It was a time for the testing of the mettle of men. The Union was being ripped apart by greedy elements of the
slaveocracy intent on destroying the Republic. Disloyal men of Missouri organized into the Missouri State Guard under
General John Beck were attempting to unite with Confederate troops coming north from Arkansas. A call went out for good
Union men to head off the ocnjunction and save Missouri for the Republic. Federal soldiers, under the tactical command
of the venerable Major Stan Prater, assembled at the Civil War Arena, just north of Carthage, Missouri, for the clash that
was to determine the future of the state.
Pvt. Cleon Plunk and his lovely wife, Sarah, were the first of the 77th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry to answer
the call to arms. They arrived on the beautiful Friday afternoon of May 2, 2003. During the night and into the
morning, Cpl. Rex Griffin, Pvt. Wayne Frisby, Pvt. Jim Workman and Pvt. Glen McClain arrived to represent the 77th Pa
in the battle to come.
Roll call began at 0655 Saturday morning as the men of the 77th Pa fell in with members of the 1st Kansas,
6th US, 55th Illinois and a stray from the 1st Virginia to form the Sixth Company of the Federal battalion under
the sage and experienced Capt. Cal Kinzer, commander of the 55th Illinois. From the very beginning, with Sgt.
Bob Cosloy of the 1st Kansas acting as 1st Sgt. and Sgt. Dave Fowler of the 6th US acting as 2nd, it was
evident this hodgepodge company would meld rapidly into a savvy and efficient fighting force.
At the beginning roll call, after a cordial greeting and introduction, Capt. Kinzer told us of the high standards expected
of soldiers under his command, then released us for breakfast. Throughout the weekend all members strove hard to uphold
those exemplary standards and it is a credit to Capt. Kinzer, the NCO's and all the soldiers involved that the company performed
so well both in and out of battle.
Joined by Sgt. Bryan Brooks of the 55th Illinois, who would take over as 1st Sgt. for our company, the battaliion
assembled on the parade ground. After weapons inspection, the battalion split into companies for company drill.
Our company marched by the flank both right and left, did both right and left wheels stationary and on the move, practiced
assembling by company into ine and by files into line and drilled extensively in loading and firing. Those of us from
the 77th Pa even finally learned to stack arms the Union way, flat-to-flat.
Drill was so intense and we were so intent on it that, before anyone realized, most of the morning had already passed.
Capt. Kinzer gave the order to fall out, with instructions to be ready in 15 minutes for battalion drill. Five minutes
later we assembled for battalion drill. Pvts. Plunk and Workman had made a quick "run" to the sutlers for uniform adjustment
and had to literally "run" back as the company was falling in.
Formed as a battalion, we marched through the parade grounds between the two opposing encampments. A narrow grove
of trees separated the parade ground from the battlefield. Once through a narrow defile between the trees, the clear
field of fire opened up before us. Rising slightly from north to south, we had entered the battlefield on its northern
end. A small, bridged creek crossed the field, cutting it nearly in half. A fence with a paved road just beyond
ran across the southern edge of the field.
The plan was for the battalion to march across the field, over the bridge and attack the disloyal forces on the southern
end of the battlefield. The first four companies were to spearhead the attack, with the Fifth Company guarding the left
flank and our company to guard the right flank. Under the leadership of Major Prater, we practiced the maneuvers as
a battalion. As a backup plan, we tried falling back to form a square, a maneuver that proved extremely complicated
in practice. Our Sixth Company would have the honor of holding the line as the other companies fell in opposite and
on either side of us to form the square. Our company was to face the enemy's front as, much like a box turtle, the battalion
square crawled slowly off the field. As Major Prater explained, it would be exceedingly difficult for the officers to
exercise control of the maneuver under fire and it was up to us, the rank and file, to, "Make it happen."
Marching back to camp, we broke for lunch and a chance to relax before the battle. Allow me to digress long enough
to praise the US Sanitation Commission for their exemplary work in providing both moral and medical support.
Their kind offerings are a real boost for the Union cause. I think I can speak for every soldier when I say my morale
soars when I get to eat something besides hardtack.
After availing ourselves of the graciousness of the Sanitation Commission, we formed for battle. Colonel
Phil Sample delivered a rousing speech, saying it was up to us to keep the Secessionist "schweinehunds" from linking up with
other rebellious forces until General Lyon himself, who was on the way, came to reinforce us.
Thus fired up for the impending showdown, we were in high feather as we marched toward the battlefield. Scores
of well-wishing civilians cheered us on as we marched through the defile and onto the field. Cheers for the Union, sometimes
unheard in these parts, made our hearts soar. One very pretty supporter stood on a platform and threw her skirt over
her head as we marched by, showing us the Stars and Stripes sewn on her petticoat. I can safely say the morale of every
man was at its height with the spirit shown by that pretty young lady.
Our tremulous thoughts were rudely interrupted as cannon fire erupted across the battlefield. We crouched low behind
the artillery as they blew fire back and forth across the field like medieval dragons tethered by wheels. Just as we
thought our guns were getting the best of them, Secesh explosions would blow dirt high into the air before us. From
among the trees and enemy mortar began lobbing angry shells among us, raining death and destruction.
After many long minutes the order came down to rise up and advance. We marched to face the enemy.
From a distance the Missouri Secessionists looked like a tangle of color, a long line of garrulous cloth. But as
we got closer we could see that they were almost all dressed in different shades of civilian clothes with a vast array of
different weapons. They carried flintlocks, Brown Besses, shotguns and muskets, even an occasional pike and pitchfork.
Most impressive were their numbers, for they were far more than we.
Shrapnel from artillery shells whirred all around us as we charged across the field. A single volley of the entire
battalion drove the Secesh back long enough for the first four companies to race over the bridge and across the creek.
We took our place on the right flank, cannon fire exploding in the creek, showering us with its water. The firing was
so heavy a tent nearby actually caught fire and burned to the ground. The lead companies were in the thick of the fight,
with us little more than spectators, when we saw enemy cavalry attempting to swing around to flank the main body. In
a flash we charged through the creek, took position on the far side and fired a single deadly volley into their cavalry.
A second volley made the cavalry take to their heels.
Our cheers froze in our throats when we saw a long line of Secesh infantry march around to take their place. Loading
and firing for all we were worth, we held as long as we could, but badly outnumbered, we were forced to fall back through
the creek. That's when Pvt. Workman lost his leg to an artillery explosion. His piteous screams could be heard
above the cacophony of bullets and shells, shouts and yells.
Pressed hard from the front, our lead companies fell back across the bridge in good order as our company continued to
pump deadly volleys into the Secesh across the creek. We stood firm as our compatriots fell past us. Our murderous
fire checked the enemy after they crossed the creek, giving our men time to form the square we had practiced. Difficult
in practice, forming the square with our lives on the line went much faster and smoother, thanks in no small part to the steadfastness
and deadly accurate fire of us, the Sixth Company.
The wounded, including the traumatized Workman, were pulled to the center of the square to avoid being trampled by Secesh
horses. The air itself fairly screamed with a whirling storm of fire and lead. The Secesh moved forward, but our
murderously accurate volleys drove them back. Again and again they would move toward us, but we stood our ground and
again and again drove them back, leaving piles of dead behind each time. The firing was so heavy our gun barrels grew
hot. Still we kept firing. Still they came on. I don't know how many times they attacked us, but it seemed
to go on for hours. We stubbornly held our ground until our own dead lay all around us. The Rebel dead were so
thick on the field it looked as if a multicolored carpet had been laid over the grass.
Still they came. Still we fired. Finally, reluctantly, grudgingly, we succumbed to the Rebel pressure.
We fell back in good order, never turning our backs to the enemy. As the other Federal units left the field, we still
faced the enemy. As if they had cornered a wounded lion, the Secesh kept their distance, giving us plenty of room to
make our way out.
They day belonged to the disloyal forces. But the contest had been bitterly fought from beginning to end and the
Rebels had been viciously mauled. Pvt. Frisby counted firing 74 rounds, while the rest of us had shot similar numbers.
Back in camp, we grimly cleaned our muskets and wiped our bayonets. The enemy was still there--we knew we would
grapple with them on the morrow.
As the sun went down, the wind picked up, blowing fiercely throughout the night and into the next day. We expectantly
awaited a storm from the sky and one on the battlefield.
Sunday morning we assembled for battalion drill. Honors were held for a gentleman I do not know who was wounded
in fighting for the just cause. A token of appreciation was also given to the head of the Sanitation Commission
for all the good work they do for us. After receiving the appreciation, he addressed the battalion, saying what a pleasure
their work is and urging us to keep fighting for the preservation of the Union.
During weapons inspection, Pvt. Frisby found that he had cleaned the wrong musket the night before. I want to warmly
thank him for cleaning my spare.
There was little company drill, except as movement in the battalion, though we did march by the flank and by company
into line. As a battalion we marched by the flank and maneuvered in various battalion evolutions until we had a good
grasp of what was expected.
We then broke for church services and lunch, feeding both body and spirit. Catholic and Protestant services were
held, and once again the Sanitation Commission offered their hospitality.
