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
“Our men were generally armed with the old Springfield rifle, while the Confederates had in many instances only shotguns. Most of our wounded were disabled by buckshot or buck-and-ball. Some of the Confederates used old double-barreled guns,” remembered Major John Halderman of the First Kansas Infantry. He was not writing about just any Trans-Mississippi Confederate troops. In fact, he was recalling the troops of the Missouri State Guard at Wilson’s Creek, who went into battle there with a hodgepodge of firearms. 
Two members of the Moniteau County Rangers, Missouri State Guard. The soldier on the left is shown with most likely an 1841 Mississippi Rifle, while the soldier on the right is armed with a long rifle. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Due to the speed of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s movement at the start of the campaign, Governor Claiborne Jackson and the state legislature was unable to properly supply the newly-formed Missouri State Guard was uniforms or weapons. The units of the Guard were either former militia or they were newly-formed. Roughly 30% of the Guard was properly uniformed. Continue reading
“After mature deliberation [Colonel Everett Peabody] decided to do as above stated – attack, and thus give the alarm to those in our rear, so that they could turn out and make some resistance to the overwhelming force, and not be captured or attacked in their quarters. This move seemed to be the only way to convince General [Benjamin] Prentiss that there was an army between us and Corinth.”
In the late 1880s, Union Civil War veteran James Newhard of Company H, 25th Missouri Infantry recalled his unit’s desperate attempt to make contact with the vanguard of the Confederate Army of Mississippi. Colonel Everett Peabody, commanding officer of the First Brigade, Sixth Division, sent a small patrol of men from the 25th Missouri and 12th Michigan to establish contact with the enemy and send alarm to the rest of the army.
On the left shows the U.S. War Department iron tablet for the 25th Missouri Infantry at Fraley Field, where they fired some of the opening shots of the Battle of Shiloh. Colonel Everett Peabody, brigade commander, is shown on the right. Courtesy of Civil War Notebook and Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
The night before on April 5, 1862, Peabody’s men heard suspicious noises in the woods near their camps. The Union high command, including Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss, was skeptical to the fact that General Albert S. Johnston’s Army of Mississippi could be lurking nearby. Unable to sleep, the Missourians’ restless brigade commander finally decided to send an additional patrol out the next morning. Unbeknownst to many students of Shiloh, there were actually several patrols sent out in the night of April 5 and in the morning of April 6. In the early morning of April 6, Peabody and his men were determined to prove to the Union high command that the enemy was between them at Pittsburg Landing and the vital railroad juncture at Corinth, Mississippi. Continue reading
Over 8,000 African Americans from Missouri – mostly former enslaved – volunteered to fight for freedom in the Union Army in 1862 with the Confiscation Acts. Not until the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863 did the Government approve of the mass mobilization of all-Black units for combat in the infantry, cavalry, and artillery. On May 22, the Bureau of Colored Troops was established by the War Department to handle the recruitment and mobilization of United States Colored Troops units. From that day forth, all African American units were to be designated as such. In total, about 190,000 joined the USCTs, making up for one-tenth of the entire Union Army by 1865.
1 Sgt. William Messley of the 62nd USCTs. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
Below, I have compiled a list of the USCT units that were organized in Missouri during the war. The 8,000 men from Missouri that enlisted in these units joined mostly out of determination to achieve freedom from bondage, not necessarily to fight for country and union. Pay, stability, manhood, and the ability to finally independently care for their wives and children were many of the driving factors that encouraged their enlistment. For former Missouri slaves who fled to free territory in Kansas, where ardent abolitionists welcomed them, the stakes for freedom were even greater. These same troops would deploy into slave territory to fight the men who kept them and their families in bondage. Though many white soldiers and officers doubted whether they could actually fight in combat, these troops repeatedly proved their courage at battles such as Island Mound, Cabin Creek, Honey Springs, and Fort Blakely. Island Mound in Bates County, Missouri was the first known engagement where the Union Army deployed African Americans in combat in October 1862, even before the Emancipation Proclamation. Continue reading
Pvt. S.W. Stone and Pvt. P.S. Alexander were two friends from Moniteau County, Missouri, served with Mosby Parson’s Sixth Division of Missouri State Guard. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Just mere days after the Camp Jackson Affair on May 10, 1861 that left 26 people dead and dozens of others injured in the streets of St. Louis, the Missouri General Assembly (spearheaded by pro-secessionist Governor Claiborne Jackson) passed a “military bill” to assemble military forces on behalf of the state of Missouri to protect its citizens from Federal occupation and maintain statewide peace. Additionally, to stun pro-Union militia in St. Louis, the bill also banned the use of foreign language in militia, forcing the German immigrants that made up the militia to either speak English or disband. Appointed at the head of this new military force was former Missouri governor and Mexican War hero Sterling Price, who would command the pro-Confederate and pro-Missouri unit throughout the entirety of the Civil War. Many secessionists in Missouri were skeptical of Price’s appointment, because they feared he was pro-Union after he voted for Missouri to remain loyal back in March of 1861. However, his men grew to love their commander; Price’s paternal leadership style – both on and off the battlefield – prompted his men to affectionately call him “Old Pap.” Continue reading
“The challenges faced by the Missouri troops were immense. In addition to being exposed to combat for the first time, they were faced off against Maj. Gen. John Brown’s Confederates, who were some of the best troops in the Southern army. This was no easy task for certain, but through sheer force of will the 44th Missouri held together, even while under incredible pressure to prevent the Confederate breakthrough from expanding.” – Eric Jacobson, historian
At full combat strength, the men of the 44th Missouri in November 1864 were fresh recruits from northwestern Missouri, and the unit just organized in September in the western frontier town of St. Joseph. With limited military training, the green unit was ordered east in November to join Brig. Gen. Jacob Cox’s XXIII Corps in the Army of the Ohio, just as Lt. Gen. John B. Hood’s Army of Tennessee advanced north towards Nashville from Atlanta. As Hood’s army moved north into Tennessee, his and Maj. Gen. John Schofield’s armies maneuvered to flank each other at Columbia and Spring Hill. In the early morning of November 30, 1864, Schofield’s army had slipped past the Rebels and began to entrench just outside of the small town of Franklin, Tennessee – and the inexperienced soldiers of the 44th Missouri would be at the center of the fray in a matter of hours. Continue reading
As a slave state in the Upper South, Missouri and her citizens had a dynamic relationship with the “peculiar institution.” The average Missouri slaveholder owned five slaves, while medium sized slave owners in the Deep South owned between 15 and 50 slaves. The largest slave owner owned just under 200 slaves. In 1860, slaves made up 10% of the Missouri population.
To give a better glimpse into the nature of slavery in Missouri, acclaimed Missouri Civil War historian Dianne Mutti Burke provided an insightful quote from Kansas abolitionist and architect John Gideon Haskell:
“Slavey in Missouri was like slavery in northern Kentucky – much more a domestic than commercial institution. Family servants constituted the bulk of ownership, and few white families owned more than one family of blacks. The social habits were those of the farm and not the plantation . . . The negroes were members of the family; the blights of ownership were at a minimum.”
Known as the “American Zouaves,” the 8th Missouri Infantry was as much a tool for recruiting young, enthusiastic Unionists as it was a social experiment in early-war St. Louis, Missouri. At the start of the Civil War, St. Louis was a booming river city, with growing populations of German and Irish immigrants, as well as native-born slaves and white civilians. In 1860, St. Louis was the 8th largest city in the United States, with over 160,000 people living within its borders and over half being foreign born. Though many immigrants in Missouri experienced nativist opposition in the 1850s, they were some of the first to respond to the rallying cry for volunteers to serve in the Union armies and navies.
Sgt. Phillip Smith, Co. H, 8th Missouri Infantry wearing the signature Zouave uniform. Courtesy of the Peoria Historical Society.
To create a sense of unity and comradery, many recruitment officers segmented units based on ethnicity. The 7th Missouri Infantry Regiment, for example, was nicknamed the “Irish Seventh” for its large numbers of Irishmen. The “Western Turner Rifles,” or the 17th Missouri Infantry, consisted of Germans. There were many others, as well, that were formed to meet the quotas for the State of Missouri and to form a distinct unity between comrades. In early June 1861, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon and Congressman Francis P. Blair, Jr. both actively supported the formation of a purely “American” unit, dubbed the “American Zouaves.” Continue reading