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Pierce Mothershead Family Ties

The War Between Us
Like the rest of their countrymen in the 1860s, the Mothershead and Pierce families living in Jefferson County Missouri were deeply affected by the Civil War. We've not yet found any indication that our immediate ancesters soldiered for either side in the War, but the items below show that even if they weren't enlisted they were still tangled in the bloody conflict.

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Willis Mothershead and John Mothershead were held in the prison at St. Louis from November 4, 1861 to December 6, 1861 for the crime of bridge burning. The incident happened October 15, 1861 at the Iron Mountain Railroad Bridge where it crosses Big River in Jefferson County near Potosi. First Source: "The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies" published in Washington by the Government Printing Office, 1894;   Second Source: Cornell University Making of America

On page 250 of "The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies" this letter from Geo. E. Leighton is included with a list of prisoners being held in Saint Louis...
"...In connection with this report I desire to say that they have all been confined to the Saint Louis Military Prison, the prison at Alton being exclusively devoted to prisoners of war. All the arrests were made at Saint Louis except where otherwise designated. No arrests were made previous to the declaration of martial law August 4, 1861. The recapitulation exhibits a list of those persons now in confinement exclusive of prisoners of war.

I beg leave to apologize for the delay in transmitting this record, but the confusion in which the records of the office were kept during the first two months after martial law was declared has rendered it as to cases occurring within that period unavoidable.

I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
Geo. E. Leighton,
Provost-Marshal, District of Saint Louis"

List of prisoners other than prisoners of war confined in the military prisons at Saint Louis and Alton
Name Charge Date of Arrest Date of Discharge
John Mothershead Burning bridge Nov. 4, 1861 Dec. 6, 1861
Willis Mothershead Burning bridge Nov. 4, 1861 Dec. 6, 1861

My note: there were two men named Willis Mothershead living in Jefferson County Missouri in 1861. One Willis was John Mothershead's brother and son of Clifton Mothershead; the other Willis was John's cousin who was the son of Whitaker Mothershead. The two Willis's are approximately five years apart in age. So far I've not been able to determine which Willis was arrested for the bridge burning.

Also, John and Willis' older brother, Thomas Emmett Mothershead was called to testify on behalf of another man arrested for this incident at Iron Railroad Bridge. I have no idea why William Hearst was put on trial (and condemned to death) for this skirmish while others, including John and Willis were not. -jm

The Testimony of Thomas Mothershead
at the Trial of William Hurst

Note: Thomas Emmett Mothershead was the last witness to appear before the commission. The end of the trial was postponed so Thomas could arrive in Saint Louis from his home near Hillsboro. Source: same as for first item above

-begin transcription-
SAINT Louis, Mo., January 13, 1862—10 a. m. The commission met pursuant to adjournment, all the members present. The accused, William Hearst, also present. Time proceedings of January 10 and 11 were read over to the commission by the judge-advocate.

THOMAS E. MOTHERSHEAD, a witness for the defense, was duly sworn.
Question. State your name, residence, and occupation.
Answer. Thomas E. Mothershead; live within eight miles of Hillsborough, western part of Jefferson County, Mo.; a farmer.
Question. Do you know me, and how long have you known me?
Answer. We were boys raised together, and I am thirty-two years old. We lived within one and a half miles of each other until we were married.
Question. Have you any knowledge of my enlistment as a soldier in the army of Jeff. Thompson, and if so, when and where did time enlistment occur?
Answer. I have some knowledge of it. I was in Bloomfield, Stoddard County, Mo., and went down to the camp of Colonel Lowe’s regiment, in Jeff. Thompson's army, and there I saw William Hearst and several others whom I knew, and Hearst told me that he was going to enlist and asked me to go up with him. We went up together to the headquarters of Colonel Lowe, and there Colonel Lowe swore him in as a private soldier in my presence. I saw him after that several times in the company to which he belonged.
Question. State the reputation as a citizen I have hitherto enjoyed, and also any knowledge you may have of the influences brought to bear upon me to induce me to go into the rebellion.
Answer. He was a citizen of Jefferson County, a farmer, peaceable as any man you could pick out down there; reputation as good and honest as any man in the country. I have seen, William Hearst there frequently in county; and there were some men in the home guards at Dc Soto who did not like Hearst, and would report that he (Hearst) had been drilling there for the purpose ot whipping the home guard, and through their influence and action he became satisfied that his life was in danger if he stayed there. He thought so and so expressed himself to me. He told me that was the cause of his going down to the army, and he said after he got down there that if he thought the men of the home guard would not pester or niolest him he would go back home and stay there, and would have nothing to do with Jeff. Thompson’s army. We had frequent conversations on the subject before he left and he always expressed these sentiments. He was a man that would rather do anything else than leave home; always talked in that way—that is, that he would not leave home unless afeared of persecution by some men of the home guard. One of these men was a cousin of Hearst’s, and had heen hired by him as a farm hand, and he would not work unless William Hearst was with him, and William discharged him, and he consequently became an enemy.
Question. Were you in Jefferson County at the time the bridge over Big River was burned?
Answer. No, sir; I was not.
Question. Have you any knowledge of the fight at Big River bridge or at Blackwell Station on or about October 16, 1861, and whether the burning of said bridge by Jeff. Thompson and his men was necessary to effect their escape or not?
Answer. I have no knowledge of the fight or of the burning of the bridge except from hearsay.

Question. Do you know the names of the officers in command or the name of the regiment in which the accused enlisted at Bloomfield?
Answer. I know some of them. The captain’s name was White, and the first lieutenant’s name was Whittaker Martin. It was a cavalry company attached to Colonel Lowe’s regiment, under Jeff. Thompson.
[my note: Whittaker Martin's parents were Willis Martin and Lucy Mothershead, of Jefferson County -jm]
Question. What was the date of the enlistment of the accused?
Answer. I think it was between the middle and the last of September, 1861.
Question. You say that the accused, William Hearst, had been reported by some men of the home guard at De Soto as drilling men to whip the home guard; do you know whether this accusation was tine or false?
Answer. It was false to my personal knowledge. I know he never did; he could not do it.

There being no further questions to propose to the witness the evidence he had given was read to him by the judge-advocate and the witness dismissed.

The examination by the defense was here closed. The accused then presented his written defense, appended to these proceedings and marked A, which was read to the commission by the judge-advocate. The Commission was then cleared for deliberation, and having maturely weighed and considered the evidence adduced find the accused, William Hearst, of Jefferson County, Mo. as follows:
Of the specification, guilty.
Of the charge, guilty.
And the commission does therefore sentence the said William Hearst, of Jefferson Co., Mo., to be shot to death.

S.D. Sturgis
Brigadier-General, U.S. Army.
Rich'd D. Cutts,
Colonel, U.S. Army, and Judge-Advocate
-end transcription-

[Note: Fortunately for William Hearst, the sentence was appealed and overturned. The report of the trial ends with this: "The finding and sentence are approved; but in consideration of the recommendation of the members of the commission, on account of the general ignorance and stupidity of the prisoner the sentence is mitigated to confinement in the military prison during the war.


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This site updated 08 Jul 2007

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