Looting by Federal soldiers in Missouri during the Civil War, while certainly not a rarity, was less common than looting by Confederate-allied guerrillas. The simple explanation, and perhaps the main explanation, for this is that the soldiers had more official means of sustaining themselves. The guerrillas were sometimes forced to resort to plunder simply to survive in what was essentially enemy territory. The guerrillas have often been accused of stealing from Southern citizens almost as much as they did from Union sympathizers, but such an assertion needs to be taken with a grain of skepticism.
In fact, while the total amount of plundering by Federals was much less than the amount done by guerrillas, the proportion of Union citizens who suffered from plundering by U.S. soldiers was probably at least as great as the proportion of Southern citizens who suffered from guerrilla raids. In other words, the Federal soldiers were just as indiscriminate as their Confederate counterparts.
A case in point is the killing of Gideon Howell’s hogs. Howell was a lawyer/farmer who lived just outside Centerville, seat of Reynolds County. Howell had a large number of hogs but allowed them to range free, as many farmers did at the time. Sometimes the pigs would even come into Centerville.
Throughout the spring and summer of 1863, Federal soldiers stationed at Centerville killed and ate a large number of Howell’s hogs, but it was not until the fall of that year, presumably when the farmer started trying to round up his animals, that he raised a howl about the unauthorized butchering. He filed a claim with Union authorities, and they issued him a note on December 1, 1863, for $95 for thirty-eight head of hogs at $2.50 apiece. The note specified that a number of “good hogs” killed by Brigadier General John Davidson’s army the previous winter and a number of “small hogs such as shoats” that were killed by soldiers stationed at Centerville during the past summer were not included in the payment.
Apparently dissatisfied with the settlement, Howell pled his case with Union authorities at Pilot Knob, pressing for additional payment. In mid-December, several citizens wrote letters to Pilot Knob on his behalf, affirming that a number of Howell’s hogs for which he had not been paid were killed and eaten by Federal soldiers the previous summer at Centerville.
When he got no satisfaction, Howell wrote directly to Brigadier General Clinton B. Fisk, commanding the District of Southeast Missouri. In his letter dated January 20, 1864, Howell told Fisk that he was “an unflinching Union man from the commencement of this rebellion” who had suffered at the hands of the rebels and Federal soldiers alike and that he had previously given foodstuff to Federal soldiers without the expectation of payment. However, he said he was a poor man who needed payment for his hogs and he hoped General Fisk could do something for him. Enclosed with his letter were the letters that the citizens of Centerville had written to Pilot Knob on his behalf and an accounting of the hogs for which he had not been paid (although the statement of account does not survive).
On January 24, General Fisk referred the case back to Colonel R.G. Woodson, commanding the post at Pilot Knob, with instructions to conduct a thorough investigation into the case and report back to Fisk. Four days later, Woodson, in turn, referred the case to Captain Angus Bartlett, commanding officer at Centerville. Woodson told Bartlett to try to determine the exact number of hogs killed by Federal troops, when the hogs were killed, what the value of the hogs was, whether they were killed on orders from a commanding officer or by soldiers acting on their own, and, if the latter, who the guilty parties were.
On February 14, Bartlett reported back to Woodson that he could learn nothing definite about Howell’s hogs. Certain citizens of Centerville said that the hogs were, indeed, killed by Federal soldiers, but they did not know to whose command the soldiers belonged. Bartlett was also unable to determine the value of the hogs.
Woodson wrote to Fisk on February 17 that information on the subject of Howell’s hogs was “so exceedingly indefinite that I do not see what remedy he can have, unless he might have a case before a commission on war claims.”
Apparently, Howell was never paid for the pigs in question and Woodson’s letter marks the end of Howell’s petition, as no later documents seem to survive.