When you think of names of Civil War generals who had a profound influence before, during and after the Civil War, the name Major General Thomas Ewing Jr. usually does not pop-up. However, his role during the war had a huge impact on how some of the events unfolded. His life after the war was noteworthy.

Born 7 August 1829 in Lancaster, Ohio, Thomas Ewing Jr. was the third son of influential Ohio Senator Thomas Ewing Sr. and brother-in-law to General William Tecumseh Sherman. He studied law in Cincinnati and moved to Leavenworth, Kansas to practice law and became highly involved in the free-soil movement. When Kansas was admitted to the Union, Ewing became the state’s first chief justice.

When the Civil War began, Ewing raised the 11th Kansas Regiment to fight for the Union and was elected Colonel of the regiment and served with the regiment at the battles of Cain Hill and Prairie grove. His real distinction begins when, as a Brigadier General, he is placed in command of the highly volatile Border District.

Since the days of Bleeding Kansas in the 1850s, tensions between pro-slavery Missouri and the now free-state of Kansas ran high. Missouri bushwhackers and Kansas Jayhawkers and Red Legs were constantly at each other’s throats, and when William Quantrill and his band of guerrillas arrived in Lawrence, Kansas at five o’clock in the morning on 21 August 1863 and completely ravaged the town, killing 150 men and boys, and robbing, looting and burning the town, Thomas Ewing had to do something about the guerrilla hostilities.

His answer (with some prodding from fire-brand Senator and Jayhawker James H. Lane) was to draw up the infamous “Order No. 11.” With its harsh treatment of the civilian population, it was what Ewing believed the only solution to curtail guerrilla activity in the region. However, the methods used to enact the order (mainly, his use of Kansas troops that were mostly made up of Red Legs) and the resulted slaughter and desolation of four Missouri counties left a permanent stain on Ewing’s resume.

General Ewing and Order No. 11

Order No. 11 had indeed put a quiet over Kansas and in March, 1864, Ewing was ordered to St. Louis as a member of the staff of Union Major General William Rosecrans. It was during this period that Ewing would pull off one of the most incredible stands of the Civil War that has sometimes even been called the “Thermopylae of the West.”

Confederate Major General Sterling Price had begun his march into Missouri to attempt to seize St. Louis and its supplies, rally the citizens to the Confederacy, and put in place Thomas Reynolds as governor. On September 26th, 1864, Ewing was dispatched with the veteran 14th Iowa Infantry to ascertain the forces operating in southeast Missouri, and to hold Fort Davidson in Pilot Knob against what was considered a detachment of Price’s army. Prices army numbered well over 12,000 soldiers against a little over 1,000 men. However, lack of reliable information and the strong spirit of the Union defenders, would see Price’s army cut down as they attempted to take the tiny Fort. Ewing, aware of his reputation in regards to Order No. 11 was demanded to surrender, in which he replied, “They shall play no Fort Pillow game on me” and resolved to hold the fort. The ensuing and repeated attacks on the fort by the superior numbered Confederates and the tenacity and will of the Union defenders to not give it up is its reference to the famed battle at Thermopylae. The Union defenders lost about 29 men with 44 wounded, the Confederates however, saw over 1,500 of their troops killed or wounded by this small detachment of soldiers.

As night fell however, it was apparent that come morning, Price would once again press a full frontal assault on the fort, complete with artillery, and there would be no saving themselves or the fort. Ewing chose to evacuate the fort under cover of darkness, blow up the powder magazine and attempt to retreat to the safety of Rolla, Missouri. The Union soldiers made it to Leasburg, just outside of Rolla, and held defense there against the pursuit of Confederate Generals John S. Marmaduke and J.O. Shelby, who by the morning of October 1st, had rode off to join Price in Jefferson City, believing the attack on this new position would be too costly.

The time wasted on this futile pursuit, the huge loss of life at Pilot Knob now altered the original plans of Price’s raid, and the conflict and stand by Ewing and his troops at Pilot Knob, in effect, ended the raid as it begun. Price would attempt to cross Missouri and by the end of October, his army was defeated and shut down at Westport and then at Mine Creek in KS. Price’s infamous raid of 1864 was over and it had been by the brave and wise action of General Ewing.

In February 1865, Ewing resigned his commission in the Army to his good friend the President, Abraham Lincoln, and went back to public life. A month later, Lincoln was dead. Ironically, Ewing agreed to represent three of the conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination, Dr. Samuel Mudd, Samuel Arnold and Edmund Spangler. His efforts, in effect, kept those three men from meeting the same fate as the other conspirators and they were sentenced to prison at Fort Jefferson in Florida. Ewing also successfully obtained a pardon for Dr. Mudd at the end of President Johnson’s term of office.

Last years of life

Ewing practiced law in Washington D.C. from 1865 until 1870 when he moved back to his home in Lancaster, Ohio to practice law and became a Congressman for his state. In 1880 he ran for Governor of Ohio and narrowly lost the election. IN 1881 he moved to New York to again practice law and ended his career in public office. Thomas Ewing Jr. died after he was struck by a New York City omnibus in 1896 and is buried in Yonkers, NY.

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.

President Jefferson Davis proclaimed his strategy to be one of “offensive-defensive.” The strategy in fact was one of defending all resources, stockpiling supplies and taking the offensive when the supply situation warranted or the opportunity was provided by the enemy. With the exception of a few notable offensive forays his strategy would evolve into one of passive defense. Whether intentional or not President Davis, with his statement on strategy, acknowledged two of the eminent military theorists of the nineteenth century. There can be no doubt that Prussian General Carl Von  or French General Antoine Jomini would not have endorsed the evolved defensive strategy of the Confederacy. They agreed that a passive defense was doomed to defeat.

Graduates of West Point and V.M.I. in the early and mid-nineteenth century would not have been familiar with Clausewitz’s great work “On War” as it was not translated into English until after the Civil War. Jomini’s works were translated prior to the war and some if not all of the graduates should have been familiar with his theories. Many of the theories of Clausewitz and Jomini originate from the Napoleonic Wars and we know for a fact the graduates were familiar with Napoleon. Jomini is considered the offensive minded of the two theorists though it is definite that he concurs with Clausewitz that offense must emanate from solid defense.

Clausewitz emphasized that military success would be measured by, “the political object of the war.” The South’s political objective was independence. Militarily this goal did not require the total defeat of Union forces or the occupation of large areas of Northern territory. The North’s political goal was the preservation of the Union. This goal did require the total defeat of Confederate forces and the occupation of large areas of the South. At the onset of hostilities Confederate Secretary of War, George Wythe Randolph, wrote, “There is no instance in history of a people as numerous as we inhabiting a country as extensive as ours being subjected if true to themselves.” The North’s ambitious political goal and the vast land area of the South, suggest a defensive strategy of Jomini’s, which has been labeled the space and time defense.

In the space and time strategy the defending forces will execute a retrograde movement drawing the attacking forces with them. The mission of this movement is to continually lengthen the attacking forces lines of communications. In the military sense time means the simultaneous movement or attack of two or more forces in two or more separate locations. The defender will employ simultaneous raids or attacks against the attacker’s line of communications. The initial mission of these raids and attacks would be to disrupt these lines but not to cut them. The goal of the defender is to force the attacker to guard as much of his lines of communications as possible, thereby reducing the man power of the main attacking force. This strategy does not call for large armies such as the Army of Northern Virginia or the Army of Tennessee. If the defending commander had 40,000 troops, his dispositions could be 25,000 in the main defensive force, with the remainder being allotted to three or even four raiding units.

In order to employ the time and space strategy effectively are there requirements that must be met. The area of operations must be large. With the exception of Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812, the South was the largest field of continuous operations to date. The ground within the area of operations must be defensible. The South’s topography, with its mountain ranges, rivers, wide streams, heavily wooded areas, swamps and marshes, was conducive to defense. The commanders of the raiding units must be intrepid and innovative. The commander of the main defensive force must be well versed in maneuver and defensive tactics. The Confederacy had officers that would have excelled in this strategy. Perhaps the most important and most necessary factor to this strategy lies with the civilian population. The strategy does not call for the active participation of the civilians in the military aspect. Loss of home territory, whether by force or by the strategy employed, can adversely influence the morale on the home front. Resistance to the loss of morale and passive resistance to the attacker are crucial to the success of the space and time strategy. The spirit and determination of the Confederacy’s civilians made up for many military deficiencies that the South suffered. This spirit and determination would have been fully sufficient for the employment of the space and time strategy.

Effective space and time defensive

An example of how effective the space and time defensive strategy could have been during the Civil War is William T. Sherman’s Atlanta campaign. Sherman’s forces were totally dependent on the Western and Atlantic railroad. As General Joseph E. Johnston’s forces retreated towards Atlanta they took or used all the forage and supplies along their line of march, forcing Sherman to be even more dependent on his one railroad. No one was more aware of his precarious lines of communication than General Sherman. At the start of his campaign he had assigned no less than 20,000 troops to defend this single railroad line. On May 5, as the Army of the Tennessee prepared to move through Snake Creek Gap, Sherman stressed to McPherson, “Strike hard as it may save us what we have most reason to apprehend, a slow pursuit, in which he gains strength as we lose it.” Sherman may have been referring to the possible reinforcement of Johnston and the prepared defensive fortifications ahead of which the Confederates would surely make use. The weakening of his own forces could only have come from attrition, as reinforcements were readily available. In any movement that a force undertakes attrition is a natural occurrence. The remedy for this natural attrition is found in the availability of supplies. As he moved toward Atlanta, Sherman knew his line of supply was being stretched, resulting in difficulty supplying his troops at the front.

As General Johnston retreated he was executing part of the equation of the space and time strategy, albeit unknowingly. The strategy does not dictate if the retrograde movement is forced or planned. It does stress that the defender does not allow the attacker to draw them into a major engagement. General Johnston was successful in this. In his memoirs he wrote that, on June 13, he requested President Jefferson Davis to have all available cavalry not assigned to his army, placed under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest. Forrest’s mission would be to fall on Sherman’s one line of communication disrupting and if possible destroying it. Johnston maintained that he wrote six letters to Davis on the subject. Two letters were sent directly and four routed through General Braxton Bragg. Richmond turned a deaf ear to Johnston even though his plan was endorsed by Polk and Hardee, Johnston’s corps commanders. At a later date General Robert E. Lee urged the implementation of the plan but Richmond still did not act. Did Richmond’s indifference to this plan cost the Confederacy Atlanta and subsequently the war?

Had Forrest been ordered to execute Johnston’s plan, the second part of the space and time defense equation would have been met. To finish the equation, Forrest would have to attack the railroad at more than one location simultaneously. Forrest had made use of this tactic in previous raids. Sherman’s greatest apprehension for the success of his campaign was Forrest receiving the very orders that Johnston’s request had asked to be issued. General Forrest’s record shows that he was successful in these types of operations and there is no reason to believe he could not carry this mission to success. If Sherman’s lines of communication, his one railroad, had been consistently disrupted or even destroyed what options could Sherman entertain?

Jomini’s theory of the space and time strategy allows for three possible courses of action open to the attacker in response to his threatened lines of communication. General Jomini believed that these three courses were inclusive of all variations. The first, likely the least viable for Sherman, is the drawing of reinforcements from areas outside the immediate theater of operations. This response requires time to concentrate and organize a new force to defend or open the lines. Sherman had over 100,000 men and 35,000 animals in his force. He wrote home in June, “I wish we could make an accumulation of stores somewhere near, but the railroad is taxed to its utmost to supply our daily wants.” The disruption of Sherman’s railroad would not have to have been of long duration for his forces to be in jeopardy. There would not have been time enough for the first response to be employed. The second option allows for the attacker to draw troops from his main attacking force in an attempt to defend or reopen his lines. This course weakens the main attacking force and subjects the second force to consistent attacks by the defender. The third course of action, the most desirable for the defender, is the retreat of the attacking force along its lines of communication. This virtually guarantees the reopening of the attackers lines but at the least delays his attainment of his primary goal. It is quite possible, through the defender going on the offensive, that the attacker’s campaign could be altered or even negated. The offensive tactics available to the defender, when the attacker opts for the second or third response, are material for another article.

Had the Confederacy employed the space and time defense against General Sherman’s invasion, it is quite probable that the fall of Atlanta would have at the very least been delayed. It is even possible that Atlanta’s capture could have been prevented. Many credit the fall of Atlanta for the re-election of President Lincoln in 1864. How many “what ifs” exist if McClellan had won the election?

The Confederacy had no coordinated defensive strategy. Given the tremendous handicap in manpower and resources that faced the South, I believe this lack of any such strategy was a fatal flaw. The “offensive-defensive” strategy of Davis was in fact one of dispersed defense. By attempting to defend widely dispersed areas, Davis weakened the overall defensive ability of the Confederacy. General Jomini’s space and time defensive strategy was seemingly tailored for the Confederacy. The strategy does not require large armies, a benefit to the manpower-short South. The defensive typically does not require the resources of the offensive, an aid to the South’s supply situation. The ground of the South, being extremely advantageous to the defense, would have been utilized fully for that purpose. With their lack of a coordinated defensive strategy, any such strategy would have been an advantage to the Confederacy. Though there may be other defensive strategies that the South could have employed, I submit that Jomini’s space and time defensive strategy is the best of these alternatives. I will not state unequivocally that Jomini’s strategy would have changed the fortunes of the Confederacy in the war. I will, however, say that if the strategy had been employed from the beginning the possibility exists.

 

During the Antebellum years the US constitution was used to provide justification for both the abolition and expansion of slavery. The South found justification and a means of preservation for their long established “peculiar institution” by interpreting the constitution in favor of slavery. Radical abolitionists made several of their own constitutional interpretations that not only supported but also provided a means for abolition. This powerful document was not just subjected to various interpretations but also was used as a proverbial club for both Northern and Southern politicians to beat each other with.

Yeoman and plantation lords alike were confident that their juries and legislators had their best interests at heart and would do all perceivable to uphold their rights of mastery over slaves and legitimize their interpretations of the constitution.[1] When anti-slavery propaganda began to flood into the South a presidential ban was implemented on such mailings. Out of fear that this would promote a federal police power capable of also putting a ban on slavery Southern legislators called for its repeal as it was unconstitutional. Through this action one can clearly see the importance of, and respect for, constitutional limitations.[2] While sacrificing censorship, even in their favor, legislatures were affirming the authority of the constitution throughout the union, and now would seek to use it to their advantage. In 1850 when an act was passed guarantying the return of lost or stolen property, slaves, the south now believed that they had a precedent for constitutional recognition of their beloved institution.[3] The enactment of any law protecting the individual’s rights of investment was seen as the constitutional responsibilities of the federal government. Now that the south had achieved recognition of their constitutional right to own slaves the roots began to sink in deep. In screaming for the, what was then, broad issue of individual rights guaranteed in the constitution the south was trying to silence the Northern critics and guarantee their mastery over a lesser race.[4]

Many radicals, such as Stephen Douglas, interpreted that the constitution established the Union to preserve and provide freedom for all Americans, and the foundation for this ideology was based in their own interpretation of the constitution.[5] While there was a general consensus that slavery was “a great wrong” there was, without radical interpretation, a sense of hopelessness in finding a way to abolish it.[6] With Slavery being linked with polygamy E.R. Hoar demanded that the federal government abolish slavery throughout the Union.[7] The federal government was bound to the limitations set forth by the founding fathers. Abolitionist interpreters began to discover ways to abolish slavery through constitutional means.

The first step was a form of political “Prima Nocte.” By putting pressure on the South, through favoring political appointments of non slave holders, the north hoped to impregnate the federal government with like minded interpreters of their hallowed document.[8] Another strategy came through Fredrick Douglas’s turning the same sections claimed to support slavery into abolitionist support through his own interpretation, cutting the ties of slavery to the hallowed document. It was article IV section 4 that required the federal government to protect the states against invasion and domestic violence, to include the soon to come civil war. Douglas claimed that the government could achieve this task, quite efficiently so, by proclaiming emancipation.[9] In the unlikely event that a revolt was to arise the government did poses the power to halt the spread of slavery to its new federal territories. The belief was that in order for slavery to survive it must be allowed to spread, like a true cancer.[10]

Approaches to interpretations of the Constitution

Yet there existed another approach provided by northern constitutional interpretation. Due to a political understanding, anti-slavery literature was allowed to sit in southern post offices, never to be delivered. Northerners screamed at the injustices of this as it was an obvious violation of the individual’s rights guaranteed by the founding fathers. With the election of Lincoln the Chicago Democrat declared that the Southern censorship could no longer be tolerated. In a sense the North could then sway the Southerners towards their interpretation of the constitution through the constitution itself. By clinging to the idea of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness the north was attempting to use the constitution as leverage to bring the south in line with their own values and ideology.[11]

As both sides struggled to impose their own views of the constitution upon their masses, many northern politicians found ways to spite the south through their own radical understandings. Sour feelings developed after the Kansas-Nebraska act, which allowed for an extension of slavery. In response to the act, just one week after it was passed, Wisconsin repealed the “disgraceful”, “Slave catching act of 1850.”Following the lead of Wisconsin the six New England states approved an act to protect the life and liberties of America’s people. Through this sudden and rapid interpretation, fueled by spite, the “Slave catching act” was deemed unconstitutional.[12] As the North kept chipping away at the South’s right to slavery the South took on a rather ironic switch. In response to the New England’s states repeal of the fugitive slave act the south claimed that state governments were assuming authority that it didn’t poses, it was a federal matter. In another ironic twist the North claimed support for states right to make its own polices. When considering the events soon to come this is an almost comical scenario.[13]

In the Antebellum years both pro and anti-slavery advocates seemed to, almost, be shopping for answers. Southern property rights were assured by their political interpretations, Northern “fire breathers” were assuring their masses that it was their constitutional interpretations that would prevail. While batting each other about with acts and repeals, all based on different interpretations of the same text, the nation was slowly being steered towards disaster. There is again a great irony to be found in this struggle; it seems that the very same document that created our great nation also nearly destroyed it.

 


[1] Clinton & Silber, Divided, 36.
[2] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 302.
[3] Fehrenbacher, Fugitive, 231.
[4] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 322.
[5] Fonner, Free, 139.
[6] Ibid., 115.
[7] Ibid., 130.
[8] Ibid., 117.
[9] Fehrenbacher, Republican, 299.
[10] Fonner, Free, 116-118.
[11] Ibid., 122-123.
[12] Fehrenbacher, Fugitive, 235-238.
[13] Ibid., 241.

 

Bibliography

Clinton, Catherine. Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Fehrenbacher, Don E. The Slaveholding Republic: An Account of the United States Government’s Relations to Slavery. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

Foner, Eric. Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

To persons living east of the Mississippi River during the Civil War, Kansas was “that new state out west,” where land cost little and men’s lives even less. For one intrepid young settler from Illinois, his new home became the source of inspiration for a revealing collection of diaries and artwork that comprise a treasure trove for Civil War historians.

Samuel J. Reader, of Indianola, Kan., was born in Illinois in 1836. He trekked to the new territory with his aunt and her husband in 1855, and kept a running chronicle of the events in “Bleeding Kansas” in a series of annual diaries. Along with written comments about that turbulent time, Reader also included some paintings. In one of his diaries, he painted himself staking his own Kansas claim. During the Civil War, Reader carried his diary while serving as a member of the local militia. His words and art, discovered after his death in 1914, became a unique record of the war.

Shortly after his arrival at Indianola, Reader wrote that the town would never amount to much. In 1862, he complained to his family back in Illinois that “instead of laying it out on the prairie the Mo. [Missouri] proprietors laid it out mostly in timber and bushes.”

The Kansas town–named after Indianola, Texas, by its Southern-sympathizing founders–was the subject of many Reader paintings. He depicted all the usual frontier establishments–a sawmill, a blacksmith, two or three stores, two hotels and a couple of billiard saloons or “whiskey dens.” At the height of the town’s prosperity, lots sold for $250 or $300, with one going as high as $500. Reader commented that “intemperance is the special vice of this neighborhood” and dubbed Indianola “Whiskeytown.” He also associated the town’s saloons with the secessionist movement, all of them being owned by pro-slavery sympathizers.

Young Sam’s opinion of supporters of slavery developed after he settled in Kansas Territory. He wrote: “Rich cheap farm land was the principal incentive that lured me on from my Illinois home. I had heard and read much concerning the political troubles in the territory; but the question of a free or a slave state was a secondary consideration with me at the time. In fact, I had given little thought to the subject; viewing the ‘Peculiar Institution’ as a great wrong, but leaving its adjustment to older and wiser heads.”

The largely Southern population of Indianola inevitably brought the town into conflict with its Free State neighbors. Recalling a raid by Topeka pioneers, Reader wrote: “Our neighborhood was badly stirred up. … A party of Free-State men … took from the most rabid pro-slavery citizens, their arms and military stores; together with Sundry articles, claimed to be contraband of war. The whiskey was emptied in the street. I had no hand in it; and whether the act was justifiable or not, is not for me to say. It was called a reprisal; but two wrongs do not always make one right! … But it was reported that our ruthless enemies [Missouri border ruffians] did far worse. Besides plundering, they added, ‘fire and sword’ and numberless outrages, on Free-State men!”  

Reader, Free-Staters and the Grim Chieftan

When Reader learned that Southern-sympathizing border ruffians were about to attack the town of Grasshopper Falls–present-day Valley Falls–in the next county to the east, he joined other Free Staters under Colonel James H. Lane as they rushed to confront the raiders at a place called Hickory Point. Lane’s ragtag militia crossed the Kansas River by ferry on Friday morning, September 12, 1856. The date was recorded forever in a watercolor depiction of the momentous crossing in Reader’s diary.

