A Real Missouri Civil War Story: My “Bushwacker” in the Attic

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 battle of Lexington 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.

People! It is called a JOKE!

Missouri.  Yes the Show Me state.  Why “Show Me”?  Well because half the time Missourians cannot believe the tall tales we tell amongst ourselves!

Look, I come from the state that produced the likes of Mark Twain and Redd Fox (and throw in Cedric the Entertainer for the younger set!).  We like a funny story and are apt to push the limits of credulity and patience when we can.

With that context in mind…. we have the news out that the fine City of Osceola, Missouri about a resolution demanding that Kansas University change their “Jayhawk” mascot.  On one hand, the folks of Osceola have every right to be bitter, even after 150 years.  Gotta figure, if you burn someone’s city to the ground, they might have some anger handed down for at least a few generations.  Or at least that’s how some of the folks in Atlanta explain their resistance to my proposal to rename I-75 the “General William T. Sherman Memorial Highway.”  (Bad rap, as we know, since Uncle Billy didn’t start the fire, he just let it get out of hand.)

Oh, and as every sports commentator likes to point out, the Kansas-Missouri sports rivalry is one of the greatest ever.  Even gets its own Wikipedia page, which is better documented than some scholarly articles out there!  If I had a dime for every KU joke I’ve told over the years… well I’d be able to blog full-time from my beach house in Bermuda.  And if you are a Kansan, and are offended… well you probably aren’t reading this anyway. (Another dime there!)

But some folks are taking this resolution way too seriously.  From one extreme there is the how dare they use the “T” word response.  And others are wrapping the affair up in the Confederate battle flag. There are even some threatening to boycott the Osceola Cheese company!

To these folks I say “Lighten up, it’s a joke!” Consider the explanation offered yesterday to the local news outlet:

While they wanted to fuel the fire of the football rivalry, those Osceola citizens who drafted the resolution, say more than anything, they wanted to remind folks of what happened in Osceola 150 years ago to the day….

“I was always proud of Osceola from being literally wiped off the map and growing back into the town it was when I grew up,” says Mayor Larry Hutsler.

That pride in his town, combined with 150th anniversary and start of football season led to Mayor Hutsler to sign the resolution recounting the invasion and condemning the Jayhawk.  “Did we expect KU to do any of what we put in the resolution? No,” says Hutsler.

My grandmother’s family is from the Osceola area and have relatives back that way.  Between visits to great-grandmother (“Hill Grandma” as she was known) and family reunions, I know the town well.  Nobody is walking around in mourning clothes after 150 years.  And certainly nobody is looking to pick up old grudges… except perhaps the gridiron.

That personal connection to Osceola allows me to preface a post I’d planned for tomorrow.  Let me tell offer one story from the very real history of Missouri in my next post.

JSTOR Opens Early Journal Content for Free Access

If you are not familiar with the service, JSTOR is a digital archive of “academic journals and other scholarly content.”  Although the organization is non-profit, the service is licensed.  That’s because much of the content is copyrighted and licensed itself.  Plus someone has to pay for disk space, after all.

Over the years I’ve found JSTOR a useful stop when researching a topic (particularly for professional subjects I’m apt to run into at work).  Unfortunately, the mode of operation is split due to login access.  I could search the archives from anywhere, but had to visit a participating institution (usually the Thomas Balch Library in my case) to access the article.  Cumbersome, but I fully understand given the copyright considerations.  The main inconvenience is to the consumer of any research I present (i.e. blog post or white paper).  With our Web 2.0 culture, many readers expect to see a hyperlink to the sourced information.  Yes, the old MLA standard citations are sufficient, but more and more I find the customers want that “click to see it” underscored text.

Good news is JSTOR is now opening the older journals for free access:

On September 6, 2011, we announced that we are making journal content in JSTOR published prior to 1923 in the United States and prior to 1870 elsewhere freely available to anyone, anywhere in the world.  This “Early Journal Content” includes discourse and scholarship in the arts and humanities, economics and politics, and in mathematics and other sciences.  It includes nearly 500,000 articles from more than 200 journals. This represents 6% of the content on JSTOR.

I’d point out before folks get too carried away, the “prior to” date is in compliance with rules concerning public domain and copyrighted content.

That allows me to drop direct citations to the Memoir of Daniel Treadwell; or an article on the US Regulars during the Civil War written in 1898; or perhaps an analysis of armor plated warships appering in the Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy from 1864; or a history of the Committee on the Conduct of the War written in 1918.  Although for my day job, I’m still not able to hyperlink pages from the Journal of Management Information Systems.  But I’m sure you readers are at no great loss there!

JSTOR is involved with a prosecution regarding the copyrighted material in the archives.  Although some have suggested the move to “free” the older content is a gesture to appease critics, I’d point out that JSTOR is paying for the storage and presentation platform on which the digital resources are accessed.  I’ve got no problem if they want to charge a fee for the service.   But I’m happy to have “free” access to the 6% they offer.

New Preservation Efforts: Parker’s Crossroads and Franklin

Last week Civil War Trust announced two new preservation efforts in Tennessee to acquire ground at the Tennessee battlefields of Parker’s Crossroads and Franklin.  These efforts target 52 acres at Parker’s Crossroads and 5 acres at Franklin.

Thus far, efforts of the Trust, The Parker’s Crossroads Battlefield Association, and other groups have preserved about 300 acres of ground at Parker’s.  But preservationists have long eyed a tract of open ground in the middle of the battlefield.  The 52 acre plot is between Interstate 40, Bluegrass Lane, and Tennessee Highway 22.

battlefield overview
Looking North across I-40

As seen in the photo, Interstate 40 bisects the battlefield.  Gas stations and convenience stores service customers along Tennessee 22 off the highway exit.  Many years back there was talk of a truck stop in close proximity to the exit.  There’s no doubt in my mind the property in the view below was considered.

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Looking South from the Site of the Parker House

Jim Lighthizer explained the significance of this Tennessee field:

I’m sure you recall the colorful history of this desperate fight. After a day-long battle on this ground, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest sought the surrender of the battered Union troops in his front. Suddenly, he found himself being unexpectedly attacked by a new Union force from the rear of his lines.

According to the legend, a staff officer cried, “General Forrest, what shall we do? What shall we do?”

Forrest’s famous reply: “Charge ’em both ways!”

While I can’t say for certain whether or not a surprised General Forrest barked out that celebrated command at Parker’s Cross Roads, Tennessee, on December 31, 1862…

…I can tell you for certain that, today, you can have a hand in completing the battlefield he was fighting on when he issued the orders that resulted in his men “charging both ways!”

Whether you fancy the legends and lore that surround N.B. Forrest or not, you must admit that tract of land has an important interpretive story to tell. Grants from the state of Tenneesse cover $1,120,000 of the $1,300,000 purchase price.

At Franklin, the Trust has in mind a five acre plot of undeveloped land on the east (right side) of the Confederate advance.  The property, bordered by a residential area on one side and a railroad on the other, may not be the scene of bitter fighting, but it is among the last open plots on the field not preserved today.  So the goal is to add five more acres to the 170 already preserved through the efforts of the Trust, Save the Franklin Battlefield (STFB), state and local officials, and other organizations. The Trust plans to match $50,000 with a grant from the Federal battlefield fund and donations from STFB.  (And if Franklin is just “one of those western battles” to you, please click over to Kraig McNutt’s blog and immerse yourself in the story of that battle.)

As always, Mr. Lighthizer puts those large dollar figures in a perspective easier to understand:

What if I told you that, for these two urgent transactions (landowners want to close as soon as possible, no later than November), I could turn every $1.00 you donate today into $7.22 and $4.00, respectively?

A little can go a long way.

Civil War Exhibits: Virginia War Museum

Earlier this summer, while visiting Virginia’s tidewater, I made a stop at the Virginia War Museum in Newport News. The museum boasts a collection of military artifacts, uniforms, weapons, and equipment dating from colonial times to the present day.  Although the bulk of exhibits relate to 20th century events, there are several display cases devoted to the Civil War.

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Confederate Uniform Display

Since Virginia was a Confederate state, the Civil War section starts with a display of Confederate uniforms and accouterments.

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Federal Cavalry Display

The Federal cavalry display includes both a Gallagher and a Sharps carbine.

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Artillery Projectiles

A collection of recovered artillery projectiles includes some rather interesting examples worth closer examination.

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Navy Sharps & Hawkins Carbine

A display showing naval artifacts includes a Sharps & Hawkins Carbine.

A little further into the museum is this well preserved field piece:

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German 15cm Model 1893 Howitzer


Well at first glance *looks* like something that *could* have been used in the Civil War.  This is actually a 15cm German howitzer of World War I vintage.  Notice the lack of modern recoil system or even sighting optics.  The Great War was sort of a cross-roads in field artillery, with some anachronistic throw-backs used alongside more modern weapons. This howitzer is one of the former.

As mentioned, most of the museum’s floorspace is dedicated to 20th century exhibits.

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FT-17 Light Tank of World War I Vintage
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German 88mm FLAK 36
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Vietnam War Weapons

Outside the museum is a remarkable arrangement of armored fighting vehicles and cannons, of course most dating to the 20th century.

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M42 Duster Anti-Aircraft System
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20th Century Field Artillery

Some of which are not just rare, but practically “one of a kind.”

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240mm T1 Gun

While the Civil War section is limited, I would still recommend  a visit to the museum if you are in the Hampton-Newport News area – particularly for those interested in military history from a broad context.  There are plenty of Civil War related sites nearby (Let me plug the Mariners’ Museum for example) that delve into that period of history, so I think the Virginia War Museum offers a good balance without competing with those venues.

The Virginia War Museum is open daily.  Admission is $6 for adults.  See the museum web page for more details.

Where Walking the Field Pays Off: Southern Half of Antietam Battlefield

As fellow blogger Harry Smeltzer recovers from yesterday’s outing, I’m assimilating the experiences and information from the full day spent on the trails at Antietam.

Outstanding attendance, more than I’ve seen in previous years.  I don’t have the totals, but there must have been 80 or so at the morning start for the cornfield walk at 7 am.  My estimate on the 9 am tour was over 125.  And I must say while us old guys were in full attendance, the audience had a large number of younger folks.  Perhaps the Civil War enthusiast community is not aging out as some have predicted.

Morning rains prevented the rangers from hitting all the points for the morning hike. But as skies cleared in the afternoon, we covered the southern portion of the field, and we were treated to some of the field’s “off the beaten path” locations.  All better, as I find the southern half of the field more interesting (and much overlooked by historians).

As I review my photos, this one stands out as a reference point for further study:

Antietam 17 Sept 11 030

This photo was taken from the ridge line just northeast of the Burnside Bridge.  Just right of center is a white house which, I think, is the house at the stone mill.  Just below and to the right is the Sherrick Farm.

To the left of center is the Sharpsburg water tower, a convenient modern landmark.  In that direction is the Hawkins Zouaves monument, on the far ridge.  To the left of that, across the open fields, is the area where the final Confederate counterattack of the day, led of course by General A.P. Hill, crashed into the Federal Ninth Corps.

I’ve captured this line of sight against one of the Antietam Battlefield Board maps, showing the action at about 4:20 PM:


The green dot is the location where the photo was taken and the arrows showing the field of view.

Lots of wiggly terrain contour lines on the map.  Those tighten up near Antietam Creek where everyone knows the ground is steep.  But what isn’t fully grasped by the casual examination, is the presence of several additional ravines and elevations between the creek and where the final action took place.  Even the line of sight, in the photo above, conceals the elevation changes.

Here’s a view just 300 yards west of the first photo, on the west side of Antietam Creek:

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For emphasis, to get from the first site to this location, the visitor must walk down to Antietam Creek, cross the Burnside Bridge, and then walk up about 110 to 120 feet in elevation.  On that September day in 1862, from the position above the attacking force had to march down and back up a couple more times just to get in position to attack Sharpsburg. And of course that movement was far from “uncontested.”

Our ranger guides summed this up best – it was the terrain just as much as the Confederates that defeated Burnside’s Ninth Corps that afternoon.