Lemuel Amzi Donnell was born in Tennessee on March 6, 1839. Like so many other Missouri settlers, the Donnell’s family moved to Missouri from Tennessee before 1850 in search of new land. Calvin and Martha Donnell, Lemuel’s parents, started a farm and raised their five children. Donnell still lived with his parents in Hickory County, Missouri in 1860. He studied Theology before enlisting in the Missouri State Guard on August 20. Donnell was elected 1st Lieutenant of Company F, 4th Infantry Regiment, 8th Division, Missouri State Guard. After the Battle of Wilson’s Creek (August 10, 1861) the Missouri State Guard marched north to Lexington, MO and laid siege to the town from September 13 through 20. Donnell recorded in his diary that his company had a leave of absence during that time and was in camp at Warsaw, Missouri, 90 miles from Lexington.
Donnell’s company spent several days drilling and preparing themselves for life as a soldier. He equated himself “as ignorant of military tactics as an Ouran Outang is of a cotillion, or an Esquimaux is of an Indian war-dance.” Camp life did not sit well with Donnell. He wrote, “I find camp life very unpleasant, in consequence of bad diet, and irregular meals, as none knew much about cooking.” Company F received orders to rejoin the main body of the Missouri State Guard after the Siege at Lexington. They met Sterling Price and the rest of the guardsmen near Greenfield, Missouri.
As far as I could see the face of the earth was covered with tents. Some of the men were cooking, some reading, some playing, some lounging around, while others were engaged in various industries or idleness as suited their convenience. It was an interesting scene to me, being a novice in this business.
Lemuel Donnell Diary – October 4, 1861
Donnell was astonished that Price retreated southward after his victory at Lexington, not realizing that the Missouri State Guard was heavily pursued by Federal Forces from Jefferson City. Eleven days later the Missouri State Guard marched to Neosho, where they remained for the duration of the Neosho Convention. Donnell wrote, “We come to Neosho, where Gov [Claiborne F.] Jackson convened the Legislature, which after some days of deliberation declared in favor of secession and elected members to represent Missouri in the Congress of the Confederate States.” Legislators gathered at the Newton County Courthouse in Neosho on October 21, and passed an ordinance of secession.
After the Neosho Convention, Donnell’s company marched through several towns in Southwest Missouri, and was permitted to return to Hickory County to “drive the ‘Home Guards’ out of the county.” Donnell’s company reached Springfield, Missouri around December 30, 1861. There, they erected tents in the snow and endured the bitter cold. The Missouri State Guard occupied Springfield until mid February, before they were forced to retreat from the town by Federal troops. Springfield was a crucial strategic position, as it served as a supply distribution center for Southwest Missouri and Northern Arkansas. General Samuel R. Curtis’s Army advanced down the wire road determined to engage Confederate forces yet again. Price abandoned his position in Springfield on February 12, and retreated southward to join forces with Benjamin McCulloch in Arkansas. “The Federals cause us to retreat towards the South by hard marching day and night, fighting almost daily in the near, passing through Cassville, Keytsville, Mo, Mudtown, Fayetteville and Cane Hill in Arkansas.” The Missouri State Guard joined McCulloch’s forces who were encamped south of the Boston Mountains. On March 4, the Confederates began their march north to meet the Union Army.
The Confederate’s rapid advance exhausted their infantry. Donnell noted he had one biscuit for breakfast and nothing for dinner during the march. He ate nothing on March 6, when they finally reached the outskirts of Bentonville. On March 7, the 8th Division Missouri State Guard moved north to engage the Union line. “The engagement lasts till sunset just before sunset we lay for ½ hour in front of our battery till it selanced the enemy’s battery & then we charge the enemy, capturing their Commissaries, and many prisoners.” Among the captured prisoner’s was one of Donnell’s cousins, Sam Reynolds. Donnell and the rest of the 8th Division slept on the battlefield and resumed the engagement the following morning. The Confederates withdrew from the battlefield and retreated towards Van Buren. Company F was discharged from the Missouri State Guard, and Donnell re-enlisted in Company H of the 6th Infantry Regiment, 8th Division, Missouri State Guard.
After the Battle of Pea Ridge, Confederate Commanders transferred the majority of their forces east of the Mississippi River. Donnell and his company were transported to Memphis to assist with the Battle of Shiloh. He learned that his brother, Alexander L. Donnell, was very ill and visited him in the hospital. Lemuel remained in the hospital until Alexander died around May 24, 1862. He was buried in Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis, Tennessee. Donnell’s service term expired in early June 1862 and he received pay for his service and his brothers. He then reenlisted in the 11th Missouri Infantry. Donnell spent the remainder of the War with this company, which as he stated, seemed like a life time.
While on furlough in Carroll County, Arkansas Donnell and John W. Murray were captured at Huntsville, Arkansas by Federal Scouts and taken to Cassville, MO and then to Springfield. He was eventually released and traveled home. During that time, his father was killed on September 15, 1862 by the Missouri Home Guards, or as Donnell called them, “Home Despoilers,’ in the name of the US.” Donnell remained in Hickory County until early October when he decided to return to the 11th Missouri Infantry, camped in Benton County, Arkansas. Donnell noted he received another pass to visit family in Texas, and began a five month absence from the military. He spent the entire time in Texas visiting family and doing various jobs. He returned to the 11th Missouri Infantry on February 26, 1863 and reported for duty to Company D at Little Rock, Arkansas. Donnell compared service in the Missouri State Guard to the regular Confederate Army. “I find the regular Confederate service much better regulated and disciplined, in as much as we drill 4 hours almost daily, except for Sundays, when we have preaching or other religious service.”
Donnell marched throughout Arkansas in the spring of 1863. On June 10, he became very ill, and “so reduced in flesh I can scarcely walk.” Ten days later, the Regiment marched towards Helena, Arkansas, but Donnell was so ill that he left his company and traveled 8 miles into the country side. He ate a diet of vegetables and rapidly improved. He started his returned to the Army on June 28th, which held a defensive position in Helena. Donnell stayed outside of Helena on June 3, the following morning he was woken by the sound of cannon fire. The battle waged and eventually on July 4 the Union Army claimed victory. Donnell rejoined the 11 Missouri Infantry on July 5, as the Regiment retreated from the town. Donnell and the 11th Missouri Infantry took position near Little Rock and prepared for the Federal’s advance. “Breastworks completed, consisting of 2 ditches 4 ft wide & deep and 12 ft apart, and dirt thrown between extending from the river below to Camp Anderson above. We now wish an attack to be made as we believe we could withstand any number.” However, the 11 Missouri Infantry retreated from their position, much to the dislike of Donnell and his regiment. Donnell spent several following weeks traveling across Arkansas with the regiment drilling and preparing winter quarters. He made one visit to family in late January 1864, and was gone for nine days. In February, Donnell joined the Knights of the Golden Circle, which he defined as “a secret order of Southern sympathizers in the North during the war.” At the meeting, Donnell noted they discussed how they might recognize each other in battle.
In March 1864, the 11th Missouri Infantry marched south into Louisiana to support Confederate troops against Union General Nathaniel Bank’s Red River Expedition. Donnell noted several towns and the total number of miles marched during each day. The 11th Missouri Infantry participated in the Battle of Pleasant Hill in Louisiana, and Donnell’s company suffered minimal casualties (1 killed, 4 wounded). Following the battle, the 11th Missouri Infantry returned north to Arkansas, and Donnell recorded activities at Camden, Arkansas and Jenkins Ferry. Donnell wrote about Jenkins Ferry,
Battle began at 8 o’clock A.M. and lasts till 1 o’clock P.M. The engagement took place in the low lands on the river almost entirely under water and rained all the time of the battle, and Gen’l [Edmund K.] Smith said the hardest small arm firing he ever heard. Three in Co “D” were slightly wounded in this engagement.
Lemuel Donnell Diary – April 30, 1864
Donnell noted he traveled 500 miles in little over a month and participated in two battles. The 11th Missouri Infantry was exhausted, and the spent most of May marching across southern Arkansas. Towards the end of his diary Donnell began reciting poetry, including an acrostic poem about camp life. He used the alphabet to describe activities around camp, and ended the poem with,
Lemuel Donnell’s Poetry
Let all who read these lines of mine
E’er think there’s truth in every line
Much more than this may yet be true
Unless there’s drill or something else to do.
Even if they should not know the author’s name
Let me tell them how they may find the same
Let the first letter of of each line be combined
And in the word my name you shall find
Lemuel Donnell Diary – June 10, 1864
Image courtesy of Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
Summer of 1864 was fairly uneventful for Donnell. He noted most of his time was in camp, and finally in August 1864 he noted marching orders for the regiment. They traveled across southern Arkansas, and noted Prices leave for Missouri. “Gen’l Price has taken all the Cavalry and gone to Missouri, and we are left alone without pickets.”
He later wrote,
Gen’l Price, with the cavalry, has made a successful raid as far North as Jefferson City in Missouri, thence West to Kansas, thence back to the army again, and having come to town (Shreveport) last night almost the entire brigade went to serenade him. He bears the appellation of “Old Pap” and “Grand Pap” to signify that we esteem him as our father in war, and the high regard we have always entertained for him.
Lemuel Donnell Diary – March 25, 1865
Donnell reported that he received a 44 day furlough on November 30, 1864 and started on foot for Texas. He traveled approximately 180 miles to his uncle’s home in Wood County, Texas. Donnell visited several family members in Texas before beginning his voyage back to the army. He entered Camp Bragg on January 14, 1865 and wrote, “having walked the greater portion of the way through mud & water and barefooted too. I was in good condition to appreciate a good rest, even with hard dirt, and after one day’s rest resume my old business of making details for camp duty.”
The remainder of the war was calm for Donnell. He wrote poems in his diary and recorded his perspective of camp life as a soldier. He noted President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, and commented that Ford’s Theater was “an unseemly place for a Christian President to be killed.” He wrote about the surrender of the Trans-Mississippi Theater, and General Price’s farewell to his troops. “Price return to-day [from New Orleans], paroled, and bid us adieu, and has gone to his family in Texas, and from thence to Mexico.” Donnell dedicated the following poem to his comrades:
Comrades! Order arms.
Now stack your arms,
This conflict has no further charms;
Surrender is the word we hear.
From foremost van-guard to the rear.
Here let us pause and drop a tear,
For the lost cause we loved so dear;
With down bowed heads and saddened hearts,
Till its silent shade departs.
Four years ago you heard the call
To patriotic men and all;
You shouldered arms and marched away
Like gallant soldiers to the fray.
We had “Old Pap” then for our guide;
To-day he still is by our side.
He loved us then, he loves us still.
As witness many a battle field.
Now muffle the “drum” we’ll need no more.
The “Long Roll” beat, when cannons roar:
Neither “Tattoo,” nor the loved “Retreat,”
Nor “Revellie” to rouse us up from sleep.
Now place the “Fife” here with our arms
We need no more its music’s charms
And “Dixie” too our native air
To chant or sing, we must forbear
And now break ranks, and let us go.
To homes once dear four years ago
Be this our motto all through life
We’ll ne’er engage in deadly strife
Lemuel Donnell Diary – June 4, 1865
On June 21, 1865, the 11th Missouri Infantry turned in their arms, boarded a steamboat for St. Louis, marched to Schofield Barracks, and were paroled.
This closes my record as a soldier, and I return to the quiet, and much more desirable, pursuits of civil life, having served as a soldier 4 years, lacking two months, being 26 years, 3 months & 15 days old.
Lemuel Donnell Diary – June 21, 1865
Throughout his diary, Donnell provided his perspective of camp life and “the business of soldiering.” His distaste for rough living conditions did not change; yet, he learned to endure the conditions in his four years of service. Also interesting is the frequency he received “furloughs.” The timing and duration of Donnell’s leave seems contradictory to most soldiers’ experiences during the War. He missed several engagements and was gone for multiple weeks on end, which leads one to question the authenticity his furloughs. Desertion was common during the Civil War, particularly among the Missouri State Guard. Perhaps Donnell truly did received numerous furloughs; but if they were indeed unexcused absences, then he conceivably documented them as issued leave to protect his honor for all of history to remember.
Contributed by the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History
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