soldiers

Sundown Trail salutes our fallen veterans on this Memorial Day

The Mystery of the Lone Civil War Grave

 

In April of 1973, I was driving down a dirt road near Grassy, Missouri, headed back to Highway 34 in Bollinger County.  Black River Electric Cooperative, my employer, had a branch office in nearby Marble Hill.  The day was coming to an end and I was anxious to check in with that office and head back home.  I can’t remember exactly what I was doing there.  I am sure it was in response to a cooperative member’s request for help with an electrical problem or a billing complaint.

A few hundred yards short of the highway, I glanced over at a scrub timber area to my left.  A lone white stone marker among the trees caught my attention.  It was strange and almost spooky. I stopped, grabbed my ever-present camera and walked out into the woods.  The inscription was brief and to the point with no dates.  It read: “W. Wood Union Soldier Died for his Country.”

Wood Gravestone Original

Photo taken in 1973.

 

Later as I worked in the area I quizzed locals about the grave.  No one seemed to know much about it.  The story that I eventually heard was that a group of soldiers escorting a wagon with a wounded soldier laying on a bed of straw approached a nearby farm and requested some fresh milk for the wounded man.  The farmer caught up a milk cow and extracted some milk for the soldier.  He raised up to a sitting position to drink the milk and died a short time later.  They buried his body just off the road.  For decades only a large rock marked his grave.

The grave was still unmarked as a nearby farm family left on a trip to town.  As they passed by when they returned that evening they noticed a new white marker was there.  Who placed it there?  That remains a mystery to this day.

Wood Gravestone 2

Photo taken at later time shows someone had decorated grave.


 

W. Wood was one of nearly six hundred thousand young men that lost their lives in a war with ourselves.  Let us solemnly remember the sacrifices of both Union and Confederate forces this Memorial Day.

Wood gravestone
 
 

Sundown Trail extends our thanks to Jeanie Layton of the Bollinger County Library at Marble Hill, for additional information.

 

 

 

Interesting facts about the area:

  1. The dirt road near the grave marker is part of the old Military Road that extended from Jackson, Missouri to Greenville, Missouri.  The original Greenville is now covered by the upper reaches of Wappapello Lake.  Greenville was relocated to just east of 67 highway near the lake.
  2. Originally the towns of Marble Hill and Lutesville were separated by a small creek, named Crooked Creek.  Marble Hill was the county seat.  The two towns existed side by side for over a century.  Finally in 1985 they were incorporated together under one name, Marble Hill.
  3. The timber industry has always been important to the area.  In modern times Lutesville and neighboring Glen Allen were the beginning of a burgeoning shipping pallet industry.
  4. The Civil War was particularly savage in Southeast Missouri.  Probably it was longer and even more ruthless for both sides than the much publicized Western Border area of Missouri.

 
 

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military, Missouri, soldiers | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

Five Interesting Things About The Battle of Beecher’s Island

Recently I wrote a blog about The Battle of Beecher’s Island.  There were some interesting stories about this battle that I did not include.  I’ve listed them here.

 

1) The man the battle was named after had several other family members who were in the public light.

Lieutenant Beecher was the nephew of Abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher. He was also the nephew of Harriet Beecher Stowe, known for writing Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Lt. Beecher’s father was Reverend Charles Beecher, a well-known evangelist of his time. Only a short time before the death of the Lieutenant, the family had lost his two younger sisters in a drowning accident. Beecher’s last words before he expired were of concern for his mother.

 

2) The indian chief refused to lead his men because he was afraid he would die.  After he was talked into leading the second charge, he died.  Also he was not a chief.

Roman Nose had initially refused to join the fight at Beecher’s Island because the night before he had unwittingly violated a taboo.  As a guest at a Sioux Chief’s lodge, he had been served a piece of meat taken from the fire by an iron fork.  He believed that the iron would draw bullets.  His men talked him into leading the second charge, where he was shot and killed.

