William Menefee Gowin / Missouri 27th Mounted Infantry - Union Army
William Menefee Gowin, son of Pollard Gowin & Polly Conner and
This is the story of the 27th Infantry and what transpired during William’s service, the account of which was taken from the Missouri Historical Review, v. 8, by State Historical Society of Missouri, Published by State Historical Society of Missouri, 1914, original from Harvard University.
The people of Johnson County were almost evenly divided between the Whig and Democratic parties. The location of the county was outside of the great slaveholding belt of the country along the Missouri river, and, therefore, there was a large number of substantial small farmers settled there from the mountain regions of East Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas, as well as a small number from the free states, who refused to own slaves and who were at heart opposed to that institution. The majority of these men were uncompromising Whigs.
On the other hand the Democrats were mainly large land owners and slaveholders, and were chiefly from Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia and the other slave states. The prestige of wealth and social position was largely on the Democratic and also the secession side, but the Whigs, and Union men as well, were an uncompromising and numerous body of men, whose undaunted spirit could be depended upon in any emergency.
Early in 1861 an independent military company was organized in Warrensburg, for the avowed purpose of serving in the Union army. Emory S. Foster was the captain and Thos. W. Houts its first lieutenant. No military clothing was obtainable, and of necessity a uniform was adopted of red shirts and black pants, so the company was known as the "Red Shirt Company."
At that time there was stored in a room in the courthouse at Warrensburg one hundred muskets belonging to the state, which had been furnished to the county under the militia law of 1857, then in force. These arms were intended by the secession leaders to be used in overawing the Union men. But Foster and his men secured possession of them, and stood guard over them day and night. A demand was made on Foster for these arms, and he was threatened with prosecution if it was not acceded to, but he kept them fully loaded all the time for the use of his company, and afterwards turned them over to Col. Grover, who used them in arming his regiment.
By this time the Union men in Johnson county were fully organized, and what was afterwards the Twenty-seventh regiment of Missouri Mounted Infantry, United States Volunteers, was formed. B. W. Grover was unanimously chosen colonel, but declined the place in favor of his friend, Jacob Knaus. Grover was then chosen lieutenant-colonel; Emory S. Foster, major; Thomas W. Houts, quartermaster; and John J. Welshans, commissary.
Captains McGuire, Isaminger, M. U. Foster, Duncan, Applegate, Turley, Parker, Miller, McCluney, Ijams, Taylor, and Brown; and Lieuts. Shanks, Hall, Box, Starkey, Pease, W. L. Christian, Bird, Burnett, Gallaher, Keaton, Smiley, McCabe and Van Beek, with a thousand of the best and bravest young men in Johnson and Pettis counties, were organized into a regiment, which was called, for want of a better name, the Johnson County Home Guards. There were no United States mustering officers nearer than St. Louis, and no communication with them by rail nearer than Otterville, in Cooper county, with the state government in secession hands, so that nothing could be done but appoint rallying places and devise a code of signals, leaving each company in the neighborhood where it had been recruited.
Captains McGuire and Applegate were, therefore, stationed in what is now Grover township, in the northeastern part of the county, Capt. M. U. Foster at Warrensburg, Capt. Duncan at Kingsville, Capt. Turley at Dunksburg, Capt. Parker at Sedalia, Capt. Miller at Windsor, Capt. McCluney at Fayetteville, Capt. Isaminger in the southeastern part of the county on Clear Fork south of Knob Noster, Capt. Iiams at Cornelia, and Capts. Taylor and Brown at Chilhowee and Rose Hill. Such was the situation when Fort Sumter fell and also when Camp Jackson was taken on the 10th of May, 1861, by General Nathaniel Lyon and Colonel Frank P. Blair.
Then came a change in affairs. The crisis had come, and the Union army found its general in Nathaniel Lyon, who, had his life been spared, would have ranked among the greatest soldiers of the war. After capturing Camp Jackson, Lyon immediately organized a small command in St. Louis, and proceeded with it up the Missouri river.
