Thomas Roe Freeman (1829–1893)
Thomas Roe Freeman was born on February 22, 1829, in Scott County, Missouri, to James R. Freeman and Rebecca Roberts Freeman.
Freeman was a blacksmith, lawyer, and livestock trader in Dent and Crawford counties in Missouri before the Civil War, but he relocated to Phelps County in Missouri prior to hostilities, serving on the administrative county court.
He married Mary C. Lamb in 1848; she died in 1861. He married Olive Fuller Spangler in 1871, and they had a son.
Freeman enlisted as a lieutenant in Wingo’s Dent County Cavalry of the Missouri State Guard in 1861 and was later elected colonel of the Sixth Infantry Regiment in the Seventh Division of the Missouri State Guard. He was captured at Crane Creek, Missouri, on February 14, 1862—a battle that was part of the Pea Ridge Campaign—and sent to the Union prisoner-of-war camp at Alton, Illinois, where he remained until being exchanged on September 23, 1862.
Returning to the Ozarks, Freeman served as major of the Twelfth Missouri Cavalry Battalion, and he and his men fought throughout southern Missouri and northern Arkansas.
Freeman moved his band to operate near Batesville (Independence County) in late 1863, and they were involved in several skirmishes with Federal troops during the Union’s December 16–31, 1863, scout into Carroll, Marion, and Searcy counties. He reorganized the Twelfth Battalion into Freeman’s Cavalry Regiment on January 26, 1864, and served as colonel, leading between 300 and 800 men at various times as an independent command.
Freeman and his men fought frequently against Union soldiers in north-central Arkansas, leading the Federal commander at Batesville to label them as “pestiferous hybrids who infest the swamps and mountains of the district.” Following the skirmishes at Lunenburg, Sylamore, and Morgan’s Mill in early 1864, Union troops mounted an expedition targeting Freeman’s command between February 12 and 20, 1864, in which several of the Confederates were killed or captured.
Freeman’s regiment was one of several Confederate bands that attacked a Union expedition in the Action at Fitzhugh’s Woods in Woodruff County on April 1, 1864; the attackers suffered significant casualties, including Freeman, who was wounded. The regiment also participated in the unsuccessful attack on Jacksonport (Jackson County) nineteen days later.
Freeman was ordered to cooperate with Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby when he moved into northeastern Arkansas in the spring of 1864 following the Camden Expedition. Shelby sought not just to disrupt Union operations in the region, but also to force the numerous bands of deserters, guerrillas, and outright thieves infesting the area to either join the Union or Confederate armies or face death. Freeman himself ordered that anyone “committing depredations upon the citizens…shall suffer death or such other punishment as may be inflicted by a court-martial.”
When Major General Sterling Price gathered Confederate troops at Pocahontas (Randolph County) in mid-September 1864 to begin his disastrous raid into Missouri, he gave Freeman command of a brigade that included his regiment, another regiment, and a battalion of cavalry. Fighting in several engagements, Freeman’s regiment lost thirteen dead, twenty wounded, twenty-seven prisoners of war, and seventy-five missing before being furloughed at Maysville (Benton County) during the retreat. They were sent to northeastern Arkansas to gather deserters and stragglers, and they remained there for the rest of the war. Freeman was paroled at Jacksonport on June 5, 1865.
Following the war, Freeman practiced law in Jacksonport; Rolla, Missouri; and Shannon and Newton counties in Missouri, serving as a prosecuting attorney in the latter. He died on February 28, 1893, and is buried in the Independent Order of Odd Fellows cemetery in Neosho, Missouri.
For additional information:
Allardice, Bruce S. Confederate Colonels: A Biographical Register. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008.
“BG Thomas Roe Freeman.” Find a Grave. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/21717528/thomas-roe-freeman (accessed June 3, 2023).
Blevins, Brooks. A History of the Ozarks, Vol. 2: The Conflicted Ozarks. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019.
McGhee, James E. Guide to Missouri Confederate Units, 1861–1865.Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2008.
Schnetzer, Wayne. More Forgotten Men: Missouri State Guard. Independence, MO: Two Trails Publishing, 2003.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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