After an early morning skirmish that Sunday, Reader dashed off some lines in his diary, noting that the Free Staters had arrived at Hickory Point, a short distance east of Grasshopper Falls, at about 11 in the morning. “Fired some,” and then “retreated to O[zawkie],” he noted in his diary. Reader also claimed that his side had only lost three horses and one man wounded, compared to “Several B.Rs. [border ruffians] killed.” Actually, only one Southern sympathizer died in the skirmish. With that brief triumph behind them, young Reader and his companions in the Free State company ate some watermelons and in the evening started home, “sleepy and tired but full of glory.”

But there was little glory to be found in Kansas in 1856. This was the period of “Bleeding Kansas,” which featured the fanaticism of John Brown and the death and destruction sowed by contending bands of pro-slave and Free State partisans. During that one year in Reader’s Kansas county, three houses were ruined, 46 horses were stolen, and 67 head of cattle were rustled. But the federal government, from whom the people sought relief, never compensated the victims of either side, Reader recorded, and the claims passed into history and myth.

A number of Lane’s Free State militiamen involved in the raids were arrested that fall and imprisoned in the territorial capital, Lecompton, and the small neighboring town of Tecumseh–both Southern strongholds. Most were acquitted. At one time the jail in Tecumseh housed some 47 prisoners. About 10 o’clock on the night of November 21, 1856, about 30 of them escaped “by pegging a hole in the wall and crawling out like rats,” recounted the proSouth publication Lecompton Union on December 11. Officers caught one fellow halfway out and towed him back in. His excuse, “I am following the rest.”

Shortly after Kansas Territory became a state, its citizens experienced the myriad trials of civil war. The war, which broke out at Fort Sumter, S.C., three months after Kansas entered the Union, took a heavy toll on Union-loving volunteers. Reader wrote that “a great many farms are not cultivated in this section for want of working men.” Such a severe shortage of manpower existed in the entire state by the middle of the war that Governor Thomas Carney felt it necessary to caution recruiting officers to go more slowly in their efforts.  

Reader himself did not immediately enlist in one of the Kansas volunteer regiments. Instead, he served in the Union militia, which had formed during the territorial period, and subsequently took part in the bloodless “Battle of Indianola” and another confrontation at Hickory Point.

On the home front, Reader became an astute social observer in his letters and diaries. For example, in a letter dated January 19, 1862, he wrote to his brother that he had recently been in Topeka, where he “saw quite a number of negroes employed by its citizens. They looked intelligent and happy. I believe they have 15 or 20 there but none have come over on this side of the [Kansas] river, yet, that is.”

His social observations were sometimes tinged with martial language: One day, when a prostitute quarreled with the more respectable ladies of Indianola, the outraged reaction provided Reader with the opportunity to exercise his wit in his diary. The “fancy lady, to use no harsher term … established her headquarters in Billy P[russeit]’s shoemaker shop,” he observed. Five of the town’s womenfolk, “after holding a council of war determined on a vigorous policy, and forth-with set out for little Bill’s house. … The attacking force filed through the gate and by a skillful maneuver gained possession of the backdoor without the loss of a man (or woman rather).”

Immediately following the sack of Lawrence by William Clarke Quantrill, the citizens of many Kansas towns understandably feared a similar fate, and they organized Union militia companies to protect themselves. Elizabeth Reader, a resident of Indianola and relative of Samuel, wrote that the militia members continued to meet and drill until the fall of 1864. In that “Secesh” town, even some of the former pro-slavery men joined with the Unionist militiamen to make up Company D of the Shawnee County regiment.

The Shawnee County unit was designated the 2nd Regiment, Kansas State Militia, with Colonel George W. Veale commanding. The 2nd Kansas was brigaded later with the Lawrence unit, men who had suffered at the hands of Rebel guerrillas. A log stockade was erected in the center of Topeka as a refuge to which Shawnee County residents might flee if guerrillas appeared. And since Topeka had become the state capital, the city’s residents were sure it was a prime bushwhacker target.

Sterling Price’s Great Raid of 1864

Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price invaded Missouri in September 1864. As he led three divisions of cavalry across the state where he had once been governor, Kansans watched anxiously to see if he would turn east toward St. Louis and the Mississippi River or west to capture Fort Leavenworth and plunder Kansas.  

Reader continued making entries into his diary that month as Governor Carney called out the militia. A lieutenant and quartermaster of the regiment, Reader reported on equipping the 2nd Kansas. Reader’s unit was ordered to assemble at Olathe on the Kansas-Missouri border, along with 10 other militia regiments. Each outfit had to provide its own transportation and rations. Members of each regiment were supplied with “two blankets, a tin cup, knife and fork, and a haversack,” Reader noted. In addition, Reader participated in the distribution of new Enfield rifles in place of the old and nearly worthless carbines that had been issued directly following the Lawrence raid.

Two days after the militia was called out, martial law was declared and every man between the ages of 18 and 60 was ordered to arms. On the morning of October 12, the 2nd Kansas moved out for Missouri. Reader took his diary along on the march, illustrating much of the campaign with charcoal and pencils–sketches he would later flesh out with watercolors. One such painting was called 2nd K.S.M. Invading Missouri. Many of the untrained, inexperienced militiamen refused to cross the state border to meet the Confederate invasion. The Shawnee County regiment was one of the exceptions, and the men from Topeka and vicinity proved their worth during the ensuing Battle of Westport.

Another painting, Night Before Battle, depicts the campsite of Kansans on October 21, 1864, the evening before the second day of fighting at Westport. The next day, the 2nd Kansas saw combat. The regiment waited at a shallow crossing of the Big Blue River through most of the day. Late in the afternoon, Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby’s “Iron Brigade” of Missouri cavalry broke through Union lines while attempting a flanking movement. Shelby’s Missourians ran headlong into the 2nd Kansas. The regiment held its ground without aid against vastly superior numbers for nearly an hour in what became known as the Battle of the Blue.

Reader fought among the embattled Kansans and later would commemorate in words and pictures the brave stand that repulsed the Confederate advance into Kansas. The 2nd Kansas counted 24 killed, 20 wounded and 88 taken prisoner.

Further confrontations along the border sent Price scurrying back toward the safety of Arkansas with a cache of captured arms and prisoners. Reader was one of the captured Federals. After a three-day forced march through southern Missouri, which he illustrated with a drawing he called Double-Quick, You Yankee, the 28-year-old Reader managed to escape and found shelter with a Kansas farmer. He eventually turned himself over to a company of Federal cavalry, using his diary to prove his identity. He was one of the fortunate ones–many of his fellow prisoners died of exposure and pneumonia. Years later, Reader spent time honing his artistic talent. Although he is best known as a diarist, he was also a natural artist whose work illustrated his words. In addition to the diaries he kept faithfully from age 13 until his death, he also wrote and illustrated his autobiography. The watercolors in the latter work are now considered a valuable record of the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri.

Reader used pigment ground in gum and applied with brush and water to produce some of the best Kansas art depicting the war. Most of his work was primitive, but his action scenes of the Battle of the Blue at Westport, now held by the Kansas State Historical Society, are the equal of any combat painting of the Civil War.

Reader’s reminiscences, eternized with both pen and brush, have only been partially tapped. His story of the border warfare in the state, in both pictures and words, is an invaluable glimpse into Kansas’ Civil War heritage.

The name “Red Legs” is often confused with the name “Jayhawkers” that describes the Kansas men who supported the Free-State cause in the border wars along the Missouri-Kansas border prior to the American Civil War.

Red Legs were a paramilitary group that was supported by Union generals such as Thomas Ewing Jr., James Blunt, and Senator James H. Lane. It was financed officially by the Kansas governor, Thomas Carney, and saw its first muster under the command of Charles R. “Doc” Jennison and Captain George H. Hoyt, a Massachusetts lawyer who defended John Brown at his trial after the Harpers Ferry Raid. These men were ardent abolitionists, but were equally as vicious as the bushwhackers in Missouri. Buffalo Bill Cody was a Red Leg and admitted that “We were the biggest thieves on record.”

Historian Albert Castel points out that,

Kansas jayhawkers and Red Legs made devastating raids into Missouri during which they plundered and murdered, burned farmhouses and crops, and liberated hundreds of slaves. These forays in turn caused pro-Southern guerrilla bands to retaliate against Kansas. Led by Quantrill, the Missouri bushwhackers sacked Kansas border settlements and shot down unarmed civilians “like so many hogs.” At the same time they waged a deadly partisan warfare against Federal troops and Union adherents in Missouri itself.

This consistent fighting along the border, and the incursions by the pro-southern Missourians into Kansas seeking retribution, led to General Thomas Ewing to issue the infamous General Order No. 11 on August 25, 1863. This depopulation of the Missouri counties of Jackson, Bates, Cass and parts of Vernon, left Missourians with an even stronger hate for their Kansas neighbors, which led to more incursions by bushwhackers and more violence.

In a compilation of letters from the era of the war put together in 1920, there is this account by Sam P. Gott;

About the first of January, 1864, a band of Kansas Red Leg soldiers same into the northwestern part of Johnson county, Missouri, and robbed, burned and murdered in that part of the country for two or three days. An old man named Shafer was killed and the house and barn were burned. An eyewitness told the writer that he saw the smoke going up from twenty-seven houses and barns at one time.

These murderers, claiming to be Jennison’s soldiers, under the command of Jim Lane, returned to Kansas City with their booty and remained there until the first of April, 1864. They then came back into southwestern Lafayette County, apparently to complete the work of devastation in that part of the country. It was on Sunday afternoon that they came into the neighborhood of Chapel Hill (I think it was at this time they burned Chapel Hill College). They hung an old man nearly eighty years old in a barn belonging to a man named William Harris. Old Uncle Joe Johnson was the man who was hung. That night they camped on the farm of Mr. Alph Cobb, about three miles east of Chapel Hill. Early the next morning they went to Washington Martin’s and took away about fifteen head of good mules and horses, besides whatever other valuables they could load into wagons and haul away.

Near Lone Jack in southeast Jackson County, an expedition led by Colonel Charles S. Clark of the Ninth Kansas Cavalry provides an example of how events involving any Red Leg imbedded with the Union troops often turned out.

Martin Rice was a loyal Unionist, but was forced from his home and land. He had obtained the required papers showing his loyalty to the Union but on his five mile journey to his new home in Johnson County, along with a number of his neighbors he was met by the Ninth Kansas Cavalry and arrested. After being questioned by the arresting officer, Captain Charles F. Coleman, Rice was instructed to ‘”Travel!”’ and set back out on his journey. He then heard shots fired and turned around to find that his neighbors and travelling companions all had been accused of assisting a group of guerillas the night before and therefore all had been shot and killed.

Historian Bruce Nichols points out that this event “was purely and act of cruelty or the result of wrong assumptions, it certainly was a case of “shoot first and ask questions later” which typified many of the actions of Union troops in this region during this period…”

Another example of how these Union soldiers went against what Order No. 11 stated was in how they destroyed property and land. Daniel B. Holmes wrote that he and his fellow members of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry lived quite well

Not from what we draw from the commissary but what we jayhawked. When we are traveling through secesh country we come to the home of some leading secesh, or of some man in the secesh army, then we take his horses and property, burn his house, or as we say, clean them out, well, in the operation we generally get a young hog … some turkeys, chickens, once in a while a crock of honey, then don’t we live.

By the end of the war the Red Leg’s faded from the scene afterwards as guerilla war diminished along the border, and “Doc” Jennison was court martialed and dismissed from service in June 1865. Even after 150 years, though, the deeds of the Red Legs are not forgotten on either side of the state line.

Viewing the war in its broadest context, a historian could fairly conclude that a determined general of the North had bested a legendary general of the South, probably the most brilliant tactician on either side, because the Union could bring to bear a decisive superiority in economic resources and manpower.

Robert E. Lee’s mastery of the art of warfare staved off defeat for four long years, but the outcome was never really in doubt. Ulysses S. Grant—and Abraham Lincoln—held too many high cards. And during the last year of the war, the relations between the Union’s Commander in Chief and his General in Chief set an unexcelled example of civil-military co-ordination.

In this costly war, the Union Army lost 138,154 men killed in battle. This figure seems large, but it is scarcely half the number – 221,374 – who died of other causes, principally disease, bringing the total Union dead to 359,528. Men wounded in action numbered 280,040. Figures for the Confederacy are incomplete, but at least 94,000 were killed in battle, 70,000 died of other causes, and some 30,000 died in northern prisons.

With the advent of conscription, mass armies, and long casualty lists, the individual soldier seemed destined to lose his identity and dignity. These were the days before regulation serial numbers and dog tags (although some soldiers made individual tags from coins or scraps of paper). But by the third year of the war various innovations had been introduced to enhance the soldier’s lot. Union forces were wearing corps badges which heightened unit identification, esprit de corps, and pride in organization. The year 1863 saw the first award of the highest United States decoration, the Medal of Honor. Congress had authorized it on July I2, 1862, and the first medals were given by Secretary Stanton in 1863 to Pvt. Jacob Parrott and five other soldiers. They had demonstrated extraordinary valor in a daring raid behind the Confederate lines near Chattanooga. The Medal of Honor remains the highest honor the United States can bestow upon any individual in the armed services.

Throughout the western world, the nineteenth century, with its many humanitarian movements, evidenced a general improvement in the treatment of the individual soldier, and the U.S. soldier was no exception. The more severe forms of corporal punishment were abolished in the U.S. Army in 1861. Although Civil War medical science was primitive in comparison with that of the mid-twentieth century, an effort was made to extend medical services in the Army beyond the mere treatment of battle wounds. As an auxiliary to the regular medical service, the volunteer U.S. Sanitary Commission fitted out hospital ships and hospital units, provided male and, for the first time in the U.S. Army, female nurses, and furnished clothing and fancier foods than the regular rations. Similarly, the U.S. Christian Commission augmented the efforts of the regimental chaplains and even provided, besides songbooks and Bibles, some coffee bars and reading rooms.

The Civil War forced changes in the traditional policies governing the burial of soldiers. On July 17, 1862, Congress authorized the President to establish national cemeteries “for the soldiers who shall die in the service of the country.” While little was done during the war to implement this Congressional action, several battlefield cemeteries – Antietam, Gettysburg, Chattanooga, Stones River, and Knoxville – were set up, “. . . as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives . . .” in lieu of some nameless corner of a forgotten field.

