Category Archives: Biographies

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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When Nathaniel Lyon Court Martialed the Second Cousin of Robert E. Lee

In the years prior to the outbreak of the Civil War, well over two-hundred future field commanders in the war were stationed in Missouri. These soldiers included Robert E. Lee, Ulysses Grant, James Longstreet, William T. Sherman, Braxton Bragg, and many others. They were trained and drilled on the parade ground of Jefferson Barracks Military Post located only a few miles south of St. Louis along the Mississippi River.

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Willie Lee is shown on the far left with a war-time image of Jefferson Barracks and Nathaniel Lyon on the right. Courtesy of the Reeves Family, Civil War Scholars, Missouri Civil War Museum, and The State Historical Society of Missouri.

Though many – like Ulysses Grant and J.E.B. Stuart – largely had positive experiences serving near one of the largest cities in the United States, some soldiers’ services at Jefferson Barracks were blotted with challenges. One of these soldiers was Lieutenant William “Willie” Fitzhugh Lee. Continue reading

Sketching Missouri’s Civil War

Iowa sketch artist Alexander Simplot was to the Trans-Mississippi Theater as Alfred Waud was to the East. With pencil and paper in hand and the pseudonym “A.S. Leclerc,” Simplot was tasked by Harper’s Weekly and the New York Illustrated News to visually document the Civil War in action from 1861 to 1863, particularly focusing on the war along and west of the Mississippi River. Interestingly enough, he was assigned to the Army of the West in the summer and early fall of 1861, and sketched parts of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s campaign through Missouri. Simplot also sketched in St. Louis soon after, where he drew scenes of naval engineer James Eads’ gunboats and the Department of the West.


Alexander Simplot’s portrait on the left, with a drawing made of a Civil War sketch artist in action. Courtesy of FindaGrave and George Mason University.

A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Simplot was born in 1837 into one of the most wealthy families of the region. Though looked down upon by his successful father, he developed a love of art at an early age. When civil war broke out in April 1861, Simplot had already graduated from Union College in New York and was working as a teacher in his hometown. A demand for sketch artists by newspapers encouraged him to sketch local scenes of the war. After visually documenting the mobilization of Iowa troops in Dubuque, Simplot sent his work to Harper’s Weekly, who immediately expressed interest in further employing him as a special artist. He had found his calling. Continue reading

Major Horace A. Conant and the Planter’s House Hotel Meeting


Two illustrations show the Planter’s House Hotel ca. 1860, as well as the fateful meeting on June 11, 1861. Note the image on the right leaves out Snead and Conant – two forgotten individuals at the meeting. There was also no image of Conant to be found. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society and the Civil War Muse.

Many of us know the story of the infamous Planter’s House Hotel meeting on June 11, 1861. The six most-influential political and military leaders in the State of Missouri at the start of the American Civil War – Major General Sterling Price, Governor Claiborne Jackson, Thomas Snead, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, Colonel Francis P. Blair, and Major Horace Conant – met in St. Louis’ Planter’s House Hotel to prevent the outbreak of war within the state’s borders. Five of the six attendees of the meeting are very well known in Missouri Civil War lexicon. The only one who many are not aware of is Major Horace Conant, Nathaniel Lyon’s aide. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

A Missouri Militiaman’s War


Pvt. Samuel H. Flint in Federal cavalry uniform. Courtesy of FindaGrave.

Throughout the war in Missouri, both Federal and State cavalry units were vital to protecting and securing lines of communication and supply routes. Unlike in many other theaters of the war, Missouri cavalrymen had to defend these lifelines and maintain law and order. For Pvt. Samuel Hamilton Flint, a member of both the 7th Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia and the 15th Missouri Cavalry, was representative of many other Missouri men who enlisted in Union units; they were literally defending their own homes and families from the enemy.

Born and raised in the Ozark Highlands of Johnson Township, Polk County, Missouri in 1841, Flint was the oldest of four children of two Lexington, Virginia natives. Sometime before 1840, Ezekial and Mary Jane settled in southwest Missouri, similar to many other settlers from the upper South. Missouri’s vast rivers, fertile land, rich mineral deposits, ability to trade, no restrictions on slavery according the Missouri Compromise, and the capacity to invest in new land encouraged thousands to settle in the former Louisiana Territory. Additionally, the Old Wire Road led people from St. Louis to Springfield and beyond to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Like other settlers, the Flint family invested in their family farm. Continue reading

A Wounded Missourian Photographed by Surgeon Reed B. Bontecou

For over two years, renowned Union volunteer surgeon Reed Brockway Bontecou photographed hundreds of wounded soldiers – both Federal and Confederate – while serving as the chief surgeon of the U.S. General Hospital “Harewood” in Washington, DC. With the unprecedented number of wounded and sick, as well as the variety of grotesque combat injuries, Bontecou began photographing soldiers and recording their information. A pioneer of medical photography, he archived these case studies at the Army Medical Museum (now, the National Museum of Health and Medicine), making him the single largest contributor of medical photography to the museum.


Sgt. Joseph Young’s portrait by Reed Bontecou at Harewood Hospital in Washington, DC. Courtesy of the National Museum of Health and Medicine.

Though Bontecou himself is fascinating, it is the soldier is what I am most intrigued by. Their blank faces reveal their suffering and pain, but it is most important that their are identified.  Each of the portraits depict the soldier either before or after their operations, showing off their wounds, injuries, or infections. It is up to the historian to dig apart their stories. Continue reading

A Son of Germany and the United States


Major General Peter J. Osterhaus in 1864. Courtesy of Welt. 

Considered to be one of the most capable and effective commanders in the Western Theater of the Civil War, Peter J. Osterhaus was an adopted son of the United States, born in Coblenz, the government seat of the Rhine Province in the German Confederation, in 1823. Finding a passion in military service, Osterhaus entered the Berlin Military Academy and later served in the Prussian Army for the required one year of service. However, in 1848, like many young Germans, he actively supported the democratic and classic liberal revolutions in his home country. He joined the revolutionary army and hoped to use his military experience against the Prussian Army at Baden. By 1849, however, the revolutions against the monarchies of Europe were crushed, forcing many of the revolutionaries to flee their homelands for the world’s foremost democracy, the United States. Continue reading

The 6th Missouri’s Irish Surgeon Left for Dead at Port Gibson

One of the most fascinating stories of survival and fortitude from the Civil War comes from Port Gibson, Mississippi in 1863. Irish immigrant, surgeon, and now combat officer, Major James Lawlor Kiernan was severely wounded and was nearly captured in the wet, murky swamps near the Mississippi River, following one of the initial engagements of the Vicksburg Campaign.

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Brigadier General James Lawlor Kieran between 1863 and 1864. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The son of a British naval surgeon, Kiernan was born in a small Franciscan Catholic farming village in County Galway, Ireland in 1837. Well-educated and intelligent, he was enrolled at Trinity College in Dublin in 1854, but immigrated to the United States soon after, where he subsequently graduated from New York University’s Academy of Medicine in 1857. Living in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he and his brother-in-law both practiced medicine and even edited their own weekly medical newspaper named the New York Medical Press until the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. Continue reading

From the Ballfields to the Battlefield

From famed New York Yankees catcher Yogi Berra to Arizona Cardinals safety Pat Tillman, there have been many athletes who sacrificed their sports careers to serve their country. Berra was a gunner’s mate on the USS Bayfield during Operation Overlord (D-Day) in 1944, and Tillman was a member of the Army Rangers and was killed in action in the Khost Province of Afghanistan in 2004. For St. Louis, baseball is the heart and soul of the Gateway City. Baseball’s history in St. Louis can be traced back to just before the Civil War. In 1862, one 22-year-old St. Louis baseball player gave up his favorite pastime to enlist in the Confederate Army.


Merritt Griswold’s drawing of the baseball field. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

Edward Bredell, Jr. (hereafter referred to as Bredell) was born in St. Louis in 1839 to a wealthy family. His father Edward Bredell, Sr. was not only a successful attorney, but also owned Bredell & Bro. Dry Goods. In 1855, Bredell began his college education studying engineering at Brown University, where a fellow St. Louis baseball researcher, Jeff Kittel, believes Bredell learned about the sport of baseball.[1]

By 1859, Bredell returned to his hometown from Brown, where he and friend Merritt Griswold created the Cyclone Base Ball Club, St. Louis’ first baseball team. The “First Base Ball Match in St. Louis,” was played between the Cyclones and the Morning Star Base Ball Clubs on July 9, 1860 near Fair Grounds Park.[2]Around the same time, Bredell, Sr. became president of the Missouri Glass Company, where Bredell and Griswold were hired after college. As the impending political and military situations grew dire in St. Louis, the Bredells’ Democratic, pro-secessionist views became more hard line. With large numbers of Republican German and Irish immigrants, the Bredell family’s views were in the minority within the city.

On March 6, 1861, the Cyclones played their first game of the season at Lafayette Park. Though “a jolly time was had” on the field that day, there was still a sense of gloom and anxiousness, as the city, state, and country began to split apart following the 1860 Presidential Election and the formation of the Confederate States of America.[3] Unlike Bredell’s pro-Southern views, Griswold was a staunch Unionist, likely a member of the paramilitary Republican Wide Awakes. Griswold eventually joined the 3rd United States Reserve Corps, which was the 3-month Home Guard unit under Capt. Nathaniel Lyon that captured Governor Claiborne Jackson’s militia at Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861. Though Bredell had Southern views, there is no evidence or proof that he was a member of the pro-Secession Minutemen Militia. Continue reading