This is the story of the Second Missouri Volunteer Infantry, with some additional emphasis on Company A, also known as the "Carthage Light Guard." The Carthage Light Guard, along with the remainder of the Second Missouri Volunteer Infantry never left the continental U.S. during its term of service during the Spanish American War.
At the time of muster in, the regiment consisted of 45 officers and 943 enlisted men. When the unit was mustered out of service at Albany Georgia, it had grown to 46 officers and 1060 enlisted men. During its term of service, the unit lost sixteen men to disease, one man drowned, and one man lost to an accident. An additional 28 men were discharged for disability. Lastly, forty-four men deserted!
This account of the company was given in the form of a speech given by
the author at the Powers Museum, Carthage Missouri, November 12th, 2002.
The author, Todd Wilkinson, is a Seasonal Park Ranger for the US
National Park Service; a Local History & Genealogy Librarian at the
Springfield-Greene County Library District; anAdjunct History
Instructor, Ozarks Technical Community College and serves with Company
C, 9th U.S. Infantry Regiment living history organization.
Organized on January 3rd, 1876, the same year as Custer’s Last Stand, the Centennial of the United States, and Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone, the Carthage Light Guard was the epitome of the National Guard company in America during the last half of the 19th century. Unlike the militia before the Civil War, the Federal government took an active role in equipping the National Guard with US Army issue weapons, which would have been the .45-70 Springfield Rifle, known as the “trapdoor”. While the weapons and equipment were Government Issue, the uniform was not, and the original uniform of the Light Guard was cadet grey in colour, in keeping with military fashion of the day, although this would soon change to the “army blue”.
On July 6th, 1876, the citizens of Carthage held a special ceremony to present the Light Guard with a company flag, and soon, the Light Guard’s social events, like the annual Washington’s Birthday Ball and Thanksgiving Ball, became the event to attend in Carthage. The Light Guard even formed an orchestra to play music at these events, and it soon grew into a full band, which was eventually separated from the company, but still carried the name “Carthage Light Guard Band” all the way into the 1930’s. It was a nationally recognized band and considered to be one of the finest volunteer musical groups in the United States.
During the 1880’s, interest in the National Guard and all things military grew in Jasper County. In 1884, the Rev. R. J. Downing, a Baptist minister, organized a cadet company that later became Company “F” of the old 5th Missouri Infantry, mostly due to their almost flawless drill.
The old 5th Missouri, which would later be organized into the 2nd Missouri Infantry, also contained the Carthage Light Guard, the Joplin Rifles, the Springfield Light Guard, the Pierce City Guard and the Lamar Guard. The Joplin company, like the Light Guard, seemed to have a flair for entertainment; instead of a band, the Joplin boys organized a dramatic theatre troup, and presented their first performance of “The Union Spy” in Joplin in 1882, as well as traveling to Webb City and Lamar. One would hope that their first emphasis would be on soldiering, rather than dramatics, and the Joplin boys soon became very proficient in drill.
Not to be outdone, the Carthage boys were also out on the drill field practicing, and won high honors in precision drill competitions, and provided the citizens of Carthage with other social events. The Light Guard made Cassil Place, on the northwest edge of town, as their encampment site, and hosted two National Guard companies from St. Louis and one from Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1880. The next year, the Light Guard held a “reenactment” of the Battle of Carthage on the 20th anniversary of that event. Noted Jasper County historian Marvin VanGilder believes this to be the first reenactment of the battle, and not duplicated until July 1990.
In 1885, the General Assembly cut the funding to the National Guard, and the Jasper county companies were disbanded for lack of support; however, support from various communities saw the Light Guard reactivated, only to be terminated again in 1889.
In 1886, a Zouave squad was organized in Carthage as a drill team. A Zouave was a French soldier, originally from North Africa, and costumed in the clothing of region, creating a very colorful appearance. The Zouave craze hit America right before the Civil War, and many regiments, North and South, wore the Zoo-Zoos uniform into battle. The Zouave remained a colorful part of American military uniforms right up into the early 20th century, especially for drill team purposes.
Under Governor D.R. Francis’s administration, the Missouri National Guard was reorganized into a single brigade, with the First Infantry and an Artillery Battery from St. Louis; the Third Infantry from Kansas City and Jackson County; the Fourth from St. Joseph, and the Second from Central and Southwest Missouri.
The Second soon became “the largest and most efficient organization” of the Missouri National Guard, and was commanded by Col. W.K. Caffee of Carthage who was a “very efficient officer” who took great pride in his command.
The Spanish American War:
On February 15th, 1898, the USS Maine exploded in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, and many in the United States suspected Spain, engaged in a ruthless colonial war for over 30 years against Cuban insurrectos, as the chief culprit. The whole nation would soon respond angrily to the supposed Spanish treachery with the war cry, “To Hell with Spain, and Remember the Maine!” Pent-up feelings about the independence of Cuba, which America had at times, openly supported since the late 1860’s, would soon manifest themselves, although President McKinley, himself a veteran of the Civil War, tried in vain to settle the dispute peacefully – By April, the US and Spain were at war.
Southwest Missouri joined in the “war fever” sweeping the country. In Marshfield, Webster county, a Cuban flag was raised along side the Stars and Stripes on the courthouse square, and in Jasper county, on March 4, 1898, three attorneys in Avilla “pulled all the tail feathers out the American eagle…making him scream against Spain and everything Spanish” at a war rally at the Methodist Church, complete with a packed house and a ladies choir singing patriotic songs – as a result, 53 young men volunteered for a new military company which would be known as the Avilla Zouaves. The Avilla boys would later be designated as Company “G” of the 5th Missouri Infantry Regiment two months later, and be sent to Jefferson Barracks, not before leaving the depot at Carthage with an escort by the members of the Stanton Post of the GAR and the Light Guard Band.
In May of 1898, the 2nd Missouri was mustered into Federal Service at Jefferson Barracks and sent to Camp Thomas, at Chickamauga National Military Park in Georgia. Sadly, the boys of the old 2nd Missouri would never see combat against the “Dons” of Spain; instead, their enemies would be the germ and the weather of north Georgia.
Besides the Carthage Light Guard, The Butler Rifles, the El Dorado Springs Guard, the Sedalia Rifles, the Pierce City Guard, the Springfield Rifles, the Mitchell Light Infantry of Nevada and the Joplin Rifles would see their own version of “the elephant” at Camp Thomas. In addition, due to Federal regulations that required all National Guard Regiments that had been federalized to have 12 companies, two additional units, one from Sedalia, and one from Springfield, which would become Company “M” of the 2nd Missouri, were raised. Company “M” was commanded by Captain Ernest C. McAfee, who has left us a very interesting account of his service in Jonathan Fairbanks and Clyde Tuck’s Past and Present of Greene County Missouri.
Members of the 2nd Missouri Volunteer Infantry, Co. M
From left to right are J. E. Bays, James M. Symington, and William Perry Smith
On May 4th, the order came for the units of the Second to proceed to Jefferson Barracks – when they arrived; the place was “in confusion”. Several of the Second’s companies had no uniforms, tents, rations or arms, which needed to be procured in haste – Company M and Company I, the second Sedalia Company, had to provide for itself at Jefferson Barracks, while established units like the Light Guard already had uniforms, equipment and arms.
Besides the Missouri National Guard, Regular Army units were also stationed at Jefferson Barracks, and soon regimental camps were established, and the routine of army life began in earnest. But their stay in St. Louis would be short-lived, as the Second was soon ordered to Camp Thomas at Chickamauga – the Second, one of the first regiments to leave St. Louis, started their adventure with an unlucky omen: They were scheduled to arrive in Georgia on May 13th; there were 13 trains that moved the regiment; 13 cars for each train; one engine was numbered “413” and one sleeper car had 13 officers! When a St. Louis newspaper boy tried to stowaway on one train, it was soon discovered that he was 13 years old! – removed from one train, he got on another the next day; the first train wrecked, while the second made it through unharmed.
The Second passed through Indianapolis, Cincinnati and then onto Chattanooga, and every town that the train passed through, the local citizens turned out with sandwiches and coffee, served up by hundreds of pretty girls – and the loyalty of the Southern people was proven on this trip, ironically shown to Missourians who had known the brutal sting of Civil War themselves all too well.
The Second disembarked at Lytle, Georgia, which consisted of a depot, post office, blacksmith shop and a few odd stores, known as “Fake Town”, a scene of mass confusion as arriving regiments competed with one another as they disembarked.
The Second camped about 3 miles inside the park, on terrain that was very similar to their Ozark hills, on a slope, wit rocky ground that made driving tent pins next to impossible! Recent rains made the ground muddy, and the camp itself was a “wet camp”, established in the shade of the forest where no sun could dry out the camps or the men. McAfee blames this for the sickness that ensued, as well as the change in diet for the soldiers, and the local water supply.
As the park began to fill with regiments, the Second was assigned to the 3rd Brigade, 3rd Division of the First Army Corps – by the end of May there were some 80,000 soldiers in camp at Chickamauga, waiting for the front – and it appeared, after an inspection by regular army officers, that the Second would be off to Cuba – but, it was not to be. McAfee sites the fact that the Colonel of the Second was a “Free-silver Republican”, and that political connections caused the 71st New York to be sent in its place.
In June, the typhoid epidemic began, and thousands of soldiers caught the disease, mostly from the numerous flies that always follow an army. Sanitary regulations were neglected or ignored during the establishment of the camps, and hospitals were not able to deal with the outbreak effectively, although the Second’s infirm stayed at their own regimental hospital or in their own quarters.
Much of the typhoid, cholera and other illnesses had to do with the soldier’s adjustment to army rations – from the good fare of civilian life to hardtack, bacon and army coffee, which had a terrible effect on their stomachs, like their Civil War ancestors, who fried everything.
Also, the soldiers received “care packages” from home, and the
richness of the food, along with the odd times that it was consumed,
only contributed to the stomach ailments and illnesses, although
soldiers were not starving. The government supplied the camp with fresh
beef (packed in ice), potatoes, cabbage, coffee, sugar, fresh milk,
butter, bred, both hard and soft – but officer inexperience with
logistics, supply and distribution caused delays in the issue of
The government also contracted through local sources for firewood. One Georgian, who delivered wood to each regiment, stated that he “was glad to get around a Missouri camp. A Missourian knows a cord of wood…but these damned New Yorkers want to count every stick!”
The Missourians soon became objects of attention for their Eastern counterparts camped nearby. Springfield’s Company “M” had received the nickname “McAfee’s Guerillas” due to their lack of uniforms, but the name stuck, and soon, a story began to circulate that Jesse James’s son was in the Company. Eastern soldiers soon came visiting each Sunday afternoon to view the son of the famous outlaw, who would stand in a conspicuous place to be viewed. The Easterners were warned that he was very sensitive and didn’t like to meet strangers, so they stood far a way and snapped photos with Kodak brownies. In reality, the son of Jesse James was actually a Private Yandell of Webster County, who was the “company cut-up”. McAfee wondered, “How many Eastern homes now cherish Yandall’s picture as the son of Jesse James?”
Throughout June and July, the men of the Second drilled constantly, 5 hours each day, as well as working on various fatigue details – the camp was eventually moved to an open plain, and out of the woods, and the sick list began to shrink. There were company, regimental, and brigade drills, and several reviews.
It was on July 11, 1898, that Sgt. Charles P. Wood of the Carthage Light Guard died of the ever-present typhoid. Wood was an 1895 graduate of Carthage High School and a reporter for the Carthage Press. Even after leaving with the Light Guard for military service, Wood continued to file reports with the newspaper back home, telling Carthage about military life until June of 1898, when he filed his last story from the hospital. “We have the best care in the hospital, sleep on cots between real sheets and have a special mess of very decent food”, Wood wrote.
After his death on the 11th, Wood’s body was brought back to Carthage, where it would lay in state in the east corridor of the first floor of the Jasper County Courthouse. Thousands of Jasper County Citizens filed past to pay their respects, as well as attending the funeral, said to be the largest in Carthage. Wood was buried in Park Cemetery, and for many years afterward, the community Memorial Day Services were held at his grave. The local camp of the United Spanish War Veterans named their camp in honor of him, and their camp flag still bears a fitting tribute to Sgt. Wood. In April, 2002, through the efforts of Rowland Diggs of the 203rd “Houn Dawg Retirees Association," a monument was placed and dedicated on the courthouse lawn, and I [the author] am proud to say that I played a part in the ceremony.
By the middle of July, the fighting in Cuba had ended with the surrender of Spanish forces. Soldiers, both officers and other ranks, began to question why they were being kept in military service with the war apparently over, and finally, orders came from Washington for some soldiers to receive their discharges. The Second was still held for possible service in Cuba on occupation duty, but again, fate would have other things in mind. : Later in the summer, the regiment was moved to Lexington, Kentucky, and in October, orders came for the Second to prepare to embark for Mantanzas, Cuba, only to be ordered to move to a less exotic location, Albany, Georgia. The Second stayed in Albany through the winter of 1898-1899, and was mustered out on March 4th, 1899, just barley escaping being sent to the Philippine Islands, where an insurrection of Filipinos had begun against the American occupation forces.
While the boys of the Second Missouri never fired a shot in anger against the Spaniards, nevertheless, these men served their country bravely against just as formidable a foe as the “Dons”: the boredom, tedium and illness of Camp Thomas – what Captain McAfee refers to as “the monotonous restraints of an idle army”. For these men of the Second Missouri and the Carthage Light Guard, their service was no picnic or excursion, and ultimately, while the US gained new territories like Guam, Puerto Rico, and Philippine from that “Splendid Little War”, as Secretary of State John Hay called it, more importantly, the American people gained wisdom about the nature of war and the strength of its young men to serve in trying times and circumstances, whether in Cuba or northern Georgia.
Bobila, Pamela Diane - Photo of Co. M.
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King, Mildred, Photos of Glen Harcum and "A Long Drink".
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Paige, John C. and Jerome A. Greene. Administrative History of Chickamauga and Chattanooga Military Park. Denver, Colorado: Denver Service Center, National Park Service, Department of the Interior, 1983.
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Wilkinson, Todd, Springfield-Greene County (Mo.) Library Local History & Genealogy Department.