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Battlefield Dispatches No. 272: 'Local bushwhackers killed'

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Mayfield brothers, Brice and John (whose nickname was "Crack"), were two southern partisan rangers or "bushwhackers," if one is of the northern persuasion, from Vernon County during the Civil War. In fact, the entire Mayfield family, including their sisters, were famous or infamous southern sympathizers, depending on one's perspective.

Both Brice and John were killed near Neosho, Mo., on Dec. 26, 1862, and this is a fact. Exactly who killed them is not factually known, because there are two different versions of their deaths.

The first known version of their demise was published as Battlefield Dispatches No. 271 and was entitled, "A Killing Head Shot," which was of a northern perspective. This version is from the southern perspective or, to be fair and objective, is located on pages 335 -- 337 in the History of Vernon County Missouri that was published in 1887. This volume has many stories of southern proclivities and is an excellent subscription history of Vernon County. It has been reprinted by the Vernon County Historical Society.

"The Mayfield Brothers

Two noted confederate partisans who came to be well known throughout southwest Missouri during the year 1862 were Brice R. and John Crawford Mayfield, brothers and sons of John Mayfield who settled on Section 19, Montevallo Township in 1856 and died in May, 1858.

At the outbreak of the war, Brice Mayfield was 27 years of age and married, and John Crawford (or "Crack" as he was better known), was 21. Both enlisted in Gatewoods' Company and were in the Battle of Wilson's Creek.

At the skirmish on Drywood (Battle of the Mules, Sept. 2, 1861) in this county, "Crack" Mayfield was taken prisoner but not long afterwards was released on parole.

Sometime in the early winter of 1862 Brice Mayfield came back into Vernon with some kind of recruiting authority, and from this time forward the two brothers engaged in irregular (guerrilla) warfare against the federals in this part of the state.

They were splendid horsemen, not troubled with conscientious scruples regarding the manner in which they acquired their steeds, (this could be a polite suggestion that they were "horse thieves"), shrewd in forming their plans and cool and thorough in their execution and bold and daring fighters. The Mayfield boys operated in the border counties, chiefly between the Osage River and the Arkansas line.

But, at last, their time came. On the morning of Dec. 26, 1862, both were killed a few miles north of Neosho, Mo., in Newton County. The circumstances of their death were as follows:

A federal wagon train was on the way from Fort Scott to Bentonville, Ark. The night it camped in Neosho, two of the escorts, Sam Kaiserman and Jack Hudson, both of the 6th Kansas Vol. Cav., in company with a citizen boy about 17 years of age named Coyer, whose home was near Neosho, stayed at the house of a man named Parnell on Shoal Creek where there were a number of young women.

The Mayfield boys were in the vicinity and, learning of the presence of the two soldiers, were determined to capture or kill them.

Early on the morning of the 26th, about breakfast time, (the Mayfields) rode up to Parnell's house and called. As they were dressed in federal "blue," it was supposed that they were "Union" soldiers, and Kiserman and Hudson walked out to meet them.

Suddenly, the Mayfields drew their revolvers and opened fire. Hudson fell mortally wounded, but Kaiserman picked him up and bore him into the house. The Mayfields dismounted and ran to the house. Young Coyer came to the door and was shot down and instantly killed. Kaiserman killed both of the Mayfield brothers as they stood on the porch trying to break down the door.

Crack was killed first, and the next shot brought down Brice, who fell across his brother's body, both dying almost instantly.

As soon as possible, Kaiserman mounted his horse and informing Mr. Parnell that if, on his return, all was not left, the house would be burned.

He galloped to Neosho and reported what had occurred. A party was at once sent out with Kaiserman, and the four dead bodies were brought back to Neosho, with all of the horses and (fire)arms.

On arriving at Neosho, the corpses of the Mayfields were recognized by certain citizens, and both were buried in one grave.

It is reported that one of the women at Parnell's knew the Mayfield boys, and when she saw them approaching the house, she waved her hand from a back window at them as a danger signal, but they disregarded it, believing, probably, that they understood the situation and were masters of it.

On his return to Fort Scott, Kaiserman was hailed as a hero. An enterprising photographer sold a number of photographs of the "slayer of the Mayfield boys," and one of these pictures afterward involved a certain citizen of Fort Scott in considerable difficulty.

The next spring, too, Kaiserman was made a 1st Lt. in the 2nd Kansas colored volunteer Infantry, presumably as a reward for the killing of the two men, when he couldn't well help it."

Now then, the two different versions of the killing of the Mayfield Brothers do indeed have a few things in common.

They were killed on Dec. 26, 1862, at a house near Shoal Creek, not far from Neosho, Mo., in Newton County. Brice Mayfield was killed by a German soldier named Kiserman who was from either the 3rd Wis. Cav., 2nd Ks. Vol. Cav. or the 6th Ks. Vol. Cav.

The only Kiserman listed was a soldier in the 2nd Ks. Vol. Cavalry. Pvt. Samuel Kaiserman of Company G, 2nd Ks. Vol. Cavalry, was commissioned as a 1st Lt. in the 2nd Ks. Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment on Oct. 9, 1864.

The first version indicates that the southern sympathizers' home was burned by the Union troops, the second does not, but it probably was because both sides burned civilian homes as part of the concept of "total war" and, of course, the war went on.

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches