A lost gun at Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis

A long time back, I wrote about the battle of Chalk Bluff on the St. Francis River at the Arkansas-Missouri border. Since that battle occurred close to my boyhood home, it has always been a favored research topic. Even if scant resources exist for that nearly forgotten battle.

As I mentioned in the earlier posts, Confederate forces under Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke managed to slip over the St. Francis in the evening of May 1, 1863. A bridge constructed by Colonel M. Jeff Thompson allowed Marmaduke to cross the rain swollen St. Francis and thus escape to fight another day. During the crossing, Thompson dismounted several artillery pieces in order to move them by rafts across the river.

Growing up in southeast Missouri, I had often heard stories about buried Confederate “stuff” – be that treasure or cannons. With time, I reconciled those stories with what I knew of the records. I’d never accounted for any lost cannons (and don’t even get me started on the treasure stories).

But yesterday my father forwarded a newspaper clipping of an article run in the Daily Dunklin Democrat (our newspaper in Kennett, Missouri) on February 2, 1929. The article read:

To Remove an Old Cannon from the St. Francis River

Bloomfield, Mo, Jan 28. – An old cannon, dumped into the St. Francis river 60 years ago, during the Civil War, is to be removed from the river bed. It was recently located at what is known as Chalk Bluff, near the Missouri-Arkansas state line.

The Rev. R.L. Allen of Bloomfield has obtained permission from the War Department to take charge of the cannon and keep it until such time as the department wishes to take charge of it.

An interesting history is attached to his old war machine. It was one that J.W.R. Allen and his company captured during the war between the states. Allen was an uncle of the Bloomfield minister.

The exact date of the engagement is not exactly known here, but circumstances under which the fight took place has been handed down by tradition so that it is known it was a hand to hand battle with breastworks enclosing the old court house here.

Mr. Allen’s uncle was captain of the company which captured the old cannon. After taking this cannon according to the old stories, the Confederate troops started south. They were hard pressed by the Union forces and when crossing the St. Francis river they decided to dump the cannon overboard from an improvised raft upon which they were crossing.

Inquiry has brought out that the cannon never was taken from the river. Allen planned to make a search for the instrument until reports were received here that it had been found by people living along the river.

The War Department made it plain that it would bear no expense of having the cannon removed from the river or reconditioning the historic relic.

From what is provided in the article, nothing definitively links the cannon to the May 1, 1863 battle of Chalk Bluff. But the account details, to include the use of rafts, mirrors the accounts of Thompson’s handling of the guns. And of course the place name matches. However, Marmaduke did not mention losing any guns.

And more importantly, what happened to this artifact… er… instrument of war? I don’t know of any surviving guns laying about. So I suspect the cannon was scrapped at some point, perhaps during World War II.

One-hundred and fifty years after the war, how many times do we find a new piece of information that only leads to more questions?

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