LT James W.Graves - A Story of Courage and Honor

Military Honor after the Battle of Glasgow by J. Y. Miller

When COL Chester Harding jr, commander of the Federal forces in the Battle of Glasgow, realized that he was greatly outnumbered he surrendered to the Confederate commander, General John B. Clark.

The next day, COL Harding and 27 other Union officers were granted parole and began to move toward Federal lines at Boonville. They were escorted by members of Company H, 3rd Missouri Mounted Infantry, under the command of LT James W. Graves.

A good soldier, LT Graves had men riding on point and in flank security. One of these men reported to Graves that a group of 100 men were waiting at a fork of the road about a half-mile ahead. Even though they wore Federal uniforms, close observation revealed that these men were "Bloody Bill" Anderson’s men. Their obvious intention was to seize the Union officers and then to murder and rob them.

Graves assembled the officers and his men. He asked his men if they would stand with him in the fight to come. Their reply was; "We are with you to the death!"

Graves then told the Union officers of the situation and offered them the option of fleeing on their own. He offered them some extra weapons that he had with him. The Union officers elected to stay with Graves. " not as prisoners, but as American soldiers with the Confederates as comrades in arms."

Four of Anderson’s men then rode up and identified themselves as Anderson’s men, saying that they " wanted those Union officers". They claimed to have 300 men. Graves and the Union officers together consisted of fewer than 80.

Graves replied; "Tell Bill Anderson that his damnable proposal is too infamous for me to consider for an instant. We are Confederate soldiers, and he and his men are murderers and thieves. Tell him if he does not get away from my line of march, and clear out with his gang of cutthroats in five minutes, I will open fire upon him. You deserve to be hanged for bringing such a proposition". Anderson’s four messengers rode away.

Seeing that the Federal Officers had positioned themselves on the left flank of the skirmish line that his men had formed, Graves instructed them to move to the center. He said; " I want to be able to protect both your flanks". One of the officers produced his company flag, which he had hidden in his uniform, and asked permission to display it next to the Stars and Bars. Graves consented.

This mixed force waited through the night, prepared to fight against overwhelming odds. However, Anderson did not attack. The next morning, the group met a Federal patrol and the transfer was accomplished. Union General W.S. Rosecrans later met Graves at Lexington and personally thanked him for his honor, courage, and civility.

After the war, some of the Union officers located Graves who was living with his family in Texas. They sent for him to come to St. Louis, where they presented him with "a massive gold medal which featured two clasped hands and a Union flag."

COL Harding filed a report on the battle in which he said; "I desire particularly to acknowledge the assiduous care which Lieutenant Graves of the Third (rebel) Missouri Volunteers, commanding our escort, bestowed upon us and the good behaviour of his men. Had they been our own troops we could not have been better treated".

Any war provides opportunity for the worst behavior of men. It also provides an opportunity for the best. James Graves rose to the occasion and distinguished himself with honor.

Reference: "My Brother’s Keeper"; Stackpole Books Copyright 2002 by Daniel N. Rolph.

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