Contrary to many reports, Roman Nose was not a chief. He was a warrior with the reputation of being a fearless battle leader. The Cheyenne had camped outside of Ft. Laramie and Roman Nose observed the soldiers as they drilled. Roman Nose copied many of their tactics. He was a large impressive individual, 6 foot 3 inches tall. His given name was Sautie (the bat). The soldiers nicknamed him “Roman Nose” because of his large hook nose. He took it as a compliment and adopted the name in English and in Cheyenne (Woqini).

 

3) One solider fought half the battle with an arrowhead in his skull.  

Early in the battle, Scout Frank Harrington was struck in the forehead by an arrow. He asked another scout to pull the arrow from his head. The arrow shaft came loose from the arrowhead. They could not dislodge the arrowhead. Harrington fought on with the flint arrow point sticking from his forehead. In the heat of the battle an Indian musket ball struck the arrowhead and dislodged it. Harrington survived and his wound eventually healed.

 

4) A rattlesnake almost ended a rescue attempt, but was stopped with chewing tobacco.

Forsyth knew they were in a bad spot. He selected Jack Stilwell and an older frontiers man, Pierre Trudeau, to sneak through the Indian lines under the cover of darkness and go to Ft. Wallace for help. The next day they hid in a buffalo wallow to await darkness again. A group of Indians rode near. The two Scouts flattened against the wall of the wallow and waited. The Indians stopped nearby. A large rattlesnake slithered through the grass and dropped into the wallow. It crawled towards the Scouts. Stilwell silently spit a big wad of tobacco juice right onto the snake’s head. The snake made a hasty retreat. Finally the unsuspecting Indians moved on.

 

5) The youngest fighter was only 16.  

Jack Stilwell was 19, but the youngest Scout was a 16-year-old Jewish boy from New York City. He asked to join the Scouts and was turned down at first, but Forsyth relented and let him join them. His name was Sigmund Schlesinger. Forsyth wrote later that he preformed with great bravery. Schlesinger went home to New York City and told the story of The Battle of Beecher’s Island many times.

 

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military, Missouri, soldiers, times gone by | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

The Battle of Beecher’s Island

A Place Called Beecher’s Island

Church was over and the group of friends were looking for something to do that Sunday afternoon.  They were teenagers.  Beecher’s Island, Colorado, made a nice outing.  Just across the Kansas/Colorado state line, it was about twenty-five miles from St. Francis, Kansas, their hometown.  They loaded up the old Dodge touring car and a Model T Ford.  For a group of teenagers in the late 1920’s, it was an enjoyable ride across the Kansas/Colorado prairie.  They still wore their Sunday-go-to-church clothes.

The group’s destination was a small park on the Arikaree branch of the Republican River.  It was named Beecher’s Island in honor of Lieutenant Beecher, the army officer that lost his life there.  This area is the site of a battle between Frontier Scouts and a large Indian force.  Like most streams in that dry country, the Arikaree is a wide, shallow stream, with sandy banks and bottom.  It was subject to flooding in the winter and spring months, drying down to a mere trickle between a few pools of water in the summer and fall.

Thirty years after the 1868 battle, some Scouts returned to mark the site and start an annual September reunion of the survivors.  The survivors have been gone for many years, but the annual reunion is still held in September each year.  The September 24, 1903 issue of the St. Francis newspaper reported that four of the surviving Scouts attended the annual reunion.  Some of the descendants of the Scouts have attended in modern times.

I recall my family attending the get-togethers when I was a child.  I think I remember attending church services in an old round-topped assembly hall building.  The grounds form a park belonging to the Beecher’s Island Association.  An Obelisk with the names of the Scouts on it commemorates the battle.

Obelisk

The bottom of the Obelisk on the grounds. The Scouts are named on the other sides.

 

After many floods, only a small vestige of the original island remained as my mother and her teenage friends walked along the sandy shore that day.  She worried about scuffing and damage to her dress-up shoes.  Her high heels sank into the sand and one struck something.  She stopped to take the shoes off.  A friend suggested that she might want to check out what the heel had touched.  They dug in the heel print and retrieved a musket ball.

