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Thursday, May 5, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 295: 'Butler in flames'

Friday, December 16, 2011

In the middle of December 1861, 1st Sgt. Luther Thrasher's Company C and the balance of the battalion from the Kansas Brigade were still on a march of devastation and destruction in Bates County, Mo.

This time they were marching toward Butler which would be burned to ashes, and then they returned to Kansas and "winter quarters" in Linn County not far from the Kansas / Missouri line.

The following entries are the last of Sgt. Thrasher's diary, the original of which is in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and a transcribed copy is on file at Fort Scott National Historic Site.

"Saturday 14 December 1861 on the Osage River in Vernon County

Expected an attack last night, but nothing disturbed the quiet of the camp. I rose early and took a fine breakfast. Got possession of peacans which keep us chewing all day.

Have not got scent or sight of a Secesh (Confederates) yet. Set fire to the residence where we stayed all night on leaving it! Made another descent on the Shanghais (old breed of chickens) just after starting.

Friend "Botsford" secured a full ration of these exquisite bipeds. Took our course up the river, traveling a broad marshy bottom and crossing the river eight miles south of Butler at Clark's Mills.

Here had strong presumptive evidence that an enemy was near. Capt. Stevenson was ordered to take detachments from various companies and scout the neighborhood.

Two men were taken with guns in their hands. They, however, claimed to be hunting squirrels and were released. Capt. B. Vansickle was shot at while passing through the timber which skirts the river.

We dined here and here it is our worthy A.C.S. (Assistant Commissary of Subsistence) secured from Seceshsia a 10 gallon can of strained honey, and "the boys" secured it from him and all together we had a prime meal, one worthy of patriot and soldier fighting the battles of his country.

Lead off at three and after an hour's ride have in sight of Butler, which was now in flames! Came to a halt six miles west of the town and burnt the property of a rebel.

An unauthorized scouting party was sent off for Butler under the lead of that gasometer Lt. Smalley, one of whom was killed and the others escaping by giving commendable and approved "leg bail" (running very fast). Marched on and crossed the Osage River and went into camp.

Botsford and I cooked on the individual principle and did not turn in till quite late. Hear that Wm. Dunn was killed near Butler. He belonged to Snyder's Company. Vansickle also lost one man. Got no chickens tonight and had to break on our old stock.

Dec. 15, Sunday

Some talk this morning of returning to Butler and several companies did start, but were recalled and started for our old camp, when we arrived in the evening and found the boys we had left behind all well, with a pot of bean soup already smoking on the fire.

We paid our grateful devoirs to said pot, and it being no way coy, it received our approaches most affectionately. Retired after fixing and arranging things.

Dec. 17, 1861, Tuesday

Doffered our old hats this morning and donned the new caps in which we look quite "militaire"! Order to prepare for a march was issued early this morning, and we set about it. Didn't, however, get started till about 11 a.m.

Marched slowly and deliberately in a Southern direction passing through Potosa and brought up on Mine Creek where we went into camp and christened it Camp Defiance and from this fact infer we are going to stay some time.

The ground in this vicinity is not very favorable for a permanent camp, being too low, but it will do as long as the weather remains dry. We have plenty of wood for fuel in and around camp and water (a creek full) 20 steps in front of the county line.

Made preparations for staying some time. Got our stove in position, and its general dispensation of calarics recalled one day of yore when we didn't reckon a warm room in our list of luxuries. Retired on pretty good terms with the world with the reflection that "The world is not as bad a world as some would try to make it.For whether good or whether bad depends on how we take it!"

Without further causing, we resigned ourselves to the tender mercies of the sleeping God.

Dec. 18, 1861 Wednesday

Put by times this morning and attending to miscellaneous calls. Huntley, the ever fateful Huntley, sounded the note for breakfast and lo, as if by magic, we (mess no. 3) appeared in double quick paying our devoirs to a savory banquet such as only Huntley can prepare in due military style. With a cook one may indulge to repletion, and, in true Alexander style mess, there is no more space to fill.

Sun rose in all its splendor and gave promise of another glorious day. Capt. Twiss called in today, and we had a fine social chat. Our stock of reading matter was enlarged today by the arrival of a package of papers sent to friend S. Weaver.

Nothing startling, however, occurred in the military world. Editors are great bones not to tell us of some Ball River affair just to encourage us.

Company drill today and target practice at a distance of 200 yards, putting 11 bullets in the tree out of 30 shots. Received word that Capt. Allen had reached Ohio in safety. Our lamentations over the news of his being hanged by the rebels goes for naught.

Dec. 19, Thursday

Up and charging around at an early hour. Roll call as usual. No boys sick this morning. Company drill, making ourselves more proficient is the school of the company. Wm. Moore cut my hair for which I hold myself his obedient servant.

Received rations of straw today which is a luxury always prayed for but not always obtained. (Note: Each soldier was issued a minimal amount of straw when available to be used as bedding or a mattress on top of his canvas ground cover.)

Orders were issued in the evening to be prepared to march at 3 a.m. tomorrow. This raised a violent commotion in the cook department, in order to have us provisioned for three days. When everything had been getting well on to completion the orders were countermanded (canceled).

Detailed a man to assist in preparing pork for the subsistence department. Wrote to friends in anticipation of having digestion spoiled by rebel lead or steel, but the countermand spoiled the effect. Notice the boys all remember their friends at the end of a march.

These orders to march are a great thing to mammas and papas who are anxious to hear from their progeny and great too for dear girls who have sweethearts in the Army. They must think the reign of billetdous (writing) is periodis (at regular intervals).

Worked off the enthusiasm which the idea of a fight engendered by fixing up a model bedstead and stretching our earthy carcasses thereupon and wooing Morpheus (who was a Greek god and always slept till after breakfast) and were soon launched onto the ocean of Lethe (oblivion / sleep).

No entries between Dec. 19 and Jan. 1.

Thursday, Jan. 2 -- 12, 1862, Camp Defiance, Linn Co., Kan."

So ended 1st Sgt. Luther A. Thrasher's diary while he was assigned to Co. C of Lane's or the Kansas Brigade.

In 1863, he was commissioned as a captain in the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry Regiment and served with that regiment for the duration of the war and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches