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

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

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 “One of Hannibal’s Railroad Men”

A Rare Sight of Union Troops Drilling in Missouri

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St. Louis photographer Robert Benecke took this image sometime during the Civil War, its location documented as Missouri. Courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum.

Every day I am amazed by the number of primary sources that I have never stumbled upon before, especially with Missouri Civil War-related sources. To be fair, though, I have only been digging around for this kind of material since I started working at the Missouri Civil War Museum in 2011. Nonetheless, I am familiar with the many archives and repositories that contain photographs from the war in Missouri.

Recently, I came across this fascinating image from the J. Paul Getty Museum, showing Union troops in formation across from a row of A-framed tents. This is a rare image from the Trans-Mississippi, where you typically do not see much photography of scenes like this compared to the Eastern Theater. In far background, you can see a crowd of civilians watching the troops in clean uniforms, making me think this could be early war. Also in the background is a large building. Could this possibly be Benton Barracks, the Arsenal, or Jefferson Barracks? What do you think? Continue reading “A Rare Sight of Union Troops Drilling in Missouri”

Freedom Fighters of Missouri

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.

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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 “Freedom Fighters of Missouri”

Remembering Missouri’s German Soldiers

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Pvt. John J. Weber of the 2nd Missouri Infantry, Maj. Gen. Peter J. Osterhaus, and Maj. Gen. Franz Sigel were all German immigrants who served in Missouri units. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society and Library of Congress.

When both historians and Civil War enthusiasts think of the larger German experience during the war, we tend to think of their failures, hence their degrading nickname, the “Damn Dutch.” The XI Corps’ routing at Chancellorsville and at Gettysburg dominate the overall narrative of ethnic German soldiers, a trend that has persisted since the war itself. However, this is the rather shallow story of just 9,000 Pennsylvania, New York, Illinois, Ohio, Connecticut, and Wisconsin German troops. More importantly, that number represents less than 4.5% of all German immigrants who served in the Union armies, which totaled out to be roughly 216,000.

In Missouri, the Germans had a much more significant story, saving the city of St. Louis – and ultimately the state – for the Union and contributed over 30,000 troops to the Federal war effort in Missouri. But, in the larger narrative of the war, these German troops – though successful – are out shadowed by German failures in the East. Contemporary criticism of the German troops were primarily dominated by nativism, or the bias against immigrants by native-born Americans. When failures of the Germans dominate the historical memory, then we also lose sight of their contributions to Union victory. Continue reading “Remembering Missouri’s German Soldiers”

The Formation of the American Zouaves Regiment

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.

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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 “The Formation of the American Zouaves Regiment”