack of law and order in their community. The full article is shown below in the clipping: Continue reading

“Never Was a Deserter” – An Officer Defends a Unionville Soldier’s Honor

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An engraving of a soldier deserting and being caught. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the fall of 1862, after the 18th Missouri Infantry’s trial by fire at Shiloh, Capt. George Wyckoff penned an official statement about one of his men. Pvt. Charles Gray of Company D went missing in the Spring of 1862 and was subsequently accused of desertion by the regimental command. However, for Capt. Wyckoff, he knew Gray was innocent and wanted to make the record straight. Continue reading

What Was the Terrain Really Like on Bloody Hill?

Just last week was the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi River. With approximately 2,500 wounded, killed, and missing Federal and Southern soldiers, the battle itself undoubtedly set the stage for Union occupation and ultimate victory in Missouri. During the battle itself, the climactic fights took place on what was later named “Bloody Hill,” a plateau marked by deep ravines and thick brush. Images of Bloody Hill I took on my visit show the heavy brush and uneven terrain (see below).

During every Southern assault and Federal movement on that hill, units had difficulty maintaining alignment and structure between the ravines. After visiting the battlefield myself in July, I walked along the trails on Bloody Hill and wondered how the terrain looked on a topographical map and elevation profile.

I visited the USGS National Map viewer and pulled up the USGS Imagery Topo map to look at the hill’s elevation and terrain. Continue reading

A Missouri Union Soldier’s Definition of a “Patriot”

Two Union soldiers – and patriots, as described by Scott – with the American flag between them. Courtesy of the National Museum of American History.

Just as Price’s Army of Missouri was advancing through central Missouri in October 1864, a soldier in Company F of the 47th Missouri Infantry penned a poem. The patriotic, thoughtful piece was written by Private James Scott, who ultimately submitted his work – titled “The Patriot” – to The North Missourian newspaper out of Daviess County. Continue reading

A Missouri Confederate Recalls the Retreat to Nashville

Keith Rocco’s depiction of the Battle of Franklin, specifically showing troops in the Army of Tennessee. Courtesy of Keith Rocco.

In 1899, Confederate veteran from De Kalb, Missouri, Sam B. Dunlap, wrote to The Confederate Veteran about his experience with the Army of Tennessee, particularly during the retreat from Franklin to Nashville. Dunlap volunteered to served in Boyd’s Battalion of the First Missouri Artillery. He was captured during the Vicksburg Campaign, but was paroled in time to serve in the 1864 Tennessee Campaign, now with Guibor’s Battery. The Confederate Veteran article was written as Dunlap was writing his own memoirs, which is currently in the collection of The State Historical Society of Missouri. Continue reading