BATTLE OF FREDERICKTOWN – OCTOBER 21, 1861
On October 21, 1861, a minor battle occurred near Fredericktown, in Madison County, southeast Missouri. Union losses were 6 killed, 60 wounded, per Colonel Plummer’s report. A rebel (MSG) report indicated 20 killed, 27 wounded. However, Colonel Plummer reported Union troops buried 158 enemy, found on the battlefield.
The rebel (MSG) commander of the First Military Region of the former Military State Guard was self-proclaimed Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson. In 1861, that was a lightly populated swampy area of southwest Missouri.
Thompson’s activities revolved around giving the forces of U.S. Grant and the people of Missouri the impression his small force was an army preparing to move north as part of a Confederate operation to capture St. Louis.
[His area of operations was] a miry, swampy region, utterly impracticable for baggage wagons. The country is now almost destitute of forage and provisions, the inhabitants living on cornbread and pork exclusively. During the remainder of this year, if Thompson should return, he can accomplish nothing but to devour what little remains. From all accounts, he is disgusted and dispirited, and his forces kept together only by fear of being arrested by us. —Col. Carlin, 38th ILL. Inf. (FLP: Vol 8-Nov#19.2)
A master of self-promotion and deception, Thompson was quick to issue proclamations and write bellicose letters that were picked up by the national press, as he worked to deceive U.S. forces, concerning the size and location of his force; consequently, he initiated few engagements. In a letter to the region’s Confederate commander Thompson wrote:
My rapid and unexpected movements have fully convinced them that my force is very large, and I have also exercised my talents upon them with fictitious orders and reports…
Thompson’s actions, described above, which earned him the moniker of Swamp Fox, unwittingly helped Grant train and motivate his forces under what were low intensity combat conditions, as his regiments scurried around searching for Thompson’s shadow army. Prior to the “Battle” of Fredericktown, Gen. Grant wrote the following to Col. Plummer:
I am satisfied that you can have no force to contend against but Thompson and Lowe’s. I feel but little confidence in your ever seeing them, but information just received from St. Louis reports Thompson as fortifying Fredericktown. You will, therefor, march upon that place, unless you should receive such information on your march as to indicate a different locality for the ubiquitous individual.
Even though Grant did not expect to find Thompson, he dispatched the large force listed above to converge on Fredericktown (good training for recently organized units). Upon arrival, that force found Thompson had already departed, as a messenger carrying the plans for the Union movements was captured when he passed through Fredericktown. However, rather than fleeing the area, Thompson established what he intended to be a hit and run ambush position south of town, “hoping to waylay enemy details as then came to get him in Fredericktown.” When Thompson sprung his ambush, he gave Union forces an opportunity to execute the battle drills they had been practicing for months. Fortunately for Thompson, the Union Calvary only pursued him for 10 miles, allowing him to escape.
As General Grant realized the battle was a rather minor affair, he reportedly stated the following.
The importance of the success cannot be measured by any ordinary standards; it gave new life to tens of thousands of our discouraged soldiers. It crushed out the rebellion in Southeast Missouri.
The large force management skills gained by Grant in southeast Missouri in 1861, as he searched for Thompson’s fake army, were put to good use after he crossed the Mississippi and started his trip toward Appomattox Court House. Prior to 1861, Grant had never commanded more than the 100 men in his own infantry company, and that was in a peacetime army.
 Thompson was unhappy because the Confederate Army would not support or even work with him.
 Letter to General Albert S. Johnston, FLP: Vol 8-Oct#77.
 Jay Monaghan, Swamp Fox of the Confederacy. Tuscaloosa: Alabama, Confederate Publishing Company, Inc., p. 41.
 Ibid., p. 44.
Battle Site Marker Location: East side of S. Main Street (Business 67) at the Christian Church Cemetery. Blue informational road signs indicate the historic marker.
Stamp Location: Battle of Fredericktown Civil War Museum, when staff available.
Website: mostateparks.com/park/battle-pilot-knob-state-historic-site & facebook.com/BattleofFredericktown
Address: 156 South Main St., Fredericktown, Mo. 63645
Phone Number: 573-705-0422
Alternate Stamp Site: Battle of Pilot Knob State Historic Site Visitor’s Center (see Pilot Knob)
More Information: Historic Madison County Museum 122 North Main St., Fredericktown, Mo. 63645, phone 573-783-4085, open Tuesday 1 pm to 4 pm.
OFFICIAL REPORTS OF THE OPERATIONS ABOUT IRONTON AND FREDERICKTOWN
The War of the Rebellion: the Official Records, Series 1, Volume 3; pages 201-236. [Link to Page 201]
Oct 26, 1861 · Rebel Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson to Col. Solon Borland (O.R., Series 1, Volume 3; page 728.) Letter Summary: Enemy has fallen back to Ironton & Cape Girardeau. Thompson gives his unit movements and locations.
Oct 27, 1861 · Confederate Major Gen. Polk to Gen. A. S. Johnston (O.R., Series 1, Volume 3; pages 728–729.) Letter Summary: Polk forwards to Johnson Thompson’s report regarding Ironton. He has not sustained the loss reported by the flag of truce, and he is prepared to renew his attack. Polk regrets he cannot send him any regiments yet. He is expecting a load of guns from Richmond. He has reorganized his army and it will prove effective.
BOOK ARTICLES ABOUT THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKTOWN
Coates, J. H. History of the Civil War in America. “The Battle of Fredericktown,” Porter & Coates, 1875: p. 350-352.
Illustrated Life, Campaigns and Public Services of Lieut. Gen. Grant. “The Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri” Peterson & Bros. 1865: p. 39-40.
Moore, F.(ed.) The Rebellion Record, Vol 1 Supplement. “The Battle of Fredericktown, Mo.” Putnam & Holt, 1864 : p. 493-494.
MAGAZINE ARTICLES ABOUT THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKTOWN
Arnett, R. C. “The Battle of Fredericktown,” State Historical Society – Civil War eBook Collection.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ON THE BATTLE OF FREDERICKTOWN
Oct 16, 1861 Missouri Democrat “More Burning Bridges”
Oct 18, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Important From Pilot Knob”
Oct 19, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Additional From Ironton”
Oct 19, 1861 Missouri Democrat “More About the Big River Bridge”
Oct 19, 1861 Missouri Democrat “From Pilot Knob”
Oct 21, 1861 Missouri Democrat “From Ironton”
Oct 22, 1861 Missouri Democrat “The Battle of Fredericktown”
Oct 24, 1861 Missouri Democrat “The Details of the Fredericktown Battle”
Oct 25, 1861 The Union Journal “A Proclamation” [Summary: Col. Carlin, in Fredericktown, Mo. states that he is there to protect all loyal citizens, see that laws are enforced, and punish traitors and rebels. “I am desirous of treating you all as kindly as the circumstances will permit, and am inclined to believe that you have been grossly deceived, and that the causes which have led to this war.” Tells the rebels it is not too late. They will be protected if they lay down their arms. “I desire to deal leniently with those who sympathize with the rebels without aiding them, and shall use all my efforts to protect their property and persons.”]
Oct 26, 1861 Missouri Democrat “From Pilot Knob”
Oct 28, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Additional and Interesting Details of the Fredericktown Fight”
Nov 25, 1861 New York Tribune “Then and Now” [Summary: Brief article sums up events just before Fremont was removed and after. Before: Our brave troops in Missouri had just routed the enemy in the Battle of Fredericktown, and the four successive skirmishes of Lexington, Wet Glaze, Linn Creek, and Springfield. They had driven the Rebels down to the Arkansas line. After: Our army has evacuated Springfield, leaving all Southern Missouri to be anew overrun by the Rebels, while Union families by hundreds are flying for their lives. The enemy has been permitted to advance more than a hundred miles to the North robbing steamers and doing damage to government supplies.]