Making good on his plans from the day before, the “Missouri Swamp Fox” Jeff Thompson took the town of Commerce (while all the local men were hiding out on the Illinois side of the river). Placing a single gun on the high ground, he fired a few shots at some steamboat traffic, inducing a panic that stopped riverboat traffic temporarily. As before, he was anxious for regular Confederate troops to come up from Sikeston to reinforce him before the Union found out how few men he actually had.
HEADQUARTERS FIRST MILITARY DISTRICT, MO. S. G.,
Camp Benton, Mo., August 19, 1861.
Brigadier General GIDEON J. PILLOW,
Commanding Army of Liberation, New Madrid, Mo.:
DEAR GENERAL: I would report to you that last evening, at 7 o’clock, I left his place with two companies of Major Miller’s dragons, one platoon of Jeffries’ dragons (Missourians), and one 6-pounder, McDowell’s battery, and went in the direction of Commerce. When we arrived within 1 miles of the place we wee informed that the enemy, 700 strong, with one gunboat and one steamboat, were still at the place. To draw the fire of the guard, and startle the men, ordered the squadron and gun to go in a trot, do them what damage they could, and, if necessary, retreat. The order was executed in gallant style, but, as usual, the enemy had flown before our arrival. The whole force was then masked, and, in perfect order and quiet, remained waiting for the return of the male citizens of the place, who have been in the habit of gong to Illinois to sleep and returning in the morning.
About sunrise a boat, containing six men, was seen crossing above the town, directly upon an ambushed picket of mine. I ordered a squad of Mississippi up to strengthen my picket and capture them, but their spirited horses and anxious riders made too much haste, and alarmed the party int he boat before they landed, and they pulled hurriedly back to the Illinois shore, when they struck on a dry sand bar, about three-fourths of the way across the river. They were joined by four more men, and it was discovered that all were armed. They being out of reach of our small guns, and, as we had been discovered by the people on the Illinois shore, who would warn all steamboats not to come within our reach, I let my artillerist try a round shot at them, which, having fallen short, or rather having been aimed too low, the enemy taunted us, and I gave them three more rounds.
The pickets were by this time firing at them, and they scampered away, firing their guns at us, but not taking time to reload. We then displayed our force on the bank of the river and retired. I had the warehouse examined, and procured some bacon, flour, corn, whisky, &c., and also some blankets from a warehouse, which have all been properly turned over to the quartermaster.
The men all behaved with exceedingly good propriety, and no house was opened, except by order of the officers, and no private residence was opened or examined, to my knowledge. I left word with the women to tell the men, on their return home, that they might return home and attend to their present business without molestation; and, as they had prepared and expected thee town to be burned, I hope they will be agreeably disappointed. I should have held the place, if possible, but as my pickets will cut off communication, the enemy will not occupy it, except in large force, by which time your troops will be up, and we will run him again. I will acknowledge that I did wrong to accompany the expedition (in some respects, dignity, &c.), but I had been directing so many little forays, without going into any myself, that I was fearful I might not be appreciating the fun, and the men might get tired of it; and also I wished to make the enemy believe my whole command was in reserve, if necessary, and thus divert his attention from other points.
Major Miller stood the fatigue very well, and his officers and men are gallant gentlemen and brave soldiers. I will now try to remain perfectly quiet until re-enforced and ordered.
Yours, most respectfully,
M. JEFF. THOMPSON,
CAMP BENTON, MO., August 19, 1861-6 p. m.
Commanding Brigade, Camp Sikeston, Mo.:
DEAR COLONEL: Yours, containing the welcome accounts of your advance, is at hand. Unless you really can divert, and really take Bird’s Point, which I believe can be done, please hurry on up the this point, at the enemy may find out my weakness while my men are scattered, and come out to give me a battle. I took Commerce last night, and have stopped the navigation of the Missouri, by firing three strapped shots and one canister, from and old iron 6-pounder, over into Illinois. I left Commerce at 10 o’clock to-day, but no boats have passed since, and when you come up we will close navigation effectually. I will try to make the necessary preparations for you in the way of forage, &c. Hoping to see you shortly, I will conclude by assuming you again of a hearty welcome.
M. JEFF. THOMPSON,