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The Much-Traveled 21st Missouri
fought for the Union in Tennessee and Texas, and at points in between.

Written By William B. Allmon



A Brief History of the Twenty-First Missouri
From the September 1996 Issue of America's Civil War


During the Civil War, infantry regiments from the state of Missouri fought bravely in both the Confederate and Federal armies. By war's end, the first regiment of Missourians trained to fight as infantry in the Union Army, the 21st Missouri Volunteer Infantry had risen from its humble beginnings as a home guard regiment to earn an honored place in Missouri history.

At the beginning of the war, Missourians hoped to sit out the fighting in neutrality. But clashes between Union and Confederate forces, along with home-grown violence by bands of secessionist Missourians, made long-term neutrality impossible.

As a result, U.S. Congressman Frank Blair and Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, through the Committee of Public Safety in St. Louis, began to organize Union state guard regiments for guerrilla-plagued northeastern Missouri counties. Men like William Bishop, a wealthy Virginia-born commodity speculator turned Union colonel, were authorized to "enlist as many as is thought advisable to serve the government for as long a period as will be necessary." Bishop was told by Lyon to return to Clark County and "organize, equip and swear into service home guardsmen."

To help organize the home guard regiment for Clark County, Bishop turned to a friend, former Ohioan and Mexican War veteran David Moore of Wrightsville, to "sound the trumpet" for the Union cause. On June 24, 1861, wearing his 1847 army uniform, Moore rode into Alexandria, Mo., and took the oath of loyalty to the Union, returning to duty as a captain of volunteers. On that same day, Moore had handbills printed inviting "all who are willing to fight for their homes, their county, and the flag of our glorious Union" to join him, "bringing their arms and ammunition."

Moore's little band soon had grown to 54 men. By the end of the month, 3.000 men had been formed into the state home guard. Troops raised by Moore and others were assembled at Kahoka, in the heart of Clark County, on Tuesday, July 4, 1861, and formed into the 1st Northeast Missouri Home Guards. Moore was elected colonel of the regiment.

In nearby Lewis County on July 15, 1861, the Lewis County Home Guard of four companies, with 300 men, were turned over by Stephen W. Carnegy, who had raised the battalion, to its commander, Colonel Humphrey Marshall Woodyard, a former member of the Missouri General Assembly. Woodyard's command later became the 2nd Northeast Missouri Home Guard.

The destinies of both Woodyard's and Moore's units soon intermingled. The 1st Northeast Missouri fought two small battles with Missouri Confederate units in late July 1861. Those battles, at Warsaw and Athens, cost the 1st Northeast Missouri 23 men killed or wounded, but established Moore as a daring and fearless commander.

The 2nd Northeast Missouri fought at Clapp's Ford in mid-August 1861 and then joined with Moore's troops at Fairmont, Mo., on August 18. Together, the two regiments pursued Rebel forces commanded by Confederate Colonel Martin E. Greene until September 11. Moore and Woodyard were sent to Canton, Mo., and operated against enemy units in northeastern Missouri from September through November 1861.

By December 1861, neither Moore nor Woodyard could find enough recruits to bring their regiments back up to full strength. The overall commander of Union forces in Missouri, Maj. Gen. Henry Wager Halleck, decided to take a hand. He ordered the state units to be re-formed as regiments of Missouri volunteers or else be disbanded. And so on December 31, 1861, Missouri Governor Hamilton R. Gamble issued Special Order 15, directing that the "battalion of Missouri volunteers, heretofore known as the 1st Northeast Missouri Regiment... and the battalion of Missouri volunteers heretofore known as the 2nd Northeast Missouri Regiment" be consolidated into a regiment "to be hereafter known and designated as the 21st Regiment of Missouri Volunteers." Moore was given command of the new volunteer regiment, with Woodyard as his lieutenant colonel. The 21st Missouri, 10 companies with a total of 962 men, was mustered into the Union army at Canton on February 12, 1862.

On March 18, 1862, the 21st Missouri boarded the steamer Die Vernon and sailed to St. Louis, where they arrived on March 19 and were billeted at Benton Barracks. Their stay was short. The next day, Moore was ordered to "proceed forthwith and report to Maj. Gen. U.S. Grant, touching at Ft. Henry for orders."

The regiment boarded the steamer T.C. Swan on the afternoon of March 21 and proceeded to Fort Henry in northwestern Tennessee. From Fort Henry the regiment sailed downriver to Pittsburg Landing, arriving on Tuesday, March 25. At Pittsburg Landing, the regiment joined Brig. Gen. Benjamin Prentiss's 6th Division, attached to the 1st Brigade of Colonel Everett Peabody. The regiment established its camp along the East Corinth Road, between the 16th Wisconsin and 12th Michigan regiments, in an area "covered with woods," a soldier wrote years later, "with large cleared spaces between, and which was intersected by deep ravines."

Saturday, April 5, 1862, passed quietly. Later that day, Prentiss ordered Moore to send out a reconnaissance patrol and strengthen the outpost pickets. Moore led three companies of the 21st Missouri south on a well-beaten trail leading t the East Corinth Road a half mile from the camp, then proceeded west beyond the Western Corinth Road. In the heavy timber and deep ravines beyond Prentiss' front, Moore did not penetrate deeply into the woods and found no trace of a Rebel presence other than fresh hoofprints. If Moore had pressed his patrol farther, he might have discovered evidence that an entire Confederate army was close by. Instead, he returned to camp and reported merely that enemy calvary might be near.

Early the next morning, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General Albert Sidney Johnston, attacked Grant's smaller army, hoping to destroy it before Union reinforcements arrived. Receiving word of the fighting, Prentiss ordered Moore to take five companies from his regiment, half the 21st Missouri's strength, and assist the hard-pressed pickets.

Assembling Companies A, C, D, H and I, Moore rode off toward the fighting, leaving Woodyard in command of the 21st's remaining five companies. Farther up the road, the officer commanding the pickets, Major James E. Powell, warned Moore of trouble ahead. Moore downplayed the danger but sent a lieutenant back to camp to urge Woodyard and the rest of regiment forward on the "double quick."

A few minutes before 7 a.m., Woodyard appeared with the remaining five companies and joined Moore's column in the woods. The regiment marched on until it came to a fence along the roadside.

A volley of musketry came from behind the fence. Some of the Missourians dropped to the ground and opened fire, causing the Confederates to fall back. Moore quickly ordered the 21st to form ranks in a nearby cotton field to flank the enemy position.

The men broke down the fence and found themselves facing the 8th and 9th Arkansas regiments forming at the south end of the field. As the regiment exchanged volleys with the Arkansas regiments, Moore remembered, "it appeared like a volcano at full blast. The enemy's lines presented the appearance of a line of fire; the air was filled with lead and iron." The commander of the 9th Arkansas was impressed with the sharp firing from the Missourians. "The almost incessant roar of musketry, " wrote the officer, "told the desperate character of the contest being waged between the rebels and the 21st Missouri." Members of the 21st began falling. Moore, standing in front of the regiment, was struck by a bullet in his right leg below the knee.

Moore was carried off the field, and Woodyard took command and pulled the regiment out of effective musket range. Woodyard then re-formed the men along a knoll at the eastern end of the field. The Confederates, wary of attempting a frontal attack, tried to pass around Woodyard's right, but he countered by pulling back to the northeast corner of the field.

The 21st, along with four companies of the 16th Wisconsin, held the new line until Confederate troops outflanked it. With too small a force to contain them, Woodyard pulled back to a new position less than a mile from the 1st Brigade's camps. The men were hardly in their new position when their thin line was struck by skirmishers from Brig. Gen. R.G. Shaver's brigade. Firing from behind an incline, the Missourians were able to halt the onrushing Confederates for a short time, but with fresh Confederate troops attacking, the regiment, along with the rest of Peabody's brigade, began to fall back beyond their camps.

Two hundred men of the 21st, surviving the rout through their camp, joined Prentiss and elements of the 18th Missouri, 12th Michigan and 18th Wisconsin regiments in what became known as the Hornet's Nest. These units delayed the Confederate attacks on the rest of Grant's army until 5:30 p.m., when Prentiss surrendered. Fifty-eight members of the 21st Missouri were among the 2,200 prisoners captured.

The remainder of the regiment regrouped in a camp located near Dell's Branch Creek. The next day, the 21st took part in Grant's counterattack, which drove the Confederates, now under General P.G.T. Beauregard, from the field at Shiloh. In its first battle as a Union regiment, the 21st Missouri lost 18 killed, 46 wounded, and 58 missing. Moore, one of the wounded, lost his right leg.

Moore returned to the regiment three months later, in July 1862. According to one observer, Moore was a "study in red eyed pugnacity as he hobbled along on crutches." The 21st had need of his pugnacity. During July and August, the regiment was burdened by smoldering discontent in its ranks, brought on by war weariness and homesickness.

The climax came on August 6, 1862. Large groups of men from the 21st left their camps and went into the woods to discuss whether they should lay down their arms. The mutineers even talked about shooting the 21st's officers and staging a unilateral cease-fire. Hearing of this, Colonel Moore ordered Major Edwin Moore, the 21st's adjutant, to the two companies "on the double quick" to break up the meeting. Edwin Moore, along with Companies A and F of the 21 Missouri, met the mutineers returning to camp and arrested 60 of them. Six men were charged as ringleaders of the mutiny. All six were tried, found guilty and sentenced to a year at hard labor.

On September 19, the regiment took part in the Battle of Iuka, and later fought at Corinth on October 3-4, 1862. After a brief return to Missouri to recruit new men for the regiment, the 21st returned to La Grange, Tenn., and took part in Grant's first attempt to take Vicksburg, Miss., in December 1862. Following that failure, the 21st was placed on garrison duty at Columbus, Ky., then at Union City and Clinton, and finally at Memphis, Tenn. The 21st remained for eight months guarding the crucial river and railway town.

On January 28, 1864, the good times at Memphis ended when the 21st boarded the transport Sir William Wallace as part of the 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, XVI Corps. David Moore, now a lieutenant colonel, was in command, replacing Woodyard, who had resigned his commission after his election to the Missouri Supreme Court.

Throughout 1864, the 21st took part in many significant battles and campaigns in the western theater, including William T. Sherman's Meridian campaign in Mississippi and the Red River campaign in eastern Texas. After the completion of the unsuccessful Red River campaign on May 22, the 21st returned to Vicksburg, then moved back to Memphis.

In the last days of June 1864, the regiment joined the 3rd Division and went to Moscow, Tenn., by rail, then marched nine miles from Moscow to La Grange, the XVI Corps's staging area. There, the 21st joined the XVI Corps under Maj. Gen. A.J. Smith. On July 5, the corps moved into Mississippi to confront Confederate forces under the dreaded cavalryman Nathan Bedford Forrest. On July 13, with rations running short, Smith turned the XVI Corps toward Tupelo to forage for food. The Federal advance was bitterly contested by Rebel forces striking at both ends of Smith's column. The regiment reached Tupelo and made camp on a ridge facing the town of Harrisburg. The Missourians slept that night with their weapons within easy reach.

At 7 a.m., the Confederates, mostly dismounted cavalry, advanced on the 3rd Division's positions. The 21st, with the 119th Illinois on it left and the 58th Illinois on its right, waited for the attack. The Union lines were hidden from Confederate view by the top of a hill. At point-blank range, the 21st rose and fired directly into the oncoming Confederates.

Following the volley, the Missourians, "with a yell like that of demons," charged. Many startled Confederates dropped their weapons and ran back down the hill with the 21st in hot pursuit, pouring a "continuous and deadly fire" upon them. Colonel Thomas J. Kinney, commanding the 119th Illinois, recalled that "the Twenty-first Missouri was formed on my right and charged with us, they, too, capturing many prisoners."

The 21st, along with both Illinois regiments, drove the Confederates from the hill. There were no more Confederate attacks that day, although the 21st Missouri was harassed by heavy artillery fire. The regiment's casualties in the Battle of Tupelo were one man killed and 15 wounded. "The officers and men of the command behaved with the utmost gallantry," Moore reported, "obeying every order with that promptness which secures success."

In August 1864, the 21st Missouri took part in the XVI Corps' expedition to Oxford, Miss. Then, in September of that year, the regiment returned to Missouri, where it took part in the pursuit of Confederate Brig. Gen. Sterling Price's force until November 1864. Returning to Tennessee in late November, the regiment helped Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas' Union forces to destroy the Confederate Army of Tennessee, led by General John Bell Hood, at the Battle of Nashville, on December 15-16, 1864.

In January 1865, the 21st Missouri moved to Clifton, Tenn., then to Eastport, Miss., where it remained until February 1865. On February 9, Moore was replaced by Colonel Charles Tracy as commander of the 21st Missouri. Soon afterward, the regiment was sent to New Orleans, where it became part of a reactivated XVI Corps. Still brigaded with the 89th Indiana, 119th and 122nd Illinois regiments, the 21st joined the Military Division of West Mississippi.

In March 1865, the 21st arrived on Dauphin Island in Mobile Bay, and took part in the capture of Spanish Fort and Fort Blakely on April 9 and the occupation of Mobile, Ala., on April 12. While in Mobile, the men of the 21st Missouri learned of Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

The weeks following Mobile's capture were dull ones for the men of the 21st. "The boys in the ranks were restless," a soldier noted. "Home was on their minds." The regiment marched to Montgomery, Ala., with the XVI Corps on April 13 and remained there until May 27, when the regiment returned to Mobile on peacekeeping duty, until mustering out on April 19, 1866.

During its four years in the Union service, the 21st Missouri fought in four major battles and participated in five campaigns. Two officers and 68 enlisted men from the regiment were killed in action.


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The above article used with permission of
America's Civil War - Copyright 1996
dba PRIMEDIA Enthusiast Publications
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