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. 

Wilson’s Creek: The First “Big” Campaign

Just before a holiday break in college, one of the Sergeant-Majors assigned to my ROTC detachment asked about my plans.  Of course I was headed home.  So he asked how far I’d drive.  I responded the time to drive from Fulton, Missouri to Kennett was just over five hours, any way you go.  “Five hours!  No way!  I can be well the other side of Kansas City in five hours!”  Yep, Missouri is a big state.

Even today with multi-lane highways, if you drive the routes used by General Nathaniel Lyon’s columns across Missouri in the summer of 1861, you’ll put a lot of miles on the tires.  From St. Louis to Springfield is just over 200 miles (trust me, I know every concrete slab on that stretch of I-44).  Springfield is 130 miles from the state capital in Jefferson City.  And 170 miles from Kansas City.

From the Confederate perspective, General Ben McCulloch’s troops moved from as far as Texas.  The main supply route from Fort Smith, Arkansas ran north about 175 miles into southwest Missouri, through the Boston Mountains which are the most rugged in the Ozarks.  All told the area of operations for the Wilson’s Creek campaign spanned an area roughly 250 miles  by 300 miles.

Heck, McDowell only had to cover 30 miles (avoiding rush hour traffic of course) from Arlington to Manassas.  McClellan’s forces covered about 130 to 150 miles through western Virginia in the summer of 1861, although over some of the most formidable mountains east of the Mississippi.

So the armies in Missouri had to cover extra ground.  What’s the big deal?  Well unlike northern Virginia, or even arguably western Virginia, Missouri lacked transportation infrastructure preferable for campaigning.  Yet from May through July 1861 the sparring forces traversed the southern half of the state (and a good portion of the northern half for good measure), ending up concentrated in the vicinity of Springfield.

And “sparring forces” is perhaps the best way to explain the arrayed body of men.  Missouri State Guard, under Sterling Price, were not technically Confederate.  And the proper Confederate force, McCulloch’s command, lacked uniformity.  Federal forces included regulars, volunteers, and home guards.  All told some 18,000 troops in the southwest corner of Missouri.   Perhaps half that on the field at Manassas, but still an impressive gathering.

Many historians question Lyon’s tactical judgement, considering his actions clouded by a personal vendetta against the secessionists.  That certainly has merit.  But I think we must give him credit for managing several columns moving across vast distances with limited resources.  Simply concentrating over 5000 men at Springfield by late July was an achievement in itself.

The politics of the border state added even more challenges to Lyon.  Just prior to launching the campaign, Lyon had driven out, practically as a coup d’etat, the elected state government (although I would offer Governor Claiborne F. Jackson was not and innocent victim as some might cast him today).   Now a large portion of Lyon’s Army of the West were Franz Sigel’s Germans, representing a voting block with political clout.  And although Lyon embarked upon his Missouri operations reporting for all practical purposes directly to the president, by late July 1861 he was under the command of General John C. Fremont.   As if that were not enough, Lyon had the pending discharge of many 90-day volunteers looming as the calender flipped to August.

McCulloch certainly acted passively during the early days of August 1861, only yielding to Price’s prodding for an offensive on August 9 (ironically).  But McCulloch faced significant logistical constraints limiting movements of the Western Army.  Even more significant were the political challenges facing McCulloch.  Price’s Missouri State Guard, while clearly allied to the Confederate cause, didn’t have to respond to McCulloch’s orders.  McCulloch’s priority mission at the time was to secure the Indian Territories and cultivate relations with the relocated tribes.  Neither of which was fully served by an offensive into Missouri.  All this above and beyond the typical squabbles over date of rank.

When Lyon’s troops began their march out of Springfield in the afternoon of this day (August 9) in 1861, they were acting out the last chapters – and bloody they were – of a long campaign.  While the number of troops engaged was significantly less than those engaged at Manassas, the geographic and political scope of the Wilson’s Creek campaign rivaled some of those conducted later in the war.  And I am grossly over-simplifying those aspects of the campaign in this meager post (for those seeking more, I’d suggest Ed Bearss’ work on the subject or the recently released book by William Piston and Richard Hatcher.)

So far more than just the first big battle in the west, Wilson’s Creek was indeed the first big campaign of the war.