Claiborne F. Jackson, then Governor, a secessionist, abandoned Jefferson City and fled south, first taking the precaution to empty the state treasury, and steal all the blankets from the state lunatic asylum at Fulton.
On the 17th of June, 1861, General Lyon reached Boonville with a small infantry and artillery force recruited in St. Louis, and there attacked and defeated a large number of secessionists, who were commanded by John S. Marmaduke, afterwards a Confederate general.
By this time, though the Twenty-seventh regiment had been enrolled, organized, and in active service, since the latter part of April, it had not been mustered in by any one possessing any authority from the United States to perform that act. In order to get into the service properly and regularly, Col. Grover rode alone across the country from Warrensburg to Boonville, a distance of seventy-five miles, to meet Gen. Lyon and procure the necessary authority from him to muster in his command. He arrived in time to act as volunteer aide to Gen. Lyon in the battle of Boonville, and received authority from that officer to immediately muster the Twenty-seventh into the service of the United States.
While he was thus absent, Gen. Sterling Price, then in command of the Missouri State Guards, as the secession troops were then called, arrived in Warrensburg on his way south from Lexington, retreating from Gen. Lyon's advance. Gen. Price was accompanied by only a small escort and was very sick, necessitating his riding in an ambulance. He remained in Warrensburg during the afternoon of June 18th, at the Bolton House in Old Town. Major Foster, Capt. Foster and Lieutenant Houts were in town that day with about twenty-eight men, but none of them had any legal authority to order the men. All matters were at that time submitted to a vote and the majority ruled, the ranking officer simply carrying out the will of the majority. The younger men in the command proposed to capture Price at dusk and hurry off with him to Lyon, but the older men would not agree to it, fearing reprisals from the large rebel force then retreating south. In the twilight, in the Colburn pasture in Old Town at Warrensburg, a vote was taken in Major Foster's hat. Thirteen voted yes, the three officers above named being among that number, and fifteen, no. Not long afterwards, Gen. Price and his escort left town in a hurry. Col. Grover arrived about midnight that night with ample authority, and at once ordered a pursuit. We chased that ambulance to the Henry county line, where, in the gray dawn of the 19th, it safely reached a rebel camp too large for our little squadron to attack. So passed away a great opportunity.
As soon as the men could be collected from the various parts of the county, a work requiring nearly two weeks' time, the entire regiment assembled in New Town, at Warrensburg, in the grove east of where Land, Fike & Go's mill now stands, and there, on the 4th day of July, 1861, it was mustered into the United States service by Col. Grover, for "three years or during the war." It then marched to Lexington, thirty-five miles distant, to meet a detachment from St. Louis of Gen. Lyon's rear guard and procure arms. Upon arriving there, it was found that the troops then due had not arrived, so Col. Knaus encamped the regiment near the Fair grounds south of town, and remained there several days, without terits or camp equipage, officers and men alike sleeping on the bare ground, in a drenching rain storm, with a scant supply of food, arms and ammunition.
In the meantime the rebels in Lexington, who could still muster a large force, formed a plan to capture the camp, and did seize and hold Capt. Foster, James M. Shepherd and several others who had gone into town for supplies. But, upon the appearance of two squadrons galloping into town, on parallel streets, one led by Col. Grover and the other by Major Foster, the prisoners were quickly released and their captors fled to the brush without firing a shot.
The storm, perhaps, prevented the attack on the camp that night, but on the next day Col. Chas. G. Stiefel arrived on a steamboat with a regiment of infantry from St. Louis, and supplied Col. Knaus with a lot of Belgian muskets, of an antiquated pattern, far more dangerous to the men using them than to the foe. A report was circulated over the rebel ' 'grapevine telegraph" that Col. Knaus had received no arms, so when the command arrived the next day but one, at Atkinson's, fifteen miles from Lexington, on the Warrensburg road, it was fired on from the brush by a large rebel force, and several men wounded. But the line soon formed, Col. Knaus leading the center, Col. Grover the right, and Major Foster and Captain Fred. Neet, of the Fourteenth Missouri, the left.
