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Saturday, Apr. 30, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 271: 'A Killing Head Shot'

Friday, July 1, 2011

During the Civil War and all conflicts before and after this war, almost all shots or a shot to the head were fatal. They were normally inflicted by a "sharpshooter" or, in the modern military, by a "sniper."

This was usually accomplished at a great distance. Often when the chaos of rough and tumble "hand-to-hand" combat occurred, any type of wound inflicted on an enemy would suffice, and this could include a fatal head shot.

Such was the case and unfortunate demise of a local Vernon County, Mo., confederate guerrilla or, if you prefer "bushwhacker," by the name of "Brice Mayfield."

The "Mayfield" sisters of Brice and his brother were all southern partisans and were thorns in the sides of many Yankees from Missouri and Kansas early in the Civil War.

Brice Mayfield and his brother John were killed on Dec. 26, 1862, near Neosho in Newton County, Mo. Wagon boss R.M. Peck described the killing of Brice Mayfield in his column in the Aug. 4, 1904, edition of the National Tribune Newspaper that was published in Washington, D. C., as follows:

"The killing of Brice Mayfield"

One day a company of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, on returning from a foraging trip down in Missouri, came into Fort Scott accompanied by Bill Tuft (Tough), Gen. Blunt's chief of scouts, who was riding a fine blooded flea-bitten gray mare, that had formerly been owned and ridden by Brice Mayfield, a notorious rebel bushwhacker, who had been killed on this trip, in a desperate rough and tumble fight by a German soldier of the 3rd Wis. Cav.

Tuft had bought the mare for a trifle from the soldier, who did not realize her value and, with that immaculate gall for which he (Tough) was famous, took great pride in riding her about the streets of Fort Scott, giving out -- and even having an item published in the "Fort Scott Monitor" that he acquired the fine mare by killing Brice Mayfield!

(Note: Captain Tough was recognized throughout eastern Kansas as a very successful "horse trader" before, during and after the Civil War, so it is not surprising that he acquired Mayfield's fine blooded gray mare.)

The facts concerning the killing of Mayfield, which I heard from one of the soldiers, as near as I can remember them, are about as follows:

The Company of the 3rd Wis. Cav., while on a foraging expedition, had camped near Neosho, Mo., and a German trooper accompanied by a comrade, started out on their own account.

They had ridden up to a farmhouse, hitched their horses to the fence and gone inside to try and buy some butter.

The women of the house being rebels, detained and delayed the soldiers by pretending to send a little girl after the desired butter to a neighbor's house near by, where they knew that Mayfield and another rebel were in hiding; but in reality the errand of the little girl was to inform the bushwhackers of the presence at the other house of the two soldiers.

While our two troopers were sitting in the house waiting for the girls return and the women by pleasant conversation were trying to make their visit agreeable, the German chanced to step to the window in front of the house and was astonished to notice two more horses hitched to the fence near his and his comrade's and at the same moment he saw two men in butternut clothes (a sure sign of a rebel) approaching the door.

Instantly comprehending the situation, the German soldier, who was a powerful big fellow, informed his comrade and drawing their revolvers they both sprang to the door, opened it quickly and fired at the same instant receiving fire from the rebels.

At the first shots the German's comrade fell dead and Mayfield's companion was also killed.

As Mayfield made a rush to come in, the German quickly stepped behind the door, both firing at the same time, the soldier hitting the rebel, but not wounding him seriously, while Mayfield's ball (shot) struck the door and glanced off.

The bushwhacker was also a strong, active man, and as he sprang into the house they grappled, each trying to wrench the other's pistol from him.

In the struggle, they fell to the floor, where, after several moments of desperate strife, the Dutchman (another word for the "German" soldier) succeeded in disengaging his pistol, placed the muzzle to the rebel's head and fired, killing him (with a fatal head shot)!

The women and children had fled out of the back door at the first shot, and on disengaging himself from the dead rebel and rising, the plucky "Dutchman" found he was the sole surviving tenant of the house.

Fearing that the women had gone to bring other rebels to take him in, he hastily examined his late comrade and, finding him dead and making sure that the two rebels were "safely converted" (were indeed dead), he stripped each of his belt and pistol, hung them on their respective saddles and rode off to camp, leading three riderless horses.

A detachment of soldiers was immediately sent out from our men's camp to bring in and bury the body of the brave German's comrade, and while they were at the house -- the women and children being still absent -- a spark of fire somehow got started in some combustible material, and the house and outbuildings with all their contents, were soon a heap of ashes!

(Now, of course, this is not surprising because both bushwhackers and Yankees burned their enemy's civilian houses as it was total war here in Missouri and eastern Kansas.)

Tuft (Capt. William Tough) was in the soldiers' camp when the German returned with his captured stock, and being a good judge of a horse, he saw that the flea-bitten gray mare was an extraordinarily fine animal and succeeded in buying her from the soldier before the man found out her good points.

And that is how Bill Tuft killed Brice Mayfield and captured his fine thoroughbred.

I (R.M. Peck) afterwards passed by the ruins of the house where Mayfield was killed, which was near the bank of Shoal Creek, a little way north of the town of Neosho, Mo."

Now then, it is rare when one finds two descriptions of the same event from slightly different perspectives, and next week's column will include another description of the killing of Brice Mayfield and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches