Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of the Ozarks region and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written fifteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Bushwhacker Belles, Wicked Women of Missouri, and Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Christmas Day Massacre

The fact that it's getting close to Christmas reminds me of one of the most notorious incidents of the Civil War in the Ozarks, the Christmas Day Massacre (also called the Wilson Massacre) that occurred in Ripley County on December 25, 1863. In late 1863, Union troops captured Centreville, the county seat of Reynolds County, but on December 21 a company of Colonel Tim Reeves's 15th Missouri cavalry regiment under Captain Jesse Pratt recaptured the town and took about 100 Federal soldiers prisoner. Pratt hauled the captives south to Ripley County and turned them over to Colonel Reeves. On the 23rd, Major James Wilson was sent out from Pilot Knob with two companies of Union militia in pursuit of the rebels. On December 25, Reeves was camped at Pulliam's farm in the southwest part of Ripley with about 150 of his men, along with the Federal prisoners, and at least sixty civilians from the region, many of them family members of Reeves's soldiers, to celebrate Christmas. Reeves, who was also a Baptist minister, conducted religious services, and then the group sat down for a holiday dinner. Suddenly the festivites were violently interrupted when Wilson and his men charged into the camp and started firing. Only about thirty-five Confederates, who were guarding the prisoners, had arms, with the rest having stacked their weapons during dinner, and the rebel camp was quickly overrun. At least thirty rebels were killed, and most of the rest were taken prisoner, although Reeves managed to escape. Some accounts claim that many of the civilians, including women and children, were also slaughtered, although this point is in dispute.
What seems without doubt, however, is that this incident clearly illustrates that peace on earth did not reign in the Missouri Ozarks during America's Civil War, even on a sacred holiday like Christmas Day. The war in our state was a bitter provincial conflict, with Missourians often killing other Missourians, and such was the case with the Christmas Day massacre. The war in Missouri was often driven by revenge, and the aftermath of the Christmas Day massacre also illustrates this aspect of the war. When Major Wilson and a handful of his men were captured during General Sterling Price's invasion of Missouri in the fall of 1864, they were turned over to Colonel Reeves, who ordered the captives summarily executed in retaliation for the Ripley County atrocity.

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