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Monday, March 4, 2013

A rough winter for Union troops in Civil War Missouri

Life was tough for Union troops in wintertime Missouri. The winter of 1862/63 was an especially harsh one. Back in January, Union garrisons in the southern part of the state had to scramble after Confederate General Marmaduke's cavalry raiders coming up from Arkansas. They defeated them and sent them on a long freezing retreat back south, during which the rebels lost many horses to exhaustion and men to exposure.

After Marmaduke's raid, Missouri fell into a deceptive calm. Scattered skirmishes kept the Union garrisons on their toes and reminded them that not all rebels had fled. Recruiters still rode around rural areas trying to enlist men to join the Confederate army in Arkansas, and some guerrillas wintered in Missouri rather than Texas like the larger bands. These caused periodic trouble for the Yankees.

One such recruiter was Lieutenant J.D. Brazeau from St. Louis, who was with a small rebel group in Bloomfield, Missouri, recruiting and gathering supplies. On Feb. 28, Major Edward B. Eno led an advance guard of the Eighth Missouri State Militia Cavalry to capture them. They found the bridge across the Castor River destroyed and had to swim their horses across the icy water before dawn.

Arriving in town at the break of dawn, the Union troops completely surprised the rebels. Some fled while others surrendered. Brazeau leaped on his horse, fired at the advancing troops, and tried to gallop away. He was shot from his saddle and killed instantly. The Eighth Missouri captured a large number of horses and equipment.

Eno's report doesn't say what they did for the rest of the day. I suspect they found shelter, dried their clothes, and drank some moonshine beside a roaring fire. That's what I would have done if forced to swim across a freezing river and fight a battle before sunrise!

As the weather began to heat up in late March, the war heated up as well.

Photo courtesy flickr user lcm1863. It's actually of a historic farmhouse in Gettysburg, but Missouri can look like this some winters!

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