For Missouri Volunteer Militiaman and U.S. Army veteran John S. Bowen, it was a tumultuous early summer of 1861. On May 10, he and approximately 600 Missouri militia had been captured by Capt. Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal troops in St. Louis and waited to be paroled. In the meantime, Bowen was impatient and unwilling to wait to join the newly-formed Missouri State Guard. In June, he traveled all the way to Richmond, Virginia to meet with President Jefferson Davis about raising a regiment of Missourians for the Confederacy. Davis granted him a colonel’s commission and the authority to raise Missouri’s first Confederate volunteer unit.
Unable to raise a regiment in Federal-controlled St. Louis – and with the ongoing campaign in south-central Missouri – Bowen raised the First Missouri Infantry Regiment in Memphis, Tennessee. Word spread like wildfire through eastern Missouri that Bowen was raising a regiment of Confederate volunteers. Most the boys came from St. Louis, Pemiscot, Mississippi, and New Madrid counties. One of the enthusiastic St. Louis secessionists was a young 20-year-old Irish Catholic clerk named Joseph Boyce.
Due to his leadership, courage, and devotion to his men, Boyce himself was elected a second lieutenant of Company D, or the St. Louis Grays. In his post-war account of the war, Boyce recalled the early stages of raising and training the First Missouri, as it prepared for combat operations.
“The information spread quickly throughout the city of St. Louis that Col. Bowen wanted us at Memphis. At once the men began leaving in squads of five, ten, fifteen, and less. It was hard work to run the blockade at Cairo, Ill., and Louisville, Ky., but it was successfully done, however, by several hundred of the old 1st Missouri infantry and the Second regiment mentioned above. The men were place [sic] in camps on the Pigeon Roost road, about two miles east of Memphis, and the organization started.
“The regiment remained at this point about two months, when it was ordered to Fort Pillow … We reached this point in due time, but had hardly gotten into camp when we were ordered up to New Madrid, Mo. This news was received with every evidence of pleasure by the command. Again Company B took charge of the boats, and landed us safely the next night about 10 o’clock at our destination. Again we were in Missouri. as we marched ashore we made the woods ring with our cheers for the old state.
“The regimental colors were two large silk flags, one the regulation Stars and Bars, presented to the regiment by the ladies of Memphis, Tenn., the day the command left for New Madrid, Mo., about August 15, 1861. The other one was of rich dark blue silk, heavily bordered with gold fringe. On one side handsomely painted was the seal of the State of Missouri; the reverse bore a picture of a large tigress in the jungle, lying on the grass, with her young cubs at play about her. Beneath this scene on a gilded scroll was in large letters the word BEWARE.
“This flag, a beautiful work of St. Louis artists, originally was the colors of the Second Missouri Infantry organized by Col. Jno. S. Bowen and known as “The Missouri Minute Men.” It was formed about a year before the breaking out of the war. The regiment was captured at Camp Jackson with its brigade, May 10, 1861. The flag, however, was taken away before the final surrender by Mrs. Bowen and later carried through the federal lines at Cairo, Ill., about her body. Upon her arrival at Memphis, she presented it to our regiment and the name “Second” changed to “First Missouri Confederate Infantry.”
“The enlisted men, exclusive of officers, numbered at least 1,000 the day after the regiment was organized. It was reported for duty, every officer and man present. Not one on the sick list. Everybody present and for duty. This was so remarkable in a regiment so large that Gen. Pillow (for we are assigned to his brigade) had us formed and complimented Col. Bowen and the command.
“All the officers were formed into a company and put through the manual of arms and company movements daily by our field officers … In fact, we received such instructions of this kind as is given at the Military Academy at West Point.
“It was absolutely necessary that an officer of the regiment should be able not only to drill his company, but to take command of the regiment and manoeuvre it … This company found this experience of vast advantage to them afterwards when they charged the enemy in earnest. It gave the regiment great confidence in the bayonet, and our favorite movement was double quick and charge bayonets.
“After six weeks hard drilling we were ordered up to Columbus, Ky., and encamped on one of the high bluffs just north of the town. The only thing worthy of mention in regard to the enemy while encamped here was the shelling of our camp one afternoon by the gun-boats Conestoga and Lexington. These boats would come down the river almost day from Cairo and give us a little artillery practice. With the exception of one day, their shells always fell short of camp.
“I wish to say that while here Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston took command of the army and he reviewed us. He was so well pleased with the bearing and movements of the command that he ever afterward called for the First Missouri when he wanted a thoroughly reliable regiment. He was well acquainted with Col. Bowen in the old army and our Lt. Col. Rich was with him on the Salt Lake or Utah campaign.”
The First Missouri Infantry went on to fight at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, and Corinth. Heavy losses at Corinth forced the First Missouri Infantry to combine with the Fourth, creating the First and Fourth Combined Missouri Infantry. The First and Fourth Combined was one of several Missouri regiments that formed the famed Missouri Brigade of the Army of Tennessee, notably serving at Champion Hill, Kennesaw Mountain, the Siege of Atlanta, Franklin, and Fort Blakely. Like the unit itself, which suffered heavy losses at several Western battles, Boyce was wounded at least five times in combat at Shiloh, Corinth, Tuscumbia River, Alatoona Pass, and Franklin. Yet, he continued to fight and serve with his men until war’s end.
Captain Joseph Boyce and the 1st Missouri Infantry, edited by William C. Winter (St. Louis, MO: Missouri Historical Society Press, 2011), 32-39.