The rapid fire and spirited charge of Col. Knaus and his men soon dislodged the enemy, who broke and ran in all directions, closely pursued all that afternoon as far as Chapel Hill by Capt. Foster and Lieut. Box, with detachments of the mounted men. Upon arriving in Warrensburg the regiment went into camp at Camp Lyon, three miles southeast of town, in the Bear Creek valley, and there remained on active duty, scouting incessantly day and night until about August 20th, when it was ordered to Jefferson City.
It marched to Sedalia, and there the main portion, under Col. Grover, went east by rail, while Col. Knaus followed with the mounted detachment via the wagon road. While passing Lookout Station, or Centretown, on the railroad, while the train was moving through a deep cut, a band of rebel guerrillas fired from behind piles of cordwood on the edges of the cut on both sides down upon the heads of the men who were closely packed in stockcars. Several men were badly wounded, and one, Dan. Cecil, one of the best and bravest boys in Foster's Company, mortally.
Col. Grover, who was on the engine, rallied and formed the men as soon as possible, but the guerrillas, being well mounted, escaped, with the exception of three, whose horses broke loose before they could mount. These three were captured and shot, and several houses where the guerrillas had harbored were burned, and the train then moved on, reaching Jefferson City the same afternoon. On the next day but one, Col. Knaus arrived, not having been molested en route.
Soon after his arrival in Jefferson City, Col. Knaus, then advanced in years, resigned and went home. Col. Grover succeeded to the command of the regiment and was again tendered the colonelcy by an unanimous vote, but declined it in favor of his friend, James D. Eads. Major Foster recruited a picked detachment from the regiment under the personal supervision of Gen. Grant, and called it the Fremont Scouts. He was ordered into active service with this detachment in western Missouri, and Capt. William Beck succeeded him as Major. Col. U. S. Grant was then in command of the post at Jefferson City, and to him Col. Grover reported for duty. A strong friendship sprang up between them and there was also a marked personal resemblance, as they were almost exactly the same size, with the same complexion and the same colored hair and eyes. So, when Col. Grant received notice of his promotion to Brigadier-General, he gave to Col. Grover his uniform coat, which he had never worn, which the latter wore all through the battle and siege of Lexington, and was afterwards buried in it.
By order of Gen. Grant, the regiment was fully mounted, uniformed and equipped on the 1st day of September, 1861, and its proper name and number recorded, the Twenty-seventh Mounted Infantry Missouri Volunteers. It remained at Jefferson City, doing active and incessant service in the field as scouts, until Col. Mulligan, of the Twenty-third Illinois Infantry, who had succeeded Gen. Grant as post commander at Jefferson City, was ordered to Lexington by Gen. Fremont, who then commanded the department of Missouri. Col. Grover was detailed with parts of five companies, commanded by Capts. Maguire, Duncan, Applegate, Parker and McCluney, about three hundred men in all, to accompany Col. Mulligan to Lexington.
On the march, about one hundred men were cut off from the command at Dunksburg, and were dispersed and a large number captured by an overpowering rebel force, so that less than two hundred of the Twenty-seventh actually participated in the battles and siege of Lexington from Sept. 12 to Sept. 20, 1861. These men, however, were at the front, and led by their brave officers, fought Price's advance, themselves forming Mulligan's rear guard all the way from Georgetown, via Warrensburg, to Lexington, a distance of sixty-five miles, without rest or rations, and without dismounting a man, except those who were killed and wounded in the repeated and sharp engagements. When the heroic Mulligan fortified Lexington in order to hold it, as he was directed to do, the Twenty-seventh were stationed, with the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Missouri and the First Illinois Cavalry, on the bluff overlooking the river, while the Twenty- third Illinois Infantry occupied the works surrounding the college.
The most desperate hand-to-hand fighting then ensued around these works, between the little band of less than three thousand Union soldiers, every man a hero, and Price's army of more then twenty thousand men. For eight days and nights, without cessation, this unequal contest raged. It was terminated at last by the capture of the brave Mulligan and his devoted men, through the cowardice of an officer who did not belong to either the Twenty-seventh, Thirteenth or Fourteenth Missouri, the First Illinois Cavalry or the Twenty- third Illinois Infantry, who, without any orders, ran up a white flag, and let the enemy into a commanding position inside of the works.
No better fighting was ever done by any soldiers, in any war, than by the Twenty-seventh at Lexington. Of its officers, Col. Grover and Capt. McCluney received mortal wounds, from which Col. Grover died in St. Louis on the 31st of October, 1861, and Capt. McCluney at his home in Johnson county afterwards. Captains Duncan, Maguire, Parker and Applegate were all wounded, and about one-half of the command were either killed or wounded in this siege.
Long before the surrender, the whole force had been completely surrounded and cut off from water, so that, when Col. Grover fell, never to rise again, in the thickest of the fight, on the afternoon of September 20, he had been continuously on duty and in the battle for sixty consecutive hours, during all of which time not a morsel of food nor a drop of water had passed his lips.
While their brave comrades were thus being overpowered at Lexington, Col. Eads, in command of the remaining seven companies of the Twenty-seventh, formed the advance guard of Veatch's brigade of Hovey's division of the army of the west, afterwards the frontier, then being organized, and marched to Lamine bridge, near Otterville, where it was encamped. Col. Eads was detailed as Post Commander at Syracuse, and Major Beck sent to Sedalia, leaving Capt. Isaminger in command of the regiment.
There were, at this time, two splendid divisions of Indiana Infantry with Cockifair's Battery of four twelve-pound Napoleon guns, all under the command of Col. Jeff. C. Davis, at the Lamine bridge. The regimental officers were such men as Cols. Davis, Veatch, Hovey and Benton, who afterwards rose to high rank in the service. With these were the seven companies of the Twenty-seventh, under Col. Eads, well drilled, mounted and equipped, and thoroughly familiar with the country, the whole command numbering nearly eight thousand men. That these troops would have raised the siege at Lexington and defeated Price, there can be no question. So eager were they to go that their officers could scarcely restrain them. Major Foster, at the head of the Fremont Scouts, drove in the enemy's pickets on the Warrensburg road, close to Lexington, a week before the surrender, and sent one of his men, Frank Johnson, of Warrensburg, into the entrenchments with a message to Col. Mulligan concealed in the sole of his shoe. Johnson went in and out safely, and brought a message back in the same manner from Mulligan to Fremont, stating that he, Mulligan, was surrounded by an overwhelming force, but was "holding the fort," as ordered, and would do so until overpowered, and calling for immediate re-inforcements.
Major Foster took that message to St. Louis, and was turned away from the door of Fremont's headquarters by his Hungarian guard, to whom the English language was an unknown tongue. He then hunted up Col. Frank P. Blair, who was an intimate friend of Col. Grover, and the two were finally admitted to Gen. Fremont's presence, and the whole situation laid before him.
Col. Davis, on the 16th, sent two scouting parties of the Twenty-seventh, under the command of Capt. Foster and Lieut. Box, from Lamine bridge to see if the roads to Lexington were clear. Foster chased in the enemy's pickets five miles from Lexington, on the Sedalia road, and Box did the same thing on the River road, and both returned on the morning of the 18th to Sedalia, and reported those facts to Col. Davis. Davis almost burnt the telegraph wire down with repeated messages to Fremont, beseeching him for marching orders, yet they never came. Had they been issued as late as the 18th, the siege would have been raised, and Mulligan saved on the morning of the 20th beyond a doubt, as the surrender did not take place until late in the afternoon of that day. This useless sacrifice of these brave men at Lexington is a stain upon the military record of John C. Fremont that time will never efface.
The distance between Lamine bridge and Lexington was only sixty-five miles. The roads were in good condition, and the country abounded with ample supply of both food and forage. Blair, who up to this time had been the friend of Fremont, now became his relentless foe. The speech of Blair in Congress, entitled: "Fremont's one hundred days in Missouri," aroused the country and drove Fremont from power. It has no rival in English literature, except the great arraignment of Warren Hastings, by Edward Burke, in the English Parliament. The survivors at Lexington in the Twenty- seventh could not be exchanged at that early day, so their services were lost to that regiment.
