This blog is courtesy of the Museum of Missouri Military History and is the first in a series of blogs about the Civil War by former Missouri National Guard archivist Gilbert Knipmeyer.
In the files of the Civil War records of the Missouri Adjutant General’s Office is a report of the commanding officer whose regiment had a couple of weeks before they fought in the battle of Nashville, Tenn., Dec. 16, 1864. The officer mentions that he has seen no account concerning his regiment’s part in the battle which he supposes results from the fact that “we have no correspondent to do our ‘puffing’” and then to continue further using his own words “we are able to write our own history with the sword and bayonet and are willing for others to pen is for the perusal of our friends and future generations.”
The records testify that the performance of this regiment, the Eleventh Missouri Infantry Volunteers entitle it to be considered, indeed, one of the most notable organizations in the armies of the Civil War.
Lt. Col. M. J. Green, in his report on the 11th Missouri makes comment that he had received an order form General Thomas to retain the captured flags to be sent to Washington with the men who captured them. This battle report otherwise makes no reference to the fact that three men of the regiment, Lieutenant Simmons, Corporal Parks and Private Welch and their captured flags were on the way to Washington to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, then as now the highest award for valor, all won in the day’s fight at Nashville.
In more than three years of service, the 11th Missouri had already won for itself distinctions of various kinds. It had been recruited in Missouri and Illinois in the summer of 1861, and mustered in at St. Louis on the first of August. A good percentage of the Illinois men were residents of Springfield and Sangamon County, the home community of President Lincoln.
The autumn of 1861 saw its first active service in southeast Missouri with frequent skirmishes and marches. The battle of Frederick town was its first serious engagement where another regiment destined to achieve fame began a comradeship in arms to continue almost throughout the war. This was the Eight Wisconsin, famous “War Eagle Regiment” with a live eagle for a pet which the men had affectionately named “Old Abe.” The Eagle was provided with a perch in the form of a shield with the stars and stripes painted thereon. The bird attached to it by a short by a short rope was a living emblem and in all the battles of the regiment is passed unharmed to survive the war for many years. At the battle of Iuka and Corinth, Mississippi, General Sterling Price had declared that he would rather “capture that bird alive than a whole brigade.”
In the spring of 1862 the 11th Missouri was organized into General Pope’s army to begin a year of strength marches starting with the siege of Corinth. After the summer’s campaign in Mississippi and Alabama it was complimented by General Rosecrans, then in command of General Pope’s corps, as the finest drilled and disciplined regiment in his army. After one of the most daring reconnaissances on record around Iuka the regiment was thrown into the battle where General Rosecrans again complimented the regiment in special orders for its magnificent fighting in which it lost 76 killed and wounded.
Another period of marches and encampments followed until May 22, 1863, with General Sherman’s corps to which it had been assigned the 11th Missouri led the charge in the assault on Vicksburg and was the only entire regiment to reach the fort and the only regiment that planted its colors on the parapet. After this assault the regiment took part in General Blair’s expedition to Louisiana and returned to Vicksburg for surrender.
Since its organization the regiment had marched 1700 miles, fought eleven battles and many skirmishes and lost in killed and wounded 350 men.
The campaigns throughout the year 1864 were a continuation of long marches, skirmishes and battles in Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama. On Oct. 11, it was back in St. Louis for a well earned “veteran furlough.” Before it was over the call came to move into west Missouri in the wake of Price’s army. It moved rapidly by river, rail and road to the Big Blue River, but arrived too late for the battle fought there on the 23rd. The 11th Missouri marched back by way of Pleasant Hill, Sedalia and Jefferson City through storm and snow to arrive in St. Louis in Nov. 13. The march through Missouri was one of the hardest marches the regiment was called on to make, much of it by forced night marches.
On Nov. 24, the regiment started by steamer for Nashville where it arrived Dec. 1 waiting in front of Hood’s army for the battle which occurred on the 16th to result in one of the most decisive victories of the war. On the 1st of January 1865 the regiment was in pursuit of General hood’s army until on Feb. 7 it embarked on transports for New Orleans, then by steamer to arrive at Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely, both surrendering at the time of Lee’s surrender on April 9, 1865.
The distance and country traversed by the 11th Missouri by steamboat, rail and road aggregated some 11,000 miles, perhaps unequalled by any other regiment in the war.