Missouri Tale of Two Soldiers: Joseph Eppstein and William Coleman

During the American Civil War, the paths of a northern-born, pro-Southern Confederate officer and a German born Union officer had briefly met in the south-central Missouri area of Waynesville in Pulaski County. Both of these men would never become famous names in the war, but both men survived the war and were each fascinating in their own way.

Missouri German Joseph A. Eppstein

Colonel Joseph A. Eppstein made a record as a citizen and soldier, which any American can read with pride and satisfaction. He was born in Germany, Jan. 1, 1824, and was 14 years of age when the family came to America. In 1843, he went to St. Louis and was employed in a store in that city until 1847. In February of that year, he enlisted in Company C, 3rd Missouri Mounted Rifles, in which he was made sergeant, and served for nearly two years, until October 1848.

After the expiration of his war service that led him to Mexico City with General Winfield Scott’s conquering forces, he returned to St. Louis and in August 1849, was given charge of a store, which he conducted until 1850, and then returned to Boonville. He engaged in the mercantile business with his brother Viet Eppstein until 1860, when he purchased his brother’s interest.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, he at once organized a company of 135, every one of whom with a single exception was of German birth or ancestry. This company was known as the “Boonville Corps”. He then organized a battalion and a company of cavalry, but these were only for local service. He later organized the 6th Battalion Missouri State Guards, and after that a number of companies, both cavalry and infantry.

From March 24, 1862 to January 1863, by a special law of Congress, passed because of a general dissatisfaction among the home guards all over the state, Lieutenant-Colonel Eppstein’s battalion was reorganized, and became part of the Missouri State Militia forming the 13th Regiment MSM Cavalry under the command of Colonel Albert Sigel, brother of Union General Franz Sigel. Further consolidation of troops into four companies’ occurred which designated the 13th Regiment into the 5th Regiment MSM Cavalry, which was then ordered to Waynesville, MO. in the Rolla District.

William Osborne Coleman, Northern Southerner

William Osborne Coleman was born on January 12, 1837 around Elmira, New York. He ran away from home at age 10 and stole aboard a ship bound for Vera Cruz and the Mexican War where was wounded at Churubusco. In 1855, he moved to Kansas and participated in the border wars along the Missouri-Kansas border, siding with the pro-slavery factions.

Coleman eventually moved to Rolla Missouri where he married and with the outbreak of the Civil War, commanded a company of Missouri State Guard, which was scattered when Union Colonel Franz Sigel occupied Rolla. He joined with the Seventh Division Missouri State Guard and elected First Lieutenant. Coleman fought at many of the early battles in Missouri such as Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861) and the First Battle of Lexington (September 20, 1861). CSA General Sterling Price gave a commission to Coleman and he was tasked with raising a cavalry regiment in central Missouri.

Coleman was appointed Colonel by CSA Brigadier General Thomas C. Hindman on June 18, 1862 Coleman’s command was assigned to James H. McBride’s District of North Arkansas, which he did not want. A Rift occurred over the summer between McBride and Coleman. General Hindman ordered Coleman to report to McBride and dismount his regiment. Coleman refused and he was arrested on July 31, 1862 and deprived of command.

Coleman returned to Missouri and organized guerrilla bands against Federal forces until January 1, 1864 when General E. Kirby Smith released him from arrest and Coleman organized the Forty-sixth Arkansas Mounted Infantry Regiment, but quickly relinquished command and returned to Missouri where his regiment joined Sterling Price’s 1864 Missouri Raid.

The following report was given by Colonel Eppstein in 1862 while Coleman was operating with the Fourth Cavalry Regiment conducting partisan actions against Union forces in Missouri around Waynesville.

JULY 6-8, 1862.-Scout from Waynesville to the Big Piney, Mo.
Report of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Eppstein, Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry (Militia).
HDQRS. THIRTEENTH CAVALRY MO. STATE MILITIA, Waynesville, Mo., July 9, 1862.

COLONEL: In pursuance of Special Orders, Numbers 12, from these headquarters, dated Waynesville, July 6, 1862, I started with 30 men of Companies B and F, under Lieutenants Ellington and Brown, to Wayman’s Mill, on Spring Creek, 12 miles from here, where I was informed that a company of Coleman’s men were encamped, about 20 miles from that place on the Big Piney. I immediately left in that direction, and on my way learned that Coleman had taken possession of Houston the day before and was running north toward the Springfield road, a statement which I disbelieved. Reports of the whereabouts and strength (from 100 to 400) of the company above mentioned was so contradictory, that I did not know how to operate until I came to Johnston’s Mill, about 30 miles from this place, on the Big Piney, where I succeeded in arresting one of Coleman’s men, who told me that he had left camp an hour previous and was on his way home. His father, who is also a rebel and belongs to the same gang, lives about 10 miles farther on. I compelled him by threats to go with me as guide to the camp, which I certainly could not have found without his assistance.

I started from Johnston’s Mill at sundown on the 7th instant, and at 8.30 p. m. arrived at another mill, where I ordered my men to dismount, leaving the horses in charge of 10 men as guards. From that place, I marched with the balance of my force (20 men, with officers) about a quarter of a mile up the road, thence through a dry creek, following the same for about 300 yards. Half an hour was lost in trying to ascertain the exact whereabouts of the camp, until I suddenly was hailed to halt. I made no reply to their sentinel, but pushed slowly forward until I found myself obstructed by a deep, stagnant creek, which could not be forded. I ordered my men to follow me around until I came to a shallower place; we crossed. On climbing up the rock on the other side, we found the enemy alarmed and formed in line 12 yards in front of us. I ordered them to surrender, but was greeted by several volleys of musketry. It was only then that my men commenced firing, having previously been instructed by me to save their ammunition, and after a few rounds I ordered them to “Charge bayonets,” which was immediately and gallantly executed. The enemy could not stand the charge, and broke in every direction in their shirttails, leaving behind them coats, pants, boots, and hats.

Owing to the darkness of the night and the thickness of the brush, I could not pursue them, and hearing of the proximity of another force of Coleman’s men, was apprehensive of the safety of my little force, and returned after having reconnoitered the ground. I found 4 dead bodies, 1 wounded man, several horses killed, and a lot of clothing and camp equipage strewn in every direction. Considering the proximity of our firing, I judge that many more rebels were wounded, but succeeded in escaping. Bradford, the prisoner and guide, tried to escape during our charge, but was run through with a bayonet. He was left wounded on the field, but I ordered a neighbor to his assistance. But one of our men was slightly wounded by a buck-shot, as the volleys of the enemy went over our heads.

I captured 3 prisoners, 10 horses, 8 saddles, and 5 guns. The camp equipage was destroyed, as we had no means to take it along. The names of the prisoners are William Hamilton, George Logan, and James Ormsby, all of Company A, Coleman’s battalion.

One of the prisoners stated that Coleman had left Arkansas with about 600 men, but that he had recruited his force since that time to about 800 to 900 men in the adjoining counties; a statement which I fully believe.

Very respectfully, yours,

JOSEPH A. EPPSTEIN,

Lieutenant Colonel, Thirteenth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia.

Both men survived the war and went on to lead normal, everyday lives, but early on in the war, fate brought these two soldiers together in a way they would have never imagined.

Joseph Eppstein eventually became the commander of the Missouri State Militia and served until the close of the war. He followed merchandising after the war until 1878, when he was appointed postmaster of Boonville and served until his death in 1885. He died on March 4, 1886 in Cooper County MO. and is buried in St Peter and Paul Cemetery in Boonville, MO.

When the war ended in 1865, William Coleman was paroled in Jacksonport AR. He moved to Texas but eventually settled in Detroit, Dade County Florida where he died on June 30, 1921 and is buried in City Cemetery, Miami FL.

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