Monday, November 26, 2007

Missouri State Guard

In response to Lyon’s capture of Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861, the Missouri Legislature created the Missouri State Guard from the Missouri State Militia. The Guard is to ‘defend the state, maintain public tranquility, suppress riot, rebellion or insurrection, or repel invasion’ in the early stages of the Civil War. Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson openly professes that the Guard will aid his pro-secessionist aim of withdrawing Missouri from the Union.

The ‘Military Bill’ creates nine military districts based on Congressional districts. Each district is to organize, train and arm a division of troops. Overall command was given to popular former Governor Sterling Price. On June 12, Jackson issues a call for 50,000 to join the Guard and thousands do.

However, Lyon seizes the initiative, pushes Price and Jackson out of the capital, Jefferson City, and west to Boonville. Giving his adversaries little time to organize, Lyon defeats the Guard at Boonville on June 17, forcing it into the far southwest corner of the state. A small victory over Colonel Franz Sigel’s Union Missouri troops at Carthage gives the Guard some breathing room and precious time for training at Cowskin Prairie. Most men wear their own clothing and carry their own arms mostly shotguns and muskets; of the 9,000 men present only about 5,000 are armed.

Lyon moves south, joins with Sigel and takes Springfield. Meanwhile, a Confederate brigade under Brigadier General Ben McCulloch and a division of the Arkansas State Guard under Brigadier General Nathan Bart Pierce move from Arkansas and join Price with McCulloch assuming overall command.

After the victory at Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861, McCulloch and Pierce return to Arkansas. The federal defeat brings new recruits into the Guard and Price moves north with 10,000 troops.

Brushing aside Kansas jayhawkers under Senator Jim Lane at Big Dry Wood Creek on September 1, 1861, Price moves to the Missouri River. At the rich, frontier trading town of Lexington on September 20, he captures 3,600 Federal troops in the ‘Battle of the Hemp Bales’.
The federal Department of the West’s commander, John C. Fremont, finally begins to move some of his 25,000 men toward Price who withdraws back into southwest Missouri at Neosho. Hearing that Fremont is removed from command and his army is in winter quarters, the Guard moves north to encamp at Osceola and Price enrolls his troops into regular Confederate service. Despite many of the men’s reluctance, Price organizes a 2,500-man Confederate brigade.

Fremont’s replacement, Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, leaves his quarters and moves against Price. The combined Guard and Confederate Missourians withdraw into Arkansas and reunite with McCulloch’s force under the overall command of Major General Earl Van Dorn. At the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) on March 6-8, 1862, McCulloch is killed, the Confederates defeated and forced to retreat farther into Arkansas.

Eventually most Guardsmen join the Confederate service and Price leads them east of the Mississippi. The Guard continues for the duration of the war, but reaches in zenith in the first 12 months of the conflict. 15,000 men served in the Missouri State Guard during the Civil War.

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