Letter written by Colonel James Peckham of the 8th MO Infantry to his mother. Peckham is writing from the St. Louis Arsenal, and has been in the city for three weeks. He writes that the volunteer force was comprised mostly of Germans, which was distasteful to the other (primarily Irish-American) troops and leading to dissension in the ranks. Thus Peckham organized an American regiment. Peckham is determined to lead the regiment as Lieutenant Colonel despite strong discouragement from “the big guns”. He has however asked Morgan L. Smith to be colonel of the regiment, as he feels he doesn’t know enough about the military to take the position himself.
Saint Louis Arsenal July 9, 1861
My Dear Mother, The clock has just struck one – or rather the guard at the prison has struck once upon the high steel triangle which is suspended in the centre of the garrison. I feel very little like sleep – being too tired to sleep, for I have just come down from the city on foot the cars having stopped running at 11 1/2 oclock. I am here in Camp in the St. Louis Arsenal, which place is located on the line of the southern boundary of the city. I have been here for 3 weeks with my Regiment. I say “my Regiment” – for it is emphatically my Regiment. When I returned from the East i found the volunteer force here composed almost exclusively of germans, and a strong antipathy towards them on the part of the American portion of the population. Many men were drifting into rebellion through this antipathy. The consequence of this I took upon myself to organize an American Regiment. It was a big thing to undertake by one who has plenty of cash, and I hadn’t a solitary cent. But my little bed room was made the Head Quarters & by proper management I soon had a formidable
organization. I picked out my men for Captains & Lieutenants, Major & Colonel, reserving the position of Lt. Col for myself. Of course I worked hard and ingeniously sent a messenger to Washington & was accepted by the War Department. It is four weeks since that acceptance & today we mustered in the ninth company with the tenth company on the ground to be mustered in tomorrow, which will thoroughly complete us. I have had no outside assistance from anybody. The big guns have never honored us with a single kindly recognition – on the contrary they have shown a disposition to throw cold water on our flaws because it was my work. But I want it distinctly understood that when I undertake a thing it must go through, no matter whether others assist or not. I was elected to the Legislature not by the assistance of the party leaders but in spite of them. I am Lieutenant Colonel of the best body of 1000 men in the western service not because of outside assistance but in spite of it. Since I have been in Saint Louis I have never yet received one solitary word of encouragement except from
Frank Blair. On the contrary I have been snubbed and abused and slighted and injured by every mothers son of them who occupy position & have means. But they know me by this time. At the office of the Missouri Democrat one evening quite a crowd collected. The question was asked who is getting up this “American Zouave Regt” the answer was “that fellow Jim Peckham” Another remarked that I “was a d—-d busy fool & burning up with brass & impudence” One man spoke up, who was by no means my friend & said “Well! say what you please but if that d—–d Jim Peckham as you call him is getting it up it is going through all right, for he has got energy enough to move hell out of its place.” Now they may affect to despise me as much as they choose yet they have to cave whenever I undertake a thing & they know it. I think I can brag a little now for I have been so soundly abused & so meanly slighted that to brag once in the while is pardonable. This jealousy which is arrayed as a solid wall of stone masonry against me is what better men
than myself have encountered & triumphed over and succumbed to, as well. I could have been Colonel just as well as Lt. Col but I did not know enough of Military to take such a position and so I got an old army officer to to be our Colonel. This week we will be uniformed & next week will obey marching orders. Our destination will be South West Missouri. I have not heard from you since I saw you at Mattewan in April. What is the matter? I hardly think you are so busy that you cannot drop me even one line to say you are well or unwell. Whenerver you do take a fit to write direct to St. Louis. Put the address in this form & it will reach me wherever I go,
Lieut Col James Peckham
American Zouaves 8th Regt M.V.
Saint Louis Arsenal
Give my love to everybody. May God bless you all & preserve our country. I am in first rate health,
Affectionately, Your son
James Peckham was a member of the Missouri Legislature before the Civil War and was a strident Unionist when the state was debating to secede or not. He left the legislature and organized the 8th MO Regiment. Peckham served as the 8th MO Regiment’s Lt. Col. and led the regiment at Shiloh and Pittsburg Landing, TN, and at Jackson, MS. He later went on to lead the 29th MO. After the war he published a book on the history of the war in Missouri and General Nathaniel Lyon. He passed away in 1869 and is buried at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.