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The Details of the Fredericktown Battle.


October 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Thursday, October 24, 1861.



Interesting Account of the Burning of the Town.


[Special Correspondence of the Missouri Democrat.]


The fight at Fredericktown was the fairest that has yet taken place between the Union and Secession forces. The belligerents were just about equal in numbers and position, and whatever was gained by the one over the other must be attributed to courage and skill rather than to any other cause. It was a fair stand up and fight.

Jeff. Thompson was in possession of Fredericktown; his bands were pillaging the country in every direction, and it was decided to dislodge him. A force was ordered up from Cape Girardeau to cut off his retreat to the swamps. This force consisted of Colonel Plummer’s Missouri Eleventh, Col. Ross’s Seventeenth, Col. Marsh’s Illinois Twentieth, two pieces of cannon, and two companies of cavalry. At the same time a force was ordered from Pilot Knob, consisting of the Illinois Thirty-eighth, Col. Carlin; Illinois Thirty-third, Col. Hovey; Illinois Twenty-first, Col. Alexander; Wisconsin Eighth, Col. Murphy; First Indiana Cavalry, Col. Baker; Captain Hawkins’s Independent Missouri Cavalry, and six cannon—two 24 pounders and four 6 pounders—under command of Major Schofield, First Missouri Artillery.

Saturday evening, Col. Plummer, in command of the forces from Cape Girardeau, sent a messenger with dispatches to Col. Carlin, commander of the forces from Pilot Knob. This messenger was captured by Thompson on Sunday morning, thus putting him in possession of the movements and intentions of the Union forces.

He ordered a movement down the road to Dallas, evidently intending to attack and cut Col. Plummer off, when he would return and finish the forces from the West at his leisure. But there are two roads from Dallas to Fredericktown—the north and the South, Thompson went out on the south road and Plummer came in on the north road, and so he missed him. As soon as he ascertained this fact he came back and took a position about one mile south of Fredericktown (on the Greenville road) on the south side of a ravine, planting his cannon in the edge of a wood, and bearing on the road and placing his infantry in the corn fields on either side of the lane leading out of the ravine or hollow, toward the wood in which the artillery was placed. On taking this position, he sent a dispatch to the main body of his cavalry, which was ten miles south of Pilot Knob, at Judge Miller’s, which dispatch reached them at eight o’clock, Monday morning. They hastened off to his assistance, but from the number of cavalry seen on the battle-field, it is believed they did reach him in time to be in the engagement. The rebel forces consisted of 1,700 under Col. Lowe; 2,000 under Jeff. Thompson; a reinforcement from Mississippi of 1,500 men, and the riff raff of the surrounding country, who fought their own battle in their own way. Thompson has nine cannon, 6 and 12 pounders: three are at New Madrid and four he had at Fredericktown.

Dr. McDowell, formerly of your city, is his surgeon. I learn these particulars from a spy just in from his camp, and they may be considered perfectly reliable. The number on each side was about 6,000. It is the first time the rebels have not greatly outnumbered us.

Col. Carlin arrived in Fredericktown about 8 o’clock Monday morning, and was told by the inhabitants that Thompson had left the day before, and that he was probably thirty miles away by that time. Having but two days rations in the haversacks, and the baggage train being behind, he concluded to wait till it came up before he pushed on after the fugacious enemy. The men being tired, having marched all the night previous, many of them laid down and slept, as did also some of the officers, in perfect security. At eleven o’clock, Col. Plummer’s command came in. After consultation and rest of two hours, he concluded to push on after the enemy in the direction of Greenville, but had not the least idea of overtaking Jeff so soon as the people of the town were unanimous in their story that he had gone the day before. After he had proceeded down the lane half a mile, a negro woman told him there were men down the road. This placed him on his guard, and Col. Ross, who was in advance, pretty soon saw the rebel cavalry moving among the brush, and the fact that the enemy were in force before them was soon apparent.

Col. Ross immediately took position in a field to the left of the road, and on the north side of the hollow, about half a mile from the rebel artillery and two hundred and fifty yards from Lowe’s infantry, who were behind a fence in the centre of the valley, and directly before him. One cannon was placed on his right flank and another in the lane bearing on the rebel artillery. In a few minutes we opened the ball by sending a six-pound shot into the brush on the other side. It was promptly responded to by a shot from the rebels, and the firing was kept up steadily on both sides. Col. Ross’s men fired two or three rounds at random down the hill. Col. Plummer and Col. Marsh were soon formed on the ridge to the right of Col. Ross, and the firing soon roused Colonel Carlin’s command, who came down the lane in a double quick, and took position in the rear. The Eighth Wisconsin was left as a reserve in town, and to cover the retreat in case that necessity should happen.

Perhaps it will be well to state that there was a difference among the Colonels as to who should have the command. Col. Carlin thought he should have it, and Col. Plummer thought he should. As they were about considering the matter, it occurred to them that Col. Ross outranked them both, and so it was thought best to say nothing further about it. So, from the point at which we are now in the progress of the battle each Colonel managed his own force pretty much as he thought best.

Col. Ross’s regiment threw off their knapsacks and coats, and with a steady step advanced down the hill, under a brisk fire from Lowe’s men. The march quickened into a charge, made hideous with yells, and the rebels broke and retreated across the stubblefield toward the woods. While crossing this field their loss was very heavy.

In the meantime, the Indiana cavalry had formed in the lane and dashed down the hill and up the opposite slope, where they were exposed to a fire from infantry on both sides, and the artillery in front. Seeing the impossibility of making a successful charge in the brush, an order to wheel was given, and just as it was being executed, a murderous fire was poured upon them, and Major Gavitt, Capt. Highman, and two privates fell, and several others were wounded.

They were quickly supported by Col. Plummer, and our united forces rapidly advancing, the enemy began to fall back, and in a short time the rout was complete. The infantry pursued them three or four miles, and the cavalry ten miles. It is a complete victory.

The rebel loss is not less than 100 killed, and many competent judges place it as high as 150. Of their wounded there is but little means of knowing, as they were carried off the field, but it is probably in about the usual proportion to the killed.

Twelve or fifteen were left on the field. Three of their cannon were captured, and a quantity of old flint-lock rifles, shot-guns, &c.

The following is a list of our killed and wounded so far as it can now be ascertained:


First Indiana Cavalry–Major Gavitt, Captain Highman, Chas. R. McClure, J. T. Leach.
Illinois Seventeenth–Thomas Layton, of Lewistown, Fulton County.
There was also one killed in the Missouri Eleventh, but we could not ascertain the name.


Illinois Seventeenth–Joseph Cain, company I, in leg; severely.
William A. Hubbard, company I, arm broken.
Thos. Woolf, company I, in shoulder; spent ball; slightly.
Reuben Ulem, company I, in shoulder; slightly.
Green Baker, in leg; badly.
Wm. Lock, knee; badly.
Samuel McClay, shoulder.
John Brich, left hand.
Lieut. Jones, in body; mortally.


Company B.–Jas. Cooper badly, in hip.
Daniel Connor, in hip.
Lieut. J. S. Bingham, arm and side, slightly.
Jas. Pluntz, spent ball struck him in under lip, knocked out two teeth, passed into his mouth, and he spit it out.
James Halderby, glancing ball on forehead, slightly.
Company C.–Richard Flowers, in leg, amputated below knee.
Corporal A. Allison, abdomen, severely.
Wm. Gorten, breast, badly.
Henry Steel, chin, slightly.
Geo. Henrich, bugler, left arm fractured.
John Kelly, right shoulder, not severely.
Wm. Cleveland, right shoulder, glancing ball.
These are all the names that could be obtained in the hurry and bustle attending the preparations for pushing forward in pursuit of the enemy.  It is certain, however, that this list embraces the names of all who received wounds of a serious, or moderately serious character.  All the others of the wounded received only trifling injuries, many of them still fit for duty, and proceeded with their respective commands.

It was late at night when all got back into camp.

Our soldiers were much exasperated at what seemed to them a deliberate purpose on the part of the people of Fredericktown to run them into an ambuscade, by persistently and unanimously telling them a falsehood as to the movements of Thompson, for they could not but believe that they knew where he was.

This feeling was heightened by another circumstance.  There were but few men in town, and almost every woman questioned told the story that she was for the Union, that her husband was for the Union, and that he had been forced to run away from home for fear the secessionists would kill him, but when the truth was ascertained, nearly every one of these men were with Thompson that day.

The officers did their best to restrain them but the soldiers were determined to have revenge, and they broke into a number of houses, stores and dwellings, and used whatever they wanted, and destroyed some things that were of no use to them.

They set fire to and burned down some twelve or fifteen houses–several of them very good buildings.  Wherever a man was known to be a Unionist, his property was untouched.  I heard of no personal violence to any man or woman.

Our forces started at noon yesterday on the road to Greenville.  They are determined to exterminate Thompson’s army or run it out of the State.  Col. Carlin will remain at this post.   M.