Category Archives: Microhistories and Stories

Guarding Confederates in the Old McDowell Medical College

At the corner of 8th and Gratiot, the McDowell Medical College was transformed into St. Louis’ most notorious prisons for Confederate soldiers and secessionist civilians.

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Two wartime images of Gratiot Street Prison (formerly the McDowell Medical College) flanking Dr. Joseph McDowell. Courtesy of Washington University in St. Louis and the Missouri Historical Society)

Just prior to the outbreak of war, the college was owned and operated by the macabre Dr. Joseph McDowell, who gained a reputation for digging out corpses from local cemeteries for cadaver experiments. Nonetheless, he proved himself to be one of the most respected and knowledgeable medical professionals in the country. Being a secessionist, McDowell left St. Louis and was named Surgeon General for the western Confederate armies. Like many others, though, his property was confiscated by Union authorities in and utilized for the Union war effort there. Continue reading

Who Is This Benton Barracks Soldier?

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One of the most recognizable African-American soldiers of the Civil War, this young soldier has represented the nearly-200,000 USCTs who served in the Union armies. Standing in front of the famous “Benton Barracks backdrop,” he has also been the face of former Trans-Mississippi slaves who risked their lives to fight for freedom. Around 8,000 of them were from Missouri. Unfortunately, he has remained anonymous to historians for over 150 years. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

Beer in Civil War Missouri

Federal soldiers receive a ration of whiskey and quinine, showing the need for alcohol to calm nerves and stay warm during the frigid winter months. Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

While in camp at Rolla on March 9, 1865, Private Frederick A. Kullman of the 13th Missouri Cavalry sat down to write in his pocket diary about how he longed to escort prisoners to St. Louis. For him and much of his comrades, it was not to visit the city or to show their authority to the enemy, but to “try some more of that good old Lager beer.” In 1861, there were over forty independent breweries operating in St. Louis alone, with countless others along the Missouri River.

In the early nineteenth century, the most popular types of alcoholic beverages in the United States were whiskey, cider, gin, bourbon, rum, and wine. They could be manufactured without refrigeration and were drunk throughout the day by Americans. By the mid-nineteenth century, beer consumption exploded; and much of that has to do with the influx of German immigrants, particularly in Missouri. Continue reading

Remembering the Battle and Massacre at Centralia

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Captain “Bloody Bill Anderson”, who lead guerrilla troops at Centralia. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri. 

This week marked the 154th anniversary of one of the most notorious atrocities during the Civil War. At Centralia, Missouri, Captain “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s band of approximately 80 guerrilla troops converged on the town, hoping to cause damage to Federal troops, as Confederate Major General Sterling Price and his 12,000-man Army of Missouri moved north towards St. Louis. After looting the town, a train along the North Missouri Railroad line was halted by Anderson’s men. They forced everyone off the train, including roughly 24 Union troops returning home from the campaigns in Georgia. After burning the train, the Union troops were massacred. Three companies of the 39th Missouri Infantry under the command of Major A.V.E. Johnston were deployed to the town and were annihilated by Anderson troops along Young’s Creek. Historians and witnesses alike have described the bloody September day at Centralia, Missouri as “an incredibly brutal day” and one of the “most monstrous and inhuman atrocities ever perpetuated by beings wearing the form of man.”
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False Accusations: The Curious Court Martial of Colonel Bernard Laiboldt

On April 14, 1862 in the Army of the Southwest’s encampment near Forsyth, Missouri, Colonel Bernard Laiboldt stood trial. As commander of the Second Missouri Infantry Regiment, Laiboldt was charged with a count of “Misbehavior before the enemy & running away” and “conduct unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman.” His military career hung in the balance as his fellow officers determined his fate.

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A Harper’s Weekly depiction of a court martial. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Fate and Cowardice in September 1863

The few days of July of 1863 marked a pivotal time for the Confederacy’s war efforts – the Army of Northern Virginia was decisively defeated in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the Confederate stronghold at Vicksburg, Mississippi fell to the Army of Tennessee, and the Confederate attacks against the Union garrison at Helena, Arkansas failed. In these defeats, Confederate commanders sought to find reason for these failures by placing blame on one another.

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Major General John Sappington Marmaduke. Courtesy of the Mississippi Department of Archives.

At Helena, Brig. Gen. John S. Marmaduke, commander of the Missouri Cavalry Division in the Department of Arkansas, believed that Brig. Gen. Lucius Walker’s Arkansas Cavalry Division failed to support the attack after they fled to safety. Just months later at Reed’s Bridge, Marmaduke once again placed blame on Walker, whose troops were absent from the field over fear they would be flanked. Instead of pursuing a court martial or even putting the issue to rest, Marmaduke and Walker tried to resolve the matter via a dual – one of a few uses of dueling between general officers in the Civil War. Continue reading