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Posted May 16, 2004
The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds:
Confederate Victory Against the Odds
©2003 Kirby Ross
with an Introduction by James E. McGhee, ©2003
The Fight at Jackson Fairgrounds: Confederate Victory Against the Odds
© Kirby Ross
|Author's Note & Introduction|
|Ch 1 - Lindsay Murdoch|
|Ch 2 - Chasing Phantoms||
Ch 7 - Aftermath
|Ch 3 - Closing In||
Ch 8 - Mopping Up
|Ch 4 - Hell Breaks Loose||Epilogue|
Ch 5 - To the Death
By Charley Hester, Edited by Kirby Ross
available for pre-order at Amazon.com
Also by this author:
In the course of the first year of the Civil War the ruling Conservative Unionist hierarchy in Missouri made a decision, in concert with President Abraham Lincoln, that militia instead of U.S. Regulars or Volunteers should defend the state against secessionism. It was believed by this leadership that out-of-state Northern soldiers would be intolerant of the attitudes of slavery-supporting residents, which in turn might lead to violence against large segments of the loyal population. By using local troops to maintain order it was hoped the potential for depredations might be reduced. The decision to follow this course of action was as complex as it was controversial and was vehemently opposed by the state’s Radical Unionists who felt troops from elsewhere were exactly what Missouri needed to hold it in the Union fold.1
The net result of the Conservative policy was that by early spring 1862, most U.S. Volunteer regiments in the state, including all those stationed at Cape Girardeau, were withdrawn and marched south to support Ulysses Grant’s developing campaign in Tennessee and Mississippi. Amidst this massive troop movement the Battle of Shiloh was fought in Tennessee on April 6-7 while final Federal assaults were successfully made on Rebel-held Island Number Ten in the Mississippi River near New Madrid, Missouri, on April 8. At the very time these major actions were taking place a deadly drama was unfolding back in Southeast Missouri, and in the process a trilogy of conflicts between Missourians came to a head—conflicts not only between Confederate and Federal troops, but also between opposing Union military/political factions as well as two individual Federal officers.
After the main-line U.S. troops were withdrawn from Cape Girardeau in March 1862, three companies of the 11th Missouri State Militia Cavalry Battalion were left as the only United States force garrisoning the region (the 11th M.S.M. Battalion was soon afterward redesignated the 12th M.S.M. Regiment). Led by Captain Lindsay Murdoch, the few hundred soldiers in the command were assigned the mission of holding the county and protecting the post’s very substantial stockpiles of quartermaster and commissary supplies as well as its arms and ammunition.2
Murdoch, a fairly recent Scottish immigrant, had been a lieutenant colonel in the recently disbanded Fremont Rangers, and was now in the process of helping to recruit a new regiment.3 He was also a Radical Unionist in the extreme and felt that exceptional steps should be taken to put down the rebellion in Missouri. This philosophy included a very vocal opposition to the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Missouri as well as a strong advocacy for the extermination of active secessionists and their supporters. Those that did not agree with his philosophy were deemed by him to be treasonous. Included in his list of Missouri leaders he felt were collaborating with the secessionists in the state were none other than Governor Hamilton Gamble as well as the head of the Missouri State Militia, Brigadier General John M. Schofield, both of whom were Conservative Unionists.4
The clouds of disunion have rolled forth in vain,
They have darkened the Stars, on the Stripes left a stain.
But from our bright firmament, one star to sever,
Dark treason, thou art baffled; it will never be—never.
Excerpt from The Flag of Columbia
by Lindsay Murdoch 5
A disconcerting calm had descended upon the region after the removal of the Federal Volunteers. On March 24 Captain Murdoch reported to General Schofield that other than a recent escape by nine prisoners from his guardhouse the area in and immediately around the Cape was quiet and peaceable. Out in the hinterlands was a different matter altogether as roving bands of Confederate troops were said to be moving freely about, committing depredations in Bollinger, Scott, Stoddard and Dunklin Counties. Seven men belonging to the 11th Battalion’s Cape Girardeau command were home on sick leave in these areas when marauding forces swept them up and took them prisoner.6
These captured militiamen were taken to a base twenty-five miles south of Bloomfield and held in the midst of a concentration of 1,000 Confederate troops. One of these prisoners was then paroled and sent to Murdoch at Cape Girardeau carrying a proposal to make an exchange of prisoners. Upon considering the suggestion Murdoch responded by offering two Rebel captains and two lieutenants for the return of his seven men, exhibiting evidence of the critical manpower shortage he felt he had—ordinarily, seven privates would be lucky to bring the exchange of but one lieutenant.7
The intelligence brought to Murdoch by the released prisoner/messenger regarding Rebel strength and disposition caused a stir at Cape Girardeau. Seemingly outnumbered by at least three to one, Murdoch began preparing a defense. In the course of this preparation he became concerned about his own Company C, which he claimed was “threatening to desert the post and go down to their old homes in Stoddard County.” He also had doubts about the loyalty of Company C’s commanding officer, Captain Thomas B. Walker, who he claimed to suspect of being in the pay of “Rebel sympathizers.” The fact that Walker was the nephew of Solomon G. Kitchen, one of the region’s foremost Confederate officers, likely fueled Murdoch’s concerns.8
At the time, several imposing forts stood guard over the town—forts supposed to be manned by hundreds of troops, not the relatively few Murdoch could put into each one. Fort A was situated so as to command both the town and the river and was the most defensible and best armed of the strongholds, holding eight 32-pound cannon as well as one 6-pound and two 12-pound field guns. As for armament in the outlying citadels, Fort B had six stationary siege guns, and an additional twelve-pound field piece as well as two movable thirty-two pounders. Three stationary siege guns were situated in Fort C. There was also a Fort D, but it lay isolated on the far southern approach of the city and was not a factor in Murdoch’s defensive plan.9
