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Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2017

Battlefield Dispatches No. 298: 'Burned to ashes'

Friday, January 6, 2012

Dayton and Columbus, Mo.

During the Civil War, the concept of waging "total war," which included the burning of homes, barns and towns, is believed by many to have originated in eastern Kansas and western Missouri. This type of warfare evolved very quickly when Kansans (seeking revenge, retribution and retaliation for the destruction done by Missourians in Kansas during the era of Bleeding Kansas from 1856 -- 1861) waged war in the "land of misery," the Union troops' nickname for the "show-me-state."

"Misery" was certainly created by Kansas troops, redlegs, jayhawkers and outlaws in Vernon, Bates, Cass, Johnson and Jackson County, Mo., in the fall and winter of 1861 -- 1862. During this time the "Kansans" destroyed the towns of Osceola, Morristown, Pappinsville, Butler, Dayton and Columbus, Mo., and many farms which were all burned to ashes!

However, at the same time and as the war progressed, "Missourians" were not without "sin" because the divided nature of the state caused many pro-Union "Missourians" to wage "total war" on the pro-Southern "Missourians" and vice versa. This was done with the same passion and hatred that was used by the Kansans when they conducted raids into Missouri, only now it was "Missourians" killing "Missourians."

This is documented throughout the history of the Civil War, but today most Civil War "folks" in western Missouri abide by the memories that it was the "Kansans" who did most of the dastardly deeds of burning destruction. This was true in the beginning of the war, but as the war continued, the killing of Missourians by Kansans became less and the killing of Missourians by Missourians increased.

The following two after-action reports describe the destruction of Dayton and Columbus, Mo., by troops of the 1st Kansas Vol. Cavalry that became known as "Jennison's Jayhawkers," which was eventually re-designated as the 7th Ks. Vol. Cavalry.

Both reports are located in Series I, Vol. 8 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, pages 45-47.

"Headquarters First Kansas Cavalry, Camp Johnson, Morristown, Mo., Jan. 4, 1862.

Sir: Information having been received by me on the evening of the 31st that Captains Fulkerson, Scott and Brity, with from 150 to 300 men, were at Dayton, Mo., making preparations, recruiting and outfitting for Price's army. At midnight I took 200 men with the 12 pound howitzer and arrived at Dayton about daylight; but the enemy had run, two companies of Col. Newgent's command having encamped at Austin the night before, a place only six miles distant.

The main body of rebels had returned to the junction of Walnut Creek and Grand River. Small parties were seen of 20 to 30 men each in the woods and on the prairie hills; detachments were sent out after them. Capt. Gregory, of Company E, had an engagement with one party of 25 men and killed one man. The captain's horse was shot and one other horse was wounded. None of our men were hurt. Some 15 Union families moved into Kansas. We captured a lot of stock belonging to the rebels, six tents and company utensils.

The scouting party which went to Walnut Creek found that Capt. Scott had left for the South. Dayton having been used voluntarily by its inhabitants as a depot for recruiting and supplying the rebels, and there being only one "Union" house in town and all the "Union" men there desiring its destruction, it was burned except the one belonging to the Union man.

Although there were 46 buildings in the town, we found only two men to represent the whole population.

Respectfully, your obedient servant,

D.R. Anthony

Lt. Col., Commanding."

Columbus "Fired"

"Headquarters" Camp Johnson, Morristown, Mo., Jan. 13, 1863.

Sir: On the fifth instant a party of 12 "Union" citizens of Johnson County, Mo., mounted on horses and armed with shotguns, came into camp and informed me that a force of 300 rebels, under command of Col. Elliot, were committing depredations upon "Union" men and asking assistance from me to aid or protect them moving their families to Kansas.

I ordered Maj. Herrick, with 200 men, to proceed to Holden, Johnson County, and capture Col. Elliot and also to cut down all rebel bands he met on the way and to protect "Union" men. Maj. Herrick took four days' rations, found no enemy in force on the route -- indeed, the country seemed desolate and deserted by the men.

On the 9th, Capt. Merriman was sent with 50 men to Columbus. The people of Columbus informed him that there was no enemy in that vicinity, but on his return, about a half mile south of the town, was fired on from ambush by Col. Elliot, who had secreted his men in the bush, and five of our men were killed.

Capt. Merriman was forced to retreat. He was soon joined by Capt. Utt of Company A, with 50 more men. They then scoured the bush for miles around but found no enemy, they having deserted their camp, which was found by our men located in a rocky ravine.

The next day Capt. Swoyer, of Company B, left the camp at Holden and searched the country of Blackwater as far as north as Chapel Hill and learned that Col. Elliot had reached a point within 10 miles of Lexington. Capt. Swoyer returned the next day to the camp at Holden.

Capt. Merriman, on the day of the attack, burned the town of Columbus, having learned it was the rendezvous of Col. Elliot and the people of the town having decoyed him into the ambush. Maj. Herrick remained at Holden until the 12th and then returned to Camp Johnson. Fifty or 60 "Union" families availed themselves of the opportunity to move out with him. Maj. Herrick also captured 60 head of horses, mules and cattle and young stock belonging to the men who fired upon Maj. Hough and those who were with Col. Elliot and brought them to camp.

Respectfully yours,

D.R. Anthony

Lt. Col., Commanding First Kansas Cavalry"

So ended Dayton and Columbus, Mo., having being "burned to ashes," and, of course, the "total war" went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches