Monday, June 13, 2011

Thomas Jefferson Hampson Goes To War

Thomas Jefferson Hampson
 Today we return to the unpublished Civil War memoir of my great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Hampson.  In the past two episodes we followed how the news of Fort Sumter exploded through Farmers College, just outside of Cincinnati, and how he and his friend enlisted in the Union Army.  We then followed them to Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania where they were outfitted and trained. 

This episode begins the 10th of June, 1861, when Hampson learns that he and his mates in the 4th Cavalry are being sent to Kansas.  He is detoured to Missouri where he will participate in several skirmishes during the summer on the way to the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the first major battle in the West and the place where General Nathaniel Lyon becomes the first hero of the war and the first general officer from the Union to fall in battle. 

Lyon had become an abolitionist after serving at Fort Riley, Kansas, the territory where the Civil War was going on long before Fort Sumter.  The Kansas-Nebraska Act, one of those 'what were they thinking' compromises that litter the pre-war landscape, created the idea of 'Popular Sovereignty', in which the residents of the states would define for themselves whether the state would be free or slave.  In the mid-1850s Lyon observed the resulting slaughter in what became known as "bleeding Kansas."

At his March 4 innaugural, Lincoln said:

National Park Service
"In doing this, there needs to be no bloodshed or violence, and there shall be none unless it be forced upon the national authority.  The power confided to me will be used to hold, occupy, and possess the property and places belonging to the Government and to collect the duties and imposts; but beyond what may be necessary for these objects, there will be no invasion, no using of force against or among the people anywhere."

Lincoln's remarks did not match Lyon's personality.  In May, six weeks after Lincoln's remarks, Lyon's forces took Camp Jackson in St.  Louis, which warehoused gunpowder, ammunition and money.  When a mob formed, Lyons ordered his men to use deadly force against them, and they did. 

In June, he met with the pro-slavery governor, Claiborne Jackson, and the general commanding the state militia, Sterling Price, and responded firmly, to say the least, to their demand to keep troops out of the state and not recruit in Missouri.

"Rather," said he (he was still seated, and spoke deliberately, slowly, and with a peculiar emphasis), "rather than concede to the State of Missouri the right to demand that my Government shall not enlist troops within her limits, or bring troops into the State whenever it pleases, or move its troops at its own will into or out of or through the State; rather than concede to the State of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my Government in any matter, however unimportant, I would (rising as he said this and pointing in turn to everyone in the room) see you, and you, and you, and you, and every man, woman and child in the State, dead and buried."

Gettysburg Museum
During the early summer, General Lyon and the nation's first German general, Franz Sigel, chased the rebels through Boonville and Carthage out of the capital to the south and west where they regrouped and declared, with no effect, that Missouri had seceded and become the 13th Confederate state. 
German immigration had changed the face of Missouri from slave state to free.  Many of these people, like Sigel, were fleeing the failure of revolutions at home during the great revolutionary year of 1848.  Many others came to Missouri because of a book written by Gottfried Duden in 1829.  "Report on a Journey to the Western States of America" was a huge seller in Germany and brought waves of immigrants to Missouri.  They were overwhelmingly anti-slave and joined the Union Army in great numbers as the war started.
Hampson's story has them first entering St.  Joseph, Missouri where the brand new troops encounter a bunch of toughs at the train station.  They move through several battles -- he was clearly at Boonville and Carthage -- and finally, as they get ready to attack the rebels at Wilson's Creek, he recounts an act of espionage where he enters the rebel camp and, with a piece of cane as a crude record, creates an inventoy of the enemy's strength.
An uneven speller, he does pretty well in this section, only missing on Sigel, spelled his way, Siegle.

The Death of General Lyon
National Park Service
Some pages are missing, and you wonder if they represented the really good parts, perhaps a first person account of the death of General Lyon.  In the manuscript, there is no specification of the wounds my great grandfather received.  All we know is that several of his ribs were sticking out. 

His story details catching the rebels completely by surprise, a crucial blunder by Sigel that leads to Lyon's death at 9:30 AM on August 12.  Hampson wakes up the following morning in the courthouse at Springfield when the burial detail comes for him and the other 1200 Union men who died the day before at Wilson's Creek.
Memoir of Thomas Jefferson Hampson, Part Three
The War in Missouri, June 10-August 13, 1861

On the tenth of June an order came Companies A, B, and C to proceed at once to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, to fill out the vacancies in five companies of the Fourth Regular Cavalry.
Once we were on the road, and got along all right until we reached St. Joe, Missouri, where a mob of rascals concluded to dispute our passage.  The men were ordered out on the platform and the order came to load and fire at will, which soon caused the mob to take to their heels.   We then proceeded to our destination. 
We lay at that place for several days awaiting our Regiment to come up, which they failed to do.  About that time, General Lyons had organized his command at St.  Louis and was planning a raid through the state of Missouri.  We recruits were like a lot of stray sheep; our regiment not coming up we were organized into Company A and B’s Rifles, and when Lyons command came along, we joined.  We started on our miserable march through Missouri.  That march we had several minor skirmishes, losing quite a number of men. 
Someone had to do some reconnoitering for information, and although it gave one the feeling of going out to get a rope around our necks, it was done.
When we arrived at their lines, we told the guard we were looking for stray horses and asked him if he had seen anything of such animals, giving him a description of the imaginary stock.  This particular time, the fellow happened to be a good natured sort of a fellow with a very limited knowledge of military rules and he answered all of our questions.  After a few minutes of conversation, we asked permission to go into camp and see the soldiers.  He said he guessed it would be all right and let us pass. 
We strolled about the camp acting the part of a couple of green gawks, asking foolish questions, staring with open-eyed wonder at everything we saw.
Having a nice piece of cane in our pockets, and by pressing our finger nails into the cane, it would make dents; one piece was for Infantry companys, one for Cavalry, one for the Artillers, and the other number of wagon trains.  The canes were to be our memorandum book for every battery.  We would make a dent on the Battery side and some for infantry.  Of course, we did not dare keep any information we might gain on paper for in case we were suspected and searched, evidence of that nature found on our person might lead to unpleasant results, such as dancing on thin ------
To avoid a surprise by Lyons army was neglected, and for that reason, we were able to surprise the Rebels and were in their camp before the general alarm was given.  The first intimation they had of our presence was our advancing skirmishers opening fire on them.
All was confusion in the enemy’s camp.  They were just getting breakfast when the sharp crack of the spring rifles drove all thought of eating out of their minds.
General Siegle in attempting to make a movement on our right flank to turn the enemies left, run into an ambush and lost five of his guns, and a number of prisoners.  It was an inexcusable blunder, and a great loss to us, as his guns were twelve pounders and had done excellent work before they were captured.  The worst feature was that the Rebels soon had their own guns playing on us.
General Lyons was cold with rage when he was informed of Siegle’s loss.  Siegle was to blame for he disobeyed orders as he had been ordered to keep his battery in the center; instead of doing so, he made a wide circle leaving a gap between his command and our right flank, which the Rebels were not slow to take advantage of.
(The next several pages of the manuscript missing.)
It was disheartening news as we considered that his presence on the field would ultimately give us victory notwithstanding their superiority in numbers.  General Sturges now became Commander in Chief as he ranked next to General Lyons.
About 1:30 p.m. as of by mutual consent, both armies stopped fencing and both Rebel and Yanks were busily engaged in pickimg up their wounded and burying their dead.
Our wounded were taken to Springfield, and their army fell back to Rolla.  It has always been a question as to who were the victors of that terrible struggle. 
Price could not claim a victory as we had crippled his arms to such and extent that he was unable to follow up our army and inflict further punishment.
We had given him such a hard fight that he was glad to see us retreat, and as far as our side was concerned, they had fighting enough that day to last a long time.  
All the wounded at Springfield fell into the hands of the Confederates and became prisoners of war.
As for myself, I knew but little of what was going on after I was placed in the ambulance and taken to Springfield.  When I came to my senses, I was in a large room, surrounded by stacks of dead comrades who had died in the ambulance on their way to Springfield.  When I was taken out of the ambulance, I was, to all appearances dead, and accordingly was placed in the same room with the dead.  But, when the burial party came in to remove the dead bodies, I had my eyes open.  I heard one of the burial parties exclaim, “hello!  This one goes to the hospital.”
The hospital was in a court house, a sort of impromptu affair, destitute of beds or cots or other necessaries.  Our wounded were laying around the floor destitute of any covering and the treatment we received at the hands of those confederates was cruel in the extreme.  All medical stores intended for our wounded had been taken by the confederates for their use, and many a poor wounded soldier’s life could have been saved with humane treatment and proper care, but the Johnnie Rebels were not troubling themselves about our comfort.

Next installment, September.  Prisoner of War. 

The death and burial of General Nathaniel Lyon

The Kansas Nebraska Act

The Republic Of Death

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