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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Compton & Dry, Plate 10

Compton & Dry’s Pictorial History of St. Louis continues to fascinate me every time. This invaluable resource takes you on a visual journey to 1875 St. Louis. In 222 pages, sketch artists figuratively took to the skies in hot air balloons to document the Gateway City in its entirety. So detailed is the book that it certainly looked like it was done that way.

Though published ten years after the guns went silent, Compton & Dry’s book is an utter masterpiece, showing life in St. Louis not long after the war. We can get a sense of post-war St. Louis and how this city grew in its wake.

I want to look at one plate – Plate 10 – which shows the western edge of the United States Arsenal grounds, Lyon Park, and the Bavarian Brewing Company campus (later famously known as Anheuser-Busch). To think that several iconic sites of Civil War St. Louis can be seen here is truly remarkable.

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Compton & Dry’s Pictorial St. Louis – Plate 10 – in 1875. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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Battle at Mount Zion Church

On the left is a modern image of Mount Zion Chuch (not the original one, unfortunately) with the small memorial to the Missouri State Guard. Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss is in the center. On the right is Colonel Caleb Dorsey, who commanded the Guard troops in the battle. Courtesy of the Hughes Camp SCV, Library of Congress, and Wikimedia.

By Christmas of 1861, the State of Missouri had seen its share of bloodshed and violence. Missourians had seen the death of 28 civilians in the streets of St. Louis; 2,500 soldiers killed, wounded, or missing ten miles outside of Springfield; the first death of a Union general; bloodshed between along the Mississippi near Belmont; a Union garrison routed at Lexington; and the outbreak of irregular warfare in nearly every corner of the state. Most of the engagements fought in 1861 were Southern victories, but that would change just three days after Christmas at a small white church at Hallsville in Boone County. 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

The 25th Missouri Infantry at Shiloh

“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

Sherman’s Visit to the Wilson’s Creek Battlefield in 1885

This article was originally posted on the Emerging Civil War blog on September 5, 2018, written by Kristen M. Pawlak. 

Ever since the guns were silenced in the spring of 1865, veterans and civilians alike trek the battlefields of the Civil War to inspire them and understand the carnage and sacrifice that occurred on those hallowed fields. Learning about what happened at these locations and why it matters is one of the most meaningful ways to honor soldiers of the Civil War – even the veterans themselves said that.

One of those veterans was William T. Sherman, the great, but controversial, commander of the Federal military division that captured Atlanta, marched through Georgia and the Carolinas, and forced the surrender of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Bennett Place. After the war, he continued to serve in the United States Army as its Commanding General until 1883.

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General William Tecumseh Sherman just three years following his visit to the Wilson’s Creek battlefield. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Having lived in Missouri – specifically in St. Louis – in the years before the Civil War, Sherman had a close relationship with Missouri veterans, particularly fellow West Pointers and career soldiers he served with in the Army before, during, and after the Civil War. In 1885, Sherman “desired to visit the battlefield of Wilson’s Creek and the spot where Gen. Lyon fell.” To Sherman, who knew him personally before the war, Lyon “was somewhat careless in dress and manner, but intensely earnest in his ways, thoughts, and expressions … personally brave to a fault, not very social or friendly, yet honest and fearless.” Though Sherman served at another early-war battle, Manassas, he still wished to walk in the footsteps of a fellow Union war hero. Continue reading

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

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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

“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