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Sunday, May 1, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 287: 'A return visit'

Friday, October 21, 2011

During the Civil War the same "armies" normally did not return and march over or through the same battlefields they fought on. However, there were occasionally exceptions to this, and such was the case in October of 1861 when the infamous, if one is from Missouri or of the "Southern Persuasion," and I repeat, infamous Kansas Brigade commanded by the "Grim Chieftain" himself, Brig. Gen. James Henry Lane, made "a return visit" to Osceola, Mo. There was not much left to destroy in that formerly prosperous town on the Osage River, because the Kansas Brigade had for all practical purposes completely destroyed Osceola on its rampage through western Missouri on Sept. 24, 1861, and for good measure they burned the town to ashes.

This time, on Oct. 21 and 22, 1861, the Kansas Brigade did not destroy what was left of Osceola. Instead, they occupied the town for a day or a day and a half as a "rest stop" on their march south toward Springfield, Mo., in pursuit the Confederate forces of the Missouri State Guard that were commanded by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price.

During this "return visit," Mrs. Yeater, a citizen of Osceola who was present and witnessed the destruction of Osceola, recorded her observations of the Kansas Brigade as follows:

"Not long after the first coming of the Kansas regiment the rumor was circulated that they were again on their way here, but as the Osage River was bank full and supposed to be impassable we were not so much alarmed as we otherwise would have been and in the morning many of the citizens assembled on the river bank to see what this squadron would do, although most of them were prepared for a quick retreat in case of necessity. The regiment halted on the bank, but plunged in and swam their horses where the water was to deep for fording. Our men did not wait to meet the enemy and again the town was left with only women and children to defend it.

When the regiment got well into the town and I was standing outside uncertain what to do, a gentleman acquaintance came by, the tailor who had cheerfully given use of his sewing machine, the only one in town, to be used in making shirts for southern volunteers, and he asked if I would not like to walk down and see what was being done. He did not like to go alone, lest his doing so should be misconstrued against him, and I was very willing to go.

We went direct to where the officers were collected, and after some conversation, I learned that many country people were already there with wagons and were loading them with salt ready to take away. I asked those in command with whom I had been talking, if this was to be permitted and claimed what had been a warehouse full of salt as mine! The warehouse had been burned, but it was a light structure and the salt was uninjured except that the ends of the sacks were burned off.

The officer asked where my husband was, and I replied, "He was on the river bank when you reached the other side, but when he saw you coming over, as he had some good horses, he thought it best to take them away, and he had just ridden over the hill." I had not paid much attention to the man who came with me while talking, but when I was ready to go and suggested his leaving with me, he was told he would better stay with them for the present.

On looking around, I discovered that I was surrounded by soldiers and said, "How am I going to get out of this crowd?" One of the lower officers said, "I will see you safely home," and two quite gentlemanly looking men were sent home with me, and I was told it would be a protection to us to have them stay at the house, and they remained with us till the regiment left Osceola. Two men were also detailed to guard my salt.

Two men soon came to the house who said that they had been sent to search the house for (fire) arms and ammunition. They said they preferred that one of the family should accompany them, and I went along with them. After a superficial search of drawers, closets, etc., we went to the basement.

I had gone there a day or two before with my husband to conceal some guns that had been in the house for months, and I hoped that they would not find them. After searching the kitchen and dining room, we went into the back cellar, which was very poorly lighted, and as we were about to open an inner door, we both noticed at the same moment something in the semi-darkness in the corner that resembled stocks of guns!

I could hear the beating of my heart as the man grasped them, thinking no doubt that he had found a prize, but they turned out to be only brooms. I was willing to pursue the investigation further, but the men, after asking what was in the different bins and my replying, "apples and potatoes," were satisfied without going into the dark corners of the cellar.

As we returned to the upper rooms, one of the men noticed a flask apparently hid behind a curtain and took possession of it, and finding it contained about a pint of whiskey, he went to a window and emptied it on the ground. When he reported his find and was asked what he had done with it, the doctor, who was one of the gentleman staying at the house, told him he had been infringing on his department and that he should have reported finding the whiskey to him, and he could have confiscated it, as it might have been used as medicine.

The colonel who stayed at our house was a New Hampshire man, and as I was from Vermont, we found we were conversant with the same local events, knew some of the same people, politicians particularly, and had both heard John T. Hale deliver the same political speech.

About four o'clock in the afternoon we noticed a bunch of cattle being driven up the street by soldiers on horseback. The cattle had been collected from the prairie near town and were being driven away, presumably for beef. As they came nearer, we saw that our milk cow was in the number and with some others turned in toward home. My sister-in-law ran to the open gate, and her mother appealed to the gentlemen in the house to save her cow. They ordered the soldiers to let her go into the lot, and we learned afterward that several women in town saved their cows by claiming them.

During the day, the soldiers brought in a sample of molasses to the doctor to ask if it would be safe to eat it. After looking at the sample and inquiring where it came from, I, being present, told him the two barrels of molasses they were looking at belonged to us, and that we were afraid to use it or even to sell it lest it might have been poisoned when the town was burned.

He assured me that it had not been tampered with by their men, and as far as they were concerned, we might use it with perfect safety and not think that they were a band of poisoners! He had the barrel moved into the smokehouse and a guard placed there.

Gen. Lane had in some way heard of me and sent for me to come and see him. When I went to his stopping place, he asked me how it was that my husband was a rebel and added that I, a northern woman, should have kept him from it. He wanted me to have him come in, saying he would be perfectly safe. I replied that I did not know where my husband was, but if I saw him before he (Gen. Lane) left, I would deliver his message and bring him to see him.

Mr. Yeater did return that night, and I went with him next morning to see Gen. Lane, who told Mr. Yeater that if he would promise to give no further aid to the Confederacy, he would be protected in his person and property and would be paid for all that had been destroyed. Mr. Yeater said he thought it would be better to make no promises now, but judge from his future conduct. The general said, "Very well, it is for you to choose." This is the last time I ever saw Gen. Lane. I remember that in my conversation with him he told me that he knew Judge Johnson (U.S. Senator from Missouri), that their seats in the United States Senate were near together and that Judge Johnson had many times invited him (Senator Lane) to call on him at his home if he ever came to that part of Missouri, that he called on him now, and not finding him at home had left his card for him. He (Lane) had had a United States flag placed on the chimney of Judge Johnson's home which was left standing when the house was burned (So much for friendship in the U.S. Senate!) He threatened dire punishment to anyone who should venture to remove it, and it remained there until a detachment of the Confederate army came through and took it down."

Now then, it is not known how a "northern woman from Vermont" met and married Mr. Yeater or what happened to them later in the war, but, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches