The “Well-Disciplined” 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry

Major James Wilson, 3’rd MSM Cavalry (Union)

I was inspired to write my book “Blood in the Ozarks” by learning of a massacre that occurred on Christmas Day, 1863 in Ripley County, Missouri. It was a terrible event in which men of the 3’rd MSM Cavalry (Union) launched a surprise attack against the men of the 15th Missouri Cavalry, CSA. It’s an event that some say didn’t happen, or at the very least was a simple rescue mission to liberate captured Union soldiers.

Others believe the attack by the 3’rd MSM Cavalry happened at a time when women and children were in the camp of Timothy Reeves’ 15th Missouri Cavalry, CSA for a Christmas dinner.

In “Blood in the Ozarks” I write:

“Skeptics of the “Wilson Massacre” which occurred on December 25, 1863 claim that the Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union) was a well-disciplined, well led detachment that did not murder civilians on Christmas Day,1863 in Ripley County, Missouri.

Instead they propose that their commander Major James Wilson was a hero
who rescued over 100 Union prisoners and that when he was executed by Confederate Colonel Timothy Reeves in 1864 it was retribution for
the 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry’s burning of Doniphan, Missouri.

In “Veterans and Events in the Civil War in Missouri Volume II” (found at the Bollinger County Library located at Marble Hill, Missouri) author Bob Schmidt writes:

“In January ‘64 Lt. Col. J.O. Broadhead resigned his commission and Colonel Richard G. Woodson, commanding the 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry, petitioned General Fisk in St. Louis to promote Wilson to this post over the
favorite, Major H. M. Mathews…he was not,Mathews was promoted on February 18th, 1864”

Schmidt continues:

“On February 27, 1864, Colonel Richard G. Woodson was dismissed by Special Order 35 and resigned his commission in part to the embarrassment and furor when members of his command were captured at Centerville in December ‘63. Two days later the 29th, other commissioned officers of the 3’rd MSM Cavalry petitioned the Governor of Missouri, Willard P. Hall to promote Maj. Wilson to fulfill the vacancy left by Col. Woodson. Their request was denied and O. D. Greene received the commission instead.”

In an event that Schmidt describes as unusual Major Wilson was ordered on recruiting service by Special Order #249 dated September 8th, 1864 with the 14th Missouri Cavalry. Shortly after reporting for duty he was reprimanded for not carrying out the duties of his office and returned to the 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry.

The problems of the 3’rd Missouri State Militia didn’t just stem from leadership either. The War of Rebellion records pages 344- 347, detail the cowardice of officers and men of the 3’rd MSM Cavalry in June, 1863 in the form of a letter written by General John W. Davidson from his headquarters at Arcadia, Missouri on June 28, 1863 which states:

“I beg leave to file this report at department headquarters as I am going out of the district. Some inquiry may occur as to why I arrested 2 officers and 27 men of the Third Missouri State Militia, especially as Colonel [Richard G] Woodson seems inclined to take the part of the men of his regiment, who have a second time misbehaved before the enemy. I have not had time to try the case, but I beg it be noticed, and this report filed to show my ground of action. -Brigadier – General J.W. Davidson Commanding”

Recently while scouring through archives I stumbled upon another account that attests to the character of the men who made up the 3’rd MSM Cavalry. This time it is found in an issue of the Nashville Daily & American newspaper dated March 9, 1864 which reported:

“Thomas A. Haynes , private, Company L, 3’rd Missouri State Militia is to be shot for horse stealing and robbing the store of John J.L. Collins of Logtown, Iron County, Missouri.”

The 3’rd Missouri State Militia Cavalry (Union) was not a “well-disciplined” unit, and Major James Wilson was no hero.


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