As the largest and longest conflict of the nineteenth century in the western world, save for the Napoleonic struggle, the American Civil War has been argued and analyzed for the more than a hundred years since the fighting stopped. It continues to excite the imagination because it was full of paradox. Old-fashioned, in that infantry attacked in the open in dense formations, it also foreshadowed modern total war. Though not all the ingredients were new, railroads, telegraph communications, steamships, balloons, armor plate, rifled weapons, wire entanglements, the submarine, large-scale photography, and torpedoes – all products of the burgeoning industrial revolution – gave new and awesome dimensions to armed conflict.

Cole Camp Missouri is in the rolling hills and plains of west-central Missouri south of the Missouri River. The events at Cole Camp are a prime example of how hot passions, prejudices, and the brutal nature of unconventional warfare defined the entire state during the American Civil War. As one of the early battles, it proved without a doubt that the brutality witnessed during the battle, would be the harbinger of that which would take place over the next four years.

However, many people, even those who study the conflict in Missouri know little if anything at all about the events in Cole Camp. There are many possible reasons. According to Robert L. Owens, “The most logical explanation is that the two forces involved were hastily thrown-together, rag-tag outfits with no regular officers or forces involved so there were no reports or details.”

This would also tie in with an eyewitness to the event at Cole Camp, Friedrich Schnake, who stated that he believed that Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon took no measure to pursue the retreating Confederates and that he “remained quietly with his men in Camp Cameron, near Boonville, until 3 July, as if nothing happened.” His reasoning for this was that he believed Lyon, as a Know-Nothing, hated Germans, who made up 95% of the Benton County Home Guards, Missouri Volunteers, and therefore did not concern himself with the event and even more likely, did not even make an official report of the event. While this seems to be very legitimate reasoning, due to a very brief and vague account in the Official Records (O.R.), however, the event was carried a week later in a New York paper with specific details of KIA and even including names.

In 1861 Cole Camp was situated at the crossroads of four major roads and any information, travel or troop movements across the state would eventually wind up passing through it. Benton, Pettis and Morgan Counties were split between southern-sympathizing residents and the German immigrants, who favored abolition and the Union. Suspicion and hostilities were ever-present and the rosters for the Home Guards and the State Guards would reflect this division. As the breakdown in negations at the Planters Hotel in St. Louis ended and Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and Major General Sterling Price were on the run towards the southwestern portion of Missouri, General Lyon authorized loyal communities to organize Home Guards for protection. In Benton County, Abel H.W. Cook was commissioned to enlist men for the Home Guard and held rallies on June 11 and 12 where he enlisted over 900 Benton county men, mostly Germans, and then setup “Camp Lyon” on the north-south ridge between the adjacent farms of John Heisterberg and Harm Harms. The barns were their shelters and they drilled in the area between them. However, since the volunteers elected their own officers, most out of popularity rather than for their experience, a host of problems arose that would most certainly play into the forthcoming engagement. The men were over-confident, poorly trained, discipline was almost nonexistent, weapons had not arrived from St. Louis leaving half of the recruits unarmed and to top things off whiskey was in abundance. Just six days later these ill-prepared men would meet a foe they were scarcely ready for.

About 20 miles south of Cole Camp, the southern sympathizing town of Warsaw had raised two State Guard companies with a force of about 350 infantry and 100 cavalry. Led by Walter S. O’Kane, with the scouting information of Benton County Sheriff B.W. Keown, the State Guard skillfully planned their march to clear the way for their retreating governor and in the process, attack the hated “Dutch.” Their plan was simple – through intelligence gained by the Sheriff, they were aware of the deficiencies of their Union foes and chose to make their advance under cover of darkness. In addition, they carried a Union flag to deceive the pickets and the very green soldiers they were going to encounter. On June 19th around 1:00am, as they marched up the Butterfield Trail from Warsaw, they encountered a slave-holding, but loyal Unionist John Tyree who had witnessed the State Guards approach to Cole Camp and reported it to Abel Cook, who mostly disregarded Tyree’s report. Tyree was questioned and then shot, becoming the first causality of the battle.

Back in the Union camp, Cook not having taken Tyree’s report seriously sent for half his force he had furloughed and let the others sleep. This effectively left him with about 400 men in camp, 125 asleep in the two barns, muskets left outside to make room. To make matters worse, fifty more of them were asleep just north of the Heisterberg barn and none of these soldiers were aware of any danger or the attack that was to come.

Around 3:00am the State Guard arrived at Camp Lyon. The cavalry was sent to attack from the southwest as the infantry unfurled a Union flag and continued on, confusing the Union guards, who were then bayoneted before they could sound the alarm or even fire a single shot. The rebels then rushed the Heisterberg barn, shouted, “No mercy for the Dutch!” firing into the barn and killing anywhere from 15 to 20 sleeping Home Guard soldiers and wounding many more. At the sound of gunfire, the sleeping soldiers began to fire into the Southerners flank, pushing them back in retreat until they again regrouped and once again attacked the barn, now empty except for dead and wounded. The Union soldiers however, were now out of ammunition and retreated into the woods. As the soldiers who were asleep in the open formed ranks and prepared to make a defense the State Guard cavalry flanked them and chased them as well into the woods, however, the heavy undergrowth prevented the cavalry from penetrating too deep and the Home Guardsmen were able to take a defensive stand.

Back south at the Harms barn, the Home Guard were forming when they again saw the approaching Union flag in the darkness and before they knew what was happening, the Southerners fired a volley into them and killed quite a few and caused the green Germans to flee in confusion. As the Home Guard fell into total disarray and retreated into the night, they had abandoned almost every single weapon, 362 of 400, which fell into the hands of the State Guard. In 30 minutes it was over. It was the bloodiest battle the Civil War had seen to date, and it allowed Governor Jackson and General Price and their entourage to pass unscathed through Cole Camp as they headed to the southwest portion of the state. At dawn, drunken State Guard troops harassed prisoners, one German named Tomforte was shot because he stated he was a cook, not a soldier, and in their drunken state they believed him to be the Home Guard commander, Able Cook. Wounded men were tended to by women from nearby farms, some exchanged under a flag of truce and the rest as prisoners were taken back to Warsaw.

The numbers have varied but according to muster rolls 600 Union men are listed, however, an Adjutant Generals report dated 31 December 1865 listed only 526 and listed:

“2 officers and 22 men killed, 3 died later of wounds, 2 died of disease.”
 “18 officers, 456 men honorably discharged, 23 discharged for disability.”

Reports of the time stated that nearly a third of the German’s were casualties, somewhere around 35 to 40 dead, 60 wounded and 25 to 30 had been captured. In contrast, the State Guard six or seven killed and about 25 wounded.

The question remains as to why the Battle of Cole Camp has fallen into obscurity? Why has it never received the attention that other battles have, with equal or less casualties? Official reports seem to be non-existent. General Lyon was more concerned with Boonville and Warsaw than he was with Cole Camp where he dictated the following to General George B. McClellan,

BOONEVILLE, MO., June 20, 1861.

General McClellan: I have notice that Missouri is assigned to your command. This (Booneville) is an important point, and should have at least a whole regiment, with an advance post at Warsaw, which is a nest of rebels, who have massacred at Cole Camp Union men. These will permit the Second Missouri Volunteer Regiment to concentrate at Jefferson City. I would have you send a regiment here, with a large supply of stores.

N. LYON.

This seems to lend validity to the view of Friedrich Schnake who believed that Lyon had no concern for the Germans. But as Lyon was about to meet his fate at Wilson’s Creek, his battle plan partner was the native German Col. Franz Sigel. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of this view and the fact that larger battles were beginning to take place, overshadowing the events at Cole Camp and sending it into the dusty memory of those fighting a war that was just beginning and would see more lives lost than all the wars prior combined. The other possibility is that the Union was soundly defeated by a better prepared and determined State Guard rather than the boastful Home Guard and this was an embarrassment that needed to be swept under the carpet. Even to this day, Cole Camp is not listed as one of the battles for the state of Missouri by the National Park Services CWSAC Battle Summaries.

The Battle of Cole Camp was significant in that it showed the brutality of war, the division that existed in small, rural communities, and a glimpse of what the next four years would hold in store for the rest of the country.

Early in the morning hours of 25 October, 1864, Confederate Major General Sterling Price was retreating as fast as he could to more friendly territory to his base in Arkansas after what many consider the final blow to his Rebel army at the Battle of Westport just two days before. In pursuit were the Union forces under the command of Major General Alfred Pleasonton. Three conflicts took place as the southerners retreated. These conflicts were all Union victories and would ultimately be the final straw in the great Missouri Raid of 1864. Price had intended on securing Missouri for the Confederacy, gaining southern sympathizing supporters, take pressure off the losses in the eastern theater and to install a southern governor at the capital in Jefferson City. None of these happened and his raid in turn had exactly the opposite effect it had intended.

The Battle of Marais des Cygnes was the first of three battles that took place on 25 October 1864. Sterling Price’s rear guard was covering the retreat of the Confederates as they crossed the Marais des Cygnes River. It was an extremely dark night, with considerable rain. According to C.S.A. Lieutenant Colonel L. A. MacLean, Assistant Adjutant-General of Price’s Army,

Before I had gone a mile from the encampment (on the Marais des Cygnes) of the night before, I received an order from General Marmaduke to form my brigade in line of battle, as the enemy had again appeared in our rear. I remained in that position until 10 o’clock; no engagement with small-arms; retiring from that position in line of battle. The enemy, 800 or 900 yards distant in line of battle, followed us. We were now well out on a prairie that seemed almost boundless. At the distance of a mile General Marmaduke directed me to halt, which we did. The enemy coming on with a steady advance approached very near in largely superior force. We retired at a trot, the enemy in close pursuit. We continued this was, each holding about the same position, across a flat prairie some four miles, when we came suddenly upon the trains halted, the delay occasioned by a deep ravine, the enemy not more than 500 yards in our rear. There was no time to make any but the most rapid dispositions for battle.

The relentless push by the Federals finally forced the Confederate rear guard to stop and fight. Major General Samuel Curtis related later that in a communique to his commanding officer that between the hours of 0000 and 0300, they had met the enemy, but had not exchanged fire as they pursued the rebels. However, things changed at 0300 when Curtis sent Major Hunt and three companies of the Second Colorado to attack and by 0400 had a message sent to General Sanborn, who leading the advance party to open with artillery. Major R.H. Hunt rode up from the skirmish lines and begged them to cease firing from that point as the shells were falling on their own men, who had already been driven from their positions in a disorganized retreat.

Daylight began to approach and the rebels deserted their camp and began taking down trees but the Federal push was so strong that the rebels, in disarray, fled in disorder leaving “cattle, camp equipment, negroes, provisions partly cooked, and stolen goods.. scattered over miles of the forest camp.” According to General Curtis’ report, “Few were killed on either side as the night and early morn attack created a general fright in the rebel lines and only random shots on either side.”

The battle at Marais des Cygnes ended and the Union forces continued to pursue the Confederates unabated. About three miles north of Mine Creek, a branch of the Osage River, the Confederates again formed up as they were once again stopped by river to cross. Pleasonton’s advance brigade, consisting of Colonel’s Frederick Benteen (commanding the Iowa, Indiana and other troops) and John Philips (commanding the Missouri troops), moved forward, and Benteen, made dash to the rebels right flank, surrounding them and in the process captured two Confederate Generals, John Marmaduke and William Caball and killed Confederate General Graham. They also captured and killed many other officers and soldiers. The Federals continued to push and as the number of Price’s men began to dwindle they crossed Mine Creek and skirmished between the creek and the Osage, according to Curtis’ report, another two hours in a line that extended for several miles. Mass confusion reigned on the battlefield, as many of Price’s men had donned captured Union uniforms, making it harder to distinguish between them and real Union soldiers. General Curtis made it a point to explain the terrain they were fighting on as being,

…mostly a prairie country the troops of both armies were in full view, and the rapid onward movement of the whole force presented the most extensive, beautiful, and animated view of hostile armies I have ever witnessed. Spread over vast prairies, some moving at full speed in column, some in double lines, and others as skirmishers, groups striving in utmost efforts, and shifting as occasion required, while the great clouds of living masses moved steadily southward, presented a picture of prairie scenery such as neither man nor pencil can delineate.

The speed and ferocity of the Federal attack, even though they were numerically outnumbered, completely took the retreating rebels by surprise and threw them into a mass of disarray. While the southerners who fought did so with valor, many chose to flee. General Price briefly returned but was now in quick haste to attempt to get to Fort Scott.

As the afternoon wore on the Confederates once again found a river blocking their escape route. Once again, Price and the Confederates had to make a stand. Brigadier General John McNeil headed the Union attack against rebels that were rallied by Price and his officers. Many of these men were even unarmed but began their assault on the Federals. McNeil not knowing the actual size did not mount a full assault and after two hours of skirmishing could not at this point effectively pursue what was left of Price’s army. According to General Curtis’ report,

The distance traveled during the day and the frequent conflicts in which we had been engaged during the four previous days and nights had indeed exhausted men and horses; still it was my earnest desire to rest on the field, sending to Fort Scott for food and forage. But ammunition and other supplies were also necessary, and the erroneous statement of the distance to Fort Scott irresistibly carried my main forces to that place of abundant supply. The enemy burned a vast number of his wagons and destroyed much of his heavy ammunition, so as to materially accommodate his farther retreat. Thus all our troops, some on the field of battle at Charlot and the remainder at Fort Scott, rested a few hours of the night of the 25th and 26th.

With no more pursuers and really nothing left of his Army, Price limped back to Arkansas. His grand plan to claim Missouri for the Confederacy not only ended in failure but came with a great loss of life. The plan was doomed from the beginning as they marched on Fort Davidson in southeast Missouri and finally, almost exactly one month later was laid to rest in southeastern Kansas.

During the Civil War, especially in Missouri and Kansas, there was a fine line between soldiers simply following orders or letting vengeance or retribution take over. As bushwackers continued to stymie Union forces in the state and both sides embracing the “no quarter” philosophy (that is, not taking prisoners, but upon capture, the prisoner would be executed), both sides were determined to break the other. Such is the story of Confederate Major John L. Owen. Owen had been a Major in the Missouri State Guard under the command of General Sterling Price and his actions in Missouri vary depending on whose account is told. However his capture and death also balance between getting what he deserved by the rules of the military or being murdered.

Owen’s wife, Mary submitted her account of events, as well as detailing Owen’s military service and his motives:

About the 1st of September my husband, John L. Owen, then captain of a company of six-months’ men (sworn into the State service about the middle of June), started to General Price. He was promoted to major and returned home the 6th of December. Since that time to my certain knowledge he has had no company nor part of company; neither has he been connected in any way with a company. And I do know and can say with truth that he never either before or since his return from the arms has been engaged in what is termed bushwhacking and that he has never shot into the cars. On the contrary I known he was always opposed to that kind of warfare. I have frequently heard him speak on the subject, therefore I know his opinion…

On the 8th day of June before we had risen in the morning we were surrounded by Federal troops knocking at the doors for admittance. My mother, her two sons who live with her, Amsley and William, myself and child were all who were in the house. The soldiers came in, searched the house, took both Amsley and William prisoners and took them away, while others came and surrounded the place. Persons who saw them estimated their numbers at about 300. They had their pilots with them. They dashed through the fields like so many fiends, and into the meadow where my husband had slept the night before (and no doubt he had been watched to his sleeping place), and oh, they found him in a little cluster of bushes not more than 200 or 300 yards from the house and in plain view of the house. They found him alone, unarmed and defenseless; one poor man, without any resistance at all, gave himself up to his savage captors. Resistance would have been vain and he knew it. Oh, the savage yells they sent up when they found him; they ret.

They brought him to the house. We saw them coming. I was greatly troubled to think they had him prisoner; but oh, I could not conceive that persons calling themselves men and Christian men could have hearts cruel enough to murder him in the brutal manner in which they did. They all halted at the fence and got water. While here they questioned him as to who stayed with him, and several other questions, among the rest where was his company. He told them he had no company. His mother and myself told them the same. They called us all liars and said they knew he had a company for they had been told so, and that he had to tell where it was. We all assured them that he told the truth, but they would not believe us. They said, “Take him away from these women, and if he does not tell us we will hang him. ” He said just as they started from the house if they would treat him as a prisoner of war and according to the honors of war he had no fears.

I feared from their savage appearance that they might abuse him or do him some harm, and I followed them about a quarter of a mile entreating them to spare his life; that he was innocent of the charges they had against him, and not to take an innocent man’s life. They assured me they would not kill him, and told me to go back home now and come down to Palmyra the next day and see him. That satisfied me. I turned and came home.

They did not go over half a mile farther till they killed him.

A letter in the Quincy Whig in 1862 claimed to hold the facts to Owen’s case and disputed his wife’s account. This was written by the Provost-Marshal of Palmyra, Missouri, William R. Strachan, an ardent supporter of the Union. The letter begins with,

SIR: I am led to thank you for your happy answer to a letter purporting to have emanated from Mrs. J. L. Owen describing the manner of the death of her husband. Whilst every person can sympathize with the wife in her affliction and regret she was so unfortunate in having so guilty a husband, still every loyal right-minded citizen must be satisfied with the merited punishment of so notorious a traitor as John L. Owen.

I wish to give points in the career of this “Major ” John L. Owen which may expose the outrage of publishing such a letter as that in the Herald. J. L. Owen was the first man who inaugurated bushwhacking in this portion of the State of Missouri. His company by his orders burned some eight or ten passenger coaches on the Hannibal and Saint Joseph Railroad, burned a depot building at Monroe Station, tore up the railroad track, destroyed culverts and fired into passenger cars. On one occasion they met a man by the name of Hotchkiss who never had carried arms and was particularly inoffensive, being engaged in trading with the farmers in the vicinity of Monroe City for butter, eggs, &c., and in return delivering them coffee, sugar, cotton, &c. He had never committed any higher crime than that of voting for Abraham Lincoln, yet this man while watering his horses was deliberately shot down; eight balls were put into him and he was left for dead. The man, however, was taken care of by the Sixteenth Illinois’ surgeon and I believe is now alive in Hannibal.

He continues,

Again, John L. Owen has been hiding from justice since Christmas, lying concealed, sleeping in the brush, and was found in his bed in the brush, and armed.

General orders from headquarters are imperative that this class of men caught under arms in this part of the United States are to be shot on the spot. These orders have been published to the world. Mr. Owen was not shot in the presence of his family, he was not tied, he was not abused; but the general orders that commanded him to be shot were read to him, and he was regularly executed in accordance with military usage.

However, another version clearly presents a case where there is some discrepancies in the actual shooting of Owen. Joseph Mudd was an unapologetic secessionist, slave holder and served with the Army of Northern Virginia later in the war. During his time with Colonel Joseph C. Porter in northeast Missouri, Mudd was witness to the events surrounding Owen’s death. In his book With Porter in Northern Missouri, he tells the story of the event as such,

On the 8th of June a scouting party of the Eleventh Missouri State Militia, commanded by Captain W. W. Lair, made a prisoner of Major John L. Owen, who lived near Monroe City, in Marion County, and shot him… Returning home in December, 1861, he found an indictment for treason hanging over him, and so he could not come in and surrender. He continued to hide out until he was captured… Captain Collier and the Shelby County company made him prisoner and took him to his family. Here they assured his wife they would take him to Palmyra and would not harm him. Half a mile from his house they set him on a log against a fence and put eight bullets through him-caliber 54… Captain Collier states that when he left Palmyra, he had strict orders to enforce the terms of General Schofield’s ‘Orders No. 18,’ enjoining the ‘utmost vigilance in hunting down and destroying’ all bushwhackers and marauders, who, the order said, ‘when caught in arms, engaged in their unlawful warfare,’ were to be shot down ‘on the spot.

Newspapers were also guilty of either supporting southern sympathies or supporting the Union. The following is from the Hannibal (Mo.) Hearld of June 10:

Information was brought into camp at Palmyra on Saturday last that Colonel John L. Owen, a notorious rebel who has made himself conspicuous in burning bridges, cars and depots, firing into passenger trains, last summer and fall, was secreted at or near his farm in Monroe. A detachment from Company A, Eleventh Regiment Missouri State Militia (Colonel Lipscomb), under command of Lieutenant Donahoo, was immediately sent out from Palmyar to hunt the outlaw. On approaching the farm of Colonel Owen on Sunday about 12 m. the squad discovered a negro running rapidly from the house toward a piece of brush. The lieutenant and his company immediately started for the brush and going into it discovered the game and soon bagged it. At first the colonel showed a determination to resist his capture, but finding such a proceeding useless he yielded. Preparations were made for his execution. He begged the soldiers to take him prisoner. They informed him that “Taking prisoners” was played out. They then placed him upon a stump in front of a file of soldiers and at the word of command eight bullets pierced the body of the rebel, killing him instantly.

Thus has ended the career of a notorious bushwacker and outlaw. He has met the just retribution of his damning crimes.

This leads us to try and determine what really happened with John L. Owen and presents a case that historians struggle with when trying to piece together an event from primary sources, that is, it all depends on who you ask. The facts that are readily clear are that Owen was indeed a southern sympathizer, he did take up arms against the Union while under Price’s command, and he was killed by Union soldiers after being captured. The details, however, will always be at the mercy of the historian piecing together the tale. Was he innocent? Was he indeed unarmed? Was a promise to keep him as a prisoner given and then reneged on?

The list goes on, and the truth is left to the minds of those who attempt to piece the puzzle together, knowing there will always be missing pieces and a true picture is nearly impossible to find.