Thomas J. Marsh was born in Lexington, KY in 1845. His family later relocated to Hannibal, Missouri, in Marion County. Thomas grew up to be 5 feet 5 inches, with dark hair and complexion, and blue eyes.
When war came to Missouri Thomas enlisted in the 2nd Battalion, Missouri State Guard. The 2nd Battalion was organized in northeast Missouri, the state having been divided into nine military divisions formed along the lines of the pre-war U.S. Congressional Districts. The second division consisted of the northeast15 counties of the state.
Though only 16 at the time, Thomas joined the other men of the Hannibal area that flocked to the banner of the state. Other famous Hannibal residents joining the Guard were Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Absalom Grimes, who risked his life delivering mail to the Missouri troops east of the Mississippi River.
Thomas most likely participated in the battles of Oak Hills (Wilson’s Creek) and Lexington, both Confederate victories. In both battles the Missouri State Guard was instrumental in achieving victory.
After the battle of Lexington, General Sterling Price, affectionately known as “Pap” by his men, marched his troops south to Neosho, MO. In December Price established a camp at Osceola, MO and began the process of converting his State forces into Confederate Volunteers. By the end of December, Price had organized a 2,500-man Brigade of Confederate Volunteers, and went into winter camp in Springfield.
Through most of 1861, the Confederate government had been reluctant to support the Missouri state troops because the state had not officially aligned itself with the Confederacy. However on November 25, 1861 Missouri was officially admitted as the 12th Confederate State.
This initial lack of support on the part of the Confederate Government, along with a strong sense of pride in the State Guard, caused many of the Missouri State Guardsmen to be reluctant to join the Confederate service.
Thomas showed no reluctance. While many of the men waited until the last weeks of December to enlist, he enlisted for 12 months as a Confederate Volunteer on December 8. He became a member of Company A, 1st Missouri Infantry. His early enlistment date is a testament to his belief in the cause of the Confederacy.
The 1st infantry was organized with John Q. Burbridge as Colonel and E.B. Hull Lieut. Colonel. It was later determined that Colonel John S. Bowen had raised a regiment of Missouri infantry that was entitled to be called the First Missouri Infantry, and Colonel Burbridge’s regiment was redesignated the Second Missouri Infantry.
The 2nd Mo inf., along with the 3rd Mo. inf. and the 2nd Battery of Artillery were formed into the First Missouri Brigade, under command of Brigadier-General Henry Little.
On January 11, 1862, Price’s army, which included the First Missouri Brigade, began a retrograde movement into Arkansas, followed by the Federal army under the command of General Curtis.
This movement eventually led to the battle of Elk Horn Tavern (Pea Ridge, Arkansas). The Missouri troops performed magnificently during the battle, which ended in a Confederate defeat. As Thomas’s regiment, the 2nd Missouri, retired from the field the entire Federal line rose and gave them three cheers, a sign of the Union soldier’s respect for this fine unit.
After the battle of Elk Horn Tavern, Price’s army was transferred to the east side of the Mississippi River by Confederate General Joe Johnston, who was concentrating Confederate forces in Corinth after the loss of Forts Henry and Donnelson.
Their reputation having preceded them, Price and his army received a grand salute upon their arrival in Memphis. The army went into camp around Reinzi, Mississippi. It was here that the First Missouri Confederate Brigade was reorganized. John Q. Burbridge was re-elected Colonel of the 2nd Mo. inf. The Brigade was now made up of the 1st Mo. Cav. Dismounted, the 2nd Mo. inf., the 3rd Mo. inf. the 4th Mo. inf., and the 5th Mo. inf. John S. Bowen’s 1st Mo. inf. would join them after the battles of Iuka and Corinth.
On May 3, 1862, a minor engagement occurred at Farmington, MS in which the Missouri Brigade played a minor role.
Thomas participated in all of the major battles fought by the First Missouri Brigade leading up to the siege of Vicksburg, including the battles of Iuka, Corinth, Hatchie Bridge, Grand Gulf, Bakers Creek (Champion Hills), and Big Black River. During the battle of Port Gibson, Thomas and the 2nd Mo. guarded the Confederate Position at Grand Gulf.
These battles were vitally important in the overall campaign for Vicksburg. The battle of Bakers Creek is considered by some historians to be the actual turning point of the war. The Confederate loss at Bakers Creek, despite another brilliant performance by the Missouri Brigade, was the key battle in the Vicksburg campaign. A Confederate victory, which the Missouri Brigade almost single-handedly achieved, could have prevented the Confederate loss of Vicksburg, a loss that hurt the Confederacy much worse than Gettysburg.
Once the Confederate army retreated to the works at Vicksburg, Union General Grant laid siege to the city. Grant attempted two frontal assaults upon the works, both of which were repulsed with huge Union losses. In each instance the Missouri Brigade played a key role in the battle.
It was during the siege that Thomas was wounded by a shell fragment in the left arm. He was treated by Confederate doctors until the Confederate surrender on July 3, 1863. Thomas, along with 29,500 weary Confederates, were given their parole by the Union forces.
On July 15 Thomas Marsh signed a parole stating that he would “not take up arms again against the United States, nor serve in any military, police or constabulary force in any Fort, Garrison or field work, held by the Confederate States of America, against the United States of America…until duly exchanged by the proper authorities.” Thomas spent some time healing in Federal hospital #1, and was eventually exchanged.
Its not clear when Thomas returned to the Missouri Brigade. The Missouri troops were not exchanged until September 11, 1863. Most likely, Thomas was with the Missouri Brigade when it departed for Demopolis, Alabama.
It was at Demopolis that the Missouri Brigade, under the command of Brigadier General Francis M. Cockrell, was again reorganized. Thomas’s regiment, the 2nd, was consolidated with the 6th Mo. inf. to form the 2nd-6th Missouri Inf Consolidated. Other regiments included the 1st-3rd Missouri Cavalry Consolidated, the 1st-4th Missouri Inf Consolidated, and the 3rd-5th Missouri Inf Consolidated. Also serving with the Brigade were the artillery units of Guibor, Wade, and Landis.
These consolidations were necessary due to the high losses sustained by the Missouri Brigade in the Vicksburg campaign. Being the South’s finest troops came at a very high price.
On March 8, 1864 Thomas, with the rest of the Missouri Brigade re-enlisted for forty years or for the duration of the war! They were given the thanks of the Confederate Congress in Joint Resolution No.5, approved May 23.
The Brigade was now assigned to Confederate General Joe Johnston’s army, which was attempting to protect Atlanta against the advance of Union General William T. Sherman.
Thomas and the Brigade were engaged in intense fighting around a small Methodist meeting house called New Hope Church. On June 18, 1864, the Missouri Brigade was engaged in a severe fight in the vicinity of Lattimer House, GA. A Missouri soldier wrote, “The enemy massed considerable force at this point [and] were very bold, and on account of the peculiar construction of our lines we lost heavily…The pickets on the left of our division gave way this morning when the enemy poured a flanking fire on the left of our line compelling them to fall back…”
Cockrell’s Brigade suffered 17 killed, 39 wounded, and 28 missing. Thomas was one of the wounded. During the fighting a Federal bullet crashed through his right thigh, shattering his femur.
Thomas was captured by the Union army and sent to hospital #1 in Nashville, TN where his right leg was amputated in the middle third of his thigh. After a short stay in the Union military prison in Louisville, KY, he was sent to Camp Douglas, IL as a prisoner of war, arriving on October 29. After being paroled, he was transferred on February 13, 1865, to Pt. Lookout, MD. From there he went to Chimborazo Hospital #5 in Richmond, VA as a paroled prisoner of war.
Chimborazo was the biggest and best hospital in either the North or South. It had 8,000 beds, 5 soup houses, 5 ice houses, 200 dairy cattle, a herd of goats, a 400-keg brewery, and a bakery that turned out 10,000 loaves of bread a day.
On March 5, Thomas was admitted to Chimborazo Hospital #5. Its not clear how he spent the final days of the war. He was furloughed for 60 days beginning March 14, 1865, but also appears on a register of the Receiving and Wayside Hospital, or General Hospital #9 in Richmond, VA on March 14. His name also appears on a register of the Medical Director’s Office in Richmond under the head of “Applications and Certificates for Retirement.”
At some point Thomas left with Lieutenant R. H. Stockton of Company I, Second Missouri Infantry, who was leading a group of men from Richmond to Brig. Gen. Cockrell’s Missouri Brigade. On the way they learned of Robt. Lee’s surrender. Lieut. Stockton furloughed his men at Macon, GA on April 18, 1865.
Thomas traveled from Macon to Atlanta, and on May 10, 1865 he surrendered to the Union authorities. He took the oath of allegiance on May 28, and was allowed to return to his home.
After the war Thomas returned to Missouri and settled in Paris, MO, where he became a prominent merchant. He married Miss Elizabeth Alexander, grand daughter of Revolutionary War veteran John Alexander of Pennsylvania. Thomas was a member of the Ex-Confederate Missourians Association and the Robert Ruffner Camp (No. 676 in Hannibal) of the United Confederate Veterans.
Thomas died on December 2, 1897, his wife Elizabeth having died fifteen years earlier. He was eulogized as a prominent merchant and “…one of the bravest soldiers Missouri sent into the Southern armies.”
Historian Phill Gottschalk gave the proper tribute to Thomas and the rest of the Missouri soldiers when he said, “These brave men suffered all, sacrificed all, endured all fighting for their state and for the South they loved. They fervently believed it was their duty to protect their families and homes by resisting the 1861 invasion of their state by soldiers from Kansas, Illinois, Iowa and other northern states. After being driven from their homes, these determined Missourians fought three more years in six other states to defend the homes of other Southerners to whom many had blood ties.”
“Those who today may minimize their sacrifices, misrepresent their cause, or misuse their battle flag should ponder the words of Robert E. Lee: ‘There is a true glory and a true honor–the glory of duty done and the honor of integrity of principle.’ Soldiers of the Missouri State Guard and Confederate Brigades met Lee’s test by writing their history in scarlet across the breast of their foes. Every day during four hard years of war they left no doubt they were in deadly earnest from Boonville to Blakely. Their bravery and steadfast determination are a part of the heritage of every Missourian and every American.”
Thanks to John Marsh for providing this information on his great grandfather, Thomas Marsh.