Thursday, April 24, 2014

Florence Raid Revisited

About two years ago, I posted an entry on this blog about the guerrilla raid on Florence in Morgan County, Missouri, that occurred during the Civil War in July of 1863. Most of the information for that post came from two separate reports that were published in a Jefferson City newspaper shortly after the incident. I recently ran across another account in the St. Louis Daily Union, which was also published in the immediate wake of the incident. The St. Louis paper's account contradicts at least a couple of important details that were published in the Jefferson City paper. The St. Louis paper said that the raid occurred on Wednesday, July 8, whereas the Jefferson City paper said it occurred on Thursday morning, July 9. The Jeff City paper said the leader of the gang was a man named Smith and that a man named Thomas Jobe was also recognized by residents of Florence as being among the guerrillas. The St. Louis paper, on the other hand, said that Thomas Joab (i.e. Jobe) was, in fact, the leader of the gang.
The St. Louis paper also added a couple of details that did not appear in the Jeff City paper. For instance, the St. Louis paper identified one of the men who was killed by the guerrilla gang as a brother to state legislator William Baughman. (This was almost certainly a reference to John Baughman, who like William Baughman, lived at Florence at the time of the 1860 census and was just a few years older than William.) The St. Louis paper said that there were ten men in the guerrilla band, whereas the Jeff City reports did not cite a specific number. The St. Louis paper said that Federal soldiers under Captain Plumb of the 6th Regiment Missouri State Militia pursued the rebels the next day and succeeded in killing six or eight guerrillas. It doesn't specifically say, however, that the men killed were some of the same ones who raided Florence. In fact, I don't see how the Federals could have known whether they were or not, unless residents identified the dead bodies, and the report does not say that such an identification occurred.
The St. Louis paper concluded, "There are but few guerrillas in that region, but those few, by secreting themselves in the woods for weeks, and then sallying upon unprotected neighborhoods, are able to inflict serious damage, and keep neighborhoods in constant alarm. They generally return from their raids, however, with thinned numbers, and seldom fail to leave a portion of their band slain by the wayside, by the unerring bullets of Union soldiers."

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fremont's Brief Command in Springfield

In the 1840s, John C. Fremont led three or four expeditions to the American West, gained a reputation as something of a romantic adventurer, and was dubbed "the Pathfinder" in the press. He got wealthy during the California gold rush of 1849 and was later elected California's first governor. In 1856, he ran for president as the first candidate of the new Republican party and carried much of the North but lost the election because the Know Nothing Party took a lot of the anti-Democrat vote from the Republicans.
Near the outset of the Civil War, Fremont was appointed a Union general commanding the Department of the West headquartered at St. Louis. Frank P. Blair, Jr., a U.S. congressman from the St. Louis area, had supported his appointment, but it didn't take long for the two men to be at odds. Blair and others criticized Fremont for not reinforcing General Nathaniel Lyon prior to the Battle of Wilson's Creek fought on August 10, 1861, and Blair and Fremont also had some personal disagreements. Then in late August, Fremont angered President Lincoln when he issued his infamous decree emancipating Missouri's slaves and declaring martial law in the state. Lincoln ordered the edict rescinded, but the relation between the two men was already strained. Next, Fremont had Blair arrested for insubordination. (Blair was a military officer under Fremont's command as well a congressman.) This, of course, further strained the relations between Fremont and Blair, who had already been working for Fremont's removal. In fact, that's partly why Fremont had him arrested. Perhaps the last straw, though, was Fremont's failure to reinforce Colonel Mulligan prior to or during the Siege of Lexington, the same way he had failed to reinforce Lyon. After Mulligan was forced to surrender to General Sterling Price and the Missouri State Guard on September 20, Lincoln ordered Fremont to "repair the disaster at Lexington without loss of time," but as far as Fremont's future as commanding general of the Department of the West was concerned, the damage had already been done.
Fremont did set out to try to atone for the Lexington defeat by personally taking to the field, amassing a large army, and forcing Price to evacuate Lexington. Fremont pursued Price into southern Missouri during October of 1861. On October 25, Fremont's body guard, led by Major Charles Zagonyi, chased a few hundred Missouri State Guard troops out of Springfield, and a few days later Fremont and his entire army occupied Springfield. Price and the large portion of his State Guard troops, were camped around Neosho, where Governor Claiborne F. Jackson's government-in-exile voted to secede from the Union. Near the end of October, Fremont and Price entered into negotiations concerning the treatment of prisoners and other matters. They signed an agreement on November 1 that said, among other things, that citizens would not be arrested or mistreated merely because of their political sentiments, as long as they were peaceable citizens who were minding their own business.
The very next day, however, Fremont received word that he had been relieved of duty by President Lincoln. At Springfield, Fremont issued a farewell address to his troops, many of whom were very loyal to him and very upset by his removal. In fact, some of the troops (Zagonyi's body guard, for example) were shortly afterwards mustered out of service because they were considered too personally loyal to Fremont instead of to the Union cause.
General David Hunter was appointed to take Fremont's place, and Hunter declared that he would not recognize the Fremont-Price agreement. That, too, hardly mattered, however, since Hunter and all the Federal troops were soon ordered to evacuate Springfield and fall back to Rolla and Sedalia (places that had rail service).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Thirsty Teamsters at Cuba

On Friday, July 10, 1863, a Union wagon train, escorted by a detachment of the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry, was traveling along the Springfield Road between St. Louis and Rolla. It stopped at David Curtis's store in Cuba, Missouri, and the teamsters asked for whiskey. The clerk, Joseph Martin, told the men that he couldn't sell them any because the proprietor was not there. (Curtis had a special permit to sell liquor, but apparently only he could sell it.) The teamsters grew angry and told Martin they would have the whiskey one way or another.
After dark on the same day, someone cut a window sash out of the store, broke in, and took one or more kegs of whiskey, some tobacco, and a few other items. The entire haul was valued at about $30. The same evening some men also called at the home of a local man named Cundiff and took a gray mare.
On July 13, James R. Coleman of Cuba wrote to the Union's district headquarters at Rolla outlining what had happened and saying that he was sure the teamsters were the ones who had broken into the store and stole the horse. Several other men attested to the facts as outlined in Coleman's letter and seconded his opinion that the teamsters were the guilty parties.
Brigadier General Thomas A. Davies, commanding the Rolla district, forwarded the complaint to the Department of the Missouri's headquarters at St. Louis. He included a statement vouching for David Curtis as an upright citizen and loyal Union man and suggesting that the matter warranted investigation.
Upon receipt of Davies's communication, Major General John M. Schofield, commanding the Department of the Missouri, ordered an investigation in late July. About a month later, Union authorities at Rolla reported back to Schofield that, after an inquiry into the matter, "nothing could be discovered" to substantiate the charges against the teamsters. The chief wagon master at Rolla had testified that none of his teamsters were engaged in the robbery of Mr. Curtis's store and that Mr. Cundiff's horse had been taken by the 2nd Wisconsin escort, not by the teamsters. He added, too, that the horse was found to have a "U.S." brand on it, suggesting that it was government property to begin with that had been unlawfully acquired by Cundiff. The chief quartermaster said the horse had later been "disposed of" by the escort "on the road." Thus the investigation into the theft of whiskey at Cuba was discontinued.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Melee at Quincy, Missouri

In the 1840s, the Quincy (Mo.) community, then called Judy's Gap, was the center of the so-called Slicker Wars, which started out mainly as a vigilante movement but soon disintegrated into what was basically a family feud between the families of the Slickers and the families of the anti-Slickers. Apparently the tendency toward both violence and vigilantism in the area carried over until at least sometime after the Civil War. Quincy, located in what became Hickory County in 1845, was the scene in the spring of 1869 of what the Bolivar (Mo.) Free Press called a "serious affray," during which the local citizens took the law into their own hands.
On Saturday night, May 2, two young men named Wilson and Hyatt, described by the newspaper as "desperate characters," came into town armed with revolvers and bowie knives and started raising hell. The men had been in the habit of coming into town armed, threatening local citizens, and "otherwise behaving in an outrageous manner." During their latest visit, they got drunk, became quarrelsome, and started threatening the lives of certain citizens. They then got into a heated argument with a young man and fired a couple of shots at him but failed to hit him.
"This so exasperated some of the citizens," according to the Free Press, "that they armed themselves and returned the fire." Hyatt was struck in the head by a bullet as he threatened one of the citizens with his bowie knife, and Wilson was hit on the head with a big rock, crushing his skull. Hyatt died on Monday, two days later, while Wilson was still clinging to life but was not expected to live.
It was reported that Hyatt and Wilson had emptied their revolvers except for one bullet before they fell and that 25 to 30 shots were fired altogether during the melee. According to the newspaper, "It seemed to be a matter of general congratulation among the people of Quincy that the desperadoes had been disposed of, and that the entire community would be safer in the future." Nothing was said about whether any of the local citizens who took the law into their own hands were held to account, but presumably not. Apparently, vigilantism still reigned in Quincy.

Devil's Promenade

My latest book is about the famous Joplin or Tri-State Spook Light. Actually, Hornet Spook Light is probably the most accurate descriptor, s...