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A Turner Bugler, 2004

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Union Forces at Pilot Knob


Company E member Scott House has recently rewritten the book on the Battle of Pilot Knob, reevaluating the historical record to update Bryce Suderow’s 1984 account. The revised edition of The Battle of Pilot Knob: Thunder in the Arcadia Valley will debut at the September reenactment and be available at the Visitors’ Center. Based on his research, Scott offers the following is information for Federal reenactors who want to prepare specific impressions for the reenactment.

For your consideration, since this will be the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Pilot Knob, folks may wish to take on specific unit impressions.

The Unionist forces numbered somewhere close to 1,400 people, on paper.  But quite a few had been detailed away from the fort, sent north, captured, or cut off from the fort proper during the intense charge of September 27, 1864.  We have only an approximation of how many were actually in the fort during that charge, but it probably numbered close to a thousand anyway.

Almost any impression could be used.  Most of the men did not look like veteran troops.

1st Missouri State Militia Infantry, Co. G,  1st Lieutenant John Fessler.

Small company of only 60 men, these were MSM infantry who had been stationed at Pilot Knob. Probably dressed as standard infantry, they were not, actually, equipped as infantry but instead manned the large guns of the fort, which they had been in charge of for some time.  The large guns consisted of 4 32-pounders and 3 24-pounder howitzers.  So count them as men dressed as infantry but serving on guns. Plus they did not have enough men to man all their guns so others, including dismounted cavalry and civilians, had to help. So it is completely OK for men dressed as infantry or even civilians to work some guns.

3rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry, Major James Wilson, Captain Henry Milks. 2nd Missouri State Militia Cavalry, Co. L, 2nd Lieutenant John A. Rice.

MSM cavalry, but they were dressed and armed variously, fought together, and numbered about 380 men total.  Company I of the 3rd were well-known as the Red Rovers, many had a red stripe on their pants (they may have initially thought they would be artillery, or perhaps it was just a distinctive style.)  Company I was from Pike and Lincoln Counties in north Missouri; also included some from Pike County, Illinois (Pittsfield).  Company K of the same unit was from Bollinger County and surrounding areas.  Some of them reportedly wore artillery uniforms because when the entire unit took their small Woodruff cannons, it was K who operated them.  The MSM cavalry was mostly armed with sabers, Colt repeating rifles, various carbines, and pistols.  It may be that Company K did not have long weapons issued to them originally but were issued rifles before the battle.  Most of the “cavalry” fighting at Pilot Knob was done on foot.   Some members of K probably helped with the artillery during the battle.  Impressions can include dismounted cavalry or look-alikes (engineers with yellow stripes) armed with almost anything available, repeaters being especially appropriate.  Hours prior to the main assault, they had briefly skirmished on horseback, and that was it.  Later, these troops were sent out, dismounted, from the fort to act as skirmishers on the flank of Pilot Knob Mountain during the main battle.  Eventually most fell back to the fort.

47th Missouri Infantry Regiment, Colonel Thomas C. Fletcher, Lt. Col. Amos Maupin.

The 47th had just been mustered in two or three weeks earlier.  Only once did they actually form up for battalion drill, and that was just a day before the fighting began.  They were armed with rifles of different sorts.  At least one company was mounted.  They were dressed in standard uniforms, mostly, and would have been issued forage caps which they may or may not have been wearing.  Many of these men had been in EMM units or were even veterans who re-enlisted.  There were six companies, all of whom were men local to the immediate surrounding counties.  While many had seen fighting, they probably could not drill and would not look good in line.  However, they did number about 500 men, so the bulk of the uniformed infantry should not look or act particularly professional.  They would not have known how to do virtually any maneuvers.  They could fall in line and march, but that is about the limit of their drill experience.  A couple of companies were sent out from the fort during the first part of the battle; the bulk remained in the rifle pits or fort.

50th Missouri Infantry, Co. F, Captain Robert L. Lindsay.

The 50th was brand new, not mustered in, may not all have had uniforms (some probably did).  Local men, they probably received weapons just before the fighting began.  They had about 80 men and generally fell in with the 47th men.  A good impression is to have rifles but a variety of clothing, including full uniforms, with caps, or bits and pieces of uniform.  Some probably had no accoutrements.  Most of them served only in the fort or rifle pits.

2nd Missouri Light Artillery, Battery H, Captain William C. F. Montgomery.

Dressed as artillery, had never been in a serious battle, but were highly competent.  Full complement of about 140 men, they were armed with six 3” ordnance rifles.  Impression would be a fully dressed artillery unit.  Two of their pieces were outside the fort, the rest were inside; the two pieces had to be abandoned during the battle.  They had arrived about a week before the battle.

14th Iowa Volunteer Infantry (5 Companies), Captain William J. Campbell.

Veteran troops who had been at Shiloh and other battles.  The five companies totaled only about 145 men.  These were the crack troops, who were about to muster out.  They were armed with both Springfields and Enfields.  A good impression would be to look, drill, and act like hard veterans, dressed in worn uniforms, with hats (not caps), carrying blanket rolls, etc.  The only mention of bayonets being fixed was from the 14th Iowa, which suggest that the rest of the units either did not have them or did not use them.  They were sent out, twice, from the fort during the early parts of the battle.  This would be the infantry skirmishers, who despite their small size, carried colors and had a color guard.  These men arrived about noon of the first day’s battle, the 26th of September.

White Citizens, Captain Patrick F. Lonergan.

Lonergan was the post provost marshal.  The civilians included some veterans but  were mostly local men, perhaps 75 or more.  Those who were armed had a variety of weaponry:  squirrel rifles, Hawkens, shotguns, etc.  A good impression would be to dress as period civilians, carrying some sort of weaponry that can be fired safely. A good example was the Reverend Wilson, with his black clothing, bible, and doubled-barreled shotgun.  They were completely in the fort during the battle.

Black Citizens, James Farrar, Ret. Captain John George Purcell.

Civilians, but many had helped build the fort, or otherwise worked with the army.  Many were freed slaves.  They helped build gun platforms the night before the battle and helped man the heavy guns.  They were brave men, who took several casualties, like all of the artillery.  It would be highly desirable to find some local men to portray at least some of these volunteers.

In summation, a good impression would be to have plenty of dismounted cavalry or look-alikes as skirmishers, even with just revolvers.  The crack infantry should be limited to the best, veteran looking troops but they only comprised about 10% of the Union troops.  The bulk of the infantry was poorly drilled and was mostly not sent out, remaining in the rifle pits or fort.  However, many fought well, fired a great deal, but they also had a number of men who were cowering in the rifle pits.  In the fort, many of them reloaded guns and handed them up to the better, braver, shots.

Camp ambience and civilians:  This was a long-term garrison, being occupied since shortly after the beginning of the war.  Camp equipage was plentiful, food was plentiful, etc.  There were many civilian refugees in the area, and Christian sanitary groups worked to relieve their shortages.  Rations were issued to civilians.  There are plenty of opportunities for ladies and children to be in this reenactment.

Progressives:  The 14th Iowa probably carried no tentage.  They spent one night on the line of battle near Ironton and spent part of the second night in the fort.  Bivouacking would be an appropriate venue for those who wish to.

BTW:  The best evidence suggests that no Confederates ever made it into the moat of the fort or the rifle pits except for one wounded Confederate whom the Union men went out and carried in under fire (they then had to save him from being killed by others in the rifle pit).  Only one participant mentions the use of hand-grenades, that memory was nearly 40 years old, and the fort’s ordnance returns (a few weeks before the battle) do not mention any such grenades.  (I would be happy to learn if someone knows of additional corroboration.)

This article was originally published in the July-August 2014 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Sheila Porter, Editor.