Category Archives: Primary Sources

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

Soldiers in Civil War Missouri Faced Issues with Rations

Hardtack, salt pork, cornmeal, and coffee are the four foods we associate with the average Civil War soldier’s ration. Much of what we learned about the rations comes from Hardtack and Coffee, the famous book written by John Billings of the Army of the Potomac. Though an excellent primary source into the life of a Union soldier, it is in the eyes of a soldier who fought in the best-equipped and organized Federal army of the war. In the Trans-Mississippi, particularly in Missouri, the life of a soldier was unique – especially in regard to what they ate and drank.

During the 1861 Missouri Campaign, which was decisively fast-paced, rations were especially difficult, particularly for the Federals of the Army of the West. The 200-mile-long supply line from St. Louis to Springfield was particularly rough. The first 100 miles between St. Louis and Rolla was by train via the Southwestern Branch of the Pacific Railroad; the next journey from Rolla to Springfield (the base of the Army of the West in southwestern Missouri) was by the dirt Wire Road. It took over a week to receive supplies from St. Louis. A soldier in the First Iowa Infantry described the ration situation perfectly:

Nothing all day but mush and coffee. We hear more of the battles at Manassas Gap and Bull Run. Here we are, camped on a flat prairie, and the miserable rations have given everyone the diarrhea.

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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

“Missouri Must Now Take Her Position”

Three days following the Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek, Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch wrote to the people of Missouri, urging them to act. Because McCulloch and his Western Army of Arkansans and Texans returned to the Indian Territory following the battle, the Texas Confederate leader has not been held in high regard and is frequently blamed for not pursuing the Federals and advancing to Lexington with Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, even though he led the Western Army and Missouri State Guard to victory. In McCulloch’s eyes, he needed to return to the territory his army was ordered to protect in the first place. He also saw the Missouri State Guard has ragtag and unfit for proper military service, causing major rifts between him and Price. Instead of remaining with the State Guard and establishing Confederate control in the state, McCulloch urged the people of Missouri to take up arms and finish the job on their own. Continue reading

A Missourian Describes Why He Joined the State Guard and the Confederate Army

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The First Missouri Brigade at Prairie Grove, Arkansas. Courtesy of Andy Thomas, artist.

Unlike much of the South in the spring of 1861, Missourians stood dominantly neutral and conditional Unionist, though she was a fellow slaveholding state. The Missouri Constitutional Convention voted to remain with the Union, an overwhelming 98 to 1 in March. However, in May, when Federal troops fired into a crowd of civilians after capturing several hundred pro-secessionist troops (sanctioned by Governor Claiborne Jackson), hearts and minds changed drastically. Many conditional Unionists and those unsure about Missouri’s role in the war became pro-secessionist and desired to throw out Federal troops in their state. It was a game of revenge. Continue reading

Thomas L. Snead Writes About Memory of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in 1874

In Missouri’s Civil War history, Thomas L. Snead was at the forefront of the state’s secession crisis, its opening campaigns in 1861, and its relationship with the Confederate government. A native of Virginia, Snead studied law and worked in journalism in St. Louis in the years leading up to the war. His loyalty to Governor Claiborne Jackson earned him a position as his aide, as well as a commission in the Missouri State Guard and as Chief of Staff to Maj. Gen. Sterling Price. In 1864, Snead continued his work for the Confederate efforts in Missouri by serving as a Representative from Missouri in the Second Confederate Congress.

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Thomas L. Snead in the decades following the Civil War. Courtesy of Findagrave.

His most significant role, however, was in forming the memory of the war in Missouri. In 1886, he published The Fight For Missouri, a full-length history of Missouri in 1861, including detailed accounts of the 1861 campaigns. According to the preface of his book, Snead wrote the book “because I am the only living witness to many facts the remembrance of which ought to be preserved.”[1] He was a witness to the Jackson administration, the Planter’s House Hotel meeting, and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Snead was also responsible for writing numerous articles on Missouri in the Southern Historical Society Papers.

