|Site Map||Timeline||Syllabus||Special Offers|
|Gratiot St. Prison||St. Louis History||Boat Burners||Message Board|
|James-Youngers||Outlaws||Books & Sources||Book Reviews|
Posted February 22, 2004
This is copyrighted material--the article, the pictures, and the introduction--and may not be copied or reproduced in any form, including on other websites, without permission of the authors.
Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri
Atlantic Monthly, Jan-Mar, 1862
Introduction by G. E. Rule
The unnamed author of Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri was a member of the general’s staff. Clearly not a native of Missouri, this Union officer often displayed a definite bias against Missourians; no doubt fueled by reading years of “Border Ruffian” stories in eastern newspapers. He observes of the people of Jefferson City, cited by most historians as the second most pro-Union population in Missouri behind only St. Louis, that “Such vacant, listless faces, with laziness written in every line, and ignorance seated upon every feature! Is it for these that the descendants of New England and the thrifty Germans are going forth to battle? If Missouri depended upon the Missourians, there would be little chance for her safety, and, indeed, not very much to save.” Later he observes of some local farmers that “The Union men of Missouri are quite willing to have you fight for them, but their patriotism does not go farther than this.” These statements might be amusing if one didn’t know that such biases by many Union troops would lead to bitter fruit in the guerrilla war ahead.
Also, there can be no doubt of the author’s opinion of General Fremont. Fremont is depicted as nearly God-like in his attributes and skills in everything he does. To be fair, this is hardly unknown in the history of campaign journals written by junior officers. We have not hesitated to depict Fremont in much less favorable light on the site; we are pleased to have the opportunity to give one of the general’s defenders a chance to tell the story from the other side.
Regardless of the obvious biases of the author, this seems to be an important, detailed primary account by a participant of Fremont’s abortive campaign to catch General Price in the fall of 1861. It appeared in three parts in the national magazine The Atlantic Monthly (still a going concern), Jan through March, 1862, and gained enough national attention that Frank Blair felt the need to refer to it by name, and rebut it, on the floor of the House of Representatives on March 7, 1862. Blair’s rebuttal can be found here on our site.
The author uses almost 24,000 words to cover just five weeks of campaigning, and when he isn’t lauding the general provides some very interesting details of the first large-scale campaign by a Union army west of the Mississippi (an army six times the size of the one Lyon lead at Wilson’s Creek), the general condition of affairs in Missouri, the slavery issue, and the people of Missouri. His account of the famous “Zagonyi’s Charge” at Springfield is particularly fine, and as the author claims to have been a member of the committee of inquiry following the event, may be presumed to be fairly accurate, if a bit breathless –most historians would not agree that it deserves to be compared to the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava, as the author alludes to here. His personal observations of two hundred armed and mounted “contrabands” as part of Jim Lane’s Kansas brigade leads one to suspect that “contraband” is a title of convenience here; an armed and mounted man on campaign with an army is a soldier no matter what you call him. Since under the then-current regs of the Union army he could not be called a “soldier”, the author avoids that label –but “a rose by any other name”.
It is also worth noting that most historians would argue with the author’s conclusion at the end that just another forty-eight hours given to Fremont would have resulted in the climactic battle with Price that the Pathfinder sought. Albert Castel’s General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West (1968), widely considered the leading history of Price’s Civil War career, asserts that Price was at Pineville, much further southwest of where Fremont thought he was on November 2, 1861.
Interestingly enough, the standard bio of the general’s life, Fremont: Pathmarker of the West, by Allan Nevins, does not appear to use this article as one of its sources. As it is very sympathetic to Fremont, a fine, detailed campaign journal of his major campaign in Missouri, and impactful enough to warrant a public rebuttal from Frank Blair, this is more than passingly strange. It is unclear if Nevins was unaware of this article or just did not find it interesting enough to use for his book.
We found this article on the excellent (and free) Making of America site of Cornell University, that includes many journals from this period besides The Atlantic Monthly. We will be publishing it in three parts, just as it appeared in the magazine.
goto Part II
goto Part III
THE narrative we propose to give of events in Missouri is not intended to be a defence of General Fremont, nor in any respect an answer to the charges which have been made against him. Our purpose is the more humble one of presenting a hasty sketch of the expedition to Springfield, confining ourselves almost entirely to the incidents which came under the observation of an officer of the General’s staff.
General Fremont was in command of the Western Department precisely One Hundred Days. He assumed the command at the time when the army with which Lyon had captured Camp Jackson and won the Battle of Booneville was on the point of dissolution. The enemy, knowing that the term for which our soldiers had been enlisted was near its close, began offensive movements along their whole line. Cairo, Bird’s Point, Ironton, and Springfield were simultaneously threatened. Jeff Thompson wrote to his friends in St. Louis, promising to be in that city in a month. The sad, but glorious day upon Wilson’s Creek defeated the Rebel designs, and compelled McCulloch, Pillow, Hardee, and Thompson to retire.
Relieved from immediate danger, General Fremont found an opportunity to organize the expedition down the Mississippi. Won by the magic of his name and the ceaseless energy of his action, the hardy youth of the Northwest flocked into St. Louis, eager to share his labors and his glory. There was little time for organization and discipline. They were armed with such weapons as could be procured against the competition of the General Government, and at once forwarded to the exposed points. History can furnish few parallels to the hasty levy and organization of the Army of the West. When suddenly required to defend Washington, the Government was able to summon the equipped and disciplined militia of the East, and could call upon the inexhaustible resources of a wealthy and skilful people. But in the West there was neither a disciplined militia nor trained mechanics. Men, indeed, brave, earnest, patriotic men, were plenty, —men who appreciated the magnitude and importance of the task before them, and who were confident of their ability to accomplish it. But to introduce order into their tumultuous ranks, to place arms in their eager hands, to clothe and feed them, to provide them with transportation and equipage for the march, and inspire them with confidence for the siege and the battle, —this labor the General, almost unaided, was called upon to perform. Like all the rest of our generals, he was without experience in military affairs of such magnitude and urgency, and he was compelled to rely chiefly upon the assistance of men entirely without military training and knowledge. The general staff and the division and brigade staffs were, from the necessity of the case, made up mainly of civilians. A small number of foreign officers brought to his aid their learning and experience, and a still smaller number of West Point officers gave him their invaluable assistance. In spite of all difficulties the work proceeded. In six weeks the strategic positions were placed in a state of defence, and an army of sixty thousand men, with a greater than common proportion of cavalry and artillery, stood ready to clear Missouri of the invader and to open the valley of the Mississippi. At this time the sudden appearance of Price in the West, and the fall of Lexington, compelled the General to take the field. We will now confine ourselves to the narrative of the incidents of the march to Springfield, as it is given in the journal which has been placed in our hands.
FROM ST. LOUIS TO WARSAW.
St. Louis, September 27th, 1861. For four days the headquarters have been ready to take the field at an hour’s notice. The baggage has been packed, the wagons loaded, horses have stood saddled all through the day, and the officers have been sitting at their desks, booted and spurred, awaiting the order for their departure. It is not unlikely that the suspense in which they are held and the constant condition of readiness which is required of them are a sort of preliminary discipline to which the General is subjecting them. Yesterday the bodyguard left by the river, and the staff-horses went upon the same steamer, so that we cannot be detained much longer.
Jefferson City, September 28th. Yesterday, at eleven o’clock, we were informed that the General would leave for Jefferson City at noon; and that those members of the staff who were not ready would be left behind, and their places filled in the field. At the appointed hour we were all gathered at the depot. The General drove down entirely unattended. Most of the train was occupied by a battalion of sharp-shooters, but in the rear car the General and his staff found seats. The day was cloudy and damp; there was no one to say farewell; and as the train passed through the cold hills, a feeling of gloom seemed to pervade the company. Nature was in harmony with the clouded fortunes of our General, and the laboring locomotive dragged us at a snail’s pace, as if it were unwilling to assist us in our adventure.
Those who were strangers in the West looked out eagerly for the Missouri, hoping to find the valley of the river rich in scenery which would relieve the tedium of the journey. But when we came out upon the river-bank and looked at the dull shores, and the sandy bed, which the scant stream does not cover, but through which it creeps, treacherous and slimy, in half a dozen channels, there was no pleasure to the eye, no relief for the spirit. Late in the afternoon we approached a little village, and were greeted with music and hearty cheers, —the first sign of hospitality the day had furnished. It was the German settlement of Hermann, famous for good cheer and good wines. The Home-Guard was drawn up at the station, files of soldiers kept the passage clear to the dining-room, and through an avenue of muskets, and amidst the shouts of an enthusiastic little crowd, the General passed into a room decorated with flowers, through the centre of which was stretched a table groaning under the weight of delicious fruits and smoking viands. With little ceremony the hungry company seated themselves, and vigorously assailed the tempting array, quite unconscious of the curious glances of a motley assemblage of men, women, and children who assisted at the entertainment. The day had been dark, the journey dull, and the people we had seen silent and sullen but here was a welcome, the hearty, generous welcome of sympathizing friends, who saw in their guests the defenders of their homes. They were Germans, and our language came broken from their lips. But they are Germans who fill the ranks of our regiments. Look where you will, and the sturdy Teuton meets your eye. If Missouri shall be preserved for the Union and civilization, it will be by the valor of men who learned their lessons of American liberty and glory upon the banks of the Rhine and the Elbe. We think of this at Hermann, and we pledge our German hosts and our German fellow-soldiers in strong draughts of delicious Catawba, — not such Catawba as is sent forth from the slovenly manufactories of Cincinnati, for the careful vintners of Hermann select the choice grapes, and in the quiet cellars of Hermann the Catawba has time to grow old and to ripen.