Col. Eads was then assigned to duty as Post Commander at Georgetown, and the regiment remained in the field under Major Beck and Capt. Isaminger, taking part in the vainglorious march and inglorious retreat of Fremont from Sedalia to Springfield and return. No one in the army or out of it were more heartily rejoiced over the downfall of Fremont than the remnant of the gallant Twenty-seventh, when that news reached them on the road between those two places.
The Fremont Scouts were engaged in a number of brilliant fights with the enemy in the Fall of 1861. They met the Whitley family of guerrillas, in a hand-to-hand set to, on Clear Fork, and completely routed them, driving them into Henry county in wild confusion. In this fight Morris Foster's horse ran away with him, causing him to outrun his comrades, and overtake and capture the Rebel Captain, who was acting as rear guard for his retreating companions. They went to the relief of Col. Hough at the California ford, west of War- rensburg, riding the forty-two miles from Sedalia to that place in less than six hours, and rescued that brave officer, after he had received a disabling wound and had been completely surrounded by a superior force. Foster, with ten of them, captured Col. Lewis, a Confederate officer on recruiting service, and fifteen of his men, at Holden, and brought the whole party safely into our lines. They joined forces with a squadron of the First Missouri Cavalry under Major Henry J. Stierlein, and recaptured 1,200 cattle belonging to a government train, the wagons having been burned before their arrival, rescued the guard, put the guerrillas engaged in the affair to flight after a sharp encounter, in which Dave Greenlee, a former resident of Warrensburg, was killed, and drove the herd overland to Fort Leavenworth, there turning over to the United States quartermaster at that post 1440 head of work oxen in tip-top condition.
The remainder of the regiment fought guerrillas, from the Missouri to the Osage rivers, almost every day in the week. In December, 1861, it took part in the Pope expedition, and participated in the engagement at Milford, where a part of two of its companies (Isaminger's and Foster's), with four companies of regular United States Cavalry, under Col. J. C. Davis, and without either infantry or artillery support, surprised and captured a recruiting camp of 1300 rebels, under Col. Alexander, and marched the whole of that long line under guard to Sedalia, sleeping most of the time on the bare ground in the snow, with the temperature near zero.
In this campaign Capt. Foster, with seventeen men of Company C of the Twenty-seventh, attacked a picket of thirty-three Confederates near Bear Creek, on the Sedalia road, one night, and chased them more than three miles to the outskirts of Warrensburg, killing five and wounding several more, without the loss of a man. He surprised the "Johnnies" around their camp fire, and they fled pell-mell into town at the first fire, with the report that Pope's whole army was coming and not far away.
Col. Clarkson (Confederate) had 1500 men at Warrensburg, but he immediately struck out for Rose Hill, and thus escaped capture by Pope's advance guard, who were moving up the Fort Scott road, some twelve miles south of Warrensburg. Instead of receiving any credit for this exploit, Foster was sharply reprimanded for flushing the game before it could be bagged. But if the First Cavalry on the Fort Scott road had moved as promptly according to orders as Foster did, Clarkson would have been surely captured at Warrensburg.
Upon its return to Sedalia the regiment was ordered to Benton Barracks, St. Louis. Upon its arrival there it found Gen. W. T. Sherman in command. This great soldier was temporarily shelved, because in an unguarded moment he had said that it would require a force of 600,000 men to suppress the rebellion. There, on the 27th of January, 1862, the remnant of the Twenty-seventh Missouri was mustered out. So continuous and severe had been its service since April, 1861, that only 469 men answered to their names on the muster-out roll, as the remaining 531 had been killed, wounded or captured while serving in the field and at the front.
For William, the specific details of this battle and the service provided by Company E are provided on the muster-out rolls. Written at Benton Barracks on 27 Jan 1862 is the following from the muster-out roll card for Company E, 27th Missouri Mounted Infantry: