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Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 313: Mud and more mud

Friday, April 20, 2012

Springtime in Kansas can be elusive, however, one thing is certain and that is sometime from the middle of March to the end of May there will be torrential flooding rains that produces "mud, mud and more mud."

So it is today, and so it was during the Civil War. This of course is not unusual because this is a time when history has repeated itself.

Just ask about mud of a veteran who fought in the springtime in the mountains and valleys of Italy throughout Europe in the spring of 1945 or in the monsoons of the South Pacific, the mountains of Korea or the valleys and rice paddies of Vietnam. They all marched in and fought in mud. This column describes what it was like to conduct a "Union" expedition from Fort Scott -- into and back from Carthage -- in "The Land of Misery" (one of the Yankee nicknames for Missouri) during the torrential rains in April of 1862.

The author was a soldier in the 2nd Ohio Volunteer Cavalry whose "pen name" was "Vic" and his account of the expedition was published in the April 26, 1862, edition of the Fort Scott Volunteer.

"A Trip to Carthage"

The 1st Battalion of the 2nd Ohio Cavalry, under the command of Maj. George Minor, left this place (Fort Scott) Carthage on Thursday, the 10th inst. The command consisted of Companies C, I, F and L.A. train of nine wagons, loaded with company and commissary stores (supplies), ammunition and etc. accompanied us. Nothing of note happened on the first day of our march. We camped on the bank of Drywood Creek, having made about 12 miles.

Early on Friday morning, we resumed our march, intending to reach Lamar that night, but owing to the heavy rain which set in forenoon and to some little accidents which delayed our train, we were obliged to encamp on the bank of Cox's Creek, having marched about 10 miles. The men were drenched with the rain and after spending a cold uncomfortable night we resumed our march. The day was cold and a drizzling rain set in which continued until night. The road was not bad, however, and everything went smoothly until within a few miles of Lamar. Then we were met by a couple of men, who came to inform us that owing to the rise in the river, we would be unable to cross at the ford and must go some distance above to the bridge. Leaving the main road we struck off onto a byroad which led to the bridge. Hardly had we gone a hundred yards before we found that our new road was anything but a pleasant one.

Wagon after wagon stuck fast in the thick "prairie mud," which for three or four miles was nearly up to the axles and the strength of six mules was totally inadequate to the task of pulling them out.

There was no other way. It must be done by hand. Picket ropes were tied to the tongues and the men, arranging themselves on each side guiding their horses with one hand and bracing well in their stirrups, would pull the other hand, adding the labor of 50 men to that of six mules. And thus the wagons were drawn out of and through the muck the entire distance.

For a while, the companies relieved each other at this labor, but soon all got to work together and then the fun commenced in earnest, the different companies vying with each other to see which got their wagon out first. The men and officers shouting at the top of their voices, teamsters screaming and plying the whip to tired and stubborn mules and shouts of exultation as one company would pass another made the scene at once animated and ludicrous. We finally got through the mud, crossed the bridge and encamped within two miles of Lamar."

Now then, it was a good thing that the 2nd Ohio had a bridge to cross just before they entered Lamar because they would not have been so lucky if they had arrived across the Marmaton River from Fort Scott because of the following brief statement that was in the same newspaper.

"The tremendous flood of last week swept away the Military Bridge over the Marmaton. The water rose 15 feet above the bridge!"

Shortly after this, the "Union" engineers constructed a replacement bridge at the same location which was approximately 50 or so yards east of the confluence of the Marmaton River and Mill Creek where the existing 69 Highway Bridge is today. And, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches