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.
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.
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 →