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.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Mathew Ritchey and Newtonia

In my book entitled The Two Civil War Battle of Newtonia, I mentioned that in the early 1864 Mathew Ritchey, Newtonia's leading citizen, petitioned General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of the Missouri, asking that Union forces not abandon Newtonia. Rosecrans responded in March saying it was not proper for him to comment on the disposition of forces, but Ritchey's son, a Federal captain, soon returned to Newtonia with his unit. Within two months, however, the possibility that Union forces might again abandon the town arose, and Mathew Ritchey, along with Newtonia merchant E.H. Grabill, again appealed to Rosecrans on May 20, 1864. The letter provides details about the situation in Newtonia at the time and gives the rationale for Ritchey's (and Grabill's) appeal.
Apparently plans had been announced to move additional troops to nearby Granby to help out in the operation of the lead mines there. (The lead was used in making ammunition.) The letter writers feared and assumed that moving more troops to Granby would mean that Newtonia would be abandoned. (They had probably heard rumors to this effect.) They told Rosecrans that Newtonia had been held by Union forces for the past two years and had been considered an important point by all commanders in the region. "An excellent, two-story blockhouse with surrounding stone wall and four bastions (floor raised inside for cannon), ditch, good well of water, and connected with a large two-story brick once a school building, has been erected (by Maj. Eno, 8th M.S.M.)," said the petitioners. "The position is easily defensible against any moderate force; the works will accommodate if necessary 400 or 500 or more inside, and it is believed could be held by resolute men against more than five times this number."
Ritchey and Grabill went on to describe Newtonia's location on the prairie with the nearest timber about two miles away. The area had an abundance of grass for grazing and could sustain almost any amount of stock. Water was sufficient, and a steam mill situated at the town could manufacture 60 to 75 pounds of flour in 24 hours.
For the past two years, the post at Newtonia had been center for Union refugees and a stopping point for troops, added the letter writers. Many families from Newton and McDonald counties who had abandoned their homes after losing almost everything to Confederate raids had taken up residence in vicinity, within a 2 1/2 or 3-mile radius of Newtonia. They had already planted their crops for the season and had done so with the promise and expectation that they would be protected. If the Newtonia post were to be vacated, Ritchey and Grabill pleaded, these refugees as well as established residents like the petitioners themselves would also be compelled to leave and would suffer great loss if not economic ruin.
The two men argued that it would take only a few Union soldiers left at Newtonia to secure the place, especially since Granby was only five miles to the west and Neosho only about eleven miles west. And the troops left at Newtonia would, at the same time, be close enough to reinforce those two places if need be. The Union citizens of Newtonia were willing to fight, said Ritchey and Grabill, as they had just demonstrated over the past few days (apparently in helping to repel one or more guerrilla attacks on the town). All they needed were a few soldiers "as a basis of defense" to help them out.
The petitioners closed by saying they did not want to criticize or to appear selfish, but they admitted that they wanted the troops to remain in large part to protect their own business interests in Newtonia. However, they said, having troops in Newtonia would also serve the greater good of helping many others besides themselves.
A few days later General Sanborn, commanding the Southwest District at Springfield, wrote to Ritchey assuring him that Newtonia would not be deserted.

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