8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry
|8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry ("American Zouaves")|
|Active||June 1861 to June 1865|
|Engagements||Battle of Fort Donelson
Battle of Shiloh
Siege of Corinth
Yazoo Pass Expedition
Battle of Port Gibson
Battle of Raymond
Battle of Jackson
Battle of Champion Hill
Siege of Vicksburg (May 19 & May 22 Assaults)
Battle of Chattanooga
Battle of Missionary Ridge
Sherman's March to the Sea
Carolinas Campaign (one company)
Battle of Bentonville (one company)
The 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (aka the "American Zouaves") was an infantry regiment in the Union army during the American Civil War. Among its early leaders were Morgan Lewis Smith and Giles Alexander Smith, both of whom later became generals.
The 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (US) was formed in St. Louis, Missouri, in the early summer of 1861. The regiment was a special project supported by General Nathaniel Lyon. Most of the volunteers in Missouri's early regiments were German immigrants, and Lyon supported the creation of a regiment of "native-born Americans" to demonstrate that the Union cause in Missouri had support beyond the German-American community. Ironically, the Eighth Missouri also ended up with a high percentage of immigrants. Many of its members were Irish Americans who had worked on the Mississippi River docks prior to the war, giving the regiment a distinct Celtic personality (an ironic result considering Lyon's goal of an ethnically "American" regiment). In addition to its St Louis recruits, several companies were actually raised in other states. The Illinois and Minnesota volunteers joined the Eighth Missouri because their home state's quota for enlistments was full. The Eighth Missouri wore a distinctive uniform pattered after those of the French-North African Zouave units. While most of the Zouave uniform elements were abandoned as the war progressed, the 8th Missouri apparently continued to wear their short, brightly decorated Zouave jackets throughout the war.
The regiment's first commander was Col. Morgan Lewis Smith, a New Yorker who had moved west to Missouri after serving as an enlisted man in the Regular Army. Under his firm hand, the 8th Missouri would become one of the finest units to serve in the Army of the Tennessee. M. L. Smith's brother, Giles Alexander Smith, also served in the regiment.
The 8th Missouri saw extensive service during the first three years of the war in the Trans-Mississippi Theater and Western Theater, and built for itself an enviable reputation on the battlefield. The regiment first fought in Missouri in the summer of 1861 against pro-Southern guerrillas who were attacking U.S. Army supply trains—for example, in Wentzville, Missouri. That autumn, the 8th Missouri participated in the Federal occupation of Paducah, Kentucky.
In February 1862, the regiment fought its first major battle, the Battle of Fort Donelson, near Dover, Tennessee. Later that spring, it was heavily engaged in the second day's fighting at the Battle of Shiloh. After a two-month-long campaign, it was the first regiment to enter the strategic rail center of Corinth, Mississippi, following the Confederate evacuation in May 1862, and in late December, it took part in the Battle of Chickasaw Bayou. In January 1863, it stormed the breastworks of Fort Hindman to capture Arkansas Post.
The 8th Missouri saw considerable service in the Battle of Vicksburg, where eleven men of the regiment won the Medal of Honor in one day during the May 22, 1863, assault on Stockade Redan. The regiment marched on to participate in the Battle of Jackson, the Battle of Chattanooga, and the opening phases of the Atlanta Campaign.
On June 25, 1864, the three-year enlistments of most of the regiment's members expired and they returned to their homes. Those who remained on active duty were consolidated into a battalion of two companies, and as such participated in the rest of the Atlanta Campaign and Sherman's March to the Sea. In February 1865, the remaining veterans of the 8th Missouri were attached as an extra company to the 6th Missouri Infantry. In this capacity, they took part in the Carolinas Campaign and the Grand Review of the Armies in Washington, D.C., before being mustered out of service in June 1865.
- Congressman Francis P. Blair Jr., Colonel of the 1st Missouri Volunteer Infantry, supported the concept of an 'American' regiment in a June 1, 1861 Letter to President Lincoln: "I think the Zouave regiment ought to be received, for moral effect as well as for military purposes. it will be a counterpoise to the prejudice against the Germans." Missouri Troops in Service During the Civil War, Dept of War, Record and Pension Office, Washington, 1902 p123.
- At the same time the "American Zouaves" was being recruited, a sister "Irish" regiment was being raised in Missouri. This was the 7th Missouri Infantry ("Irish Seventh"). Like the "American Zouaves" it was intended to demonstrate that Unionist support in Missouri extended beyond the ethnic-German community.
- Private William H. Bates, a veteran of Company H, 8th Missouri, provided a description of the regiment's unique "Zouave" uniform in a letter to his daughter: "the [short] zouave jacket was dark blue with trimming of red braid (blue braid could not be secured early in 1861); the shirt of coarse gray wool; the pants light blue wool (the regiment voted unanimously against the red, baggy zouave pants), and the [kepi type] cap of dark blue." Gateway Heritage, Quarterly of the Missouri Historical Society, Vol 19, no.4, Spring 1999, p27
- Private Bates stated that he wore his "zouave" jacket though the end of his enlistment in 1864. In addition, a variety of soldier letters and photographs indicate that the enlisted troops of the "American Zouaves" wore at least the regiment's distinctive jacket though the war. 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry ("American Zouaves"), 1861-1864, Plate No. 822, Military Uniforms of America, The Company of Military Historians, 2005.