Saturday, April 18, 2009

Article: Battle of Fredericktown (Missouri), October 21, 1861

State historical society journals can be invaluable repositories of well researched and documented battle histories that are perhaps too small in scale, duration, or strategic importance to merit a book length study. For students of the Civil War in Missouri and the Confederacy's vast Department No. 2, the Battle of Fredericktown (October 21, 1861) is an interesting early war fight . No good modern articles (as far as I know) or book length studies1 exist, until now. The current volume of the journal Missouri Historical Review2 contains a stellar article by James E. McGhee titled "A Damned Tight Place": General Jeff Thompson Confronts the Federals at Fredericktown, Missouri. McGhee's account of the battle and the maps (two by James Denny) are the best narrative and visual representations of the battle yet published. As an avid compiler of unpublished source materials and the author of many books3 on Missouri's Civil War, McGhee is abundantly qualified to write about this obscure battle and its place in the war. At the western end of Albert Sidney Johnston's much maligned 1861-62 forward defensive line, Thompson's offensive action was designed to threaten Federal communications with St. Louis and relieve the pressure on pro-southern forces in the southwest corner of the state from General Fremont's advancing army of 38,000 men. Thompson experienced some success with the former mission, but his operations did little if anything to hinder the latter.

[Wikipedia summary of the battle]

1. Jerry Ponder's The Civil War Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri (Author, 1996) does not merit serious consideration. Jeff Thompson's published memoir does have some detail on the operation.

2. Full citation for those readers wishing to obtain a copy:
McGhee, James E. ""A Damned Tight Place": General Jeff Thompson Confronts the Federals at Fredericktown, Missouri." Missouri Historical Review 103:3 (April 2009): 148-160.

3. CWBA reviews of McGhee book titles:
* Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861-1865
* Sterling Price's Lieutenants: A Guide to the Officers and Organization of the Missouri State Guard 1861-1865


  1. I have heard that Wyatt Earp's older brother James was wounded at the battle of Fredericktown.

  2. I hadn't heard that one before. From a quick google search, various sites indicate that he enlisted in Co. F, 17th Illinois at 19, and was wounded in the left arm at Fredericktown, disabling it for life. Interesting. Thanks for bringing it up.

  3. Drew,

    Do you subscribe to the Missouri Historical Review? If not, how do you find out about Civil War related articles? I suspect you monitor the web pages of these journals, but I'm interested in doing some of this myself.

  4. Brett,
    I don't subscribe to any of them so for the very newest issues it's often someone else telling me about it.

    If not, I can always catch it down the line sometime. CW articles can be pretty infrequent for many of these so I don't monitor them too closely.

    Sometimes an enthusiast has catalogued the CW articles for a given journal. For example, the Civil War St. Louis website has a spreadsheet of compiled articles from 1906-2002 for Missouri Historical Review.

  5. Thanks Drew. I went to the Missouri Historical Review website. They have an email address there people can use to inquire about back issues. I asked how I could buy a copy of this one. Thanks for pointing it out.


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