A Brief History of the 2nd Missouri Artillery

The story of the 2nd Missouri Artillery is very much atypical, when considered beside other artillery formations raised during the Civil War.  Yet, that atypical unit history is somewhat a typical for Missouri regiments.  I’ve discussed some aspects of the 2nd Missouri’s history in previous posts (see here, here, here, here, and here).  But let’s go into a few more of those particulars, just so you see how “atypical” this unit was.

The 2nd Missouri Artillery’s origins lay in those confrontational days in May 1861.  Missouri was teetering on the verge of secession and a young Army captain named Nathaniel Lyon moved to prevent such.  In order to put a force on the streets of St. Louis, Lyon acted, not with direct authority at that moment in time, to muster a force of Missouri militia into Federal service for a period of three months.  Lyon later received full backing, and a brigadier-general’s star, in these efforts.  The militia mustered by Lyon were designated the “United States Reserve Corps” and, under terms of enlistment, were limited to duty in St. Louis… though later stretched a bit to include locations in eastern Missouri.  This Reserve Corp consisted of five infantry regiments and one cavalry company.

By late July, when these units were nearing muster out, Lyon’s adjutant, Major John M. Schofield, issued Special Orders No. 19, in which allowed the three month Reserve Corps to muster out, but be replaced by units raised with three-year enlistments.  That is, provided no other “emergencies” arose that required those militia to remain in service.

But before those orders could be applied, Lyon had met his end at Wilson’s Creek and there was just such an “emergency” to deal with.  Lyon’s replacement, Major-General John C. Fremont, expanded the Reserve Corps, retaining the five regiments of infantry and adding two squadrons of cavalry and two batteries of light artillery, under orders issued on August 12, 1861.  This expansion used the authorities granted under Special Orders No. 19 to enlist men for three years.  Under Fremont’s organization, or lack thereof, several formations were raised under designations of “Home Guards” or “Reserve Corps.” By late October, Fremont expanded these reserves again to include the First Reserve Corps Artillery – twelve companies of heavy artillery and three batteries of light artillery.   And it is those fifteen “Reserve Corps” artillery companies/batteries which eventually became the 2nd Missouri Artillery.

When Fremont was relieved of command on November 2, he left behind a bureaucratic mess.  Major-General George B. McClellan charged Major-General Henry Halleck with cleaning that up.  Instructions sent on November 11 read in part:

In assigning you to command the Department of the Missouri, it is probably unnecessary for me to state that I have intrusted to you a duty which requires the utmost tact and decision.  You have not merely the ordinary duties of a military commander to perform, but the far more difficult task of reducing chaos to order.

And who better to assign to that task than Halleck? McClellan went on to instruct Halleck to examine all unit musters to identify “any illegal, unusual, or improper organizations….” And in those cases, Halleck offered legal, three-year enlistments as a means of retaining the formations.  Simple solution, right?

But Halleck had a problem for which there was no simple solution.  The men of this “Reserve Corps” and the Home Guards had enlisted with several stipulations and guarantees.  One of which was service only in the state (or in some cases within St. Louis).  Furthermore, the authority of the U.S. officers was somewhat limited over these state formations.  By mid-December, Halleck decided the best way to resolve this was simply pay off the troops for the time in service, and go about recruiting new three-year regiments.

However, hindering Halleck’s attempt to clear out this “chaos” was the paymaster’s refusal to pay troops who had not been properly mustered, and for whom rolls were incomplete. And at the same time, subordinate commanders were reluctant to simply release these able body men, as they might not reenlist.

Finally, on January 17, 1862, Halleck found a compromise and issued General Orders No. 22, which read in part:

Organizations which have been mustered into the United States service under the title of “Reserve Corps,” or other designations, are regularly in the military service of the United States, and are to be paid and supplied the same as any other troops.  It is not the intention to require the service of such troops out of this State, except in cases of emergency, but they must do the same duty as other troops, and any refusal on their part to obey orders will be punished to the full extent of the law…

Concurrent with that order, the infantry regiments (which were actually designated by numbered “Reserve Corps” on the books) were consolidated into volunteer regiments.  This led to mutinies and desertions throughout the first half of 1862.  Commanders rated the units as “useless” for the duties required.  The story of the infantry and cavalry “Reserve Corps” falls out of our scope here.  So the short version is that on September 1, 1862, Schofield (now a Brigadier-General and in charge of the District of Missouri) issued Special Orders No. 98 directing the muster out of all Reserve Corps regiments.

