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Battlefield Dispatches No. 342: Murdering and robbing

Friday, November 9, 2012

During the Civil War in Missouri and eastern Kansas, in addition to killing prisoners, both the Jayhawkers of Kansas and the Bushwhackers of Missouri murdered and robbed civilians as well as soldiers which was and is commonplace in any guerrilla war. The following correspondence describes a "Guerrilla" attack on Lamar, Mo., and the "Union" response from Fort Scott. Both documents are located on Pages 348 and 352-354 in Series I, Vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"Lamar, Mo., November 6, 1862.

Sir: I have the honor to report that I was attacked last night by a band of rebels, numbering 200 or 300. I fought them some two and a half hours from houses and every way. The rebels rushed in and burned about one third of the town. They killed three of my men and wounded three mortally, I think. We held the town and still hold it. We killed five or six of the rebels. I shall stay here until I hear from you. We would like to have some men in this part of the country. Three squads have passed through this country within the past week, numbering in all about 1,000. They are going south. If I had 150 more men here, I think I could capture the squads that are passing through this country. I am not strong enough to organize the militia in Jasper County.

Yours with respect,

M. BREEDEN,

Captain."

"Headquarters, Fort Scott, Kan.,

Nov. 11, 1862.

General: I have the honor to report that on the morning of the instant I received a dispatch from Capt. Breeden, dated Lamar, at 9 p.m. the night before stating that he had been attacked by about an hour before by 400 men under Quantrill that they were still fighting and asking for assistance. I immediately sent Capt. Conkey with 80 men and Capt. Coleman with 30 men; they leaving here at 4 o'clock a.m. Thursday morning.

At 9 o'clock I learned that Captain Morton's (wagon) train was at Carthage the same night and being fearful that he would run right into the enemy I dispatched a messenger to Capt. Conkey, stating these facts and directing him to follow on and if necessary to fight his way through to the train.

Capt. Conkey did follow on and got after the enemy and killed one of them and learned that the train had passed west in safety. On the night following, the train arrived here, having made a forced march.

The next morning about 3 a.m., a messenger reached me stating that (Confederate guerrilla) Livingston with 100 men was on the Dry Wood about two miles above Redfield murdering and robbing and that he was working up stream. I immediately ordered Capt. Mefford to take about 75 men and make a crossing at Morris Mill, but owing to his men being very tired and his scouts worn down, he did not get started until about 6 o'clock and in the mean time messengers continued to arrive with information of Livingston's movements, passing up stream above Morris Mill and the military crossing at Endicott's, so that by the time Mefford was ready he made direct for Cato and there struck his trail about one hour behind him and pursued him about 25 miles to Cow Creek and overtook him, making a running fight and wounding one of Livingston's men and recovering some prisoners. As his stock (horses) was badly used up and the enemy well mounted and scattered Captain Mefford returned to this post and I am glad to say he did as well as he could considering the condition of his horses.

In the meantime, I had dispatched a messenger to Capts. Conkey and Coleman, who had encamped at Morris' Mill, on the direct road to Carthage to make for Sherwood (Mo.) and to intercept them there. The messenger reached them in good time and they started for Sherwood, but as it grew dark before they reached that place and having no one with them familiar with the country, they were obliged to encamp until next morning.

The command then separated, Capt. Coleman on the south side of Spring River and Capt. Conkey on the north side and worked down toward Sherwood and Capt. Coleman being in the advance came upon the enemy and charged them, killing four or five and taking four prisoners, including the notorious Capt. Baker, who was taken by Capt. Coleman himself.

Take it all in all, I think the pursuit a decided success and that the enemy will be more cautious hereafter. If I had a respectable number of well-mounted men I would punish their impudence. On the night of the 10th instant I sent Lieutenant Cavert of the third Wisconsin with 16 men to Lamar, with dispatches for Capt. Breeden and they reached there at a.m. yesterday the 11th instant and found that Quantrill had left just after burning most of the town that had been spared by him before. I am satisfied that Quantrill is waiting for a train and I shall be compelled to send all of my cavalry with it which will weaken the post so much that he may feel like making an attack upon us. There is, as I learn from proper officers about $2,000,000 worth of government property at this post and vicinity and it does seem to me as if our force is hardly sufficient. I learn also that the trains passing from Springfield have a very strong guard most of the time a full regiment and it certainly is not as dangerous as our route.

If you are inclined to send a large cavalry force it would please me to have Capts. Earle and Coleman of the Ninth Kansas with their companies if it would suit your pleasure.

The whole transportation belonging to this post is engaged in carrying commissary stores to the command, but we are expecting 100 more teams from Fort Leavenworth the coming week. After this train shall start, the enemy can approach very near and laugh at us, as I shall have no cavalry to send after them at any time since I have been here and the only way that I have been able to keep them from doing more mischief is by having small scouting parties on the move in their country all the while and that has told on our horses.

In these expeditions, my men have been very successful losing none and having only a few wounded and have killed quite a number of the enemy and frightened them awfully. I have just learned that the citizens on Dry Wood are leaving with their families after asking for a force which I could not give them and Squire Redfield has also asked for a force in his vicinity as the inhabitants are very much frightened.

I am General, very respectfully, you obedient servant,

B.S. HENNING,

Major, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, Commanding Post."

It appears by this letter that Maj. Henning was very concerned, as he should have been, about the minimal numbers of troops stationed at Fort Scott to protect the post and provide protection for the transient wagon trains and the citizens of the area. This was a problem that plagued all of the Union commanders at Fort Scott throughout the war, but it did not stop them from sending relief columns to the towns in the surrounding area, including towns in Missouri such as Lamar when they were threatened or attacked, and of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches