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Thursday, November 3, 2011

Creative foraging in the Civil War

 As I mentioned in a previous post on weapons shortages during the Civil War, both sides had to deal with constant shortages of essential equipment. While the Confederates suffered more, Union troops were not immune, as this dispatch from the Official Records shows. It's from Major Frank J. White (Union) and dated 24 October 1861, but recounts events from two weeks before. It's addressed to acting Brig.-Gen. Whyman.

"On the 5th instant I received your orders to organize a scouting cavalry squadron for special service, and organized one by making the following details: Company L, First Missouri Cavalry, Captain Charles Fairbanks, 65 men; Company C, First Missouri Cavalry, Captain P. Kehoe, 65 men; the Irish Dragoons, independent, 51 men. We left Jefferson City on the 5th instant, and after a severe march reached Georgetown, our men in good condition, on the afternoon of the 8th. Our horses being all unshod, and consequently unfit for travel, we procured a few shoes and a quantity of old iron, called for blacksmiths from our ranks, took possession of two unoccupied blacksmiths' shops, and in five days shot our horses and mules, 232 in number.

"Our scanty supply of ammunition having been destroyed by the rain, and having two small bullet-molds in our possession, we procured lead and powder, and turning a carpenter's shop into a manufactory, made 3,000 cartridges for our revolving rifles."

Major White doesn't mention if these items were given up voluntarily, or why the villagers had so much powder in their possession. The soldiers' hard work, however, would soon be rewarded.

"On the 15th instant Colonel Hovey, commanding at Georgetown, received a dispatch from Lexington, stating that a valuable baggage train had left the vicinity of Lexington destined for Price's rebel army; also a private dispatch from Colonel White, stating that if he and his fellow-prisoners were not relieved within twenty-four hours they would be assassinated by the rebel marauders infesting Lexington. As Colonel Hovey's command was under marching orders, and therefore could not go to their relief, my command volunteered for the service, and Colonel Eads, of Georgetown, tendered me 70 men from his regiment. Accompanied by Colonel Eads, I started at 9 p. m. on the 15th instant, my whole force being 220 strong. By a severe forced march of nearly 60 miles we reached Lexington early the following morning, drove in the rebel pickets without loss, and took possession of the town. We made from 60 to 70 prisoners, 60 stand of arms, 25 horses, 2 steam ferry-boats, a quantity of flour and provisions, a large rebel flag, and other articles of less value. The rebels fled in every direction."

The next day the Union troops captured another steamer and left Lexington because the rebels were massing against them. With wry humor White added that, "As soon as the rebels were satisfied of our departure they attacked our deserted camp with great energy."

"We then proceeded to Warrensburg, making a few captures on our route. The evening of our arrival at Warrensburg we easily repulsed a slight attack, and by threatening to burn the town if again attacked, remained two days unmolested. We next proceeded to Warsaw, and are now on our route to Stockton. . .I have no casualties to report, and my men are all in good health, anxious for further service."

Threatened to burn the town if you got attacked? Nice. The war was getting ugly in Missouri.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons. It's actually a blacksmith's shop in Pinal, Arizona, in 1882, but I liked the picture.

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