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.

Continue reading “Soldiers in Civil War Missouri Faced Issues with Rations”

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 “The 25th Missouri Infantry at Shiloh”

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 Missouri Militiaman’s War

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Pvt. Samuel H. Flint in Federal cavalry uniform. Courtesy of FindaGrave.

Throughout the war in Missouri, both Federal and State cavalry units were vital to protecting and securing lines of communication and supply routes. Unlike in many other theaters of the war, Missouri cavalrymen had to defend these lifelines and maintain law and order. For Pvt. Samuel Hamilton Flint, a member of both the 7th Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia and the 15th Missouri Cavalry, was representative of many other Missouri men who enlisted in Union units; they were literally defending their own homes and families from the enemy.

Born and raised in the Ozark Highlands of Johnson Township, Polk County, Missouri in 1841, Flint was the oldest of four children of two Lexington, Virginia natives. Sometime before 1840, Ezekial and Mary Jane settled in southwest Missouri, similar to many other settlers from the upper South. Missouri’s vast rivers, fertile land, rich mineral deposits, ability to trade, no restrictions on slavery according the Missouri Compromise, and the capacity to invest in new land encouraged thousands to settle in the former Louisiana Territory. Additionally, the Old Wire Road led people from St. Louis to Springfield and beyond to Fort Smith, Arkansas. Like other settlers, the Flint family invested in their family farm. Continue reading “A Missouri Militiaman’s War”

Defending Fort Davidson

On September 27, 1864, Major General Sterling Price’s 12,000-man Army of Missouri moved north towards their target of St. Louis and encountered the Federal garrison at Fort Davidson in southeastern Missouri in the St. Francois Mountains. Price advancing north from Camden, Arkansas into Union-occupied Missouri was the last major offensive movement of a Confederate army to attempt to recapture lost territory. Just two months prior, Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal Early launched a movement into Maryland with the goal of seizing Washington, DC. All other Confederate armies – with the exception of Price – were on the strategic defensive. At Fort Davidson, the first major engagement of the 1864 Missouri Campaign, we as historians tend to focus on Price’s repeated attacks against the Union defenses. In this post, though, we will spend time looking at the Union defenses and how they were able to hold the fort until able to safely retreat.

Constructed in 1863 and named for Brig. Gen. John Davidson, the Fort itself sat at a critical juncture for a large army to maneuver northward. Roads radiating from the towns of Pilot Knob and Ironton led to Middlebrook, Farmington, California, Potosi, and Fredericktown. The terminus of the Iron Mountain Railroad shot north from the iron furnaces at Pilot Knob to St. Louis. Additionally, the Fort sat in lowland, protected by the surrounding mountains, yet it could still protect the vital supply lines. At first glance, it may seem as if Fort Davidson were in a situation like Harpers Ferry in September 1862, where Maj. Gen. Stonewall Jackson utilized the surrounding heights for artillery positions to bombard the Union garrison on Bolivar Heights. The Army of Missouri would attempt just that against the Federals. The Union garrison would use the mountains to screen and protect the fort from an envelopment. You can visualize this in the map below.

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Continue reading “Defending Fort Davidson”

A Missourian Describes Why He Joined the State Guard and the Confederate Army

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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 Legislature 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 “A Missourian Describes Why He Joined the State Guard and the Confederate Army”

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”