In late April 1874, while living in New York City as a journalist, Snead wrote a letter to a fellow Missouri Confederate veteran. The fellow veteran was prolific central Missouri artist William B. Cox, who was in the process of painting a scene from the Battle of Wilson’s Creek when Snead wrote him a letter explaining why naming it “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek” would be preferable to the Confederate names of “Oak Hill” or “Springfield.” Continue reading

“The General Got The Diarrhea”

In the early summer of 1861, former Missouri governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price, a conditional Unionist and supporter of neutrality, sided with the secessionists and took command of Governor Claiborne Jackson’s Missouri State Guard. Less than a month later and before his men ever fought in combat, Price was stricken with severe diarrhea and was forced to return home at Keytesville, Missouri to recover. Just like today, the pro-Union newspapers took the prime opportunity to make fun of the sick general.

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A political cartoon in the wake of the Battle of Boonville, poking fun at a sickly Sterling Price. Courtesy of Missouri Valley Special Collections

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A St. Louis Civilian Flies the Rebel Flag in 1862

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Rebel flag flying in St. Louis was a display of rebellion against Federal occupation in the city. Courtesy of the Civil War Monitor.

On May 16, 1862, Mrs. Amos on 6th Street received a harsh and threatening letter from St. Louis Provost Marshal George Leighton. In the back of her house, she – or another occupant of the building – flew the Rebel flag in defiance of Federal occupation of the city. Open sympathies with the Confederacy made her a prime target for the Provost Marshal to suppress and show other Southern sympathizers that open support of the Rebellion would not be tolerated. Was Mrs. Amos responsible for the flying of the flag? If so, did Mrs. Amos have a son or husband serving in the Confederate army? Many Southern-leaning civilians who were spies or openly defied the Union in Federal-occupied St. Louis were arrested or deported, like the wife of Col. Daniel Frost or Margaret McLure who lost her son in combat while serving for the Confederacy.

We do not know the fate of Mrs. Amos, but we can assume that her Rebel flag outside of her house on 6th Street no longer flew after she received the letter from Leighton.

Office of Provost Marshal
St. Louis, Mo., May 16th, 1862
Madam,
Yesterday [illegible] a rebel flag was displayed from the back portion of your residence on Sixth Street. Yourself as well as the occupant of your house must be aware that such a display cannot be paroled or overlooked. The parties quietly must be held to a strict accountability for all such treasonable manifestations.
You will be kind enough to avoid any interference with innocent parties to end its flag displays to my office, with the names of the persons occupying the eastern portion of the building.
In case this is not done immediately, I shall be compelled to hold you as the lady of the house, responsible for the acts of the inhabitants, and take the severest method to effectively prevent such demonstrations in future.
Very Respectfully Yours,
Geo E Leighton

Source:
Letter from George E. Leighton to Mrs. Amos, May 16, 1862, Harrison Gleim Civil War Papers, Maclay Home, Tipton, MO

The Western Sanitary Commission Helps to Supply Grant’s Army at Vicksburg

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This scene from Belle Plain, Virginia taken in 1862, depicts the arrival of supplies and munitions for the Federal army. This was a common sight in the Western armies, as well, even though photographs were much less common. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the late summer of 1861, Maj. Gen. John C. Fremont authorized the establishment of the Western Sanitary Commission, the western counterpart to the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC), based in St. Louis, Missouri via the General Order No. 159. Fremont and many other pro-Union Missouri leaders argued that the USSC was too concerned with the East and its main Federal army, the Army of the Potomac. Between the instability, bloodshed, mass mobilization of armies across the Union-occupied river towns, and the extensive riverine transportation networks, the West needed a sanitary commission that could provide medical services and help to care for the Federal troops mobilized in the region. Fremont, along with St. Louis leaders like banker and philanthropist James Yeatman, educator and civic leader William Eliot, entrepreneur Carlos S. Greeley, philanthropist George Partridge, and businessman John B. Johnson formed the leadership of the Western Sanitary Commission, an organization that rivaled the USSC and saved the lives of thousands of Federal troops in the Western and Trans-Mississippi Theaters. Continue reading

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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