Col. Emmett MacDonald


Colonel Emmett MacDonald

mcdonald.gif (16584 bytes) Colonel Emmett MacDonald was born in Steubenville, Ohio in 1837, son of Isaac MacDonald and brother of J. Wilson MacDonald. Emmett joined his brother in St. Louis in the 1850's and became a popular member of the elite St. Louis Militia. In 1858 he accompanied General Harney, Col. Bowen and a detachment of the Army of the West to Camp Supply ( Southwest Kansas) to quell marauding Indians. During the 1860 Southwest Expedition (to rid Missouri of Kansas Jayhawkers), Captain MacDonald commanded Troop "C" of Major Wm. Clark Kennerly's cavalry battalion. The battalion returned to St. Louis in May of 1861, just in time to become a part of the Camp Jackson Massacre, and the illegal arrest of Missouri Militiamen by Captain Lyon and his immigrant rabble. All of the captured militiamen, with the exception of Emmett MacDonald, were paroled and then released. Captain MacDonald refused parole and demanded a trial. 

The courts found Lyon's actions to be illegal and the paroles non-binding. Captain MacDonald was released and rejoined the Missouri Patriot Army just prior to the Battle of Carthage, Missouri (July 5th, 1861). After the battle he was commended for his zeal, discretion and gallantry by Col. R. H. Weightman, (Commanding 1st Brigade, 2nd Division Missouri State Guard). After routing Sigel at Carthage, the Missourians were attacked by General Lyon's federals at Oak Hills (near Springfield, Mo,) on August 10th, 1861. At Oak Hills,General Price, wearing a black "plug' hat, and Capt. MacDonald, recognized by his long flowing locks of hair ( he had sworn not to cut his hair til the Confederacy was recognized), were spotted by General Lyon. Lyon rashly proposed that he and his orderlies capture this pair of "Rebel" officers. The discretion of one of his lieutenants (Lt. Wm. Wherry) persuaded him to wait for reinforcements. It was while leading these Kansas and Iowa troops against MacDonald's position that Lyon was finally laid out to rest. The federal army retreated leaving Lyon's body on the battlefield. When it was discovered by some Southern soldiers, several drew their knives and swore to "cut his d____d heart out." Emmett MacDonald drew his revolver and swore that he would kill the first man that touched Lyon's corpse. He then had the body delivered to the federals at Springfield. Later Dr. Franklin of Springfield wrote "Col. MacDonald, than whom no more knightly a soldier... tendered an escort as a guard of honor to accompany the burial party to Rolla and arranged for an exchange of prisoners." He was cited by the federals for his "gallantry and many kind attentions and favors."

After their success at Oak Hills, the Missourians under General Price set out to liberate Lexington, Missouri. During this seven day siege, Captain MacDonald commanded Bledsoe's battery of artillery. (Bledsoe had been wounded at the Dry Wood skirmish Sept. 2nd) The battery, was located in the Northeast sector of the battlefield, and poured out a continuous and deadly fire of shot and shell which demoralized and paralyzed the enemy who had fortified the Masonic College just North of town. A cannonball is still lodged in the courthouse in Lexington, which may have came from one of Emmett's cannon as he competed with Churchill Clark's battery trying to shoot down the enemy's flag staff and win a gold medal offered by General Rains. (Clark won the medal). Finally at 2 a.m. on September 20th, 1861 after fifty-two hours of continuous firing, the federals under Col. Mulligan surrendered. Emmett MacDonald was commended for gallantry, zeal and untiring endurance by Generals Price, Rains and Harris.

Realizing they couldn't hold the river town of Lexington, the Missourians returned to the Springfield area for winter quarters. In February 1862, Gen. Curtis forced Gen. Price's Army to evacuate Springfield and retire to the Boston Mountains in Northwest Arkansas. Here they formed a junction with Gen. McCulloch's Confederates and Major General Van Dorn was placed in command. Curtis was still in pursuit, when on March 7th, 1862 the Confederates turned and attacked at Elk Horn Tavern, Arkansas. Capt. MacDonald commanded the St. Louis Artillery on the left of the battlefield and "formed a living wall of fire which Missouri may well be proud of and fearlessly trust to for defense". The St. Louis battery soon crippled the Dubuque (Iowa) battery and allowed the Missouri Brigade to attack and defeat the federal left. "Capt. MacDonald dashed forward in the face of a murderous enemy fire rallying the infantry, who had wavered and staggered, but whose ranks soon closed and rallied to the cry of their old chieftain (Sterling Price) who with his majestic form rode along their lines and bade them onward to victory, Like a hurricane of steel the infantry then swept over the field routing and pursuing the enemy into the woods til night closed the chase." Emmett MacDonald was commended by Generals Van Dorn, Little and Frost. The other half of Van Dorn's army had not been so fortunate however. Generals McCulloch and McIntosh lay dead on the field and had failed to carry the day. As a result, a strategic withdrawal was ordered, much to the dismay of Missourians.

Confederate forces were soon ordered East of the Mississippi River where Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston was massing an army at Corinth, Mississippi. Capt. MacDonald accompanied them, but soon returned to Arkansas, leaving command of the St. Louis Artillery to Capt. W. E. Dawson. Returning to Arkansas, MacDonald raised a regiment of cavalry and was appointed its colonel. The summer of 1862 was spent out-maneuvering the federals. Finally, on November 28th, 1862 Colonels MacDonald and Shelby clashed with the enemy at Cane Hill in the Boston Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. It was a running battle extending over three miles of mountains and creeks, complete with hand-to-hand sabre charges and flying artillery assaults until the federals finally withdrew. One of the Confederates was a captain named Quantrill.

The following month (7 Dec 1862 ) at Prairie Grove Arkansas, Colonel MacDonald's cavalry faced the enemy again. On the Cove Creek and Fayetteville road the Yankees foolishly attacked. Colonel MacDonald's regiment counter-attacked and the enemy ran up the white flag. Thinking it a surrender, Colonel MacDonald galloped toward them, but found them retreating. He then recorded the charge and scattered the fleeing federals, chasing them several miles toward Fayetteville.

On New Years eve 1862, General Marmaduke's command, including Colonel MacDonald's 270-man regiment, moved from their winter quarters at Lewisburg to White Springs, Arkansas where they engaged and defeated the enemy garrison. The following week, General Marmaduke began his raid into Missouri, capturing Ft. Lawrence on the 5th and Ozark Missouri on the 7th. On the 8th, Colonels MacDonald and J. O. Shelby attacked the federal garrison at Springfield, and on the 9th captured the garrison at Hartville, Missouri. On the 11th of January 1863 the federals counter-attacked with their forces from Springfield. It was a confusing "hit-and-run" battle, and during the marching and counter-marching, to keep from being trapped, Colonel MacDonald became separated from his command. Colonel Porter was ambushed by federal infantry hiding in an overgrown fence row. Shelby, in the rear, rushed to the rescue. Dismounting his men, he attacked the enemy infested thicket. He was twice repulsed. The final savage attack saved Porter's command, but at a such fearful cost. Colonel Wimer (ex-Mayor of St. Louis ) lay dead on the field, and Colonel Porter was severely wounded. Colonel MacDonald had managed to rally over a hundred stragglers and fearlessly charge a federal artillery position. He was blasted in the chest with a canister at point blank range. That night the dead were buried by starlight and the defeated command trudged Southward. The remains of Colonels MacDonald and Wimer were sent to their families in St. Louis for decent Christian burials.

Colonel MacDonald's body was sent to the home of his sister ( Mrs. Dean ) on St. Charles Rock Road, but in the middle of the night the federal provost marshal ( Franklin Dick) had the body removed and buried in a common potter's field to prevent Confederate sympathizers in St. Louis from using the funeral as a rally point, thus demonstrating the cruel federal contempt for the grieving families. That evening Col. Wimer's body was also stolen. The family later found the body of Col. MacDonald and had it moved to Weslyan Cemetery (Grand and Laclede ). On February 8th, 1865 his remains were re-interred at Bellefontiane Cemetery in an unmarked grave (Block 91 - Lot 925). Sterling Price Camp # 145, Sons of Confederate Veterans has since Col. MacDonald’s grave.

Taken from " A Self Guided Tour of Confederate Graves at Bellefontaine Cemetery" by Gene Dressel.


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Last modified: September 03, 2015.