But the artillery of the Reserve Corps was a different story.  Under Halleck’s early attempts to bring order, the Reserve Corps artillery was redesignated the 2nd Missouri Artillery Regiment (orders dated November 20, 1861).  Colonel Henry Almstedt was appointed commander. Furthermore a mustering officer had processed the artillery troops into formal, legal, three-year terms.  Indeed, around that time some 320 men who didn’t wish to remain as three-year volunteers opted to muster out.  By January 1862, most of the regiment’s batteries were considered organized and were actually drawing in more recruits (all new three-year enlistments).

In the fall of 1862, hearing the infantry and cavalry were being mustered out, the artillerists also asked for their pay-out.  But instead of mustering out, those batteries, now the 2nd Missouri Artillery and considered a volunteer regiment, were to be retained.  In General Orders No. 21, issued on November 29 by Major-General Samuel Curtis (replacing Halleck in command of the Department of the Missouri), the Second was defined under a different enlistment status:

The Second Missouri Artillery was first enrolled as Home Guards, but with their own consent they were afterwards regularly mustered in as three-year volunteers… and the matter was fully explained in German and English.

But now, seeing how the other Reserves had been treated, all the artillerists were clamoring for their release.  General Schofield, commanding the subordinate District of Missouri, added to this:

The Second Missouri Artillery was reorganized and became volunteers soon after Major-General Halleck assumed command of the department.  Therefore it is not to be considered as belonging to the Reserve Corps.  But even were this not the case, that regiment would be retained in service, since their services are needed in the position for which they were originally enlisted, and there are no other troops which can be used to replace them.  Therefore the Second Missouri Artillery will not be mustered out of service.

The logic of this and other statements was lost on the rank and file.  The problem festered through the winter.  On March 30, 1863, Brigadier-General J. W. Davidson, commanding the St. Louis District, complained about the 2nd Missouri:

A detachment of this regiment at Pilot Knob serving with a battery is in mutiny.  Another serving with a battery at Benton Barracks was recently in mutiny.  Another serving as heavy artillery at Cape Girardeau was recently in mutiny.  A detachment serving with the Twenty-second Iowa Volunteers by department orders left that regiment and is, I am informed, in this city, thus deserting their station.  This calls for a decision upon the difference between the officers and men as to what the regiment is, whether as volunteers or Reserve Corps.

In reaction to the mutinies and other troubles, Curtis convened a board of inquiry in April.  That board concluded the regiment’s original muster, in the summer of 1861, had been illegal.  Furthermore, the change of status to three-year enlistments was invalid.  The board recommended that the regiment be reorganized, should the command deem it necessary to retain the 2nd Missouri in service.  And Curtis agreed with that suggestion.

Curtis then punted this up to his boss in Washington… who just happened to be Halleck at that time of the war.  On May 15, Halleck responded, “This regiment was remustered as volunteers for three years or the war, while I commanded the department, and under the supervision of a staff officer…. There could have been no possible misunderstanding on this subject, and General Curtis was wrong in again reviewing the question.” Halleck concluded by offering a few “hard” solutions:

Those men who were unfit for service should have been discharged and the regiment filled up or its organization reduced.  The men had no claim whatever for a discharge on the ground of improper enlistment.

And now the regiment should be filled up, if possible, and if not, its organization should be reduced.

While all this correspondence was passing between St. Louis and Washington, the war situation put another spin on the 2nd Missouri’s problems.  The spring of 1863 was full of activity on all fronts and Missouri was no exception.  In April, Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke raided through southeast Missouri (I’ve written on Chalk Bluff, which occurred at the end of that raid).  Marmaduke threatened several points and put up a scare that St. Louis would be attacked.  And while preparing the city’s defenses, Curtis went so far as to promise the 2nd Missouri Artillery that “… if they would do their duty as soldiers till the trouble was over they should be mustered out.”

Promises made, but the bureaucracy still had to be appeased. Through the early summer the men remained in the regiment and were none too happy about it. Not until July 27 did Schofield formally request a disposition on the matter, adding the sharp assessment that the 2nd Missouri “.. is a disgrace to the service, as well as utterly useless.”  With that, official authorization came on August 3 to muster out the men from the original “Reserve Corps” enlistments.  But that was not to apply to men who’d volunteered directly into the 2nd Missouri starting in 1862.  To cover the process involved, Schofield issued Special Orders No. 219 on August 13.  After covering administrative details, the last paragraphs, dictating the unit’s disposition, read:

The Second Missouri Artillery Volunteers will be reorganized and recruited to its maximum as rapidly as practicable.

For this purpose a military board will be appointed to examine the capacity, qualifications, propriety of conduct, and efficiency of all the commissioned officers of the regiment, and to consolidate the men remaining in the regiment after the muster out hereby ordered into the proper number of full companies.  Upon the report of this board the commanding general will order the muster out of such officers as shall not be found fitted for their positions.

This order cleared the way to finally, and permanently, resolving the issues caused by Fremont’s hasty organization, Halleck’s blunt approach to reconciliation to regulations, and Curtis’s somewhat tone-def management…. if I may be so bold.

In short order, the regiment was reduced to a battalion.  Captain Nelson Cole, who was then on staff as the Artillery Chief for the district, transferred out of Battery E, 1st Missouri to accept a Lieutenant-Colonel’s position in the Second Missouri.  Cole’s date of rank was October 2, 1863.  And that date might be considered the start of the reorganization of the regiment.

Enough men remained to form five companies of heavy artillery.  The First Flying Battery, originally Pfenninghausen’s and later Landgraeber’s Battery, an independent formation, transferred in to become Battery F.  The 1st Missouri State Militia Battery (also known as Thurber’s or Waschman’s Battery) became Battery L.  And new enlistments began to fill in the rest of the ranks. Not until February was the regiment completely reorganized to full strength.  At which time, Cole was promoted to Colonel.

From that point forward to the end of the war, the 2nd Missouri Artillery had a less contentious and administratively conventional history.  In 1864, most of the heavy artillery companies were reequipped as field artillery.  These batteries would see field service in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia.  One battery served in the Atlanta Campaign.  Most of the others saw service repelling Price from Missouri in the fall months of 1864.  The field grade officers, including Cole, served in several key staff positions, providing a cadre of artillery chiefs. As many of those three-year enlistments remained at the close of the war, the regiment was only slowly mustered out.  Some batteries saw service on the Powder River Expedition of 1865, under a column commanded by Cole.

We might say that despite its unconventional origin and mutinous reputation, the 2nd Missouri matured into a very proper organization by the end of the war.

Sources: Aside from the Official Records and other common sources, material for this post comes from “Missouri troops in service during the civil war : Letter from the Secretary of war, in response to the Senate resolution passed on June 14, 1902”, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902. 

A lost gun at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis

A long time back, I wrote about the battle of Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River at the Arkansas-Missouri border. Since that battle occurred close to my boyhood home, it has always been a favored research topic. Even if scant resources exist for that nearly forgotten battle.

As I mentioned in the earlier posts, Confederate forces under Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke managed to slip over the St. Francis in the evening of May 1, 1863. A bridge constructed by Colonel M. Jeff Thompson allowed Marmaduke to cross the rain swollen St. Francis and thus escape to fight another day. During the crossing, Thompson dismounted several artillery pieces in order to move them by rafts across the river.

Growing up in southeast Missouri, I had often heard stories about buried Confederate “stuff” – be that treasure or cannons. With time, I reconciled those stories with what I knew of the records. I’d never accounted for any lost cannons (and don’t even get me started on the treasure stories).

But yesterday my father forwarded a newspaper clipping of an article run in the Daily Dunklin Democrat (our newspaper in Kennett, Missouri) on February 2, 1929. The article read:

To Remove an Old Cannon from the St. Francis River

Bloomfield, Mo, Jan 28. – An old cannon, dumped into the St. Francis river 60 years ago, during the Civil War, is to be removed from the river bed. It was recently located at what is known as Chalk Bluff, near the Missouri-Arkansas state line.

The Rev. R.L. Allen of Bloomfield has obtained permission from the War Department to take charge of the cannon and keep it until such time as the department wishes to take charge of it.

An interesting history is attached to his old war machine. It was one that J.W.R. Allen and his company captured during the war between the states. Allen was an uncle of the Bloomfield minister.

The exact date of the engagement is not exactly known here, but circumstances under which the fight took place has been handed down by tradition so that it is known it was a hand to hand battle with breastworks enclosing the old court house here.

Mr. Allen’s uncle was captain of the company which captured the old cannon. After taking this cannon according to the old stories, the Confederate troops started south. They were hard pressed by the Union forces and when crossing the St. Francis river they decided to dump the cannon overboard from an improvised raft upon which they were crossing.

Inquiry has brought out that the cannon never was taken from the river. Allen planned to make a search for the instrument until reports were received here that it had been found by people living along the river.

The War Department made it plain that it would bear no expense of having the cannon removed from the river or reconditioning the historic relic.

From what is provided in the article, nothing definitively links the cannon to the May 1, 1863 battle of Chalk Bluff. But the account details, to include the use of rafts, mirrors the accounts of Thompson’s handling of the guns. And of course the place name matches. However, Marmaduke did not mention losing any guns.

And more importantly, what happened to this artifact… er… instrument of war? I don’t know of any surviving guns laying about. So I suspect the cannon was scrapped at some point, perhaps during World War II.

One-hundred and fifty years after the war, how many times do we find a new piece of information that only leads to more questions?

New historical markers for opposite ends of the war

Couple of entries from the Civil War historical marker category.

The Annandale Patch reports there’s a new marker in Fairfax:

New Civil War Marker Installed in Mason District Park

Visitors to Mason District Park may notice a new addition to the park not far from the picnic tables near the baseball field. Last Wednesday, a new Civil War marker was installed as part of the Civil War 150th Legacy Project.

The marker, called Mason’s Hill, represents a strategic location used by Confederate Col. J.E.B. Stuart following the First Battle of Manassas. According to the summary graphic, at Mason’s Hill, Col. Edward P. Alexander built a signal observation tower with a six foot “astronomical glass” to observe Washington.

Mason’s Hill isn’t the only new marker in the Annandale area. Ravensworth, a marker located in the Ravensworth Shopping Center in Springfield, was also installed last week. Markers have also been installed in Clifton, Centreville, Vienna, McLean and Great Falls. By late summer or early fall, markers will also be installed in Rose Hill near Alexandria and in Lorton. (read more)

The article goes on to detail Fairfax’s Civil War 150th Legacy Project. The project plans to have five more markers by July 2013. Ron, I think this marker is in your HMDB assignment area, can you get it on your way home this evening?

And from the other side of the Civil War map, out near my homestead, the Paragould Daily Press reports on a new marker in Marmaduke, Arkansas:

Historical marker commemorates Marmaduke’s past

Just outside of the town’s post office sits a historical marker with the name “John Sappington Marmaduke” written in big bold letters….

According to its history, Marmaduke was named after General John Sappington Marmaduke who served as a Confederate major general during the American Civil War.

Marmaduke came to the area during the Civil War, when he crossed the St. Francis River to find a suitable place for camp on level ground. During his period in Arkansas, Marmaduke led several cavalry raids into Missouri before finally leaving and moving to Missouri. Several soldiers stayed in the area and made the camp into a village. As the small village began to form, it was given the name of Marmaduke, after the general who led so many raids. Finally, it turned into a city when the “Cotton Belt” railroad was laid in 1882 and kept the name of Marmaduke. (read more)

The article goes on to mention that Marmaduke went on to serve as governor of Missouri, but died in office in 1887. Some time back I wrote about Chalk Bluff, an 1863 battle on one of the general’s cavalry raids. But I contend Marmaduke’s greatest contribution to the Confederate war effort was to mortally wound his commander, General Lucius M. Walker, in an 1863 duel.

Regardless, the town of Marmaduke is a place name from my youth. In my teen years, it served as an example of the lasting impression left by the Civil War.

A Study of Initiative: Prairie Grove December 7, 1862

As you may have guessed, I excelled somewhat in the formal professional military history classes while in the Army.  Often in my zeal to impress, I’d pick obscure (to the audience) battles to reference when asked for examples.  Visiting Prairie Grove last week, I had flash backs to a paper written about initiative as a principle of war.

Initiative, on the battlefield, is to present a series of threats to the enemy which they must respond to.  Initiative is not just bold aggressive moves.  It can, contrary to some notions, include occupying and fortifying a key terrain feature.  To “take the initiative” a commander changes the current state of affairs in such a way that his opponent must respond in a somewhat predictable manner.  (And conversely to “lose the initiative” is to alter the current state in a way that gives the opponent more options.)