Murdoch had the mobile guns moved up to the better positioned Fort A along with all the powder and shot in Forts B and C with the exception of a single charge for each fixed artillery piece left behind. The captain then placed skeleton crews in B and C, and gave them instructions to discharge the heavy weapons at any approaching enemy force, after which the men were to spike the guns with rat-tail files and then immediately fall back upon Fort A for a concerted defense.10
To deal with the perceived disloyal propensities of Captain Walker and Company C, Murdoch trained a cannon on their encampment and issued orders to the artillery crew that should any men in the command attempt to leave without orders, the cannoneers were to “blow them to pieces.”11
In the course of making these preparations Captain Murdoch also contacted General Schofield and reported that he was in dire straits. Seeking to put in place a contingency plan for relief, Murdoch asked to receive a quick reinforcement from Schofield in St. Louis or General William K. Strong in Cairo, Illinois, in the event the Bloomfield Confederates made any movement in his direction.12
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1 William E. Parrish, A History of Missouri, 1860-1875 (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1973) 35
2 “Narrative of the Service of Lindsay W. Murdoch In the War of the Rebellion,” Echo, Bollinger County Historical Society, Vol. 1, October, 1979 p. 147-149, 154, 156, 157; National Archives, Pension Record of Lindsay Murdoch, Record Group 704 293. The 11th Missouri State Militia Cavalry Battalion was authorized for recruitment in December 1861, and was not perfected until May 1862, at which time it was redesignated the 12th Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiment. At the time of the Jackson Skirmish the three Cape Girardeau companies recruited by Lindsay Murdoch were autonomous from the other five companies of the developing regiment.
3Ibid. Captain Murdoch had previously been lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of the Fremont Rangers, a Cape Girardeau-based battalion that existed from August 1861 through December 1861. Major General John C. Fremont, an ardent abolitionist and Radical Unionist, authorized the creation of the Rangers. Philosophically and politically Murdoch was cut from the same cloth as Fremont. After Abraham Lincoln dismissed Fremont from his command due to his controversial policies, a number of illegally formed military units sanctioned by Fremont were disbanded and the men from them recruited for the newly created Missouri State Militia. The Fremont Rangers was one such unit, with a large number of its troops following Murdoch into the forming 12th Missouri State Militia Cavalry, where he was authorized to recruit a battalion. Murdoch was elected captain of Company A of that battalion and anticipated being appointed to a field officer position as a reward for his recruiting efforts when the overall regiment was perfected. For a brief history of the Fremont Rangers, see Murdoch Narrative, 130-138; William Nevin, History of Co. K, 3rd M.S.M. Cavalry Vols. From Its Earliest Organization in 1861, to Final Muster Out On January 31, 1865, Missouri Historical Society
4Murdoch Narrative, 148, 155-157; Murdoch Pension File. For discussions of the schism between the Radical Unionists and Conservative Unionists in Missouri as well as the political conduct of the war in Missouri by President Lincoln, General Schofield and Governor Gamble, see Marvin R. Cain, Lincoln’s Attorney General: Edward Bates of Missouri (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1965); William E. Parrish, Turbulent Partnership: Missouri and the Union, 1861-1865 (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press 1963); Walter Harrington Ryle, Missouri: Union or Secession (Nashville: George Peabody College for Teachers 1931).
5Murdoch Narrative, 123. Murdoch, postwar commander of G.A.R. Post No. 100, read his five-stanza poem at a gathering in Lutesville, Missouri, on 4 July 1866. See Narrative, 121-122.
6The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (Washington, 1880-1901) Series 2, Volume 1, 175 (hereinafter cited as O.R.)
8Murdoch Narrative, 147-148. Thomas B. Walker was the son of the sister of Solomon G. Kitchen. Walker’s wife/1st cousin, Martha Lavina Kitchen Walker, was the daughter of the brother of Solomon Kitchen. Cletis Ellinghouse to Kirby Ross, 6 Sept. 2002. Ellinghouse is a newspaperman, author, historian, and genealogist that focuses upon Southeast Missouri.
10Ibid. Fort A was originally referred to as Fort George when the Engineer Regiment of the West constructed it in 1861. See Dr. W.A. Neal, An Illustrated History of the Missouri Engineer and the 25th Infantry Regiments (Chicago: Donohue and Henneberry 1889) 16.
11Murdoch Narrative, 147-148; Murdoch Pension File. The conflict between Walker and Murdoch probably had more to with politics than traitorous propensities. Walker and Company C appear to have been supporters of General Schofield and his Conservative policies, which could account for the tensions with Radical Murdoch. Murdoch repeatedly placed Walker in charge of key military details, hardly something a commanding officer would do if he sincerely thought a subordinate was in league with the enemy. Furthermore, Walker met his demise in January 1863, when he single-handedly took on several dozen Confederates led by Reuben Barnes, a soldier that served under the command of Walker’s uncle, Solomon Kitchen. Surrounded in a cabin near Bloomfield, Walker declined an opportunity to surrender and instead emerged with a revolver blazing in each hand, killing Barnes before he himself was cut to pieces in a hail of gunfire. See State of Missouri vs. Erastus W. Hill, Stoddard County Circuit Court, ca. 1866; James W. Evans, A. Wendell Keith, The Autobiography of Samuel S. Hildebrand, The Renowned Missouri Bushwhacker (Jefferson City, Mo.: State Times Book and Job Printing Company 1870) 113
12 O.R., Ser. 2, Vol. 1, 175
©2004 G. E. Rule
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