Monday, 25 September 2017

In the Missouri Artillery

Benjamin Von Phul was born on May 21st 1840, in St. Louis, Missouri, the son of Henry Von Phul, a successful St Louis business man and steam boat owner, whose ships included the Henry Von Phul, mentioned by Mark Twain. He was also nephew of the painter Anna Maria Von Phul.

In May 1861 Missouri was deeply divided between Union and Confederate supporters, and this was especially so in the city of St Louis. St Louis also had another complication, over half of the population was composed of recent immigrants, mainly Germans who had fled the unsuccessful revolts of 1848, and who were therefore both often politically inclined and non-English speaking. Relations between the German immigrants and the Missourians were not always good, and this was to have an effect on what happened next.  It must presumably have had an effect on the Von Phuls, despite Henry being born in the US in 1784, in Philadelphia, the son of an immigrant from Westhofen.

Henry Von Phul
The state government had voted to stay in the Union, or rather to be neutral in any civil war, but the Governor, Claiborne Jackson, favoured the Confederacy, and he assembled the State Militia, including Benjamin Von Phul, in a camp near St Louis, Camp Jackson with the aim of seizing the arsenal in St Louis, which had the largest collection of arms and ammunition in the state. Unfortunately for them, the local Union commander, Nathanial Lyon, had heard about this and surprised them in their camp with a joint force of Union troops and pro-Union militia, containing a majority of German soldiers. The would-be Confederates were captured and marched into St Louis where a crowd assembled and started haranguing the Union militia, and somehow this led to shooting, with 28 of the crowd being cut down. This in turn led to several days of rioting, and rumours that the Germans planned to massacre the Missourian population of St Louis, rumours that were taken so seriously that many wealthy St Louis fled to Illinois, or the interior of St Louis, depending whether they were pro- or anti-Union. The rioting only died down when Union troops arrived from out of state.

The Camp Jackson Massacre

Ben Von Phul had been captured at Camp Jackson with the rest, but was exchanged and joined Guibor’s Missouri Battery of the State Guard. Guibor's Battery officially entered Confederate, as opposed to Missouri, service in early 1862 and was combined with Montgomery Brown's Louisiana Battery on June 30, 1862. Benjamin rose to the rank of First Lieutenant.

Flag of the Guibor Battery, presented in January 1863
Artillery at the time was in a state of transition, with quite a few types and sizes, with size generally being defined by the weight of the ammunition, such as 10 pdr, 20 pdr etc. One of the commonest types was the Parrott rifled cannon, invented by an American, Captain Robert Parker Parrott. Despite only being patented in 1861 it was used extensively by both sides in the Civil War. Although Parrotts were still loaded down the muzzle like previous cannons, they were rifled inside and made of a mixture of cast and wrought iron, making them much more accurate, if more fragile.
 Parrott gun at Vicksburg

In February 1863 the now Captain Von Phul was placed in charge of a battery assembled using men from Brigadier General David Frost’s Brigade, at Little Rock, Arkansas, as part of the defence scheme for Little Rock. The battery was attached to Frost’s Brigade and initially consisted with one bronze 24 pdr, and two 6pdr Parrotts, but by the end of that month the battery had six guns and 70 men at Fort Pleasant, guarding the river approach to Little Rock.

In June, a section of the battery together with two other batteries accompanied a small mixed force under Col. Clark, a fellow Missourian and veteran of the siege of Carthage and battle of Pea Ridge. Their mission was to attack Union shipping on the Mississippi. On June 22nd Von Phul’s battery and the two others attacked a convoy of the Union Gunboat Little Rebel (!) and three transports. The forward battery of the Little Rebel was knocked out and one of the transports, the Prima Donna (who named these ships?) was severely damaged. Clark's command then moved south and attacked another convoy, damaging several transports. They then returned to Fort Pleasant, and then joined the defences of Little Rock on Aug 17th. But by mid September the Confederates had to abandon Little Rock following defeats at Helena and Bayou Fouche, and fall back to Washington, Arkansas.
In November Von Phuls Battery was at Camp Bragg, Arkansas, before being formerly disbanded in December. By this stage it included two 12 pdr Howitzers and two 10pdr Parrotts. Raids on shipping on the Mississippi were still going on, and Benjamin’s father’s ship, the Henry Von Phul, was severely damaged by Texan troops in December.

The Henry Von Phul
In April 1864 Von Phul was wounded south of Little Rock in the pyrrhic Confederate counterattack through the mud at Jenkins ferry. 

And in April 1865 Confederate forces surrendered. Life went on. Still only 27, Benjamin married Martha Lape from Mississippi, who was 22, on 3rd September 1867 in Jefferson Missouri.  In 1880, Benjamin and Martha Von Phul and their three children, Genevieve, Henry and Ben Jr. were in St Louis, where Benjamin was working as a real estate agent.
Benjamin died on December 18th 1909, in St Louis, Missouri.

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.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Denmark to the rescue?

With England in chaos in the English Civil War, and militarily weak even before that, it might have been thought that this would be a tempting target for foreign powers, either for invasion, or at least to determine the result. Yet this did not happen, at least on a significant scale. The obvious candidates historically would have been France and Spain, not least because Charles’s wife, Henrietta Maria, was a French princess. But both these countries were heavily involved in the Thirty Years War and internal revolts, and in no state for foreign adventures. Of course, this didn’t stop Parliament raising scares of invasion from Spain, France…. and Denmark.

Why Denmark?

Denmark was considerably larger at this time, being in a union with Norway, and was a significant military power. Crucially, it had withdrawn from the Thirty Years War in 1629 and so had uncommitted troops. Beyond this, there were personal links to the Royalist camp, not least of which was that Charles’s mother, Anne, had been the sister of the Danish king, Christian IV. Several prominent Royalists had even served with the Danish army, including Sir Jacob Astley, who commanded the Royalist infantry during the war.
Denmark was therefore an obvious place to ask for support, and Charles didn’t waste time, even in the Bishop’s wars against Scotland. And yet no troops arrived, even when he offered to mortgage Orkney and the Shetlands to Denmark. He tried again in 1642 to get troops for use against Parliament, even reportedly offering to add Newcastle to the mortgage deal, and again no troops were forthcoming.

Christian IV, wounded at the Battle of Colberer in the Torstensson War
Why no Danish troops?

Even a small Danish contingent would have been useful to Charles, especially at the start of the war when trained and experienced English infantry were in very short supply. Beyond this they would have been Protestant, avoiding some of the negative publicity arising from the Catholic Irish troops that he did get. So why did they not appear?
One reason was probably because Charles had offered a military expedition to support Christian back at the time of Denmark’s involvement in the Thirty Years war, and had not send any, so this hardly encouraged trust and fellow feeling. It has to be said that this was a bit of a pattern with Charles. And secondly, Parliament had made its own contacts with Denmark, that to an extent counter balanced Royalist influence. But the main reason was probably Sweden. Sweden was the major power in northern Europe at this time, and a bitter rival of Denmark. Christian could therefore hardly spare significant troop numbers for foreign adventures. And he was right, in 1643 Sweden launched a blitzkrieg, occupying much Danish territory and capturing a large part of the Danish fleet, the Torstensson War.
If the reported mortgage deal is real, it does raise some questions of what would have happened if it had been taken up. What exactly would the Danes have got in Newcastle, and how could they have enforced ownership if Charles had defaulted, as on past experience he probably would have done. Conversely, if the Danes had decided to keep the Orkneys, what then? Even worse, imagine that Denmark had passed on the mortgage to Sweden as war reparations, recovering the islands from the powerful Swedish fleet would not have been easy.

What Denmark did do

This is not to say that Denmark was no help to Charles at all. There were frequent complaints from Parliament of Danish arms shipments, at least one of which they managed to confiscate. Denmark also controlled the entrance to the Baltic, and to the major trading centre at Hamburg, via a fortress at Gluckstadt. In August 1643 Christian ordered all ships belonging to Parliamentary held ports found in Denmark, Norway or Gluckstadt to be seized and all imports from London to be banned.
So Denmark did have some influence on the English Civil War, but not as much as Charles originally hoped.


The English Civil War: Conflict and Contexts, 1640-49, edited by John Adamson.
The Impact of the English Civil War on the Economy of London, 1642-50, by Ben Coates

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Kent Trained Bands in the Civil War

The trained bands were, basically, the militia. Although “trained” seems to have sometimes been a slight exaggeration, they were organised and equipped and so an important resource in the lead up to Civil War, especially as there was no significant “national army” at the time. By far the most important were those of London, which had a significant effect on the course of the war. The trained bands in Kent were much smaller, but they did have the advantage that, unlike those of some counties, they could be deployed outside their county.

William Waller

The situation in Kent

Kent was a deeply divided county in the Civil War. Although nominally under Parliamentary control, there were risings in Tonbridge and Sevenoaks in 1643 (see an earlier blog), Canterbury in 1647 and a major uprising in 1648, culminating in the Battle of Maidstone. The Trained Bands however remained firmly in Parliamentary control, even in 1648, and formed part of the Southern Association under Sir William Waller (who was born in Knowle House in Sevenoaks in Kent).

The Bands were organised into “lathes” or areas, a system unique to Kent and possibly dating to the time when Kent was an independent kingdom1, which might also explain the naming system, as even a cursory glance at a map shows that these are not the most significant places in Kent, and nor were they in the 1640s. Anyway, there were five in total, basically dividing the county north to south. Working from west to east;
Sutton at Hone – adjoining London, including Blackheath, Bromley, Dartford and Westerham
Aylesford – from Chatham and Rochester in the north  to Tonbridge in the south, with the county town, Maidstone.
Scraye – a more rural area, though including Ashford and Faversham. Parts of the Lathe seem to have been strongly Baptist, with in 1670 800 people attending a meeting at Egerton.
St Augustines – Canterbury, and the north Kent ports of Dover, Deal and Sandwich
Shepway – the south Kent ports of Folkestone, Hythe and Romney.

Each area was supposed to supply militia, as well as “auxiliaries” “volunteers” and “Horse”, ie, cavalry.  Note, most of what appears below is from the excellent BCW Project site at
In 1638 the Kent Trained bands were recorded as having, in total, 4,667 men, with 2,910 muskets and 1,757 corsets (ie. armour for the pikemen) as well as 293 horse. Unfortunately, their equipment was severely criticised just the next year, as many of the muskets didn’t work and the pikes were rotten!

Active history

In 1639 each of the Lathes contributed to a force to be sent north for the ill fated Bishops War in Scotland, 998 men in total. They went by sea, assembling at Gravesend and traveling on naval vessels supplemented with colliers to Harwich where they picked up men from the Essex Trained Bands and sail for Scotland where they were all combined into Sir Thomas Morton’s Regiment of Foot. Perhaps fortunately given the state of their equipment, they were not tested in battle, just occupying the islands of Incholm and Inchkeith, but the regiment did lose 100 men to smallpox.
In 1640 each of the Lathes contributed to a force to be sent north for another “Bishops War” in Scotland, 700 men in total. 

In the Civil War Kent was officially on the Parliamentarian side, with placemen in most of the important positions in the county and the Kent Trained Bands forming part of the Southern Association under Sir William Waller.
Aylesford Lathe  – the Trained Band was initially under Colonel Sir Francis Barnham (the MP for Maidstone) and later Colonel Mark Dixwell, and took part in the Siege Arundel in 1643/4. The Volunteers under Colonel George Newman are recorded at the Second Battle of Newbury in 1643. The Horse may have work blue as they are recorded in 1599 being issued with “cassocks” of this colour.
St Augustine Lathe – under Colonel Sir George Sondes at the start of the war, though he was a Royalist and was later imprisoned and lost much of his estate. He flourished after the restoration and was made Earl of Faversham. His Colonel of Horse, Sir Richard Hardress was initially on the Parliamentarian side and was at the Siege of Arundel, but later he joined the Royalist uprising in 1648. In contrast, the Volunteers were used to put down an uprising in Canterbury in 1647 (their home patch) and one company of the auxiliaries was in garrison in Canterbury in 1648.
Scraye Lathe – under the elderly Sir Edward Hales at the start of the war, the trained band took part in the Siege of Arundel, as did the volunteers under Colonel William Herbert and the Horse. Hale’s grandson was a Royalist and raised a regiment of Horse for the 1648 uprising.
Shepway Lathe – under Colonel Sir Humphrey Hales. The Horse at least were at the siege of Arundel.
Sutton at Hone Lathe – under Sir Francis Walsingham in 1639 and later under Colonel Thomas Blunt. The Volunteers under Colonel Sir William Brooke were at the Relief of Gloucester and later the First Battle of Newbury, in 1643, as well as the Siege of Arundel in 1644. The Horse were initially under Sir John Rivers, though he joined the Royalist uprising at Tonbridge in 1643 (see earlier blog).

1 See