The American Civil War is filled with great examples of initiative applied in tactical, operational, and strategic contexts.  Think of Chancellorsville and Joe Hooker at first “taking” then “losing” the initiative.  The word initiative rolls off the tongue when discussing Jackson’s ’62 Valley Campaign.   And you cannot discuss either Grant or Lee without saying a paragraph or two about initiative.

Another less cited example of initiative played on the stage of northwest Arkansas in the late fall of 1862.  In November of that year, Brigadier General John M. Schofield split his Army of the Frontier with one division forward near Fayetteville, Arkansas under Brigadier General James G. Blunt and the remainder at Springfield, Missouri under Brigadier General James Totten.  In the last week of November, Schofield took ill and command temporarily fell to Blunt.  Logically, Blunt should have returned to Springfield, suspending operations for the winter.  But he didn’t.

Hearing Confederates were massing forces near the village of Cane Hill, Arkansas, Blunt marched 35 miles southwest to strike Confederate General John S. Marmaduke on November 28.  As result of the all day fight, Blunt was exposed deep in enemy country, but he was also in a position that General Thomas C. Hindman, overall Confederate commander, could not ignore.

Hindman tried to seize the initiative for himself, moving behind Blunt, figuring to defeat Blunt then any reinforcements sent in piecemeal fashion.  Hindman outnumbered his adversary on paper, and intended to translate that into a stunning victory.  But Hindman had not closed all options to his enemy, and did not fully gain the initiative.

From Cane Hill, Blunt sent orders to Totten on December 2: “… I desire you to move as much of your force as possible, especially the infantry, to my support as I do not intend to leave this position without a fight.  You should move by forced marches via Fayetteville….” [Official Records, Series I, Volume 22, Part I, Serial 32, page 805].

But Totten didn’t receive the message.  He too was on leave (something in the water I guess), but his replacement General Francis J. Herron, responded adding, “Will keep you well posted of my movements.”   [OR, Serial 32, page 807] Something every commander loves to hear.   And Herron didn’t just move, he moved with all haste.  In a march that would make the Stonewall Brigade wince, Herron covered over 100 miles in three days (in December, in the mountains, during some of the shortest days of the year).

Herron’s arrival near Fayetteville changed the game.  The initiative balance had teetered between the two sides, now tipped firmly to the Federals.  Hindman picked a good ridge line on which to defend astride the main road through the area and began consolidating his command – at an area known locally as Prairie Grove.  However, his posture left open maneuver room for the Federal commands.  Maneuver, of course translates into options.

On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1862 (history has a funny way of hitting some dates over and over, you know), Herron encountered Hindman’s defenses.  Herron interpreted that to be only a portion of the Confederate force, and attempted to push through to Blunt.  After two organized assaults, Herron’s command was for the most part spent.  However, his artillery kept the Confederates at bay.

Realizing Hindman had slipped by him, on the morning of the 7th Blunt fell back north to Rhea’s Mill, about five miles from Herron’s position.  There, Blunt changed his direction, “…when I heard the discharge of artillery in a northeast direction, and immediately moved rapidly, with the Second and Third Brigades, in the direction of the firing….” [OR, Serial 32, page 74].   Or in more romantic form, he “moved to the sound of the guns!”

When Blunt’s division arrived on the field in the afternoon, the Federals still held the initiative, partly due to artillery superiority.  Blunt launched an attack on the left flank of the Confederate defense at about two in the afternoon.  Stubborn defense, and the early December sunset, checked Blunt’s attack.  While tactically both sides were at a stalemate, operationally Hindman had shot his wad.  The Confederates began a retreat that night (and used the cover of a truce in part to gain further distance from pursuit).   A costly battle, certainly one of the bloodiest in the Trans-Mississippi theater, Prairie Grove tipped the operational and strategic initiative to the Federals.

Three times in the campaign, Blunt could have fallen back citing caution, and history would not have judged him wrong.  Yet three times he chose to act in a way that would force his adversary to choose particular courses of action, and keep them reacting.  Not all of Blunt’s actions were the mark of a great commander, but his use of the initiative was remarkable.  I would argue that Blunt shaped the situation, through his own actions and orders, to make it predictable.

A co-worker of mine from years past often said, “Don’t be afraid to go out on a limb, if you can predict how that limb is going to break.”  Perhaps that is the kind of logic that passed through Blunt’s mind on those fall days of 1862.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine