Monthly Archives: November 2013

Bird’s Eye View of Cairo, Illinois: Key Federal Outpost

Bird's Eye View of Cairo, and junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers

Bird’s Eye View of Cairo, and junction of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers

Cairo [pronounced locally as “Kay-roh”], at the southern-most point of Illinois, was one of the key strategic locations for the first two years of the Civil War.

A muddy and rough riverport, Cairo lay at the junction of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, and potentially held the key to entering the Western Confederacy by water… up (or down) the Ohio and then into Kentucky and Tennessee by way of the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers.  It was also a key rail junction, the southern terminus of the Illinois Central Railroad.

From the earliest days of the war, its military value had been clear and it had been garrisoned and fortified, first by the Illinois militia (rushed down on the Illinois Central), and later by an astounding assortment of Army and Navy forces based at “Fort Defiance” under Brigadier General U.S. Grant (commander of the District of Cairo).

By late 1861, the early Illinois troops would be joined by thousands more, and a fleet of ironclad river gunboats constructed by engineering genius James B. Eads. There the Federals engaged in a stand-off, and light sparring, with a Confederate army under General Leonidas Polk. In early ’62, Grant’s amphibious host, swollen by a fleet of transport steamers from St. Louis, would ascend the Ohio to begin the successful attacks on Forts Henry and Donelson, which would crack open the defense-line of the Western Confederacy and flank Polk out of his defenses.

The map is an extraordinary one. 19th Century maps can be artistic as well as informative, and this wonderful piece more than most. In the 1850s and 60s illustrator John Bachmann created a number of astonishing “Bird’s Eye” depictions of towns and regions, and here he gives the junction of the two mighty rivers his unique treatment. He defies convention by putting south at the top of the image, with the Mississippi entering from the bottom right, and the Ohio from the bottom left, to converge at Cairo, and them ascend south up (!) past Memphis towards the far off Gulf of Mexico.

Bachmann gives us a busy mix of the natural and man-made with streams, bluffs, swamps and groves, dotted with named towns and criss-crossed with road, rail, and bridges. Steamers ply the waters and Tennessee and the Cumberland…targets of Grant’s invasion in a year’s time… reach off to the left from either side of Smithland, KY.

Levee-bound Cairo is in the center foreground, with its shipyard suburb or Mound City, destined to be the headquarters of the Western Gunboat Flotilla (later the Mississippi River Squadron). Just south of Cairo is (on the left) Columbus, KY and around a short bend (to the right) Island No 10 and New Madrid, MO. All would be occupied by the Confederacy, and Columbus’ towering heights would be fortified by the CSA as the “Gibraltar of the West”. This vaunted outpost was destined to be flanked by Grant in February, 1862 and abandoned without a fight.

All that is in the future here though. Bachmann shows us Cairo and the great confluence, in the last moments of peace in 1861. He also shows us all of the terrain…human, terrestrial, and riverine…which would define the War in the West in the crucial early months of 1862.

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Missouri Battle Flags: Confederate and Federal

"Veterans Flag" of the 1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry Volunteers

“Veterans Flag” of the 1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry Volunteers

The state of Missouri is unusual, in that it fielded a large number of both U.S. and CSA units of state volunteer troops.  At the link below you can examine infantry, cavalry and artillery flags from Missouri units on both sides of the “Brother’s War” in addition to the personal flag of Confederate General (and later Missouri Governor) John Sappington Marmaduke and the captured flag of the “Beauregard Rifles” (possibly the flag of Company “A”, 9th Alabama Infantry”).

The flags, often with major wear and battle damage bear a variety of battle honors, including most of the great battles of the Western Theater, including Ft Donelson, Shiloh, Corinth, and the many battles of the Vicksburg, Chattanooga, and Atlanta Campaigns.

Many also bear the names of lesser known fights from Missouri’s bitter “civil war, within the Civil War”, fought between Missourians as they struggled for control of the state:  Black Water, Silver Creek (Roan’s Tan Yard), Lone Jack and Neosho.

Unique flags include the green regimental color of the 7th Missouri Infantry, the “Irish Seventh”, one of two officially ethnic Irish regiments of Missouri volunteers during the war. Although badly damaged, it is still easy to see why it was considered one of the most beautiful flags produced during the war. The obverse shows a golden sunburst, behind a wreath of shamrocks, charged with a golden Irish harp and a wolf hound. The reverse shows the sunburst and a golden dawn, with the Gaelic war cry “Faj an Bealac!” [a variant transliteration of Faugh an Bealac], meaning “Clear the Way!”

Of special interest are the special “Veterans” flags issued to by the (Unionist) state government of Missouri to units which reenlisted at the end of three years service. The blue flags bear the state arms (rather than the Federal eagle) in gold, with the word “Veterans” and the unit designation on the reverse. These flags tell a story of the contest for legitimacy, and the Unionist’s claim to recognition as the lawful government of the state. At the beginning of the war, the secessionist Missouri State Guard had designated a blue flag with the state arms in gold (the unofficial state flag in common use) as the State Guard battle flag. By issuing Federal veteran units the state flag in its own name, the Unionist government of Provisional Governor Hamilton Gamble was making the public statement that his administration, not the government-in-exile of Missouri’s Confederates, was the legitimate government of Missouri.

As for Missouri’s Confederates, they are represented as well, with both the “starry cross” of the commonly known Confederate battle flag, and examples of “Price’s Flag” (aka the “Missouri Battle Flag”) popular with many Missouri Confederate regiments in the later part of the war (a blue flag, bordered in red, with a white Latin cross near the fly).

1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry (Dismounted), CSA

1st Regiment Missouri Cavalry (Dismounted), CSA

So, click on the link below, and enjoy the fine work the conservators in Missouri are doing, and all the great things the state staff and volunteers in Missouri are doing to preserve and publicize the history of America’s most divided state.

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