We at length extricate ourselves from the maze of corn-cakes and pancakes, waffles and muffins and pies without number, with which our kind friends of Hermann tempt and tantalize our satiated palates, and once more set forth after the wheezing, reluctant locomotive, over the rough road, through the dreary hills, along the bank of the treacherous river.
At ten o’clock, in ten weary hours, we have accomplished one hundred and twenty miles, and have reached Jefferson City. The train backs and starts ahead, halts and backs and jerks, and finally, with a long sigh of relief, the locomotive stops, and a gentleman in citizen’s dress enters the car, carrying a lantern in his hand. It was Brigadier-General Price, commanding at Jefferson City. He took possession of the General, and, with us closely following, left the car. But leaving the train was a somewhat more difficult matter. We went alongside the train, over the train, under the train, but still those cars seemed to surround us like a corral. We at length outflanked the train, but still failed to extricate ourselves from the labyrinth. Informed, or rather deluded, by the “lantern dimly burning,” we floundered into ditches and scrambled out of them, we waded mud-puddles and stumbled over boulders, until finally the ever-present train disappeared in the darkness, we rushed up a steep hill, heard the welcome sound as our feet touched a brick walk, and, after turning two or three corners, found ourselves in the narrow hall of the “principal hotel.” We were tired and disgusted, and no one stood upon the order of his going, but went at once to sleep upon whatever floor, table, or bed offered itself.
This morning we are pleased to hear that the General has resolved to go into camp. Of course the best houses in the place are at our disposal, but it is wisely thought that our soldier life will not begin until we are fairly under canvas.
All day we have had an exhibition of a Missouri crowd. The sidewalk has been fringed with curious gazers waiting to catch a glimpse of the General. Foote, the comedian, said, that, until he landed on the quays at Dublin, he never knew what the London beggars did with their old clothes. One should go to Missouri to see what the New-York beggars do with their old clothes. But it is not the dress alone. Such vacant, listless faces, with laziness written in every line, and ignorance seated upon every feature! Is it for these that the descendants of New England and the thrifty Germans are going forth to battle? If Missouri depended upon the Missourians, there would be little chance for her safety, and, indeed, not very much to save.
October 4th. We have been in camp since Sunday, the 29th of September. Our tents are pitched upon a broad shelf half-way down a considerable hill. Behind us the hill rises a hundred feet or more, shutting us in from the south; in front, to the north, the hill inclines to a ravine which separates us from other less lofty hills. Our camp is upon open ground, but there is a fine forest to the east and west.
In a few days we have all become very learned in camp-life. We have found out what we want and what we do not want. Fortunately, St. Louis is near at hand, and we send there to provide for our necessities, and also to get rid of our superfluities. The troops have been gathering all the week. There are several regiments in front of us, and batteries of artillery behind us. Go where you will, spread out upon the plain or shining amidst the trees you will see the encampments. Headquarters are busy providing for the transportation and the maintenance of this great force; and as rapidly as the railway can carry them, regiment after regiment is sent west. There is plenty of work for the staff-officers; and yet our life is not without its pleasures. The horses and their riders need training. This getting used to the saddle is no light matter for the civilian spoiled by years of ease and comfort. But the General gives all his officers plenty of horseback discipline. Then there is the broadsword exercise to fill up the idle time. Evening is the festive hour in camp; though I judge, from what I have seen and heard, that our camp has little of the gayety which is commonly associated with the soldier’s life. We are too busy for merrymaking, but in the evening there are pleasant little circles around the fires or in the snug tents. There are old campaigners among us, men who have served in Mexico and Utah, and others whose lives have been passed upon the Plains; they tell us campaign stories, and teach the green hands the slang and the airs of the camp. But the unfailing amusement is the band. This is the special pride of the General, and soon after nightfall the musicians appear upon the little plaza around which the tents are grouped. At the first note the audience gather. The guardsmen come up from their camp on the edge of the ravine, the negro-quarter is deserted, the wagoners flock in from the surrounding forest, the officers stroll out of their tents,—a picturesque crowd stands around the huge camp-fire. The programme is simple and not often varied. It uniformly opens with “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and closes with “Home, Sweet Home.” By way of a grand finale, a procession is organized every night, led by some score of negro torch-bearers, which makes the circuit of the camp,—a performance which never fails to produce something of a stampede among the animals.
Last night we had an alarm. About eleven o’clock, when the camp was fairly asleep, some one tried to pass a picket half a mile west of us. The guard fired at the intruder, and in an instant the regimental drums sounded the long roll. We started from our beds, with frantic haste buckled on swords, spurs, and pistols, hurried servants after the horses, and hastened to report for duty to the General. The officer who was first to appear found him standing in front of his tent, himself the first man in camp who was ready for service. Presently a messenger came with information as to the cause of the alarm, and we were dismissed.
At two o’clock in the morning there was another alarm. Again the body-guard bugles sounded and the drums rolled. Again soldiers sprang to their arms, and officers rushed to report to the General, —the first man finding him, as before, leaning upon his sword in front of his tent. But, alas for the reputation of our mess, not one of its number appeared. In complete unconsciousness of danger or duty, we slept on. Colonel S. said he heard “the music, but thought it was a continuation of the evening’s serenade,” and went to sleep again. It was not long before we discovered that the General knew that four members of his staff did not report to him when the long roll was sounded.
There are several encampments on the hill-sides north of us which are in full view from our quarters, and it is not the least of our amusements to watch the regiments going through the after-noon drill. In the soft light of these golden days we see the long blue lines, silver-tipped, wheel and turn, scatter and form, upon the brown hill-sides. Now the slopes are dotted with skirmishers, and puffs of gray smoke rise over the kneeling figures; again a solid wall of bayonets gleams along the crest of the hill, and peals of musketry echo through the woods in the ravines.
Colonel Myscall Johnson, a Methodist exhorter and formidable Rebel marauder, is said to be forty miles south of us with a small force, and some of the Union farmers came into camp to-day asking for protection. Zagonyi, the commander of the body-guard, is anxious to descend upon Johnson and scatter his thieving crew; but it is not probable he will obtain permission. The Union men of Missouri are quite willing to have you fight for them, but their patriotism does not go farther than this. These people represent that three-fourths of the inhabitants of Miller County are loyal. The General probably thinks, if this be true, they ought to be able to take care of Johnson’s men. But a suggestion that they should defend their own homes and families astonishes our Missouri friends. General Lyon established Home-Guards throughout the State, and armed them with several thousand Springfield muskets taken from the arsenal at St. Louis. Most of these muskets are now in Price’s army, and are the most formidable weapons he has. In some instances the Rebels enlisted in the home-Guards and thus controlled the organization, carrying whole companies into Price’s ranks. In other cases bands of Rebels scoured the country, went to the house of every Home-Guard, and took away his musket. In the German settlements alone the Guards still preserve their organization and their arms.
A few days ago it fell to the lot of our mess to entertain a Rebel officer who had come in with a flag of truce. Strange to say, he was a New Yorker, and had a younger brother in one of the Indiana regiments. He was a pleasant and courteous gentleman, albeit his faded dress, with its red-flannel trimmings, did not indicate great prosperity in the enemy’s camp. We gave him the best meal we could command. I apologized because it was no better. He replied, —“Make no apology, Sir. It is the best dinner I have eaten these three months. I have campaigned it a good deal this summer upon three ears of roast corn a day.” He added, —“I never have received a cent of pay. None of us have. We never expect to receive any.” This captain has already seen considerable service. He was at Booneville, Carthage, Wilson’s Creek, and Lexington. His descriptions of these engagements were animated and interesting, his point of view presenting matters in a novel light. He spoke particularly of a gunner stationed at the first piece in Totten’s battery, saying that his energy and coolness made him one of the most conspicuous figures of the day. “Our sharp-shooters did their best, but they failed to bring him down. There he was all day long, doing his duty as if on parade.” He also told us there was no hard fighting at Lexington. “We knew,” said he, “the place was short of water, and so we spared our men, and waited for time to do the work.”
Camp Lovejoy, October 7th. For the last two days the troops have been leaving Jefferson City, and the densely peopled hills are bare. This morning, at seven o’clock, we began to break camp. There was no little trouble and confusion in lowering the tents and packing the wagons. It took us a long time to-day, but we shall soon get accustomed to it, and become able to move more quickly. At noon we left Jefferson City, going due west.
Our little column consists of three companies of the body-guard, numbering about two hundred and fifty men, a battalion of sharp-shooters (infantry) under Major Holman, one hundred and eighty strong, and the staff. The march is in the following order. The first company of the guard act as advance-guard; then comes the General, followed by his staff riding by twos, according to rank; the other two companies of the guard come next. The sharp-shooters accompany and protect the train. Our route lay through a broken and heavily wooded region. The roads were very bad, but the day was bright, and the march was a succession of beautiful pictures, of which the long and brilliant line of horsemen winding through the forest was the chief ornament.
We reached camp at three o’clock. It is a lovely spot, upon a hill-side, with a clear, swift-running brook washing the foot of the hill. Presently the horses are tied along the fences, riders are lounging under the trees, the kitchen-fires are lighted, guardsmen are scattered along the banks of the stream bathing, the wagons roll heavily over the prairie and are drawn up along the edge of the wood, tents are raised, tent-furniture is hastily arranged, and the camp looks as if it had been there a month. Before dark a regiment of infantry and two batteries of artillery come up. The men sleep in the open air without tents, and innumerable fires cover the hill-sides.
We are upon land which is owned by an influential and wealthy citizen, who is an open Secessionist in opinion, though he has had the prudence not to take up arms. By way of a slight punishment, the General has annoyed the old man by naming his farm “Camp Owen Lovejoy,” a name which the Union neighbors will not fail to make perpetual.
California, October 8th. This morning we broke camp at six o’clock and marched at eight. The road was bad, for which the beauty of the scenery did not entirely compensate. To-day’s experience has taught us how completely an army is tied to the wheels of the wagons. Tell a general how fast the train can travel and he will know how long the journey will be. We passed our wagons in a terrible plight: some upset, some with balky mules, some stuck in the mud, and some broken down. The loud-swearing drivers, and the stubborn, patient, hard-pulling mules did not fail to vary and enliven the scene.
A journey of eighteen miles brought us to this place, where we are encamped upon the county fair-ground. California is a mean, thriftless village; there are no trees shading the cottages, no shrubbery in the yards. The place is only two or three years old, but already wears a slovenly air of decay.
I set out with Colonel L. upon a foraging expedition. We passed a small house, in front of which a fat little negro-girl was drawing a bucket of water from the well, the girl puffing and the windlass creaking.
“Will Massa have a drink of water?”
It was the first token of hospitality since Hermann. We stopped and drank from the bucket, but had not been there a minute before the mistress ran out, with suspicion in her face, to protect her property. A single question sufficed to show the politics of that house.
“Where is your husband?”
“He went off a little while ago.”
This was the Missouri way of informing us that he was in the Rebel army.
A little farther on we came to what was evidently the chief house of the place. A bevy of maidens stood at the gate, supported by a pleasant matron, fair and fat.
“Can you sell us some bread?” was our rather practical inquiry.
“We have none baked, but will bake you some by sundown,” was the answer, given in a hearty, generous voice.
The bargain was soon made. Our portly dame proved to be a Virginian, who still cherished a true Virginian love for the Union.
Tipton, October 9th. The General was in the saddle very early, and left camp before the staff was ready. I was fortunate enough to be on hand, and indulged in some excusable banter when the tardy members of our company rode up after we were a mile or two on the way. We have marched twelve miles to-day through a lovely country. We have left the hills and stony roads behind us, and now we pass over beautiful little prairies, bordered by forests blazing with the crimson and gold of autumn. The day’s ride has been delightful, the atmosphere soft and warm, the sky cloudless, and the prairie firm and hard under our horses’ feet. We passed several regiments on the road, who received the General with unbounded enthusiasm; and when we entered Tipton, we found the country covered with tents, and alive with men and horses. Amidst the cheers of the troops, we passed through the camps, and settled down upon a fine prairie-farm a mile to the southwest of Tipton. The divisions of Asboth and Hunter are here, not less than twelve thousand men, and from this point our course is to be south-ward.
Camp Asboth, near Tipton, October 11th. For the last twenty-four hours it has rained violently, and the prairie upon which we are encamped is a sea of black mud. But the tents are tight, and inside we contrive to keep comparatively warm.
The camp is filled with speculations as to our future course. Shall we follow Price, who is crossing the Osage now, or are we to garrison the important positions upon this line and return to St. Louis and prepare for the expedition down the river? The General is silent, his reserve is never broken, and no one knows what his plans are, except those whose business it is to know. I will here record the plan of the campaign.
Our campaign has been in some measure decided by the movements of the Rebels. The sudden appearance of Price in the West, gathering to his standard many thousands of the disaffected, has made it necessary for the General to check his bold and successful progress. Carthage, Wilson’s Creek, and Lexington have given to Price a prestige which it is essential to destroy. The gun-boats cannot be finished for two months or more, and we cannot go down the Mississippi until the flotilla is ready; and from the character of the country upon each side of the river it will he difficult to operate there with a large body of men. In Southwestern Missouri we are sure of fine weather till the last of November, the prairies are high and dry, and there are no natural obstacles except such as it will excite the enthusiasm of the troops to overcome. Therefore the General has determined to pursue Price until he catches him. He can march faster than we can now, but we shall soon be able to move faster than it is possible for him to do. The Rebels have no base of operations from which to draw supplies; they depend entirely upon foraging; and for this reason Price has to make long halts wherever he finds mills, and grind the flour. He is so deficient in equipage, also, that it will be impossible for him to carry his troops over great distances. But we can safely calculate that Price and Rains will not leave the State; their followers are enlisted for six months, and are already becoming discontented at their continued retreat, and will not go with them beyond the borders. This is the uniform testimony of deserters and scouts. Price disposed of, either by a defeat or by the dispersal of his army, we are to proceed to Bird’s Point, or into Arkansas, according to circumstances. A blow at Little Rock seems now the wisest, as it is the boldest plan. We can reach that place by the middle of November; and if we obtain possession of it, the position of the enemy upon the Mississippi will be completely turned. The communications of Pillow, Hardee, and Thompson, who draw their supplies through Arkansas, will be cut off, they will be compelled to retreat, and our flotilla and the reinforcements can descend the river to assist in the operations against Memphis and the attack upon New Orleans.
This campaign may be difficult, the army will have to encounter hardships and perils, but, unless defeated in the field, the enterprise will be successful. No hardships or perils can daunt the spirit of the General, or arrest the march of the enthusiastic army his genius has created.
Our column is composed of five divisions, under Generals Hunter, Pope, Sigel, McKinstry, and Asboth, and numbers about thirty thousand men, including over five thousand cavalry and eighty-six pieces of artillery, a large proportion of which are rifled. The infantry is generally well, though not uniformly armed. But the cavalry is very badly armed. Colonel Carr’s regiment has no sabres, except for the commissioned and non-commissioned officers. The men carry Hall’s carbines and revolvers. Major Waring’s fine corps, the Fremont Hussars, is also deficient in sabres, and some of the companies are provided with lances,—formidable weapons in skilful hands, but only an embarrassment to our raw troops.
Lane and Sturgis are to come from Kansas and join us on the Osage, and Wyman is to bring his command from Rolla and meet us south of that river.
Paducah, Cairo, Bird’s Point, Cape Girardeau, and Ironton are well protected against attack, and the commanders at those posts are ordered to engage the enemy as soon as we catch Price; and if the Rebels retreat, they are to pursue them. Thus our expedition is part of a combined and extended movement, and, instead of having no purpose except the defeat of Price, we are on the road to New Orleans.
Next Monday we are to start. Asboth will go from here, Hunter by way of Versailles, McKinstry from Syracuse, Pope from his present position in the direction of Booneville, and Sigel from Sedalia. We are to cross the Osage at Warsaw; and as Sigel has the shortest distance to march, he is expected to reach that town first.
Precious time has already been lost because of a lack of transportation and supplies. Foraging parties have been scouring the country, and large numbers of wagons, horses, and mules have been brought in. This property is all appraised, and when taken from Union men it is paid for. In doubtful cases a certificate is given to the owner, which recites that he is to be paid in case he shall continue to be loyal to the Government. We thus obtain a hold upon these people which an oath of allegiance every day would not give us.
Camp Asboth, October 13th. Mr. Cameron, Senator Chandler of Michigan, and Adjutant-General Thomas arrived at an early hour this morning; and at eight o’clock, the General, attended by his staff and body-guard, repaired to the Secretary’s quarters. After a short stay there, the whole party, except General Thomas, set out for Syracuse to review the division of General McKinstry. The day was fine, and we proceeded at a hand gallop until we reached a prairie some three or four miles wide. Here the Secretary set spurs to his horse, and we tore across the plain as fast as our animals could be driven. Passing from the open plain into a forest, the whole cortege dashed over a very rough road with but little slackening of our pace; nor did we draw rein until we reached Syracuse. A few moments were passed in the interchange of the usual civilities, and we then went a mile farther on, to a large prairie upon which the division was drawn up. McKinstry has the flower of the army. He has in his ranks some regular infantry, cavalry, and artillery, and among his subordinate officers are Totten, Steele, Kelton, and Stanley, all distinguished in the regular service. There was no time for the observance of the usual forms of’ a review. The Secretary passed in front and behind the lines, made a short address, and left immediately by rail for St. Louis, stopping at Tipton to review Asboth’s division. The staff and guard rode slowly back to camp, both men and animals having had quite enough of the day’s work. It is said, that Adjutant-General Thomas has expressed the opinion that we shall not be able to move from here, because we have no transportation. As we are ordered to march to-morrow, the prediction will soon be tested.
Camp Zagonyi, October 14th. We were in the saddle this morning at nine o’clock. A short march of eleven miles, in a south-westerly direction, and through a prairie country, brought us to our camp. As we came upon the summit of a hill which lies to the west of our present position, our attention was directed to a group standing in front of a house about a mile distant. We had hardly caught sight of them when half a dozen men and three women mounted their horses and started at full speed towards the northeast, each man leading a horse. The General ordered some of the body-guard to pursue and try to stop the fugitives. We eagerly watched the chase. A narrow valley separated us from the elevation upon which the farm-house stood, and a small stream with low banks ran through the bottom of the valley. The pursuit was active, the guardsmen ran their horses down the slope, leaped the pool, and rushed up the opposite hill but the runaways were on fresh horses, and had no rough ground to pass, and so they escaped. One of them lost the horse he was leading, and it was caught by a guardsman. This was the first exhibition we have seen of a desire on the part of the inhabitants to avoid us.
The General established headquarters alongside the house where we first discovered the Rebel party. Our position is the most beautiful one we have yet found. To the west stretches an undulating prairie, separated from us by a valley, into which our camping-ground subsides with a mild declivity; to the north is a range of low hills, their round sides unbroken by shrub or tree while to the south stretches an extensive tract of low land, densely covered with timber, and resplendent with the colors of autumn.
Before dark the whole of Asboth’s division came up and encamped on the slopes to the west and north: not less than seven thousand men are here. This evening the scene is beautiful. I sit in the door of my lodge, and as far as the eye can reach the prairie is dotted with tents, the dark forms of men and horses, the huge white-topped wagons,—and a thousand fires gleam through the faint moonlight. Our band is playing near the General’s quarters, its strains are echoed by a score of regimental bands, and their music is mingled with the numberless noises of camp, the hum of voices, the laughter from the groups around the fires, the clatter of hoofs as some rider hurries to the General, the distant challenges of the sentries, the neighing of horses, the hoarse bellowing of the mules, and the clinking of the cavalry anvils. This, at last, is the romance of war. How soon will our ears be saluted by sterner music?
Camp Hudson, October 15th. We moved at seven o’clock this morning. For the first four miles the road ran through woods intersected by small streams. The ground was as rough as it could well be, and the teams which had started before us were struggling through the mire and over the rocks. We dashed past them at a fast trot, and in half an hour came upon a high prairie. The prairies of Southern Missouri are not large and flat, like the monotonous levels of Central Illinois, but they are rolling, usually small, and broken by frequent narrow belts of timber. In the woods there are hills, rocky soil, and always one, often two streams, clear and rapid as a mountain-brook in New England.
The scenery to-day was particularly attractive, a constant succession of prairies surrounded by wooded hills. As we go south, the color of the forest becomes richer, and the atmosphere more mellow and hazy.
During the first two hours we passed several regiments of foot. The men were nearly all Germans, and I scanned the ranks carefully, longing to see an American countenance. I found none, but caught sight of one arch-devil-may-care Irish face. I doubt whether there is a company in the army without an Irishman in it, though the proportion of Irishmen in our ranks is not so great as at the East.
Early in the afternoon we rode up to a farm-house, at the gate of which a middle-aged woman was standing, crying bitterly. The General stopped, and the woman at once assailed him vehemently. She told him the soldiers had that day taken her husband and his team away with them. She said that there was no one left to take care of her old blind mother, —at which allusion, the blind mother tottered down the walk and took a position in the rear of the attacking party, — that they had two orphan girls, the children of a deceased sister, and the orphans had lost their second father. The assailants were here reinforced by the two orphan girls. She protested that her husband was loyal, —“Truly, Sir, he was a Union man and voted for the Union, and always told his neighbors Disunion would do nothing except bring trouble upon innocent people, as indeed it has,” said she, with a fresh flood of tears. The General was moved by her distress, and ordered Colonel E. to have the man, whose name is Rutherford, sent hack at once.
A few rods farther on we came to another house, in front of which was another weeping woman afflicted in the same way. Several little flaxen-haired children surrounded her, and a white-bearded man, trembling with age, stood behind, leaning upon a staff. Her earnestness far surpassed that of Mrs. Rutherford. She wrung her hands, and could hardly speak for her tears. She seized the General’s hand and entreated him to return her husband, with an expression of distress which the hardest heart could not resist. The General comforted the poor woman with a few kind words, and promised to grant what she asked.
It is very difficult to refuse such requests, and yet, in point of fact, no great hardship or sacrifice is required of these men. They profess to he Union men, but they are not in arms for the Union, and a Federal general now asks of them that they shall help the army for a day with their teams. To those who come here from all parts of the nation to defend these homes this does not appear to be a harsh demand.
We arrived at camp about five o’clock. Our day’s march was twenty-two miles, and the wagons were far behind. A neighboring farm-house afforded the General and a few of his officers a dinner, but it was late in the evening before the tents were pitched.
Warsaw, October 17th. Yesterday we made our longest march, making twenty-five miles, and encamped three miles north of this place.
It is a problem, why riding in a column should be so much more wearisome than riding alone, but so it undeniably is. Men who would think little of a sixty-mile ride were quite broken down by to-day’s march.
As soon as we reached camp, the General asked for volunteers from the staff to ride over to Warsaw: of course the whole staff volunteered. On the way we met General Sigel. This very able and enterprising officer is a pleasant, scholarly-looking gentleman, his studious air being increased by the spectacles he always wears. His figure is light, active, and graceful, and he is an excellent horseman. The country has few better heads than his. Always on the alert, he is full of resources, and no difficulties daunt him. Hunter, Pope, and McKinstry are behind, waiting for tea and coffee, beans and flour, and army-wagons. Sigel gathered the ox-team and the farmers’ wagons and brought his division forward with no food for his men but fresh beef. His advance-guard is already across the Osage, and in a day or two his whole division will be over.
Guided by General Sigel, we rode down to the ford across the Osage. The river here is broad and rapid, and its banks are immense bare cliffs rising one hundred feet perpendicularly from the water’s edge. The ford is crooked, uncertain, and never practicable except for horsemen. The ferry is an old flat-boat drawn across by a rope, and the ascent up the farther bank is steep and rocky. It will not answer to leave in our rear this river, liable to be changed by a night’s rain into a fierce torrent, with no other means of crossing it than the rickety ferry. A bridge must at once be built, strong and firm, a safe road for the army in case of disaster. So decides the General. And as we look upon the swift-running river and its rocky shores, cold and gloomy in the twilight, every one agrees that the General is right. His decision has since been strongly supported, for to-day two soldiers of the Fremont Hussars were drowned in trying to cross the ford, and the water is now rising rapidly.
This morning we moved into Warsaw, and for the first time the staff is billeted in the Secession houses of the town; but the General clings to his tent. Our mess is quartered in the house of the county judge, who says his sympathies are with the South. But the poor man is so frightened, that we pity and protect him.
Bridge-building is now the sole purpose of the army. There is no saw-mill here, nor any lumber. The forest must be cut down and fashioned into a bridge, as well as the tools and the skill at command will permit. Details are already told off from the sharp-shooters, the cadets, and even the body-guard, and the banks of the river now resound with the quick blows of their axes.
Warsaw, October 21st. Four days we have been waiting for the building of the bridge. By night and by day the work goes on, and now the long black shape is striding slowly across the stream. In a few hours it will have gained the opposite bank, and then, Ho, for Springfield!
Our scouts have come in frequently the last few days. They tell us Price is at Stockton, and is pushing rapidly on towards the southwest. He has been grinding corn near Stockton, and has now food enough for another journey. His army numbers twenty thousand men, of whom five thousand have no arms. The rest carry everything, from double-barrelled shotguns to the Springfield muskets taken from the Home-Guards. They load their shot-guns with a Minie-ball and two buck-shot, and those who have had experience say that at one hundred yards they are very effective weapons. There is little discipline in the Rebel army, and the only organization is by companies. The men are badly clothed, and without shoes, and often without food. The deserters say that those who remain are waiting only to get the new clothes which McCulloch is expected to bring from the South.
McCulloch, the redoubtable Ben, does not seem to be held in high esteem by the Rebel soldiers. They say he lacks judgment and self-command. But all speak well of Price. No one can doubt that he is a man of unusual energy and ability. McCulloch will increase Price’s force to about thirty-five thousand, which number we must expect to meet.
Hunter and McKinstry have not yet appeared, but Pope reported himself last night, and some of his men came in to-day.
Camp White, October 22d. The bridge is built, and the army is now crossing the Osage. In five days a firm road has been thrown across the river, over which our troops may pass in a day. The General and staff crossed by the ferry, and are now encamped two miles south of the Pomme-de-Terre.
goto Part II
goto Part III
©2004 G. E. Rule
No reproduction or distribution without consent of author.
Feel free to link to this or any other page on the site.
Please don't hyperlink to pictures, query for copying permission.
Return to Civil War St. Louis
Total site hits
since January 25, 2001