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