John W. Coshow
My name is John W. Coshow, and I have a story to tell. I spent almost all of my life in this area except for my time in the Confederate army and for a few years after the war. I joined up with the Confederates in 1864 when I was just seventeen. In October of 1864 I left St. Charles County with about 150 other recruits to join General Sterling Price's army. We had to avoid Federal cavalry and some of our group were killed by Union soldiers, but we finally joined the Price's army in Arkansas.
A few months after I joined up, the war was over. At least it was over for most Confederate soldiers. On June 1, 1865, our fearless leader General Jo Shelby announced to his assembled command that he would not surrender to Federal authorities but would instead go to Mexico. He instructed any of us soldiers who would follow him to Mexico to step forward three paces; I took those three paces along with about one hundred fifty men, including General Price. As we crossed Texas, we were joined by soldiers from other units. Our group, now numbering several hundred, crossed the Rio Grande into Mexico at the end of June.
I have often read in newspapers of writers wondering why General Shelby went to Mexico instead of going surrendering as most of our command did. General Price thought it a good idea to go to Mexico and get a grant of land, start a colony and have our families come to us, not knowing if we would be allowed to return to Missouri and live again. Now that is the reason they went to Mexico, and that is the reason that some 300 or more of us went with them.
Mexico didn't work out for us, though. It didn't make any sense to get involved in the civil war that was going on between the Imperials and the Mexicans, and we couldn't get land grants because the country was in such chaos, so pretty soon we left. General Price advised us to make our way back to the United States and surrender to the government. So I went back to Texas and surrendered.
My problem was I couldn't go back to Missouri. After the war, the Missouri legislature, controlled by the Radical Party, rewrote the state constitution, which included a loyalty oath required of any former Confederate who wished to have full citizenship in Missouri. The oath required me to swear I had not committed any of nearly ninety different acts of disloyalty, including even expressing support for the Confederacy. I could not truthfully take that oath.
So what I did was go to Montana Territory. Many old Confederates ended up there because of an amnesty offer by a Union General named Pleasonton. He had allowed captured Confederate soldiers to go there, as long as they promised never to return to right again. Many, many Confederates accepted the amnesty and went to Montana Territor. In fact, the territorial capital was named Virginia City in 1863 because of this southern element in Montana.
I knew about that amnesty as I worked my way north after leaving Mexico. In fact, my cousin, Lewis Howell, had moved with his family to Montana Territory in 1865. So I decided to go west, knowing I would find a likeminded community of southern sympathizers in Montana Territory. The Gallatin Valley is situated about eighty miles east of the gold fields of Virginia City, and the trail to the gold went through Gallatin County, where may Confederates farmed the rich soil. This is what happened to me. By 1870 I owned land and had married Alice Ferguson, a fifteen year old from Kentucky, in Gallatin County. The next year our first child was born in there.
By 1870 Missouri voters themselves had repealed the loyalty oath in 1870, so I returned to Missouri with my family in 1872 or so. We owned a farm in Dardenne Township. When my wife and I died in the mid-1920's, we were buried here in the Thomas Howell Cemetery.