Category Archives: Primary Sources

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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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

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

“To Embalm Their Memories” – Memorial Day At Jefferson Barracks in 1870

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Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery around 1897. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

On May 30, 1870, several thousand Civil War veterans and civilians gathered at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery to lay flags at their former comrades’ graves. With over 10,000 graves to decorate, Major General John Pope (commander of the Department of the Missouri) suspended “all business at department headquarters to day; also at the arsenal and at Jefferson Barracks” so all officers and soldiers could participate in the commemorative activities. [1] It was just the second anniversary of the so-called “Memorial – or Decoration – Day,” and each veteran knew the importance of the moment. Continue reading

Capturing Some of Price’s Rebels in Knox County

Two Missouri State Guardsmen from Calloway County. Courtesy of the National Park Service.

In early February 1862, pro-Union Missourians could take a sigh of relief. Just months before, the war in Missouri had shifted from Southern victory to retreat. Though the future looked promising for the Unionists, there was still uncertainty. Is the Missouri State Guard out of Missouri for good? Will the state be invaded? What will happen if the Southerners are victorious? Can Federal and State troops protect civilians as promised?

On February 5, The Macon Gazette – a pro-Union paper in Macon County – published an article from nearby Knox County about a group of deserters from Price’s Missouri State Guard who were captured by local militia. For the Unionists in the area, to hear signs of desertion and exhaustion must have been reassuring.

For us historians, it reveals an abundance of information about the Guard’s physical condition, equipment, armament, and morale. What is also quite interesting is the fact that they felt “deceived” by Price and Jackson. With the Guard merging into the Confederate Army of the West, it frustrated many of Price’s men. There were others who felt that the Confederate cause was not what they were fighting for; instead, they were fighting to protect their homes, hearths, and state. Continue reading

Grapes, Friendship, and the War on the Mississippi River

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Rear Admiral Andrew Hull Foote and James B. Eads. Courtesy of Wikimedia and the Library of Congress.

On September 9, 1862, United States Navy Flag Officer (later, rear admiral) Andrew Hull Foote wrote a letter to St. Louis engineer James Buchanan Eads, who gave the Foote family a basket of grapes as a gift. As many already know, James B. Eads and his Marine Iron Works in Carondelet, Missouri, constructed the iron gun boats for the Union war effort on the Mississippi River. Foote commanded the Western Gunboat Flotilla, the main brown-water naval force that utilized Eads’ gunboats. This one letter between Foote and Eads gives a glimpse into the unique relationship between two of the most influential people for the war on the Mississippi. 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.

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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

The Farewell Letter of a Victim of the Palmyra Massacre

There is no doubt that this letter is one of the most heartbreaking ones I have ever read from the Civil War era. On October 17 and 18, 1862, from the cells of the Palmyra Prison, Captain Thomas A. Sidner of the First Northeast Missouri Cavalry penned a letter to his friends and family, notifying them of his pending execution. In command of the District of Northeast Missouri, Col. John McNeil sentenced to death ten random Confederate prisoners from the Palmyra Prison in retaliation for the supposed murder of a local Union sympathizer. With no ties to the murder, Sidner was told that he was to be executed the next day for a crime he was not guilty of. Later known as the Palmyra Massacre, this act became one of the most infamous war crimes of the entire Civil War.

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Col. John McNeil is on the left, with the District of Northeast Missouri’s Provost Marshal Office in the center and Col. Joseph Porter on the right. Courtesy of the Library of Congress, Restoration Movement, and FindaGrave.

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