Since the Army Scouts were shooting .52 cal. Spencer rifles and .44 cal. Colt revolvers, the much larger caliber lead ball would have came from an Indian musket.  The ball had a distinct crease in it.  It appeared to have struck a saddle ring or a belt buckle.

Through the years my mother kept the lead ball in a small box, with arrowheads she had found in a former buffalo wallow on our Cheyenne County, Kansas farm.  She stored the box in a drawer of her sewing machine cabinet.  The story of the musket ball intrigued me through the years.  It nourished my interest in Beecher’s Island and the western frontier.

Sisters

Twin sisters in the late 1920’s. My mother is on the right.
She was struck down by cancer in mid-life. Her fraternal twin lived into her 80’s.

 

The Battle of Beecher’s Island

During the Civil War, westward expansion slowed.  The Indian Tribes of the plains took advantage of the lull and formed alliances with former enemy tribes.  Together they vowed to stop the migration of the whites.  The Indians attacked the new settlers and railroad crews with a savage vengeance not seen before the Civil War.

The regular Army had difficulty in mobilizing and pursuing the raiding Indians.  A large force of soldiers and the required support force just couldn’t move fast enough to catch the raiders.  General Sheridan authorized the formation of a special strike force.  A well-armed group of 50 civilian frontiersmen under the command of regular army officers was formed.  The Scouts were issued Spencer seven shot repeating rifles, Colt six shot revolvers, blankets, horse gear, and other supplies.

Major George A. Forsyth of General Sheridan’s staff was placed in charge.  Forsyth had been on Sheridan’s staff since the last year of the Civil War.  In fact, Major George Forsyth made the famous ride to Winchester with Sheridan.  Forsyth had been breveted a colonel for bravery during the Civil War, giving him the right to the title but not the pay.

Second in command was Lieutenant Fred H. Beecher.  Beecher also had a Civil War background, having suffered a leg wound at Gettysburg that left him with a limp.  The surgeon assigned to the Scout group was Dr. J. H. Mooers, a former major and surgeon in the Union army.  Many of the civilian Scouts had been in the Union or Confederate service.  Scout William H. H. McCall had been a brevet brigadier general in the Union army.  With the exception of one, all the Scouts had military or frontier experience.

Forsyth picked up 30 Scouts at Ft. Harker and proceeded to Ft. Hays.  At Ft. Hays he signed on 20 more men to finish his allotment of 50 Scouts.  Among the Scouts was a former army Scout and interpreter named Sharpe Grover.  Grover had married a Sioux woman and lived for a time with the Indians.  He was still recuperating from a wound in his back that he had received a month earlier in a fight with hostile Indians.

The Scouts traveled west and north to Beaver Creek and found much old sign of a large group of Indians.  Since the sign was old, they returned to Ft. Wallace and Sheridan City, the temporary end of the Kansas Pacific Railroad, then under construction.  They arrived at Ft. Wallace on the evening of September 5th and found that a wagon train had been attacked.  Two teamsters had been killed.  The surviving teamsters estimated the raiding party to be about 20 strong.

Forsyth drew rations and struck out at daylight on September 6th, to track the Indians.  The Indian raiders broke up into smaller groups to foil attempts to follow them.  Grover and Forsyth suspected the move, picked a track, and kept following.  They would lose the track and circle around the area until they found it again. The process took several days.  They crossed the South Fork of the Republican in the proximity of the modern day Kansas/Colorado state line.  On the north side of the river they found signs of much larger numbers.  In fact, they knew they had found a large village on the move.

On September 16, they stopped early to camp in a large open valley on the south side of the Arikaree River, a tributary of the Republican River.  The valley had good grass for the horses and pack mules, and the stream had fresh water..  There was a small island in the stream near the camp.  Forsyth later described the island as about sixty yards long and thirty yards wide.  It was covered by grass and brush.  A lone small cottonwood tree was growing at the upstream end.  The island was about three to four feet higher than the stream bed.

