A look at Combatives from a historical point-of-view

The archives of the Missouri Military History Museum reveal the dialectic of the traditional and the new methods of fighting, as incorporated by the Missouri National Guard.

In ancient Greece, the art of wrestling demanded respect where it was regarded as the greatest demonstration of strength in the Olympic Games. This sport retained its admiration through the centuries and caught the eye of the army in general, and the Missouri National Guard of late in particular. The Missouri Militia shows its esteem for this sport by requiring soldiers to go through basic training in martial arts, believing in the strength of the individual as a central tenant in combative preparation, succinctly citing: “The defining characteristic of a warrior is the willingness to close with the enemy.” In this martial art form, wrestling combines physical stamina, mental calm and a situational awareness into a symphony of strategic precision out of a cacophony of potential harm—either theoretical in the ring or actual on the battlefield.

During America’s involvement in WWII, the Missouri National Guard employed the aid of the world renowned champion and hall of famer, Lou Thesz, to instruct combatants. There, he taught the First Infantry “just where and how to apply the proper hold to would-be saboteurs.” During that era, the domestic arm of the military had yet to fully incorporate this skill into its basic training. After the war however, the Guard would create an inter-company wrestling program to battalions, setting up special rooms for these combatives.

The military understood that while old in origin, wrestling’s physical and mental flexibility served and will continue to serve as the groundwork for the modern Soldier upon which advancements can be practiced and expressed. Mixed martial arts provide a prime example of this malleability in which competitors in Combative tournaments draw heavily from wrestling techniques.  Recently, Missouri garnered third place at the National Championships Fort Benning with only seven combatants. Next year, they plan on an even stronger showing, with a more concerted effort.

What is remarkable about the coupling of the National Guard and wrestling shows a classic example of a swinging dialectic between new and old, cultural affection and military action; a mix of advanced physiological and psychological understanding with an ancient model to demonstrate it. This model is a standard which illustrates not only a historic interest in and appreciation of physical prowess, but also the Guard’s application of it.

For more information about the Missouri National Guard’s combative techniques or other military interests at The Missouri Museum of Military History in Jefferson City.

A Missouri Regiment Set Extraordinary Record During Civil War

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.

General Puts on Grand Display during Civil War in Missouri

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.


Without experience in military affairs, General John C. Fremont was named to command the Western Department, a vast region this side of the Rocky Mountains including New Mexico and the more active military areas of Illinois and Missouri. Fremont had been summoned from a sojourn in Europe to take command and reached headquarters in St. Louis on July 25, 1861. His Missouri command continued for exactly one hundred days.
The first two months in St. Louis revealed an entire absence of comprehension of the situation in Missouri, a wasteful administration of affairs, and a grandeur which seemed to be in emulation of some European monarch. Fremont had issued an emancipation proclamation without consulting the President and assumed the right to issue his own commissions without authority from Washington or the State. These commissions were issued mostly to foreigners—Hungarians, Poles and not a few Germans. His favorite appointment was captain of engineers.
Hungarian Forms Bodyguard
The best known of the Hungarian soldiers was Charles Zagonyi who had been involved in the struggle for liberty in his native land, was taken prisoner and after two years exchanged an Austrian prison for exile in America. He traveled to Missouri, was introduced to General Fremont and asked to organize the General’s personal bodyguard. The cavalry guard of four companies consisted of 160 men, the greater part of them Americans.
The authorities in Washington had been watching Fremont’s activities rather closely and largely blamed him for his failure to forward reinforcements for Lyon’s campaign in southwest Missouri, his defeat at Wilson’s creek and the capitulation at Lexington. General Sterling Price after these two notable victories was leisurely moving through southwest Missouri collecting an army, the size of which was magnified by all the arts of war and aroused in the mind of Fremont an urge to meet this Southern army in battle.
Welcomed to Hermann
At noon, September 28, 1681 General Fremont started his move on the enemy leaving St. Louis by train for Jefferson City with his bodyguard, staff and battalion of sharpshooters. A pleasant interlude in the ten hours journey to the State Capitol was the welcome at the German settlement of Hermann where the citizens had prepared a banquet for the general and his party with well laden tables of food and the celebrated Catawba wine.
Arriving at Jefferson city at 10 o’clock, the part spend the night at the principal hotel. The following day, Sunday, tents went up west of the capitol covering the hills for some miles around. The stay here would be a week, the force increasing daily. It was a pleasant period of ceremonies, amusements and afternoon drill for the regiments. At night Mrs. Fremont invited the favorites to an immense tea in the tent reserved for such receptions, with music by the general’s favorite band, the leader one of Fremont’s captains of engineers.
Visit by Secretary of War
The War Department kept urging Fremont on, and the force (15-20 thousand strong) got into motion against the enemy supposed to be in great force at Springfield. The Secretary of War, Simon Cameron and Adjutant General Thomas came out from Washington to see what Fremont was doing. They arrived by train at Tipton where Fremont mounted the party on horses for a ten mile ride to review one o f the divisions encamped at Syracuse. The rapid gallop was too much for Cameron, then 62 years old, and he had to forego the inspection. The same evening the Washington party left by train for St. Louis, and Fremont had an intimation that his visit meant the end of his career in Missouri.
An order signed by the President was on the way to be delivered by messenger to Gen. Fremont. It was not to be delivered, however, in the event of a battle fought and won or in front of the enemy in expectation of a battle. Lincoln had taken pains in this order of dismissal to give Fremont another chance.
From Syracuse the movement of the huge force was Southwestward. At Warsaw a halt of four days was made to build a bridge across the Osage. On the prairies north of Bolivar the general planned a grand review with all the divisions concentrated there.
Anxious for Battle
It was the day, October 25th, of Zagonyi’s charge against the enemy at Springfield. The bodyguard had begged permission from the general for this foray; they had been called holiday soldiers, they wished to show that they were soldiers for the battle.
The removal order had gone to St. Louis in care of General Curtis. To make sure that the message would get through the lines, it was placed in the hands of a captain in an Iowa regiment, J. C. McKenney, who dressed himself as a farmer and started for Fremont’s camp. A pass from General Curtis and the disguise took the messenger through the lines to Fremont’s headquarters. Waiting five hours to make sure there was no prospect of a battle, he saw Fremont alone. The general tore open the envelope and read the document. A victory would have saved him I his command.
The following year Fremont was given another chance. His command of the Mountain Department in Western Virginia was not successful. To Fremont’s request for reinforcements for one of his grandiose plans, Lincoln offered his own plan of campaign whereby the reinforcements might be dispensed with and added in a kindly way that he had, “arranged this and was very unwilling to have it deranged.”
When the Mountain Department was merged into the Army of Virginia on June 26, 1862 under Major General Pope, Fremont refused to serve under Pope and relinquished his command and further participation in the war.