Saturday, October 16, 2010


[Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri by Bob Schmidt (Printed by Camp Pope Publishing, 2010). Softcover, maps, illustrations, notes, index. 230 Pages. ISBN: 978-1-929919-29-1 $25]

Given its wide scope and the seriousness of consequences to soldiers and civilians alike, the application of military law in contested areas by the Union army between 1861 and 1865 remains understudied. Bob Schmidt, the author of several regional studies, in his new book Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri does not attempt a broad treatment, but rather delves into seven case studies, ranging from mundane offenses on up to capital murder. Schmidt's selections serve as a rather good cross section of the types of crimes and punishments encountered during the war, especially in areas where both sides enjoyed considerable popular support. The first involves civil courts, the rest only military.

The following are very brief summaries of the cases covered in the book:
  • Samuel V. McFarland, and unarmed civilian, was murdered by William Nash of the 68th Enrolled Missouri Militia, who accused him of being a "rebel". Indicted by a civilian court, Nash disappeared before he could be arrested and justice was never served.
  • Corporal John F. Abshire served in the Missouri State Guard and later joined an independent Missouri cavalry company of the kind not always recognized by Union forces as legitimate. Captured in 1863, he was predictably accused of being a guerrilla by his Union captors and was tried by a military commission for killing citizen William Hayes and sentenced to death. From the documents provided, it is unclear why he was hanged after his punishment was commuted by higher authorities to imprisonment.
  • John B. Coffman and his wife Missouri were arrested for allegedly aiding guerrillas, a common offense. After being imprisoned on two occasions, they were released without trial, probably due to the war's end as much as the stated reason of lack of evidence.
  • Famed bushwhacker Sam Hildebrand killed the 68th EMM's Addison Cunningham, but Schmidt concerns himself here with the case of accused accessory William B. Jones, who was held but released for lack of evidence.
  • Private Joseph Jokerst of Battery C, 2nd Missouri Artillery was shot and killed by unit mate John W. Terry, who was tried by court martial and found guilty of 2nd degree murder. Terry served only a small portion of his sentence before being released in 1866.
  • Another military commission case involved a civilian spitting on 9th Wisconsin private August Kock. The perpetrator, Herman Schuster of St. Louis, was convicted, fined 10 dollars and released from prison upon payment.
  • Finally, company clerk Private James Shields of the 3rd Missouri State Militia, found to be drinking on duty, was court martialed and confined for five days.
For all these case studies, Schmidt delves into family history and the military service records of individuals involved. He also reproduces depositions and court testimony, as well as many other official documents. Letters, petitions, and other correspondence also abound, as well as maps and illustrations. Much of the material is formally footnoted, with often extensive commentary. On the down side, the index is badly formatted.  Also, as with his other books, the author is often content to let the documents speak for themselves, which allows gaps in reader understanding and gives the appearance of rather loose organization. However, a common thread can be followed if the reader is tolerant.

Taken together, the cases provide a good discussion of how various offenses were addressed by civil courts, courts martial, and military commissions within the state of Missouri. They highlight for the reader the difficulties involved as well as the often inconsistent application of justice. The documents reproduced in Civil War Justice in Southeast Missouri also reveal insights into the various legal processes. For the benefit of local readers, as well as the many families consulted personally by the author, detailed genealogical data is also presented.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the useful comments. Research in the area of Civil War justice in Southeast Missouri is not easy. This book is the result of some years work. The McFarland murder is only told in a County Inquest, corroborated by an accidental find in a Union Pension Record. The Abshire saga was discovered in the St. Louis wartime press years ago but not fully developed until the Provost Marshal Records and Service Files were available online and with the location of the trial testimony. The Coffman arrests were unknown to the family and only accidentally discovered by the author incorrectly using the finding aids in the Confederate Misc. Records. Outside of the Battle of Pilot Knob and the burning of the Big River Bridge, we had few battles in this part of Southeast Missouri. The War is best told from the viewpoint of how justice was and was not meted out.


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