John Wayles [Hemings] Jefferson’s Account of the Battle of Fredericktown, Missouri


An Interesting Account of the Battle of Fredericktown.

We received last evening a private letter from Major Jefferson, of the 8th Regiment, giving a very interesting account of the experiences of the Regiment since it left Camp Randall. Most of the facts have been already anticipated by other correspondents, but his description of the battle at Fredericktown, on the 21st inst., is so fresh and vivid that we take the liberty of extracting it. After describing the march from Pilot Knob to Frederick town, the junction with Col. Plummer’s force, and the reception at that place of the statement that Jeff. Thomson and his rebels had fallen back to Greenville, the letter proceeds:

At 8 o’clock, the united forces from Pilot Knob and Cape Girardeau were in readiness to move towards Greenville, 60 miles distant, presuming that Jeff. Thomson was near that place. The Cape Girardeau forces had got under way, and were about half a mile from our regiment, when we were somewhat astonished to hear a shot from a twelve pounder.

I met the Major of the Twenty-first Illinois, and asked, “Can we have come upon the enemy?” He replied, “O, no sir; it is impossible—Thomson is 25 miles distant.” Then came another shot. I said: “That means fight, as sure as you live.” I had not finished speaking before the whole artillery force commenced firing, and within three minutes more the sharp sputter of musketry was heard.—The most intense excitement and fright prevailed among the inhabitants of the town. Women and children were running to and fro, seeking cellars and other places of concealment. Every person and thing that could move was moving.—Our regiment was now ready, and took the double quick step down the street towards the battle ground. The day was very warm, and the men, to facilitate their movements, commenced stripping off their loose clothing and threw it along the road side. After we had proceeded two-thirds of the way to the battle-ground, we were ordered back to the Court House for the reserve force, and to support some heavy artillery which was planted near the Court House, and at the end of the street leading to the battle ground. In half an hour the wounded commenced to be brought in—some shot in the head, some in the leg, some with an arm off, and so on. The whole country resounded with the echo of our men’s cheers and yells as they charged the enemy. The battle lasted one and a half hours, and I think it was one of the most brilliant and complete victories we have had during this war.

I was on the battle-field, and it presented a horrible picture. The dead and wounded were strewn in every direction; one rebel was shot through the heart, while he was astride of a rail fence, which he had attempted to climb over. He died “on the fence,” with one hand clinched, and the other grasping his old rifle. Ten yards from him lay Col. Lowe, of the rebel army. His horse had been killed, and he had dismounted, and a few minutes after he was pierced through the head by a Minnie ball.

Our cavalry followed the retreating foe seven or eight miles, and killed many along the road.

The number of the killed on the rebel side is 275. The number of wounded I could not learn, as they took most of them with them when they retreated. We had 8 killed, and 83 wounded. Probably 10 of our wounded will die from the effects of their wounds.

This battle was the best test as to the strength, ability, &c., of the opposing forces, that has yet been fought. Thomson’s forces and ours were about the same, he having the choice of position.

It seems that Thomson, after retreating from Fredericktown, the day before the battle, intercepted a messenger with dispatches, which divulged to him the fact that the forces that were advancing from Cape Girardeau only numbered about 1,000. This force and his own (4,000) being about in the proportion which suited him for a fight, he concluded to return and take a position to receive them. He little knew that the gallant army was also advancing from the Knob.

A negro boy was the first to inform our advance forces of the whereabouts of the enemy. He ran out of some brush saying, “De Lawd Massus, de woods over dar am just full ob dem cesheners.” His remarks at first were ridiculed, no one believing but what the enemy was 25 miles distant. An examination was made however, and the negro’s statement proved true. The artillery was immediately placed in position and 8 shots fired at short intervals from a twelve pounder, which brought them from their holes, and then commenced the battle.

The men, after returning from the retreating foe, became so enraged at some six or seven secession citizens of the place, who they believed knew of Thomson’s whereabouts, and who had tried to lead them into a trap, that their houses were burned and sacked.

The next day after the battle, the united forces marched towards Greenville. Four or five miles out we found dead rebel bodies in the road, one of which the hogs had been at. We placed the bodies in a cornfield, and when we returned Sunday buried them. The march was continued until 10 o’clock at night, at which time we bivouaced. At 10 A. M. next day we countermarched for Fredericktown, arriving at 4 P. M., and remained there until 10 next morning, when we marched back to this place (22 miles) by 8 o’clock P. M. During this whole trip—from St. Louis to the different places I have mentioned—we have had to bivouac and live the best we could. We pitched our tents yesterday for the first time since leaving Camp Randall.—The men and officers are all in good health except Lieut. Col. Robbins, who was ill and could not accompany us to Fredericktown. He is so that he can attend to his duties now. There are about 25 men who are slightly sick. Sergeant Illingsworth, Co. “H” (Sugar River), died on the 24th from the effects of an accident shot received in the leg. He was buried yesterday with military honors. B. M. Coats, our State Agent, has been of great service to us. He requested the Colonel to let him have a musket the day of the battle, and had the occasion required it he would have fought with the balance of us.

Yours, truly,
J. W. J.
Printed text (WHi: Quiner Scrapbooks); clipping from an unidentified newspaper.
Date Range
October 21, 1861