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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 326: Victory and defeat

Friday, July 20, 2012

During the summer of 1862, the guerrilla war in Missouri between the Confederate bushwhackers (guerrillas) and the loyal Union Missouri troops was vicious, brutal and barbaric.

It was often a conflict of surprise, ambushes and disappearing into the shadows of the night only to attack again before or after the dawn of another day.

The following two brief after-action reports describe two such engagements, one of which was a victory and defeat for either side. Both reports are located in Vol. 13, Series 1 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion on pages 163-164 and 166-167.

"Camp near Pierce's Mill, Mo., July 19, 1862.

Sir, I beg leave to report that I yesterday encountered Porter's forces conjoined with Dunn's, at 12 m. [mid-day] and fought and routed them after a desperate and severe fight of three hours. They had an ambush well planned and drew my advance guard into it, in which my men suffered severely.

My killed and wounded amounted to 83 men, 15 of which belonged to my battalion Merrill's Horse; the balance, 38, to Maj. Rogers' battalion the 11th Missouri State Militia.

Among the wounded of my officers are Capt. Harker, slightly, Lt. Gregory, Lt. Potter and Lt. Robinson. I cannot find adequate terms to express the heroic manner in which my command stood the galling and destructive fire poured upon them by the concealed assassins.

I have not time to make an official or detailed report of the action; will do so upon the first favorable opportunity.

Col. McNeil joined me last night with 67 men. The enemy's force is variously estimated at from 400 to 700. I have now halted for the purpose of burying the dead and taking care of the sick. Will pursue the enemy at 11 a.m. this date. They are whipped and in full flight!

The forced marches I have been compelled to make and the bad condition of the roads and constant rainy weather have had the effect of exhausting my horses and men. The enemy was all concealed in dense underbrush (a well planned ambush) and I must give them credit for fighting well. They will not meet me on fair ground.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

John Y. Clopper

Major, Commanding Battalion, Merrill's Horse."

Now then, this was a costly victory in the number of Union troopers that were killed and wounded, but it was a victory nonetheless and a defeat for the bushwhackers even though many did get away to fight another day. The next engagement is where the tables were turned and the outcome was reversed.

"Greenville, Mo., July 20, 1862.

Sir: On this morning at daylight my camp was surprised by the rebels, some 300 to 400 in number. They were close upon us before we discovered them. Some of my men were asleep in their tents; not over one-half of them got their guns at all. We were bound to retreat.

We crossed the river close to camp; then I rallied what few men I had in my company. We recrossed the river seven drove the enemy out of our camp, but we were too weak to hold our ground and were compelled to retreat the second time.

Our camp was sacked by the enemy and almost everything of value was taken. We lost all of our rifles, I think except about 30. We lost 10 savage revolvers, 19 sabers, all of our horses and horse equipage and some 50 pair pairs of holster pistols and in fact, nearly all we had. Our tents were not hurt only by bullets. We lost all of our clothing except what we had on.

We had two men killed (two more I think will die) and five wounded. We killed four of the enemy and wounded six that we know of. Two of the wounded will be sure to die. We were outnumbered at least three to one.

The night before we were attacked was one of continual storm and rain. There was a continual war of the elements all night. They came in between our pickets (guards) through the woods. We were not able to meet them; we only had about 100 men fit for duty at the time. I cannot get along without arms. We have only about 30 rifles.

My men are scattered: I think I will get them soon together. I have lost no men as prisoners. My wounded are all here. I now learn that they have two more men badly wounded. We are in possession of our camp.

W. T. Leeper

Captain, Commanding Post.

P.S.: With the force at my command it is impossible to picket this post so that the enemy cannot come in between my pickets. It would take all my force to properly picket this place.

P.S.: We all know that we killed nine of the enemy and one died since of wounds.

This was, without a doubt, a victory for the Confederate guerrillas and a severe defeat for the Union troops. The only saving grace for the Union troops is that the survivors lived to fight another day and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches