Thursday, 10 August 2017

To war for Missouri

Mathias Buss was born in Pennsylvania in about 1834, destined to be one of the Northern states in the American Civil War. But by 1860, according to the Federal census, he was living in Carthage, Missouri, working as a brick mason. Carthage was a new town, only founded in 1842, but by 1860 it had over 500 residents. Importantly for future events, Carthage is in the deep south of Missouri.

One year after that census Missouri was at war. Missouri’s position in the Civil War was complicated. Unlike say, Georgia, the Missouri State Government actually voted to stay in the Union. But many of the population supported the Confederacy, especially after heavy handed intervention and the massacre of civilians by a Union force under General Nathanial Lyon. The pro-Confederates, including the Governor, withdrew to the south of the state in 1861, where a successful general of the US Mexican war, Sterling Price, was appointed commander of Missourian forces. Meanwhile, the Union started recruiting troops from the north of the state. Thus, Missouri contributed troops to both sides in the Civil War. 

The initial clashes took place between Union troops and Missouri State Guard units, supported increasingly by troops from other states. Mathias is recorded as being at the following;

Cole Camp – June 19th 1861. 350 Missouri State Guard attacked and routed about 500 Union militia in their camp and routed them. The Missouri State Guard were poorly equipped, at least at the beginning. Many reportedly used a white flannel arm band as uniform, whilst one major effect of the battle at Cole Camp was to equip them with another 350 muskets.

Note that there was in fact a battle at Carthage in July 5th 1861, where the Missouri State Guard beat a (smaller) Union force, but Mathias is not recorded as being there. This was the first proper Missourian victory, and gave a great boost to morale, increasing pro-Confederate recruitment. 

Wilson Creek – August 10th 1861, near Springfield Missouri. Twelve thousand Missouri State Guard and Confederate troops, mainly from Arkansas under Price beat 5,400 Union troops under Lyon, including some Union Missouri regiments.

 The Battle of Wilson Creek

Lexington – September 12th to 20th 1861. 15,000 Missouri State Guard under Price defeated 3,500 Union troops garrisoning Lexington.

 The Battle of Lexington

Elk Horn/ Pea ridge – March 7-8th 1862. Near Leetown, Arkansas. Despite their successes the previous year the Missouri forces, still technically independent of the Confederate army, were pushed back into Arkansas. In March the 15,000 pro-Confederate forces, consisting of the Missouri State Guard, Confederate forces mainly from Arkansas and Texas, and an Indian Brigade of Cherokees and Choctaws, counter attacked 12,000 Union troops. Despite some early successes including a massed cavalry charge, the Confederate forces were driven off, ending any chance of a return to Missouri. Missourian forces spent the rest of the war fighting outside their state, and Missouri itself degenerated into civil war.

There was then a pause allowing Price to organise the Missouri State Guard into official units of the Confederate army. By April 1862, Mathias was in the 4th Missouri Regiment of the Confederate army, First Sergeant of F company. The 4th carried the Van Dorn battle flag.

Siege of Corinth  - April to May 1862. This was by far the largest battle Mathias had been involved in. One hundred twenty thousand Union forces attacked the strategically important town of Corinth, Mississippi, on the Mississippi river. The garrison of 65,000 Confederate troops was forced to retreat after a month long siege, but most managed to withdraw safely.

Battle of Iuka - Sept 9th 1862. A mixed force of about 3,000 Missouri, Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, Alabama and Louisiana troops was defeated by 4,500 Union and withdrew south.
On Nov 7th 1862, the 1st and 4th Missouri were combined, presumably due to heavy casualties, with Mathias now  First Lieutenant in Company B. Later he was to become captain of company B.

Mathias ‘s next, and last, battle took place in May next year. The 1st/4th Missourians were now in Mississippi, part of the Confederate forces attempting to hold the Union before the fortress city of Vicksburg. On May 17th they were part of a force of 5,000 troops ordered to hold the bank of the Big Black (!) River, or rather a bayou in front of the river, behind rough defences of logs and cotton bales. Unfortunately, the Union troops out flanked them, charging into an inexperienced brigade from Tennessee and breaking them. The Confederates broke and fled back to the Big Black River, some got back across the bridge there, but many drowned in the river or were captured.

And that was it for Mathias, the last battle he is recorded as fighting in. He certainly survived, but possibly he was one of the 1,700 taken prisoner. The 1st/4th Missourians fought on without him. They fought in the Atlanta Campaign, were part of Hood's operations in Tennessee, and became part of the forces defending Mobile. Only a remnant surrendered in May, 1865. 

But Mathias survived. In the 1870 census he is living with a young wife, Lucy, a Virginia girl 10 years his junior, and with two young children, Elizabeth (2) and James (1). Working again as a brick mason. And life went on. In 1881 he gave away his daughter to be married, to a Charles Jones in Bates, Missouri. And in 1900 he passed away, and was buried in the Confederate cemetery in Higginsville, Missouri, a long way from where he was born, but in the state he had lived most of his life, and had fought for.

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