When first I heard that Hannibal’s Old Baptist Cemetery has graves of two veterans of the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, I thought to myself, here are men who transplanted themselves to Missouri after the Civil War. Peel back the pages of history, though, and what is revealed is a remarkable story.
The 55th regiment was the second African-American fighting unit enrolled in Massachusetts. Its famous cousin, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, fought at Fort Wagner in ’63. It was the 54th that made movie stars of Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman (the 1989 film Glory). Soon after the effective date of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the Governor of Massachusetts sought and received the permission of the War Department to enroll African-American troops; soon after that, the Governor realized that there were not enough young men of African descent in Massachusetts to fill a regiment. Some of the men who were Governor Andrews’ advisors were the same men who armed Kansas immigrants in the 1850s. George L. Stearns was one of them. Stearns organized a national recruiting effort, and he went to places where populations of African-Americans of military age were abundant. So, he opened a recruiting office in St. Louis, and agents of the Massachusetts Governor went into Missouri counties such as Marion, Pike and Ralls.
Stearns’ recruiting mission was so successful that Massachusetts formed a second regiment with the excess recruits, the 55th. While some of the Missouri men who volunteered entered the ranks of the famous 54th, dozens of them found their way into the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. William Morrison and Richard Miller were two of these men. It is no accident that they are buried in Hannibal. They returned home, after their unit distinguished itself in the sea islands of the South Carolina shore, and lived out their lives in Missouri. Corporal Morrison and Private Miller were there, we should presume, when the 55th regiment was among the first Union troops that marched into Charleston, South Carolina, after the fall of the city that was the cradle of Confederate hopes. The occupation of Charleston by African-American troops, on February 21, 1865, was hugely symbolic, as the men of Boston no doubt intended it to be.
The Old Baptist Cemetery in Hannibal holds a place in literary history: Most people who speculate on the subject will tell you that it is the “graveyard of the old-fashioned Western kind” where Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn witnessed the murder of Doc Robinson. But, almost every square foot of this great river town that Mark Twain immortalized in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer has a place in literary history. Old Baptist Cemetery holds a treasure of another kind, stone memories of common men, banded together, who changed history.
The Wisconsin men left Missouri for Cairo, Illinois in January, 1862, when Ulysses Grant left the relative safety of that place to march on Forts Donelson and Henry. The Eighth Regiment had a small part to play in the Island No. 10 campaign, entering New Madrid, Missouri, on April 7, 1862. Soon the men were on transports steaming up the Tennessee River. They landed at Hamburg, Tennessee, near the battlefield of Shiloh, following in Grant’s wake.
History records that at the Battle of Farmington, Mississippi, on May 9, 1862, the Eighth Wisconsin Regiment first went into battle. Old Abe was close to the fighting – closer than he was in Fredericktown. Guard duty in northern Mississippi and Alabama occupied the summer, until a Confederate force commanded by Missouri’s own Sterling Price threatened the Union’s hold on Corinth, Mississippi. Price attacked, pushing the Union troops from their outer trenches. As the battle for Corinth reached its climax, Old Abe broke his tether and soared over the heads of the Confederates. He invigorated the Union defenders. General Price was reportedly moved to say:
“That bird must be captured or killed at all hazards. I would rather get that eagle than capture a whole brigade or a dozen battle flags.”
Corinth, October 3-4, 1862, was Old Abe’s finest hour. But as the Wisconsin Historical Society reports, all together he witnessed 37 battles or engagements in the Civil War. He was wounded once or twice, some say. When the Eighth Wisconsin returned to Madison in 1864, the men presented their mascot to the Governor. Old Abe lived in a special room in the Wisconsin Capitol until 1881, when he died as the result of a fire. He was revered then; he is revered now. A bronze likeness stares down from a perch above the rostrum of the Wisconsin State Assembly chambers.
After World War I, the 101st U. S. Army Division was reconstituted a reserve unit with headquarters in Milwaukee. Called up in World War II, the unit retained its numerical designation and a shoulder patch honoring Wisconsin’s famous eagle, as it moved into airborne operations. The “Band of Brothers” of Normandy fame, the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division, trace their lineage to a day long ago in Fredericktown, Missouri.]]>
Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, arrived in Missouri on October 14, 1861. He escaped from his handlers as the Wisconsin soldiers marched through north St. Louis, bound for Benton Barracks. Old Abe soared through the neighborhood, landing on a mansion’s chimney, giving the men a fright. But he allowed himself to be captured by a constable and he returned to the regiment. The Eagle Regiment’s first day in the Civil War was an eventful one.
The Wisconsin boys joined up in northern Wisconsin; they trained in Madison and moved to Chicago as they prepared to enter the war. Their young eagle – seemingly trained – was already acknowledged as a novelty when St. Louis first saw him. Old Abe was about to become an institution.
The day after the eagle arrived in St. Louis, on October 15, M. Jeff Thompson (Missouri’s legendary Swamp Fox of the Confederacy) captured and burned a railroad bridge on the Big River just south of Desoto, Missouri. The 8th Wisconsin rushed to the scene, the men laying on their arms in the rain in Desoto that very night, arriving at the bridge on the 16th of October. Thompson was gone. The regiment and its eagle mascot proceeded south another 20 miles, to Pilot Knob, and there went into bivouac.
Thompson had not left the scene all together. A few days after he assaulted the Big River Bridge, Thompson was reported to be at Fredericktown, Missouri. Union soldiers stationed at Pilot Knob and Cape Girardeau were ordered to converge on Thompson’s force, and so the Eagle Regiment marched east on October 20 with three other regiments of infantry. The next morning, October 21st, Thompson attacked at Fredericktown. The Eighth Wisconsin – only a week in the war zone – was told to guard the Union baggage train assembled near the courthouse, a mile from the battle. Old Abe was tethered to the courthouse roof, out of the way. Then as the boom of cannon and rattle of small arms reached the courthouse, Old Abe spread his wings, he screeched and cried. The eagle screamed.
The 8th Wisconsin did not go into battle at Fredericktown. Once the battle was over, eventually the new regiment went into winter camp south of St. Louis, on the Mississippi near present day Imperial in Jefferson County. The men and the eagle remained at Camp Curtis until January 17, 1862, then joined Ulysses Grant and the Union’s drive into Tennessee.]]>
Grant’s strengths and his faults have been debated for well over a century. I can relate two little known incidents that illustrate what was, simultaneously, his most disarming and undoing personal trait. Grant was fiercely loyal to people who befriended him.
Grant spent some his most challenging years in St. Louis, 1854-1860, moving about in the Southern society of his wife’s family, centered in Southwest St. Louis County. This was then a very rural world; he counted as his “neighbors” people who lived many miles from his Hardscrabble Farm.
Case 1: Dr. James A. Barrett
Dr. Barrett (some times spelled Barret) was a member of a prominent Virginia/Kentucky clan that emigrated to St. Louis before the Civil War. In 1864, he along with a cousin (pre-War U. S. Congressman John Richard Barrett) became embroiled in a national controversy. An investigation got underway into the activities of a clandestine group of Southern supporters known as the Sons of Liberty. James Barrett was targeted as a member of the “Northwest Conspiracy,” alleged to be a massive operation to aid the Confederate war effort and overthrow the government of the United States. The investigation, centered on the Son of Liberty’s activities in Missouri and Indiana, snared Indiana copperhead congressman Clement L. Vallandigham and others. Later in the year, one Lambdin P. Milligan and four others were tried by a military tribunal in Indianapolis – the trial timed to precede the national elections in November, 1864. Milligan was sentenced to hang. He was freed when the U. S. Supreme Court in 1866 issued a landmark Opinion, Ex Parte Milligan, which held that military courts had no jurisdiction to try civilians where civil courts were operating.
Dr. James Barrett of St. Louis was an unindicted conspirator in the trial of Lambdin Milligan. His activities were prominently noted in the testimony of witnesses. But Barrett was not brought to trial.
On June 25, 1864, Ulysses Grant sent a telegram from headquarters in City Point, Virginia, to the Secretary of War.
“I will feel obliged to you if you will order General Rosecrans to release Dr. J. A. Barrett [on bail],. . . or to give him an immediate trial. The doctor is a copperhead, but I have no idea that he has done anything more than that class of people are constantly doing, and not so much. He was a neighbor of mine, a clever man, and has a practice in the neighborhood which it will be very inconvenient to other people than himself to have interrupted.”
Grant arrived in City Point ten days before he paused to write his telegram to Secretary Stanton. He had just completed another of his master strokes, outflanking Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia after Cold Harbor and landing in Lee’s rear at Petersburg. Grant had on his mind the plight of a country doctor who once supported him in his bid to become County Engineer in St. Louis.
Stanton relented. Rosecrans fumed. The matter reached the desk of Abraham Lincoln, who wrote to Rosecrans: “When did the Sec. of War telegraph you to release Dr. Barrett? If it is an old thing, let it stand till you hear further.”
Case 2: General John McCausland
“Tiger John” McCausland graduated first in the VMI class of 1857. When the Civil War began, McCausland organized Virginia’s Rockbridge Artillery, then served in successively more important command positions in the Confederate army. He famously escaped from Ft. Donelson in 1862, before Grant captured the place and most of the army that defended it. As a Brigadier General of cavalry in 1865, he even escaped Grant at Appomattox.
McCausland’s military reputation, otherwise distinguished, was stained by the burning of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, in July, 1864. Under orders of his superiors, McCausland entered the town and demanded payment of reparations for Union depradations in the Shenandoah Valley. When his demand was refused, he burned the town. At the close of the War, McCausland was indicted by a Pennsylvania grand jury for arson; He lived in Mexico and in Europe for a time, finally returning to the United States in 1867 after Ulysses Grant intervened to quash the Pennsylvania indictment.
Tiger John McCausland was born in St. Louis in 1836, son of a John McCausland who gave the name to McCausland Avenue. The elder McCausland owned large tracts of land in downtown St. Louis, and devised St. Louis’ first system of taxation. He died the same year his wife died, 1843, leaving John and his brother orphans. In 1847, John moved to what is now West Virginia to be raised by an uncle. He had lived with his paternal grandmother in St. Louis County before leaving for the east, but no doubt often visited his aunt Elizabeth Marshall at her home “Fairfax,” restored and standing in Rock Hill near Manchester Road.
The National Register application for McCausland’s post-war home near Henderson, West Virginia states that Ulysses Grant was “an old family friend of the McCauslands.” Enough said.]]>
It is a fact that U. S. Grant received his commission as Brigadier General in his tent near the spring, while he commanded Union troops in Ironton in August, 1861. It is true that in 1886, not long after the General’s passing, veterans of his first regiment erected a statue of a lone infantryman where his tent stood. Although Ironton is full of Civil War history, because a bloody battle was fought there in 1864, the statue by the spring would be reason enough for U. S. Grant fans to find their way to the Ste. Marie du Lac Catholic Church.
As a matter of legend and lore, and perhaps as a matter of fact, the Ironton spring is far more important. According to a man who ought to have known, General Grant sipped from this spring in 1861 and he said:
“This water runs into the Mississippi, the Mississippi into the sea; and it must run with unfettered freedom.”
John Wesley Emerson, born in Massachusetts to the family that gave us Ralph Waldo, was an early settler in Ironton. The town sprung up just years before the Civil War, when a railroad reached there from St. Louis. Emerson – later Colonel of a Missouri regiment of infantry – was a country lawyer when Grant came to town. As Emerson wrote in 1898, he made his acquaintance with the new general and within several days Grant asked if Emerson had a map of the Mississippi valley. Grant sat with Emerson’s map, at a pine table outside his tent, and marked Xs and lines – some in the direction of the great bend of the Tennessee River we know for Shiloh. Emerson gushed that Grant sat at that table and formulated his great campaign to open the Mississippi River, “the final accomplishment of which was to eventually bring him imperishable renown.”
Emerson was a great admirer of Grant. He accomplished many things in the legal world and he built a fortune in investments. An indication of his high regard for the General: after the War, Emerson purchased a grand estate that occupied the Ironton ground that had been Grant’s headquarters. He saw to it that the statue was erected at the place that he remembered to be the site of Grant’s tent. In his declining years, he determined to become one of Grant’s biographers. What Emerson did accomplish, before he died in 1899, was a series of articles carried over the course of several years by the Midland Monthly magazine. Emerson covered the whole scope of Grant’s life and career. His installment of January, 1898, is the one that tempts us to believe that the campaign that ended at Vicksburg began at a remote Missouri spring.
John Wesley Emerson’s name lives on through a start-up company he funded in 1890, Emerson Electric Company of St. Louis.