Air Photo of Beecher's Island

I took this picture on a flyover of Beecher’s Island area heading west about 20 years ago. The island would have been just past the left end of the modern day bridge. On the right is the Association grounds. At the time of the battle there were no trees excepting the lone cottonwood on the island. Floods have changed that and obliterated the island.

 

The Scouts had not seen an Indian, but suspected they were being watched.  They were indeed being watched.  A short distance upstream, around a bend the Indians had an ambush set up.

By stopping early the Scouts had unwittingly saved themselves.  The frustrated Indians went back to their camp and considered their next move.  The large Indian force, later estimated from 500 to 1,000 strong, was made up of North and Southern Cheyenne, Sioux, and Arapahoe.  While the chiefs debated the next move, a group of young braves anxious to get at the hated whites and demonstrate their warrior skills, made their own plans.

A small group of mounted Indians struck just at daylight, rattling dry hides and yelling in an attempt to stampede the horses.  However, thanks to their experience and military know-how, the Scouts had their mounts well secured and many of the Scouts were up and ready for trouble.  Only six horses were lost.

Forsyth ordered the men to secure their mounts, stand their ground and return fire.  After a short skirmish the Indians retreated.  It was soon evident that a larger force was assembling around the battleground.  Indians came into view, upstream, across the river and on the grassy plain in front.  Only the downriver valley, the way the Scouts came in the night before, was left open as the Indians closed in.  Forsyth, Grover, and McCall recognized it for what it was.  A trap!  Forsyth ordered the Scouts to retreat to the Island, tie their horses and start digging rifle pits.

The Indians were both surprised and enraged at the maneuver.  It took them time to regroup and organize their attack.  During this time the Scouts distributed ammunition and continued digging rifle pits in the sand.  Two Scouts were killed and several were wounded by Indian sharpshooters.  Forsyth was the first to be wounded, taking a bullet in his right thigh as he directed the fortifications.  He would receive two more wounds later on.  The Scouts withering rifle fire stopped the first charge.  The Indians regrouped and changed their tactics.

The Indians were not prepared to attack a dug-in enemy with seven shot repeating rifles.  According to George Bent, the educated son of fur trader William Bent and his wife Owl Woman, a Southern Cheyenne and daughter of a Cheyenne Medicine Man, the Indians were armed with bows and arrows, lances, assorted muskets, and rifles picked up off other battlefields.

 

*Side note on George Bent
George and his brother Charles were in a Military Academy in St. Louis when the Civil War started.  George enlisted in the Confederate Army at age 17 and fought at Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge and other battles before his capture.  He was spotted in the prisoner camp in St. Louis.  Members of the Bent family and his father’s political friends obtained his release.  He went to Westport, joined a wagon train and returned home to Bent’s Fort.  He said he had not been home in 10 years.  Once there, George Bent embraced his mother’s Indian heritage and lived the rest of his life with the Cheyenne.

There were two renegade white men present with the Indians at Beecher’s Island.  Many would later claim that George was also in the Beecher’s Island fight.  He was in other fights, but he never admitted to being at Beecher’s Island.  However, he was able to give a good description of the battle from the Indians’ viewpoint.  In my opinion, Forsyth and Bent give the most reliable accounts of the battle.  Other writers of the period seem to use the bravado dime novel style that was common at that time.

 

The Indians regrouped and prepared for a full-fledged charge to overrun the island.  Roman Nose, a Cheyenne Dog Soldier War Chief, was persuaded to lead the charge.  He had refused to join the fight previously because the night before he had unwittingly violated a taboo.  As a guest at a Sioux Chief’s lodge, he had been served a piece of meat taken from the fire by an iron fork.  He believed that the iron would draw bullets.

The Indians posted rifles on the banks to keep the Scouts down in their rifle pits.  A mounted force of several hundred Indians led by Roman Nose and another chief approached in a headlong charge from the downriver side of the island.  They again intended to run full tilt over the Scouts.  The entrenched riflemen calmly shot down line after line of charging Indians.  At the last second the charge broke and skirted around both sides of the Island.  Roman Nose and his horse were both downed at this time.  The other Indian leader had been killed early in the charge.  Nineteen-year-old Jack Stillwell was credited with killing Roman Nose.

The Indians regrouped and charged again with large losses.  By this time, Lieutenant Beecher had been killed and five more Scouts were dead with Dr. Mooers mortally wounded.  Fourteen other Scouts were also wounded.  All of the horses had been killed by the Indians.  The Scouts were out of rations and later resorted to eating horse meat and one coyote that wandered too close.

Forsyth prepared to send Scouts Stillwell and Trudeau out on foot to Fort Wallace for help.  The 110 mile journey took them four days and nights.  On September 19, it appeared that the Indians were withdrawing.  Forsyth sent two more men out after dark with a dispatch to Ft. Wallace.  These Scouts, Donovan and Pliley, struck south and after two days intersected the Ft. Wallace to Denver road.  They soon made contact along the road with Col. Carpenter of the Tenth Calvary and his troop of “Buffalo Soldiers” as the African American troops were called by the Indians.  The Colonel sent a messenger on to Ft. Wallace and proceeded at once to assist the Scouts.

The Scouts spent a total of nine days on the island.  Of 51 Scouts, 5 were killed and 15 wounded.  The island was named in honor of the fallen Lt. Beecher.  It was later determined 75 Indians were killed and hundreds wounded.  Years later a Sioux Indian, talking to Forsyth, confirmed the number killed at 75.  The Indian then opened his shirt and displayed the scars of his own wounds from the Beecher’s Island battle.

Beecher’s Island.  My mother visited it before me, and I have visited there several times as well along the Sundown Trail.

West

Looking west from the location of the island. The bluff in the background is mentioned by Forsyth as the one where the squaws and children gathered to cheer the warriors on.

 

 

*Technical note:  The arms of the Scouts have been called rifles and the next writer will call them carbines.  Forsyth called the Scout’s shoulder arms rifles.  He also said they slung them across their back…  The longer barrel rifles had sling mounts, carbines have saddle rings.  I take Forsyth at his word on this one.  Also, in comparing my mother’s musket ball, I used .52 caliber to compare to the Spencers because that is the actual bullet size.  Normally they designate the Spencer by the cartridge case size of .56 caliber.  Thought I should explain, before I get called on it.

 

Information for the above article was obtained from:

My family’s historical comments and local lore.  Letters and papers of George A. Forsyth from the Manuscripts Collection, Stephen H. Hart Library, Colorado  Historical Society, Denver CO and The Colorado State Archives.  The Story of  the Soldier, by George A. Forsyth, published by D. Appleton and Company, 1900.  The Beecher Island Battle Ground Memorial Association.

 

Recommended reading:

Indian Fights and Fighters
Cyrus Townsend Brady  1904
Republished  1971  By the University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska

Life of George Bent: Written from His Letters
George E. Hyde 1968
University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma

(The struggle for the plains as seen through an Indian’s eyes.)

 

Categories: American History, Civil War, History, Military, Missouri, soldiers, times gone by | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

The Burning of Osceola, Missouri and The Battle of Clear Creek

In September of 1861, Kansas Senator Jim Lane, newly appointed a Union General by President Lincoln, entered Missouri at a point near Trading Post, Kansas. His orders were to lay waste to as much of western Missouri as he could. In Abraham Lincoln’s own words, he was to “put it through.” General Lane had a force of about 1,500 Kansas Red Leg Jayhawker troops to get the job done. Osceola, Missouri, the county seat of St. Clair County was to be his principle target. Osceola was the main riverboat terminal on the upper reaches of the Osage River. It was the jewel of commerce for all southwestern Missouri. The despotic, paranoid Lane would change that, forever.

Lane proceeded down the Marais des Cygnes River to the Osage. At Papansville in southern Bates County, Lane crossed the Osage and proceeded east along the south side of the Osage River through St. Clair County to Osceola. A Union militiaman from Cedar County named Obie Smith, guided Lane to Osceola… It has been said that Confederate Guerrilla, William Quantrell ran into Obie Smith two years later and killed him with his own gun.

The Jayhawkers pillaged and burned anything in their path. The path of 1,500 violent men would cut a large swath indeed. Confederate General Price had left Osceola with only a handful of Home Guard to protect it while he moved on Lexington. The small force retreated after a short engagement. Lane’s men pillaged and stole over a million dollars in goods and money. Lane himself stole a fine carriage and had a piano and some silk dresses loaded into a wagon for his wife. It is said that a Rev. Hugh D. Fisher, one of Lane’s chaplains, made off with the alter, pews, and pulpit of one of the churches. He used them to furnish a church he was building in Lawrence, Kansas.

The pillaging went on through September 22 and 23. By the 24th the town was burned to the ground. A once prosperous community was now left destitute. Only one house was left standing in Osceola. Speculation was that it was just overlooked. Many people left and never returned.

Lane’s army left with a long train of stolen wagons full of stolen goods and commodities. They took with them 350 horses and 400 head of cattle. According to Lane’s report to his superior officers, he returned to Kansas by way of Clinton, Pleasant Gap and Butler.

It is reported that there was so much political backlash over the infamous attack on Osceola that Lane was never given another command by the Union. The politicians finally figured out that Lane was unstable and unfit for command. In 1866 Lane took his own life while visiting his wife’s sister and her husband at their farm in eastern Kansas.

 

Here lies another bit of history: An orphan teenage boy from Iowa was staying with the sister’s family that winter and going to school. He did chores for his keep. The boy’s name was Billy Dixon. Billy said the family were the best and kindest people, and he held them in high esteem all his life. Billy was there when Lane went out to his buggy, got his gun and shot himself. Yes, frontier history enthusiast, he was the Billy Dixon of Adobe Walls fame: The Buffalo hunter marksman, later awarded the medal of honor for bravery in performance of his duties as a frontier army scout.

 

The immense hatred for Union General Lane and his Kansas Jayhawkers made St. Clair county a fertile place for recruitment of Confederate soldiers. Let us go forward to the Battle of Clear Creek, fought in St. Clair County. It was almost a year after Jim Lane’s infamous raid…

 

Campbell's New Atlas of Missouri

Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874 – shows the town of Eaton in Cedar County. A local historian once pointed out to me, the approximate location of Eaton. He indicated that it was closer to Clear Creek than this map shows. Keep in mind that maps of the time were not as accurate as modern maps. Many times the roads shown were just trails.

 

The battle occurred on the north bank of the creek about six or seven miles southwest of Taberville. Taberville is on the north bank of the Osage River. Clear Creek runs into the Osage a few miles east of Taberville. Local historians have said the battle location was one and one half miles up the creek west from Short’s Ford. There is a bridge at Short’s Ford now. That location would put the battle site almost to the St. Clair/Vernon County line and just north of the Cedar County line. That would be approximately a mile or two north of the frontier hamlet of Eaton in Cedar County. Eaton was destroyed during the civil war and never built back. In my research, I have never determined when the town was destroyed, but a good guess would be when Lane came through in 1861. Both an 1865 and an 1874 map show a trail through Eaton and in the vicinity of the battle site.

 

It was the morning of August 2, 1862. A Captain Hancock was in St. Clair County recruiting soldiers for the Confederate army. He had recruited about 200 men. Only 70 had arms which consisted of shotguns and squirrel rifles. Hancock had only one keg of black powder. Hancock figured that the Federals were aware that he was in the area, so on the morning of August 2, he called his men together and announced that they would march to Greenfield in Dade County, Missouri and then on into Arkansas. Greenfield had recently fell into Confederate hands.

Indeed a detachment of 135 men belonging to the Command of Col. Fitz Henry Warren, First Iowa Cavalry, was in the immediate area. The detachment was commanded by captains Caldwell and Heath. The Federal advance found five of Hancock’s men eating breakfast at a local farm. They captured four of the men, but were soon put to rout by the fifth man when he charged them with a six shooter in each hand. The federal advance skirmishers raced back to report and the breakfasting rebels raced back to their camp to warn Hancock.

Hancock began immediately to deploy his men for an ambush. Almost all the Confederates were inexperienced local recruits. A road ran along Gordon’s Farm to Clear Creek. A deep ravine followed one side of the road. Fences and heavy brush on each side made the road on the banks of Clear Creek a perfect ambush site. Hancock positioned his 70 men with weapons along the ravine. Horses were secreted further back into the woods and brush, out of sight and out of harm’s way. The unarmed men were interspersed among the armed, so they could pick up the arms of fallen comrades or those of the downed enemy. Powder from the keg was rationed out to each armed man. A decoy squad on horseback was to go back up on the prairie and induce the Federals to chase them down the road into the timber. One of the squad would hang back using the ‘crippled bird’ trick in case they hesitated to follow. They were to lead the Federals through and in front of the hidden ambushers. Then the squad would wheel into the the cover of the timber and provide flanking fire on the enemy.

The Federals, thinking they had an easy kill, rode right into the trap. A Confederate broadside of withering fire at thirty yards was bound to take a toll. Even if it was from shotguns and squirrel rifles. One story has it that the Confederates were able to reload their muzzleloaders twice and fire three volleys before the confused Federals could take cover and protect themselves.

 

Now we find one of the ambiguities we often find in civil war history. Let us first review excerpts from the Federal commander, Col. Warren’s report to his superiors as found in the The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies.

 

“I have the honor to report that a detachment of my command under Capts. J.W. Caldwell and Heath, consisting of 135 men, made an attack on a body of from 400 t0 500 guerrillas, near Gordon’s farm, on Clear Creek, corner of St. Clair County.-”

“-Heath took fire on his flank and fearing for his horses fell back. When he was assured of the safety of his rear, he moved up for a second attack and found the enemy had disappeared. -4 men killed and 9 men wounded including Captain Heath.”

 

The informal Confederate report:

“Out of 200 Federals that came down the valley of Clear Creek, only about 120 escaped unhurt. Nearly 80 fell dead in their tracks. Captain Hancock lost one man killed and two wounded. The dead man’s name was Lee Bradley, of Bates County. He was buried there, near Clear Creek, before Hancock’s men moved on to Greenfield. Local tradition has it that Bradley’s family retrieved the body from the grave near Clear Creek and reburied Bradley in Bates County.”

 

 

In 1950 my parents purchased a farm in Vernon County near Clear Creek. It was two miles or less, as the crow flies, southwest of the battle site. I spent many happy hours in the early 1950’s hunting and fishing on Clear Creek. I mostly hunted the upper reaches of the creek. I can remember following coon hounds to the Short’s Ford vicinity twice. Usually we went down one side of the creek and up the other. I am sure I have walked over the Clear Creek Battlefield and maybe even the site of Eaton. I have hunted ducks on the creek and later along the sloughs of the Osage River. I have shot Quail in St. Clair County.

Again, we have touched history along the Sundown Trail.

 

Categories: American History, Civil War, Military, Missouri, soldiers | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

The Fish Story

Sgt Ryan & fish

I have received some comments regarding the fish in uniform picture taken back in 1967.  There is a story there and I will explain.  I took my military training  and my time in the Missouri National Guard seriously.  I look back on the experiences I had and my fellow Guardsmen with great fondness. . .  One time I was criticized by a journalism professor, perhaps humorously for backing into a story.  So I will get on with it. . .

That year I did not bring civilian clothes with me to the annual two week training at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.  I usually always drew weekend duty anyhow.  Would you believe I ended up with the weekend free and no civies.  That limited me to the post.

I had heard of a lake way back on the north end of the post called Engineer Lake.  It was supposed to be excellent fishing.  One guy that had drawn weekend duty had brought his fishing rod and he offered to lend it to me.  He did not have any lures, so I went to a small convenience store just outside the main entrance and bought a few jigs with walleye in mind.  On a last minute impulse I bought an ugly looking spinner with garish orange colored feathers attached.  Those, if I remember correctly, were the only spinners they had.  There were just a few of them on a dusty shelf-worn display board, but I bought one anyway.

I then went to the motor pool and asked to check out a jeep.  The Motor Sgt. said, “Nope.  Can’t check out a vehicle for just one guy to go fishing.”  I went back to the barracks and asked how many guys wanted to go fishing.  Five more off-duty guys jumped at the chance.  I went back to the motor pool and the Sergeant let me check out a ¾ ton truck.  We headed north.  The road followed the headwaters of the Mississippi River for some distance before turning west into the pines.  I found Engineer Lake and there were tell-tale signs  that it had been used for Baily Bridge exercises.  Two rowboats lay upside down on the shore.  It was a fair-sized body of water.  We decided to use the boats.

Everybody had fishing rods and a few lures.  We turned the boats over and discovered that there were no oars.  So we did a Sgt. Highway and improvised with boards scrounged from a ramshackle dock and launched.  No luck, not a strike, not even a nudge.  Everybody tried everything they had.  No luck.  Finally I put the ugly orange feathered spinner on.  Wham, the Northern Pike in the picture hit.  The other two guys in the boat said they were afraid I was going turn the boat over fighting it.  I caught several more fish to the background of groans and catcalls from the gallery.  I took the spinner off and each guy would catch a few fish and pass it on to the next guy.  Everybody caught fish.  Some kept them and some threw them back.  It turned into a real fun day.

I brought my fish back to the company area mess hall and proceeded to clean them at the outside sink.  That is when someone produced the camera.  I am holding the first fish I caught.  We estimated it to weigh in the neighborhood of eight pounds.  Not a real large one as Northern Pike go, but a fun fish for sure.  By the end of the day, the feathers on the lure were almost completely worn off.  I think I still have it in my tackle box.

A cook stuck his head out the back door of the mess hall to see what was going on.  When he found out what I was doing he said to bring the fish in.  He was an outdoors guy and knew just how to fix them.  He cut them up in Twinkie size hunks, battered and deep fried them.  The guys left in Headquarters Company that Saturday evening had a fish fry with dinner.

That is the story.   One of the nicer memories from along my Sundown Trail.

Camp Ripley

Camp Ripley today
(photo taken from their Facebook page)

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In this Army someone must always be in charge

In the spring of l963 I was in basic unit training at Camp Polk, Louisiana. 

At a company formation the First Sergeant counted off twenty men to serve on a work detail at battalion headquarters.  Dismissing the rest of the company he looked around for cadre to march the detail to our work area.  There wasn’t even a PFC in sight.

“Ryan, fall out and march this detail to battalion headquarters.  Report to the Company Commander.  He is already over there.  And Ryan, you keep them looking sharp, no horse play, the Colonel is with the C.O.”  The message was clear.

I stepped out, called, “Attent hut.  Right face.  Forward march.”  Down the road we went.

“Hut, two, three, four.  Dress it up look alive, get in step.  Hut two, three, four.”  As we neared our destination I spied the company commander, a cocky young First Lieutenant, and the battalion commander- a grizzled old Lieutenant Colonel, standing on the sidewalk.

“Column..halt, left..face.  Detail..at ease.”  They looked sharp.  With my fatigue jacket buttons ready to pop, I stepped around the detail, approached the officers and snapped a crisp salute on the Lieutenant.  “Detail reporting for duty sir.”

The Lieutenant returned the salute, and adjusted his swagger stick under his arm.  “How many men are there?”

Without thinking, I replied “Nineteen men and myself Sir.”  A smirk appeared around the corners of the Lieutenant’s mouth.

“Private Ryan, I asked how many men are there in this detail?”

Color welled up from the collar of my thoroughly deflated fatigue jacket.  I blurted out, “Sorry sir, twenty men sir.”

The Colonel stepped forward and caught my eye.  In a voice that only the Lieutenant and I could hear, he said.  “That’s all right, Ryan.  In this army someone must always be in charge.”

 
 
 

Sgt Ryan & fish

I lived up to the Old Colonel’s expectations and made Sergeant a few years later.
Here I am with my first Northern Pike, caught while on weekend leave at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.

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