Early that afternoon the battalion gain formed on the parade grounds, grimly determined to vanquish the foe. Once
again, we were the final company in line. The battalion marched west, past the sutlers and through the wagon lot, until
we came to the road, where we turned back east. Our metal-heeled brogans made that unmistakeable crunching sound of
iron on pavement as our feet stepped in unison. We were an army on the march, out to set things right.
The weather had been threatening throughout the morning, the wind blowing constantly. The battalion halted and
took a rest break by the roadside. During the interlude, the first drops of rain fell on us. We expected a downpour;
several souls wished aloud the rain would hold off until after the battle. But as the call came to arise and move forward,
the raindrops fell more heavily.
We marched down the road until we were astride the battlefield. The Missouri State Guard was on the field, milling
around, blissfully ignorant of our approach. Major Prater ordered the battalion to fire and, like a single thunderclap,
we let loose a volley into the Secesh forces.
As if the Good Lord himself were wishing for our success, the rain stopped immediately. The Rebels, visibly shaken
by our surprise volley, fell back. Our troops poured through a gap in a fence that separated the road from the battlefield.
We, the end company, was not even past the fence when Capt. Kinzer shouted, "By company into line!"
Artillery shells exploded all around us as we went into line on the left flank. Yelling like banshees, in an instant
we had charged halfway across the field and up to the creek, chasing their infantry. Another explosion caused a tent
to our front, just across the creek, to catch fire. We were close enough to feel the heat.
But Reb cavalry were intent on making us feel more heat as they tried to circle around to our left. Our rear rank
faced about and drove their cavalry off, but it gave the Secesh time enough to reform their infantry.
As bullets whizzed past, we were ordered across the creek. Almost as one man we bounded up the muddy bank, driving
back the Secesh. We were in high feather, spraying lead like poison to drive away the Secessionist pestilence.
But the Rebs did not fall back far. They regrouped and came forward, their cavalry on our flank. We were
driven back across the creek under a storm of swirling iron. Our ranks began to thin. Their cavalry tried to press
the advantage. With quick thinking Capt. Kinzer orderd the men on the very end of our line to refuse the flank.
The maneuver worked as we drove off both cavalry to our flank and infantry to our front.
Then began sort of a circle of movement with our company. We could charge across the creek, driving the Rebs back.
they would reform and hit us, infantry to our front, cavalry on our flank. We would again, "Refuse the flank," but have
to fall back across the creek amidst a hail of shot and shell. Back on the south side of the creek, we would drive off
their cavalry. Again we would charge through the creek, driving the Rebs back, to repeat the circle, all the while spewing
We crossed the creek six times that day, losing men each time. The final time we ran through its bottom we threw
ourselves against the muddy bank, lying prone among Rebel corpses using the mudbank for cover. Though there were only
a few of us left, I could see the price the Rebs had paid in the scrap. Secesh dead were piled up like multicolored
cordwood in front of us.
their cavalry made one last charge at us, but hurtling iron from our concealed positions broke their charge and their
spirit. Major Prater, with the main body of the battalion, finally took the bridge. With a whoop the whole battalion
charged forward as the enemy melted before us like snow on warm ground.
Though we drove them off, we were too spent to follow. Once they were out of sight and we had caught our breath,
we formed the battalion and were addressed by Col. Sample and Major Prater. They complimented us on the weekend and
passed along Gen. Beck's praises of the weekend's hard fought battles. And it was true. Every Reb and Yank we
talked to throughout the weekend bragged on what hard fought, intense battles both Saturday's and Sunday's were.
Before our farewell, Capt. Kinzer praised our conduct throughout the weekend. It was an honor and priviledge to
serve under Capt. Kinzer, and he returned the sentiments. He reiterated how well we had fought together, how rapidly
we became pards, and that we were the best company on the field that weekend.
From there we broke camp and went our separate ways, eagerly anticipating our next chance to tangle with the Secesh for
our righteous cause, the preservation of the Union.
Supplemental note: Wednesday night, May 7, Pvt. Jim Workman had an aneurysm and heart attack in his home.
Once that night and twice Friday night, his condition degenerated to Code Blue. Pvt. Workman, who is 44, has pulled
through and is expected to fully recover, though it is doubtful he will be able to go back to work. He is not paralyzed,
has equal motor skills on each side of his body, and has 90% functional memory. When contacted Saturday night he was
in good spirits, even making jokes.
I have the honor to remain your most humble and obedient servant,
Cpl. Rex Griffin, Coy. E, 77th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry
Sent Sunday, May 11, 2003