Federal Militia

Federal Militia

in Missouri

by Kirby Ross


In studying the Civil War in Missouri nothing is more confusing than sorting out the various hodge-podge of militia units that fought on the Federal side. A general statement regarding a generic militia unit in a military report, newspaper article, diary, magazine, book, etc., should rightly leave the reader scratching his or her head.

Too many historians and writers on the war in Missouri tend to lump “the militia” into one broad category. Being apprised of specific instances of prominent, institutionally undisciplined behavior by the troops and/or leadership of one particular militia organization all too often results in unsubstantiated and unprovable claims that other militia organizations were of the same ilk. Such broad oversimplifications give the appearance of falling into one of two categories: 1) at best, the writer has failed to do their homework; or, 2) at worst, the writer is allowing an agenda to supercede objective historical accuracy. This is certainly not to say that specific militia organizations never engaged in wrongful conduct—without a doubt, many if not all of them had troops that crossed the line, just as many soldiers in a prolonged armed conflict are prone to do. What is being communicated is that there were different types of militia in Missouri during the war, and the quality and discipline of each unit was as varied and diverse as the ways in which those units came into existence.

The following listing, while not necessarily complete, provides brief profiles of the most prominent militia organizations that existed in Missouri during the War Between the States.

1. Home Guard 1861

See also: HOME GUARD: County Origins of Specified Units

On June 11, 1861, the commander of the Department of the West, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, was ordered by the Department of War to enlist “such loyal citizens” of Missouri as he thought proper to allow those individuals to protect their homes and neighborhoods from the state’s pro-Southern element. With the formational authority being provided by the United States government as opposed to the secessionist state government, this national-level involvement in localized community defense efforts was unique in the course of the Civil War.

Just under 20,000 men served in what came to be known as the Home Guard, filling a total of 241 companies in 6 regiments and 22 battalions. According to a post-war Congressional report on the various military organizations that were created in Missouri, “the Home Guard consisted of two classes:

“(1) Those who were organized for their own protection and the preservation of peace in their own neighborhoods, and were armed by the United States but were to receive neither pay, clothing, nor rations, and,

“(2) Those who were organized, armed, and equipped for more active local service, for which service it was understood they would have a valid claim for pay.” These latter units were called into service by Federal military authorities in Missouri after recruitment quotas for U.S. Volunteers were reached and additional manpower was needed to deal with the deteriorating state of affairs.

By the end of 1861 a very confused situation had arisen in that different rules were governing the individual units—some companies were being mustered in on condition that they serve only in Missouri, while others that were actively serving never actually mustered in. In addition, there were units that had been formed without any underlying legal authority whatsoever. To resolve matters the Union command commenced disbanding these organizations in December, while a few had already “relieved themselves from duty,” to provide for their families after coming to the realization there was no chance of obtaining payment for their services.

With the Confederate-supporting state government having been ousted from the capital by the summer of 1861, the newly installed Unionist government began assuming responsibility for local defense by creating several organizations to fill the niche served by the Home Guard, including the Six-month Militia in late 1861 and the Enrolled Missouri Militia in mid-1862.

2. Six-Month Militia 1861

In the face of Federal control over community defense in Missouri and the structural deficiencies associated with the Home Guard, on August 24, 1861, the newly installed Unionist governor of Missouri, Hamilton Gamble, issued a proclamation calling into service 42,000 militia “to protect the lives and property of the citizens of the State.” Falling far short of its goals, just over 6,000 men signed up for six-month enlistments into five regiments, eleven battalions, and ten independent companies in the following weeks.

Assuming the primary role in local defense from the disbanding Home Guard, the Six-month Militia performed duty primarily in “scouring their counties in search of rebel camps and rendezvous, and acting as scouts and guides to the various bodies of volunteers then in the State.” After a few months the great expense in maintaining this force was deemed to be without a corresponding benefit and the governor ordered it dismantled in January 1862. Its duties were subsequently filled in large part by the Missouri State Militia that was being brought into existence at this time.

3. Missouri State Militia 1861-1865

Coming to grips with the financial realities of fielding large numbers of men to defend the state, Governor Hamilton Gamble developed a plan that shifted the cost to the national government while at the same time allowing him to maintain personal control of the force himself. Meeting with President Abraham Lincoln in the fall of 1861, an agreement was finalized on November 6 wherein a force called the Missouri State Militia was created that was “armed, equipped, clothed, subsisted, transported, and paid by the United States,” but at the same time was not subjected to duty outside of Missouri except in “the immediate defense of the State.” Orders were issued out of the War Department the next day formalizing this agreement, which was further sanctioned by an act of Congress.

Gamble appointed the field officers of this organization, and had the power to remove them at his discretion. The MSM leadership reported to the senior U.S. military officers in the state, who were also given commissions in the MSM to bridge a military chain of command that reached directly to Washington D.C. Consequently the precise nature of this entity, according to President Lincoln, was that it “is not strictly either ‘State troops’ or ‘United States troops.’ It is a mixed character.”

Initially not having any constraints on the number of troops it could enlist, within months over 13,000 filled the ranks in 14 regiments (each of which had from eight to ten companies), 3 battalions, 2 independent batteries of artillery, and single independent companies of cavalry, infantry, and sappers and miners. Realizing the enlistments would continue to grow, along with the costs associated with them, in February 1862 Congress limited the number of MSM troops to 10,000. This cap was afterward reached through discharges and attrition, and various units were either disbanded or merged until only nine regiments of cavalry and one regiment of infantry were left.

The Missouri State Militia saw hard service during the course of the war and was the primary force that engaged the guerrilla threat in the state. It was also the first line of defense when Confederate regulars made major raids into the state in 1863 and 1864 and suffered heavy losses on those occasions (the 3rd MSM Cavalry played a very critical role in preventing St. Louis from falling to Confederate forces in 1864).

According to Governor Gamble, the force was “found very efficient,” and General John M. Schofield (future General-in-Chief of the Army) found that in drill, discipline, and efficiency “these troops will compare favorably with any volunteer troops which I have seen.” Consequently they were made eligible for the same reenlistment bonuses as mainline U.S. Volunteers in 1864, and were granted Federal pensions after the war.

4. Enrolled Missouri Militia 1862-1865

See also: ENROLLED MISSOURI MILITIA: County Origins of Specified Units

In the summer of 1862, Confederate Colonel Joseph Porter began a recruiting program behind Federal lines in northeast Missouri. As the Unionist population began to become more and more panicked by the Rebel force in its midst and it became evident the newly-formed Missouri State Militia was stretched too thin to be in all places at all times, the powers-that-be sought a solution.

The U.S. Government-funded MSM had quickly reached its cap of 10,000 troops, so additional manpower could not be brought into the field at Federal expense. At the same time, Missouri’s experience in footing the bill on the ill-fated Six-month Militia had provided a costly lesson to the state government and helped it realize that creating another such force was out of the question. A different solution to addressing the wide-spread guerrilla problem would have to be found.

In late July 1862 the plan was unveiled. The solution was not to be had by funding a full-time force that would constantly be in service—instead, the solution was to create a force of part-time citizen soldiers that would only be called up in times of emergency, and only have to be paid during those specific times of call-up. The solution was the Enrolled Missouri Militia.

On July 22 Governor Gamble issued an order directing Brigadier General John Schofield to organize this militia. Acting with haste, that same day General Schofield issued his own order directing every able bodied man in the state to report immediately to the nearest military outpost to enroll and be sworn into the new militia organization.

The net effect was that tens of thousands of fence-sitting men of military age were brought into the military fold. At the same time, thousands of other fence-sitters that were quietly supporting the South were forced to make a decision whether to serve in a Federal unit, or to flee the state and enlist in the Confederate Army. While many men did pursue the latter course of action, over 52,000 others remained behind to form the militia force that eventually reached 85 regiments, 16 battalions, and 33 independent companies.

On average, most men in the EMM served only a few weeks of active duty over the course of the next two and a half years. Given the nature of the organization—which naturally included disloyal men, men that would not otherwise have been qualified for service, and men that had little desire to serve—the EMM was destined for controversy.

Many of the troops called to duty used their positions for their own financial gain, or to settle personal scores with enemies (prompting occasional references to it in the Union press as being the “Enraged Militia”). Nonetheless the Enrolled Militia did fill a Unionist need by freeing up the MSM and other frontline U.S. troops for duty in the field while it conducted local patrols and garrisoned towns.

Veterans of the EMM were not eligible for Federal pensions after the conclusion of the war.

5. Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia 1863-1865

See also: PROVISIONAL ENROLLED MISSOURI MILITIA: County Origins of Specified Units

By early 1863, with the temporary abatement of the guerrilla crisis it was decided that the bulk of the EMM companies in active service would be relieved of duty and the men sent home to resume civilian pursuits. In their place an offshoot of the EMM was created with the object to “1) repress any attempt at insurrection; 2) prevent any combinations for rebellion against the Government; and 3) maintain the laws of the State.” (italics from the original)

This new force, the Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia, was formed under the authority of the EMM and the military status of the men that served in it was the same as the original force with the exception that it would be a full-time organization. As the thinking went, a reduced force of full-time troops would be as effective as a larger force of part-time troops.

The PEMM began organizing in May 1863 by detailing picked men from the individual EMM regiments (this force was most commonly referred to as the “Detailed Militia”). In order that the personnel could concentrate on the job at hand and not have the distractions that marred the original EMM, the troops chosen for the PEMM were those “who could most easily be spared from their ordinary avocations, having but few if any others dependent upon their labor for support” and would be “commanded by judiciously selected officers.” While the state was responsible for paying them, their clothing, camp and garrison equipage, and medical supplies were provided by the United States.

Eleven regiments and one independent company were formed, which were placed under the overall command of General Schofield who referred to them as being “a real addition to the effective force in the department.” Because of the nature of their service, veterans of the PEMM were eligible for Federal pensions after the war.

The PEMM was marred by self-destructive political infighting between the Conservative Unionist governor, Hamilton Gamble, and large numbers of Radical Unionist troops that were detailed to it. Because of this, most of the regiments were disbanded to prevent them from having any influence over the November 1863 judicial elections. Two regiments remained in service until the end of the conflict after being converted to U.S. Volunteer cavalry regiments in 1864.

6. Provisional Enrolled Militia (G.O. #107) 1864-1865

See also: PROVISIONAL ENROLLED MILITIA: County Origins of Specified Units

Not to be confused with the Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia. Brought into existence on June 28, 1864, via General Order No. 107 issued by the senior commander of the Department of the Missouri, Major General William S. Rosecrans, this organization was created to address a new wave of guerrilla activity that began overwhelming the state in mid-1864. Commonly referred to as “Order 107 Militia” the organization was intended “to provide for local defense against bands of bushwhackers and other disturbers of the public peace, and for the maintenance of law and order more effectually than could be done by calling out the Enrolled Militia, as well as to engage all good citizens in the work.”

This was truly a grass-roots organization as residents of the individual counties were required to hold meetings to choose and organize one or two companies of “about 100 men each, selected for courage, energy, and willingness to serve for the protection of your respective counties.” The men chosen were to be detailed from the Enrolled Militia (although in actual practice volunteers were also accepted) and were to be led by “the best officers selected and recommended by the proper Enrolled Militia colonels and brigadier-generals of the districts in which they belong.”

The sixty-two companies that were formed under Order 107 differed from the Provisional Enrolled Missouri Militia in three major respects—they were organized as independent companies as opposed to being but one company in a larger regiment; their enlisted personnel were chosen by county committees as opposed to EMM officers; and their duty was intended to be temporary and local along the lines of the regular EMM, as opposed to permanent and regional as in the PEMM (consequently, unlike the PEMM, veterans of the Provisional Companies were not eligible for post-war Federal pensions).

7. Missouri Militia (G.O. #3) 1865

See also: MISSOURI MILITIA (G. O. #3): County Origins of Specified Units

In anticipation of the disbanding of the Enrolled Missouri Militia scheduled to take place on March 12, 1865, as well as the ongoing expirations of enlistments of most of the troops in the Missouri State Militia, the present commanding general of the Department of the Missouri, Major General Grenville Dodge, sought to create a replacement force that “would be more effective and available, and at the same time less expensive to the State.” The result was the Missouri Militia, a creation of individual independent companies to be provisioned by the U.S. government and paid by the counties in question and the disloyal citizens that resided therein.

On January 30, 1865, the newly installed governor, Thomas Fletcher, caused to be issued General Order #3 providing for the Missouri Militia. Sixty-one companies were formed, with a charge that was more law-enforcement oriented than military. According to the formational order, it was organized for active service “for the purpose of repressing lawlessness and to secure safety of life and property to all good citizens, and to strengthen the hands of legal justice by enabling the officers of the law to execute its processes and judgments.”

In April the state’s civil authority created a second Missouri Militia organization that was to be based on regiments (as stated, the present MM was based on independent companies), causing two different Missouri Militias to be operating at the same time. With the Confederate surrender at Appomattox a few days later and the general cessation of hostilities in the following weeks, the Order #3 Missouri Militia quickly ran into insurmountable funding problems. In late June and early July Governor Fletcher caused to be issued a series of orders dismantling it, “in consequence of the refusal of the United States Government to issue subsistence. . . . and the inability, for want of appropriations, of the State to subsist them, and the necessity for employing that class of troops no longer existing. . . .”

8. Missouri Militia (State Convention) 1865-late 19th century

See also: MISSOURI MILITIA (State Convention): County Origins of Specified Units

In the waning days of the war the State Convention adopted an ordinance requiring a state militia force to organize into platoons, companies, regiments, and brigades (marking a shift from creation by military fiat to creation by civil authority). Created on April 8, 1865, this version of the Missouri Militia survived long after hostilities finally ended and was the primary force that addressed the lawless element that engulfed post-war Missouri. Eighty-four regiments and six battalions were formed.

For additional reading, see: Report of the Committee of the House of Representatives of the Twenty-second General Assembly of the State of Missouri Appointed to Investigate the Conduct and Management of the Militia (Jefferson City, MO: W. A. Curry, Public Printer, 1864); Organization and Status of Missouri Troops In Service During the Civil War (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902); Joseph A. Mudd, With Porter in North Missouri (Washington: The National Publishing Co., 1909)