An Alcohol Riot in Civil War Ironton

Charles D. Field’s “Three Years on the Saddle 1861-1865”

Typically I have found in my studies of Civil War Missouri I have found that those of German heritage were staunch Unionists but I have found something interesting while sifting through the book “Three Years on the Saddle 1861-1865” by Charles D. Field.

Apparently several soldiers were frequenting a bar in Ironton, Missouri and were laying about all over the place. Field and some other men were ordered to shut the place down. What follows is a story about how quickly a people like the German’s loyalty can change once control of alcohol is asserted. Field writes:

“June 8th, 1862

It was about this time that Captain Danforth was made Provost Marshal of Ironton and surrounding country. Daily arrivals of reinforcements made matters more pleasant for a few days, during which time General Steele was concentrating his forces and rearranging his division, which was to become a portion of Major General Curtis’ army. I was placed on provost guard about a week after our captain’s appointment as Provost Marshal of Ironton and Iron Mountain. Lieutenant G. Allen May was officer of the guard and while at headquarters on duty subject to his orders, we were informed that a brewery was selling liquor to the soldiers between Ironton and Iron Mountain. Officer of the Guard Lieutenant May started with a platoon of Cavalry for the brewery which was located at the foot of Shepherd Mountain. The location of the brewery was such that the inhabitants could easily escape to the mountains. Officer of the day ordered Sergeant Teals, Martin Luther and myself to dismount and arrest the brewery man and his assistant. We dismounted and went to the front door, which we found securely locked, and started around to the rear of the building which was used as a kitchen.

As we left the front door to go around to the back we found the ground covered with drunken soldiers who had become intoxicated from liquor obtained from the brewery. We got into the kitchen and found the wife of the brewery man, a large, muscular German woman about 5 feet 4 inches tall and as stout as a horse.

Our platoon had succeeded in surrounding the house. We asked her where the proprietor was. She said he was up in the mountain. Sergeant Teale ordered her to call him, which she refused to do. Lieutenant May then gave us orders to arrest her and take her to Pilot Knob.

Sergeant Teale stepped up to her and told her to put on her wraps. She was standing near the stove upon which was a kettle of hot water which she seized and attempted to scald him, and, when he threw up his hand to protect himself, he was assaulted in an entirely different way, for in the woman’s quick perception she conceived the opportunity and caught his hand between her teeth nearly severing the thumb from the hand and wounding him to such an extent that he bears the scar yet.

Martin Luther, being a tall man, six feet and four inches, threw his arm
around her neck and held her or she would have killed Sergeant locale, who was in great agony over his wound. Lieutenant May sat upon his horse laughing at the idea of one woman being enough for three of us.

She finally consented to go if we would take a lantern and her children. She kept continually hallooing in German or I’^rench, I don’t know which, loud enough to be heard in town, so that when we reached the main road with her we were confronted by a crowd of German and French armed with clubs and stones.

We were expecting at any moment to be mobbed and I think our chance for a victory would have been slim as they were about five times our number. They did not tackle us, however, and we delivered her at headquarters in safety.

My brother, W.F. Reed was placed in charge of the brewery and also the store in town which had been selling smuggled ammunition.”

Of course the Germans and the French were not the only disgruntle residents of the Arcadia Valley where the communities of Pilot Knob, Ironton and Arcadia adjoin each other.

Pilot Knob was the headquarters for operations against Southern forces in Southeast Missouri. It was the terminus of the St. Louis Iron Mountain & Southern Railway, served as a staging area and also stood in the way of any future Confederate movements against St. Louis. The majority of the troops that passed through Pilot Knob were not native Missourians and their occupation was frowned upon by local residents.

Southern guerrilla fighters (partisans) lurked in the surrounding country side waiting to pick off Union occupiers one by one and as Field writes, Union soldiers were starting to disappear:

“Sergeant Teale had command of most of the mounted scouts which were sent out on the main road between Pilot Knob, Patterson and the main army. There had been a number of stragglers and dispatch bearers killed by some means, at this time wholly unknown to us, and were missed from the command near Shut In, or Stony Battery.

Sergeant Teale was ordered out with a platoon to view the country and, as it afterwards proved, a young guerrilla had been the cause of those men being absent. Several efforts had been made to capture him but as many times he had escaped to woods which surrounded the house in which he and his young wife lived.

At last Sergeant Teale selected his men carefully and set out with the determination of taking the guerrilla, either dead or alive. He having been there several times before, was a])le to give us a good description of the house and all the surroundings.

At about lo o’clock our force, consisting of ten or a dozen men, left Fort Hovey and three hours later we were within a mile of the house which was a small log cabin upon a knoll surrounded by a clearing. So leaving our horses with a guide and posting our men as vedettes around the edge of the timber, Sergeant Teale and myself crept some forty rods on our hands and knees that we might be enabled to take him by surprise.

Reaching the door, which Teale knew by previous visits to be unlocked so he could easily escape as he had previously done, Sergeant Teale opened it and advanced to the bed where our man lay, holding his belt light in such a manner that all that could be seen by our prisoner was myself standing
at the foot of the bed with my revolver in hand, and seeing no chance of escape he and his wife clinched and rolled in bed.

It was impossible to get him up by coaxing. Wc took him from the bed
by force and he trembled so much that we had to help him dress.
His young wife screamed so loud that it brought our command out
of the woods where they had been posted as vedettes, also our re- serves with the horses. His wife begged so for his life that we partly promised not to take it unless he’ attempted to escape.

We placed him upon a horse fastening him in the usual way for cavalry
prisoners, mounted ours and started back to Iron Mountain, leaving her alone. For several miles we could hear her screaming above the clatter of our horses feet.

It was nearly morning when we placed him in Iron Mountain jail where his comrade desperadoes had been placed a few days before.”

– Clint Lacy is the author of “Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Second Edition”