An interesting but tragic incident of the Civil War in Springfield occurred on May 21, 1862, at a house in what was then the east part of town. (probably somewhere around Benton/Kimbrough). An upstanding widow lady named Willis had recently arrived in Springfield as a refugee from northern Arkansas, where she and her family had been subjected to depredations by bushwhackers. Reportedly, the residence in which she and her family were lodged had previously been the domicile of a "squad of accommodating girls," and since many of the soldiers stationed at Springfield did not know about the change in identity or at least the change in character of the house's occupants, two sentries were placed at the home to protect the woman and her daughter, Mary Willis, from unwanted solicitations. However, on the day in question, Captain John R. Clark of the Fifth Kansas Cavalry, who was officer of the day at Springfield, got drunk and, in the company of his orderly, A. J. Rice, called at the home and demanded dinner. When Mrs. Willis refused, Clark grew irate, and he and Rice drew their pistols. When they started to force their way inside, one of the guards shot Clark dead. Rice then fired at the guards but missed, instead killing Miss Mary Willis. The second guard then shot and mortally wounded Rice.
Although Clark, who was buried the next day without military honors, was a member of the Fifth Kansas, he and most of his company were recruited out of Mercer County, Missouri, where he had been a sheriff before the war. Apparently, some of the more rabid Unionists in the regiment had not been keen on the idea of recruiting out of Missouri in the first place. Writing to the NY Times
several months after the fatal incident in Springfield, one member of the Fifth who had previously belonged to fervent abolitionist James Montgomery's Third Kansas characterized Clark as a border ruffian who should have joined the rebels.
Labels: John R. Clark