Today is the 150th anniversary of the sacking of Osceola, Missouri. On September 23, 1861, James H. Lane led a force of Kansas troops into the town. After driving off a token guard force, Lane’s men looted the town. The Kansans executed nine men then proceeded to burn the town practically to ashes. No matter which angle you wish to consider, what happened in Osceola was part of the dark side of war. The incident is often cited as an example of the bloody, bitter partisan warfare that broke out along the border area of Missouri and Kansas.
I can trace my grandmother’s paternal family lines back to the Osceola area as far back as the 1840s. In 1860, the family patriarch, who would be my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Midian Smith (age 56) lived on a family farm near Clinton in Henry County, about 30 miles north of Osceola. Living with Midian was wife Sarah, teenage daughter, teenage son, and three other extended family members. Midian owned real property valued at $3,000 and personal property worth $3,099 – and no slaves.
According to the 1860 census two of Midian’s sons, Sandy James (my great-great-great-grandfather) and Elisha Logan Smith, were not with the family. Records show Sandy James (aged 31) lived in Barbour County, Kansas. Although the census lists his occupation as “farmer,” family lore indicates he worked at nearby Fort Scott as a “herb doctor.” However I have been frustrated in searches to find Elisha Logan, who would have been in his twenties, in any census records.
We know very little about how the Civil War affected the Smith family. In spite of living in the middle of “bushwacker vs. jayhawker” country, the family survived the war relatively intact. Midian remained on his farm outside Clinton in 1870. The teenagers had grown and moved away. His real property had increased to $12,500, while personal property decreased to $1,000. But records are silent about how the family experienced the Civil War which raged all around.
Well save one record. The only member of the family with any documented wartime service is Elisha. Somewhat ironic, considering the lack of information about Elisha’s pre-war employment. Not only does his complied service record speak to service in the Confederate army, but a letter written in 1913 for his pension claim detail his service first hand. It was confusion over Elisha’s middle name which delayed his pension award, and prompted his letter. (He appeared at different times as E.L., E.S., and E.A. Smith. And his tombstone shows Elisha A. Smith.)
He started the summary of his service indicating, “I enlisted in the southern cause some time in July 61 … under [General Raines]. ” General James Raines commanded the Eighth Division of the Missouri State Guard. Elisha fought in at least two actions, including the that summer. But when the State Guard under General Sterling Price retreated following the victory at Lexington, Elisha stayed behind for reasons not altogether clear but appears to have involved a wound.
A year later, Elisha again returned to the war. August 1862, at Osceola, he enlisted for three years. The service records Colonel John Tracy was the mustering officer, but Elisha mentions Colonels John Coffee and Sidney Jackman. While these commands were formal Missouri Confederate units, they operated in conjunction with some of the irregulars – namely Quanrill’s. Elisha fought at the battle of Lone Jack, and received a rather nasty head wound. He was left behind (apparently returning home). Later he was captured and exchanged.
Upon his return he was assigned to in Company G, 3rd Missouri Cavalry Battalion, at Vicksburg, Mississippi. (What is confusing here as I trace the assignment is the presence of two different 3rd Missouri Cavalry Battalions, active on different sides of the Mississippi river.) Elisha indicates he surrendered with his unit at Vicksburg, served in the Atlanta campaign, and received his third wound during the battle of Allatoona Pass. At the end of the war, he received his parole in Alabama.
Granted, that’s the punch list story of Elisha’s service without any of the reminisces which might tell more about him or his experiences. He didn’t offer any explanation for his service (of course, as he’s applying for a pension from the state government he fought against!). He joined the ranks three separate times – first with the Missouri State Guard, second with Colonel Tracy’s command, then finally after being exchanged joining the 3rd Missouri Cavalry. From my perspective, detached as a historian with 150 years of analysis to rely upon, I see three distinct phases of the war – transitioning from the 1861 crisis in Missouri; through the irregular warfare on the border; finally to major campaigns with the large field armies and formal surrender at the end the war.
Not only did Elisha survive the war, but he thrived. He fathered thirteen children through two marriages. When he died in 1925, he was remembered as a “a kind and faithful husband, father and neighbor.” He was laid to rest in the Parks Chapel Cemetery near Leesville, Missouri. And as noted above, his tombstone reads “Elisha A. Smith” leaving yet another riddle.
Elisha’s pension request does not name any comrades who might vouch for his service. I’m accustomed to seeing names dropped, or perhaps attached letters of reference. Perhaps with his varied service Elisha ended the war outside the circle of acquaintances he started with. Or perhaps by 1913 they had all moved away or passed away. Still the lack of references is worth noting.
But there is another lead the lack of references leaves. Of three service aged men in the Smith family, one has a service record. Browsing through the families of neighbors in the 1860 census, there are not many who served in either army during the Civil War. And mind you, this is a community that sits directly between the two oft cited Federal atrocities of the border wars – Osceola and the Burnt District. Robert Moore likes to mention the “fence sitters” in the Shenandoah and Alabama … well apparently there were a lot of those in the border counties of Missouri too. Maybe there were many in Henry County who simply looked past the war to other things.
Elisha’s and my shared extended family continue to farm the hills of Henry and St. Clair Counties. Few “war stories” came down through the generations, though. The most often repeated involves his wound at Lone Jack, where he had to plug both sides of his head to prevent bleeding to death. The Civil War never figured to great importance in the Smith family. Even where family members married the children of Union veterans, there is scant discussion of the war. So my parents and other family genealogists have “teased” much of the story from the paper record.
The records indicate Elisha rode the same trails as Price and Quantrill, for a short time at least. His story does not appear to match the semi-romanticized version of the war on the Kansas-Missouri border. The “Lost Cause” themes just don’t emerge in the narrative. Nor would he factor as a character in the “Hollywood” versions of Missouri’s Civil War.
Still great-great-great-grand-uncle Elisha is my “Bushwacker” in the attic.