The Louis Stephens Papers

This letter from Louis Stephens relays the work of a Union soldier outside St. Louis, Missouri, and provides striking detail about key events surrounding the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Private Louis Stephens served in Company “I” 6th Regiment, Minnesota Infantry. In 1864, men of the 6th Minnesota Infantry were transferred from Helen, Arkansas to St. Louis from November 4th through the 11th. Stationed southwest of St. Louis, the men repaired a bridge for the Pacific Railroad over the Meramec River.

Dear Mother…I am well at present…We have been at work…on the bridge on the…pacific rail road When we got it very near done we received orders to march to this city and now we have orders to go down the river I suppose our distination is Paducah as the rebels is threatening that place…
Louis Stephens letter to his Mother – November 8, 1864

Repairing the bridge was a crucial task for the Union Army, as the Pacific Railroad was vital to the distribution of both men and goods to Southwest Missouri. Without the bridge transportation would halt, severely hindering the Union’s ability to support their men in both Missouri and Arkansas.

Paducah, Kentucky lies east of Cairo, Illinois, on the Ohio River. The Tennessee River runs south out of Paducah to Fort Henry, where the Union Army achieved their first major success in the western theater. Controlling the Rivers, like the railroad, allowed the Union Army to monopolize the distribution of goods and transportation of men throughout the region.

During the fall of 1864, General Sterling Price invaded Missouri with hopes of capturing the arsenal at St. Louis, recruiting men for the Confederate Army and obtaining crucial supplies from Federal forces. During his retreat South, Price engaged Union troops on October 25 in the Battle of Mine Creek, Kansas. John S. Marmaduke was captured at the Battle. Marmaduke was incarcerated in St. Louis for a brief period of time, as the city was a transport hub for Confederate soldiers destined for military prisons in the North.

…the rebels has captured 2 gun boats on the tenissee river prisoners is a coming in every day from prices army…Marmaduke is in this city a prisoner to day is election day and the boys is a going in heavy for Lincoln and Johnson…
Louis Stephens letter to his Mother – November 8, 1864

Stephens also provides a brief glimpse into the support and faith Union Soldiers around him had for Abraham Lincoln. During his time as President, Lincoln was heavily criticism and often disliked. It was not until after his death that he became one of the most popular Presidents in American history. Stephen’s brief letter may not further the understanding of the events that took place in the Trans-Mississippi Theater, but it serves to represent the issues facing Union soldiers in the region and distribution of news.

Contributed by the The History Museum on the Square

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