The majority of soldiers from Dunklin County were with General Jeff Thompson in the Missouri State Guard as August came to a close. The First Infantry Regiment, known as the "Dunklin County Regiment" would soon be given the primary task of garrison duty at New Madrid. The Cavalry units had just been organized into a regiment; and soon thereafter, the newly commissioned Colonel of the First Cavalry Regiment, Andrew F. Jones of Holcomb's Island, would be court martialed for cowardice.
On last day of August 1861, Major General John C. Fremont, the Union commander of the Army of the West, issued a proclamation from St. Louis declaring martial law by giving the military department the administrative powers of the State of Missouri. The proclamation read, in part, "All persons who shall be taken with arms in their hands, within these lines, will be shot. The property, real and personal, of all persons in the State of Missouri, who shall take up arms against the United States, or who shall be directly proven to have taken active part with their enemies in the field, is declared to be confiscated to the public use, and their slaves, if any they have, are hereby declared free men."
The proclamation stripped administrative power from Provisional Governor Hamilton R. Gamble who had been appointed by the Missouri Constitutional Convention on August 1. With exiled Governor Claiborne Jackson also struggling to regain control of the State, the Charleston (Mo.) Courier quipped that since neither Governor "need be much troubled with official duties, they can sit down and gamble at their leisure."
At the headquarters of the First Military Division of the Missouri State Guard, the proclamation was met with outrage. On September 2 while at Camp Hunter in Scott County, Brigadier-General M. Jeff Thompson issued a strongly-worded reply to Fremont:
"Whereas, Major-Gen. John C. Fremont, commanding the minions of Abraham Lincoln in the State of Missouri, has seen fit to declare martial law throughout the whole State, and has threatened to shoot any citizen-soldier found in arms within certain limits; also to confiscate the property and free the negroes belonging to the members of the Missouri State Guard--therefore, know ye that I, M. Jeff Thompson, Brigadier-General of the First Military District of Missouri, having not only the military authority of Brigadier-General, but certain police powers, granted by Acting-Governor Thos. C. Reynolds, and confirmed afterwards by Gov. Jackson, do most solemnly promise that for every member of the Missouri State Guard or soldier of our allies, the armies of the Confederate States, who shall be put to death in pursuance of the said order of Gen. Fremont, that I will hang, draw and quarter a minion of said Abraham Lincoln.
While I am anxious that this unfortunate war shall be conducted, if possible, upon the most liberal principles of civilized warfare--and every order that I have issued has been with that object--yet if this rule is to be adopted, (and it must first be done by our enemies,) I intend to exceed Gen. Fremont in his excesses, and will make all tories that come within my reach rue the day that a different policy was adopted by their leaders. Already mills, barns, warehouses and other private property, have been wastefully and wantonly destroyed by the enemy in this district, while we have taken nothing except articles strictly contraband or absolutely necessary. Should these things be repeated, I will retaliate ten-fold, so help me God! M. Jeff Thompson, Brigadier-General Commanding."
Fremont's proclamation had not been authorized by the War Department and Missouri's Provisional Governor Gamble protested to President Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln, fearing the order would cause sentiment in Missouri to tip to the Southern cause, asked Fremont to revise the proclamation. Fremont refused and Lincoln later publicly revoked the order and relieved Fremont of his command on November 2.
Within weeks of being appointed Provisional Governor, Gamble had called for 42,000 Missouri troops for Federal service. Of the total, 6,000 were expected from the Southeast District. The Congressional Representative of Southeast Missouri, Hon. John William Noel of Perryville, was appointed District Inspector and applications for organized companies were to be made to him. Missouri's other Governor, Claiborne Jackson, had issued a similar call for recruits for the Missouri State Guard in the months prior. The Charleston Courier responded that "everybody cannot go to the wars; be it a Northern or Southern State, somebody must stay at home to attend to the babies and their mamas." The paper suggested that those in Mississippi County "who, in the spirit of patriotism turned out at the call of Governor Jackson, be considered the quantum sufficit for the county, and that the two Governors, Jackson and Gamble, fight it out.". The paper further warned that if "our advice is not taken, our citizens must get ready to go, for Governor Gamble's order will be enforced by bayonets."
The men from Dunklin County with Jeff Thompson's Missouri State Guard command faced challenges beyond those from Fremont's proclamation and Gamble attempt to enlist more Union troops. From Camp Hunter on August 28, the District's Quartermaster, Matthew H. Moore of Cape Girardeau, sent the following appeal:
"To the Patriots of the Southern Valley of the Mississippi:
The undersigned, Division Quartermaster of the First Division of the Missouri State Guard-commanded by Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson--has been directed to make an appeal to the great Southern heart in behalf of our valiant little Army. Many of us were driven from our homes to the woods, and had to take the field without preparation. Our companies, battalions and regiments have been formed since we entered into active service of the State. Transportation was procured while on the march. Subsistence and forage has been gathered from day to day. Some of our men got away from the minions of the despot, Lincoln, with a change of clothing and blankets; others with only what they had upon their persons at the time.
Our State Capital has been taken possession of by the vandal horde; our Government disorganized, and the Governor and other State officers (except a few who turned traitors) had to flee for safety, and are now with one or other of the divisions of the Army of the State. The Treasury was robbed, and we have had to supply and equip ourselves, in so far as it has been accomplished, without a dollar of public money. Our patriot citizens have furnished us wages, horses, mules, food, forage, and everything, indeed, within their power--some even to the last horse--on the credit of the State. Half of our men were for two months without tents or cooking utensils; many of them without coats, shoes or blankets, and quite a number have suffered for the want of whole shirts. By the generosity of the Confederate State Government, we have, within a few days, been supplied with tents and cooking utensils sufficient to meet our present need. Of clothing, also, the same generous hand has furnished us enough to meet the pressing and absolute wants of the neediest of our men at the present time. But there are yet deficiencies that we cannot at present supply for ourselves.
The Hessians have possession of our cities and more populous towns; we are cut off from supplies from the South, and the immediate neighborhood of our army. Every available article in Southeast Missouri, south of Cape Girardeau, has been procured to meet the demands of our men, and yet they are in need. Hence this appeal to the generosity of our Southern brothers and sisters.
We cheerfully make our State the theatre of war for this valley, and will unmurmuringly bear separation from our wives and litte ones, the cessation of business, destruction of our property, the laying waste our farms and homes, the sacking and burning of our towns and cities, and, in the language of our intrepid General, "Fight the enemy naked, if need be," in defense of our own independence and the maintenance of Southern rights.
We have no sutlers to our division, therefore, our soldiers are dependent alone upon the Quartermaster's and commissary's departments for supplying all their wants.
There is hardly an article that a fond mother, devoted wife or loving sister would think of preparing for a brother, husband or son, but would find with us needy and grateful recipients. We need flags and guiders, drums, fifes and bugles, stationery, cap, quarto, post and note paper, pens, pen-holders and ink, blankets and clothing--second-hand or new boots and shoes, hats and caps, gloves, mits and socks, smoking and chewing tobacco, bar-soap and candles, rice, coffee, sugar, molasses, vinegar, hard bread and crackers.
Any lady or gentleman willing to paint or embroider one or more Missouri State flags will be furnished with material and instructions by addressing me at Room No. 384 Gayoso House. Yours, in devotion to the cause of independence, M.H Moore."
In need of supplies, General Jeff Thompson and his troops continued to be active in Southeast Missouri and sought opportunities to secure available resources. During the early morning hours on the first day of September, Thompson approached Charleston with a detail of two hundred and fifty mounted men, three wagons and one cannon. At daybreak, Thompson's men rushed into town, secured all approaches and place the cannon in front of the Union Bank of Charleston. Thompson then made a polite call at the home of Mr. Moore, the cashier of the bank and presented the following written request:
President and Directors of the Branch of the Union Bank: Present--Gentlemen--You have until 8 o'clock, A.M., to determine whether I shall take possession of the funds in this jurisdiction, or whether your Cashier shall remove the same, books and all to Bloomfield, (under my charge,) subject to further orders from the Commanding Officers of the Missouri State Guard. Yours respectfully, M. Jeff Thompson, Brigadier General Commanding."
The cashier was much concerned and asked for time to assemble the Directors of the Bank. The request was granted; and after the quorum gathered, General Thompson informed Judge Handy, President of the Bank, that he was merely removing the funds to Bloomfield for safe keeping, so that they should not be seized by that notorious Black Republican General Fremont. Thompson further explained that not a dollar should be touched unless it was urgently needed for the use of the State, in which case it will be replaced by bonds of the State bearing interest, issued by Governor Jackson. The Directors agreed to give Thompson the funds, but under protest. Thompson stated that he "could not see that it was worse to take a rich man's money, than it was to take a poor man's horse or corn." With that, the vault was opened and $56,000 in bags of gold and silver were loaded onto one of the wagons. Lieutenant Governor Thomas C. Reynolds, acting as Governor, later assured the Bank officers that the funds would not be used unless absolutely needed as "necessity knows no law." Some of the funds would be used within weeks to purchase provisions for Thompson's troops.
United States forces were rapidly moving in early September. The regiment of Col. John A. Logan was reported to have arrived at Cairo. It was noted that Logan had been in Southeast Missouri the previously fall making speeches for Douglass and was "down on Mr. Lincoln like a thousand of brick." The majority of activity in Southeast Missouri during September occurred in Mississippi County as the opposing forces positioned for control of the river along those points. Traveling down river from Cairo, the river passes Bird's Point, then Norfolk (located east of the present town of Wyatt), Lucas Bend (later known as Crosno) and Belmont (across the river from Columbus, Kentucky) before reaching the current location of the Dorena-Hickman Ferry Landing. Col. Oglesby, commanding at Cairo, sent forty muskets and equipment up river to arm citizens on English Island and vicinity in Scott County above Price's Landing and below Commerce. On September 2, General Prentiss arrived at Jackson, Missouri from Ironton with units from Iowa 2nd and 7th, the Illinois 7th, 17th, 19th, 24th, the St. Louis Cavalry, the Adams County Cavalry and Buel's battery. The troops had taken the line of march from Ironton, a distance of eighty-two miles. According to a letter written by a soldier in the Iowa 2nd, along the route all were "permitted to 'cramp' horses, mules and everything that fancied the eye of straggling soldiers, and even woman in her purity was not allowed to go free from insult of some of the dastardly cowards belonging to the Illinois regiments." After arriving at Jackson, the troops pitched their tents and remained one week before proceeding on to Cape Girardeau.
After arriving, General Prentiss at Cape Girardeau refused to command his column under General Ulysses S. Grant, who had recently been given charge of the District of Cairo. When Prentiss refused, Grant placed Col. John Cook in command and continued down to Cairo. Grant arrived in Cairo on September 4 and took command of the operation. A Missouri newspaper correspondent gave Grant the following endorsement, "General Grant, who has superseded General Prentiss, is a very plain dressed gentleman, courteous in his demeanor, and one you would take to be more of a farmer than a soldier by his appearance. He was fifteen years in the 4th United States Infantry, a graduate of West Point, and we think will make a very efficient officer."
On Wednesday, September 4, the rebel gunboat CSS Jackson briefly engaged Union gunboats USS Tyler and USS Lexington as they came down the Mississippi River off the coast of Hickman, Kentucky. Supported by shore batteries, the CSS Jackson repelled the two Union boats who returned to their former position.
Union Colonel Hicks returned to Bird's Point from Charleston on September 3 after a prisoner exchange and reported that the rebels only had 3 Union prisoners to exchange. On September 4, Thompson's Missouri Guard troops pulled back to New Madrid as General Gideon Pillow's Confederate units advanced to Columbus, Kentucky. Because the Missouri State Guard troops were not authorized to leave the state, volunteers were sought to join Pillow in the move to Kentucky. Nearly all the men under Thompson's command--some 1400 strong--volunteered to go to Kentucky. With a Federal expedition sent by General Ulysses Grant to occupy Paducah a few days later, both sides had violated the fragile neutrality that the State of Kentucky was attempting to maintain.
By September 7, Thompson had crossed the river and was in Columbus, Kentucky. That same day, another skirmish occurred near Charleston.
On September 8, the rebel gunboat CSS Jackson came up the Mississippi River within a few miles of Cairo. The Jackson was a fast side-wheel river tug built in Cincinnati in 1849 and originally called the Yankee. The boat was purchased by the Confederate Navy on May 9, 1861, strengthened and fitted for naval service. Lieutenant W. Gwathmey of the Confederate Navy was in command of CSS Jackson, under the squadron of Captain George N. Hollis.
The Illinois 28th and the Indiana 23rd regiments arrived at Bird's Point on the steamer Aleck Scott on September 9. General Fremont issued an order for Grant to "surround and annihilate Thompson, who is reported yet to be at or near Commerce."
On September 10, Thompson's Missouri Guard troops had crossed back into Missouri and encamped at Lucas Bend, about three and a half miles above Belmont. As the camp was coming together, the gunboats USS Conestoga and USS Lexington approached down the Mississippi and began shelling the camp and the rebel gunboat CSS Jackson. The Missourians returned fire with a small six-pound artillery piece while adjusting their position to get out of range of the gunboats. An 8 inch shell from the USS Lexington exploded in CSS Jackson's starboard wheelhouse causing severe damage. The rebel gunboat careened partly over but made off with one engine to shoal water on the Kentucky shore. Union forces claimed they would have captured her had she not been supported by the batteries near Columbus. One of Conestoga's men was injured in the arm and forehead from a musket fired from shore. Two of Thompson's men were badly wounded and two horses were killed. On September 11, Grant informed Fremont that "Jeff. Thompson's forces, about 2,600 men (700 of them cavalry), occupied ground opposite Columbus. They are badly armed and clothed."
After the shellings at Lucas Bend, General Pillow ordered Thompson to fall back to Belmont, remarking that Lucas Bend was not safe. Thompson replied that he was "not hunting safe places now," but agreed to move back.
On Saturday, September 14, a force of 800 infantry with four pieces of Capt. Taylor's Light Artillery, under the command of Col. Oglesby, made an expedition below Norfolk, Mo., and saw 300 rebels who fled on approach of the Federal troops.
Dunklin County men continued to receive commissions in the First Calvary Regiment during the month of September. The Regiment was led by Colonel Andrew F. Jones of Holcomb's Island. The Regimental Surgeon was A.B. Whayne and his assistant was R.M Skagg, both from Dunklin County. Company B, known as the "Kennett Rovers", was led by Captain Robert A. Gailbraith (who had replaced Captain Lewis W. Chandler), First Lieutenant G.W. Yost, Second Lieutenant Benjamin R. Albright, Sr., and Third Lieutenant Thomas J. Chandler. The Corporals included R.H. Abernathy, Martin Bolen, George Faulkner and Jesse Seymore. Company F was led by Christopher L. Johnson until his resignation on September 20. Johnson was replaced by Captain J.J. McMurray. The officers included First Lieutenant S.B. Knight and Third Lieutenant Joel A. Chandler. The Corporals included William W. Duff and William Giles. The Company's Sergeants included John F. Berry, Joseph Shelton and James Smyth.
In mid-September, Thompson was ordered to send up his cavalry to burn the large pile bridge on the Cairo and Fulton Railroad about six or seven miles from Bird's Point. Colonel Andrew F. Jones of Dunklin County was to command the party. Thompson invited Jones and the other officers into his tent and explained the importance of destroying the bridge. Thompson explained to the Field Officers their exact relative rank so there would be no confusion once the fighting began. Among the officers present were Colonel John J. Smith of St. Francois County, Edward A. Lewis of Cape Girardeau County and Christopher C. Kalfus of Mississippi County. Thompson was very direct with his orders and explained, "when Jones is killed, Smith will take command; when Smith is killed, Lewis will take command; when Lewis is killed, Kalfus takes command and so on, but gentlemen if there is but one man left at the end of the fight, he must burn the bridge."
The five hundred men under Jones' command departed late during the night and were expected to reach the bridge by daybreak. By noon the following day, General Thompson became anxious because he had still not heard any report. He located some men that had been on the expedition and inquired about the bridge. The men knew nothing about the bridge and stated they had scouted all night before returning home. It was then learned that Colonel Jones had returned to camp and soon after crossed the river to Columbus, Kentucky, to see his wife. The General sent a squad to Columbus to arrest Colonel Jones and bring him back to camp. After being brought back to camp, Jones was questioned about why he had not burned the bridge. His response was that about five miles from the bridge, an old lady told him that there were soldiers guarding the bridge and "it would be dangerous to go there." In his memoir, Thompson professed that he "could not find words enough to express my indignation and condemnation, and only stopped when exhausted in language and breath....this plan failed, from the disgraceful cowardice of one man." The next day, Colonel Jones was court martialed and suspended from duty for twenty days. Thompson was frustrated with the leniency shown to Jones; however, Jones would never appear in Thompson's camp again. Thompson would see Jones again in the fall of 1862 while Jones was recruiting a company for Confederate Service at Holcomb's Island. Soon after, Jones and two of his men were murdered in Jones' front yard over a dispute with some captured property. Dunklin County had become so lawless by that time that no military or civil inquiry was ever held regarding the killings.
On Sunday evening, September 22, a skirmish was reported near Hunter, Mo., four miles below Norfolk. Nineteen Union cavalry were charged by 200 rebels and driven back into Col. Oglesby's camp at Norfolk. Three Union men and horses were missing after the skirmish and were presumed to have been captured. The Federals reported that one cavalry rebel was known to have been killed. The landing at Norfolk was the location of the "Norfolk House" and General Grant was reported to have stayed at that location later in November 1861 during the significant action at Belmont.
On September 22, John M. Sharp of Dunklin County transferred to the Confederate Army while at Camp Belmont. He had previously been a private in Company G of the 1st Infantry Regiment. An additional skirmish occurred near Charleston on September 24, as General Jeff Thompson took a furlough in Memphis. A newspaper reported Thompson in Memphis on September 25 with his "Indian Orderly." Thompson's Orderly, whom he called "Ajax", was actually a riverboat performer named Simon Martin. Martin was described in the 1860 census as an Indian born about 1832 in Canada. He was on the Ohio River at Newport, Kentucky at the time of the census. He was the proprietor of a showboat and, along with his brothers and sisters, had been presenting the "Tableaus of American History."
On September 26, Governor Jackson called legislature to convene in Neosho on October 21. Also on the 26th, a unit of seventy-five Union cavalry encountered forty rebel cavalry at Lucas Bend. The rebels were pursued into Jeff Thompson's camp at Belmont. The Federals reported four rebels killed, five captured and many wounded while the remainder escaped to the woods. Additional skirmishes were reported near Hunter's Farm at Lucas Bend the following day and also near Belmont on the September 28.
On the morning of September 29 about 3 o'clock, a skirmish occurred at the bridge crossing James Bayou, about six miles southwest of Norfolk, Missouri. A force of one hundred Union men led by Capt. Ritter of the Twenty-Eighth Illinois was guarding the bridge when a couple hundred rebel infantry and cavalry approached intent on destroying the bridge. The Federals fell back and heavy firing ensued. The rebels eventually withdrew leaving several wounded and dead. The Federals had one man missing and two slightly wounded. A rebel was taken prisoner, but was mortally wounded.
In late September, a deserter from Jeff Thompson's army reported that his command was 2,000 strong and encamped at Belmont. According to the deserters account, Thompson's troops were "armed only with shot-guns and common rifles, and mostly live in the woods as animals. They seem to have no object in view, and no settled plan of the campaign." The deserter claimed that "hardly a man of Thompson's command but would escape if possible."
A newspaper correspondent writing from the rebel camps in Southeast Missouri wrote, "They are poorly fed, poorly clothes, and poorly paid....did they believe that St. Louis would not, or could not, be in their possession before the lapse of many days, they would fall asunder like leaves from a tree in autumn."
Coming in October 1861, troops from Dunklin County will be move north with General Jeff Thompson and engage Federal troops at the Battle of Fredericktown.
(The 150th Anniversary Reenactment of the Battle of Fredericktown will be held on October 21-23, 2011 at Fredericktown, Missouri. For more information, visit www.battleoffredericktown.com. Also, the Battle of Fredericktown Civil War Museum is seeking descendants of soldiers who fought at the battle for a special reunion--this would include the descendants of the Dunklin County soldiers who fought with the 1st Division of the Missouri State Guard. For more information or to register as a descendant, visit www.fhphistory.org.
The 150th Anniversary of the Battle of Belmont will be held on October 7-9, 2011 at the Columbus Belmont State Park near Columbus, Kentucky. The event will include battle reenactments, living history and encampments. For information, contact State Park Manager Cindy Lynch at 270-677-2327.)