Searching for Secessionists in Missouri

Wednesday, October 2, 1861

General Jeff Thompson of the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guards had been ordered to threaten St. Louis now that Union General Fremont’s Army of the West was concentrating in western Missouri. He immediately broke camp at Belmont and moved to New Madrid, on his way to Farmington and the Ironton Railroad. Thompson ordered a detachment of 120 men to burn railroad bridges near Charleston and Bird’s Point along the Mississippi River.

General Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Union forces at Cairo, Illinois, got wind of Thompson’s move. Suspecting that the secessionists were heading north, Grant ordered a force from Bird’s Point, on the Mississippi, inland to Charleston in hopes of cutting them off.1

A force of 1,100 infantry and 100 cavalry, all under the command of Col. James M. Tuttle, left before dawn. They arrived in Charleston at 8am to find no Rebels about. Tuttle wasted no time in tracking down the enemy, sending detachments in all directions. Shortly, he learned of Thompson’s orders for his men to burn bridges near Charleston. In the hopes of cutting them off, Tuttle sent a cavalry company towards Belmont, but found nothing.

Convinced that there was no enemy in or around Charleston and that they seemed to have no real plans to enter the town, Col. Tuttle moved his men back to their camp at Bird’s Point.2

It seems, however, that Jeff Thompson’s detachment was aware of Tuttle’s move to Charleston. While Thompson was halted at New Madrid waiting for his baggage wagons, Col. J.J. Smith of the 2nd Regiment Dragoons reported from Siketon, that there were 4,000 Yankees waiting and fortifying in Charleston. Thompson, however, wasn’t convinced and believed that Grant had no idea of their plans.3

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D.H. Hill Echoes North Carolina’s Complaints

After Governor Henry T. Clark of North Carolina made some fairly valid complaints to Richmond, he was, more or less, told that his state wasn’t as important as the other fronts in the War. Nevertheless, General D.H. Hill was sent to command the coastline from Roanoke Island south to the Bogue Islands, covering all of Pamlico Sound.

Upon his arrival, Hill found his command in much confusion, but figured that he could get it in order “if the enemy allow a delay of ten days.”

Hill also found Clark’s assessments to be true. The lack of black powder for artillery was a dire issue that both Clark and Hill, in their letters to Richmond pointed out. Hill, knowing that Richmond had none, requested it from Norfolk, hoping they were in better shape. He expanded the request to various implements of artillery, including fuses, primers, various shell sizes, etc.

Expanding on another of Clark’s issues, Hill brought up the need for reinforcements. Cavalry, it seems, was the most important, since infantry was too slow to report on the many places where the Union could land their invasion ships. However, “a few more regiments of infantry are also needed very much.” Hill offered to raise the regiments from the local population himself, but had warned in a previous letter that there was “much apathy among the people. They do not want to have their towns destroyed, neither are they disposed to do much for their protection.”

Governor Clark brought up the lack of a Navy in his letter to Richmond. Hill, however, reported that there were “quite a number of sailors of the merchant service here who are anxious to get guns on their small craft to operate in the sound.” He also asked if he had the authority over the Naval vessels along the coast. Hill realized that “the co-operation of the Navy is essential to the defense of the sound.”4

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Drying, Marching and the Owls of Western Virginia

In the hills of Western Virginia, the worst storm the region had seen in years had passed. The river levels were falling, the roads were drying out and the troops were preparing for battle. While, on Big Sewell Mountain, Generals Lee and Rosecrans scowled at each other across a ravine a mile wide, 100 miles north, Generals Reynolds and Jackson were separated by a dozen miles of treacherous mountain passes.

Following the ill-fated battle of Cheat Mountain, the Confederates returned to their camps. General Loring and his troops had gone south to reinforce Lee at Big Sewell, which left General Henry Jackson with a scant command of six regiments (barely 1,800 men) at Camp Bartow, along the Greenbrier River, near Travellers Repose.

Union General Reynolds ordered an “armed reconnaissance” against the Confederate camp. Not knowing the results of this foray, he ordered his men to have four days of cooked rations in their haversacks.

Around midnight, nine regiments and three batteries of artillery (over 5,000 men) marched east from Cheat Mountain, down the Staunton-Parkersburg Turnpike towards Travellers Repose. As they marched through the thick pine forests, the Union troops heard the haunting calls of the owl, “hoo-hoo… hoo-hoo.” The calls seemed to be relayed from one tree to the next, to the next all the way back to the Rebel camp. Thinking the owls were not what they seemed, many Union men spent the night in fear that the birds were actually Confederate scouts, hooting the coming of Reynold’s Army.5



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p519-520. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p198-199. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p712-713. This information came from a dispatch to General Johnston on the 3rd. It was written, however, at 6am and so can be assumed that Thompson knew and believed this stuff on the 2nd. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 4, p664. []
  5. Rebels at the Gate by Lesser. Also, anyone catch the Twin Peaks reference? []
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Searching for Secessionists in Missouri by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International

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2 thoughts on “Searching for Secessionists in Missouri

  1. http://www.wvculture.org/shpo/nr/pdf/pocahontas/95001325.pdf

    The link above, which is to an application for the National Register for Camp Bartow and vicinity has five great old photos of the area, two which show the terrain over which the Union forces attacked. It wasn’t a major battle, but I was impressed in reading the O.R. accounts at Reynolds’ troops being able to cross a river at night, secure a good firing position for artillery (which also had to be brought across), and then keep up a steady fire from a disadvantage in position. Likewise, Jackson had selected a great position and held it well under heavy artillery fire. At this point in the war you can already see some improvement in both command and the bearing of the soldiers.

    Of course, the fearful owl was never entirely subdued by either side.

    1. Thanks so much for the link. Great stuff – I can’t wait to dig through it.

      And you’re right about the evolving ability of the commanders. You really can see it take place on a broad scale. Missouri is a great example of that. The defense of Washington, however, is not (as we’ll soon see with the Battle of Ball’s Bluff).

      Thanks!

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