Volume V, No. 3, Spring 1978




AND LIFE WENT ON

by Joe Jeffery, Drawings by Teresa Maddux


All persons living in Cass, Jackson, Bates and parts of Vernon Counties are hereby ordered to remove from their present places of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof.

Those establishing their loyalty to the satisfaction of the commanding officer of the nearest military station shall be permitted to remove to any military station in the district.

All grain and hay in the field, or under shelter, found before the 9th of September shall be taken to the nearest military station and turned over to the proper authorities. Ail grain and hay found after September 9th shall be destroyed.

Does this sound like something coming from Hitler's desk? It's not. This is the infamous Order Number 11 that was issued by General Thomas Ewing on August 25, 1863, from the Kansas City Union Army Headquarters, affecting the western tier of counties in Missouri along the Kansas border.

Guerrilla activity in Confederate towns such as Montevallo was one of the main reasons for this order. But from the very onset of the Civil War three years before, Montevallo had had its share of killings, fightings and burnings which left many lost and homeless. Such was the effect of the war in much of Missouri, but little Montevallo, situated in eastern Vernon County on the main road from Fort Scott, Kansas to Springfield, Missouri, seemed to get more than its share of the fighting.

The name "Montevallo" is of Spanish origin coined by one of the residents who put the words "monte" and "vallo" together for Mountain Valley. The town was located just on the eastern edge of the great prairies in a hilly, timbered, well-watered area full of such game as deer, raccoons, wildcats and panthers. It was founded in 1850 by William Withers who built and operated the first store. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Montevallo consisted of three stores, three hotels, a livery stable, and almost fifty houses supplying the surrounding area of small farmers.

The main street was on the road that ran diagonally from Fort Scott, Kansas, through Nevada and on southeast to Springfield. Montevallo's post office was on one of the main mail routes, the stagecoach went through town almost every day and its first school, the Old Academy, housed two hundred students and two teachers.

At the outbreak and during the Civil War, the majority of the population was sympathetic to the Confederate cause. Even after the war they could not quite accept the fact that the South had been beaten. In 1860 Montevallo was the first community to organize a company at the call of Governor Jackson, a Confederate supporter who later organized a Missouri state government in exile in Texas. More than half of this first company was killed the next year at the Battle of Wilson Creek. During the war years Montevallo furnished two other companies to the Confederacy, from the beginning to the end furnishing more men than the township had votes in 1860.

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As would be expected in a border area controlled by enemy soldiers, feelings and hatred ran high. Kansas jay-hawkers and Missouri bushwhackers fought across the nearby border. Loyal Cedar County militia and Confederate Vernon County troops raided each other, killing, burning and stealing. Caught between these forces, tiny Montevallo became the setting of many skirmishes and incidents. "Nearly every acre of ground in Montevallo township was the scene of some incident worthy of record during the Civil War. Every crossroad was the locality of a skirmish; every patch of timber through which a road ran was the scene of an ambuscade; every school house and prairie field was a mustering place or a drill ground; while many a glen and dale and bit of roadway witnessed a silent sickening tragedy."*[History of Vernon County, Missouri, Brown and Co., St. Louis, 1887, p. 855']

Before the Battle of Wilson Creek at Springfield in 1861, General Price's men entered Montevallo hastening to join him. In september of that year the entire Missouri army of 10,000 men came through on its way to Fort Scott and the fight at Drywood. Two months later the Kansas troops came through on their way to Springfield to join General Fremont.

Federal troops tried unsuccessfully to capture old Montevallo to turn it into a Federal garrison. Both times local Confederate troops and guerrilla bands resisted, bushwhacking them. On April 14, 1862, after a skirmish over the hotel where Union soldiers were sleeping, the commander of the First Iowa cavalry ordered the hotel and town burned. Residents fled to other places.

As the war progressed, conditions in Montevallo and Vernon County steadily worsened. The year of 1863 was the worst. It was "one of murders, arsons, robberies and outrages of every sort. Men and boys were killed, houses and barns were burned, cattle were driven off and growing crops were destroyed in the field. There was no peace, no security for life and property, and no immunity from outrage save immediately under the protection of the military. There were no holidays and no Sundays. No courts, no schools, no religious meetings."*[lbid, P. 310.]

Although there is obviously no one alive who remembers the Civil War personally, there are some who have inherited this knowledge. One such person is Mildred Cooper who lives in "new" Montevallo. She heard about the Civil War from her grandmother, Matilda Jane Ball Mallory. Mrs. Cooper's great-grandfather, Wesley Ball, was a lieutenant in the Confederate Army. His story is typical of those who lived during that time.

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Wesley Ball moved to Missouri from the small town of Greenwood, Mississippi, in 1853. He and his family came by boat up the Mississippi River to St. Louis, and then over to the town of Kansas City (then called Westport). From there they traveled south to Montevallo, more than a hundred miles in the western Missouri area which was then primarily a pioneer country.

"My great-grandfather probably had a premonition of the war," Mildred Cooper said. "He felt that eventually there Would be something done about slavery and he wanted out of the South. He didn't want to participate either way. He had worked for years when he was young as an overseer on another plantation. Even though he had slaves, he wasn't in sympathy with slavery. He wanted them free, so he came west. I suppose another reason for coming to Missouri could have been the pioneer spirit which at that time everyone was blessed with."

When Wesley Ball moved to Missouri he was fairly well-to-do. Since he had served in the Mexican War, the government had given him forty acres to which he added another 660 acres and built a new home. Before the war broke out he had hired men to help him with the farming and livestock.

When the war began, he joined the old Montevallo Confederacy Regiment. Mildred Cooper continued, "His first place to be stationed was in Deepwater up in Henry County. They had a Confederate Camp there. According to stories he didn't want to go into battle to free the slaves and he didn't want to go into battle to keep them. He didn't want to keep slaves himself--he moved out of the South because of that. He thought the war was going to be so horrible and so awful. He thought there could be a better way of releasing them--making them free people--than to go into a raging Civil War. He fought with the Confederacy because he was for Jefferson Davis, the southern president, and because of his loyalty to the South. He didn't want slaves himself. He paid white men a weekly salary to work on his farm. Only a few farms here had slaves. That wasn't why most Missourians fought."

Occasionally Lieutenant Ball was lucky enough to receive a furlough, but usually he had to rely on the uncertain mail service to communicate with his family. Some letters, such as this one to his wife did get through.

Lexington, Mo., Sept. the 21st 1861

Dear Emma I take this opertunity of roping you a few lines to let you all know that I am still well. I hope theas lines may find you all well. I hope that you are still at home and that you have not bin bothered with the Jayhawkers.

We reached this plase the 13t Our pickets & the ennemys had a sevier scirmush we run them in to thare intrenchments We then piched our tents on the bareground about one mile from town and commenst pre-pareing for the seage, the reason I call it the seage is that tha ware well fortified the best I ever saw On the morning of the 18th at 6 o/c we taken up our line of March for the battlefied about 4 o/c we commenst the fight we fought on all day and off and on all night the Morning of the 19th the fight commenst with renewed vigor lasted all day not much firing dewring the night commenst about day break & fought on untill about 4 o/c when tha made a despert efort to cut through our lines but tha ware beat back behind thare intrenchments tha then sent out thare white flag for to make a condishnell surrender but gen.

Brice refused told them he would have no condishions that tha had to surrender with out enney condishions so tha gave it up and we marched up around the fort & taken down the union flag and hoisted the southearn & made them lay down thare arms.

The southern side lost about 100 killed and wounded the federal side 500 killed & wounded and we have 3,300 Priseners of ware we sopose that tha had over 4000 men when the fight commenst but seaverl hundred deserted dewring the fight. I did not get eny of my men heart

I cannot tell you at this time when I will be at home I may not be at home before my time is out & I may be thare in two weeks do not be discoraged keep in good spirits I think all will come out right. Continue to Pray to god to presearve us and our country from our ennemys.
I remane yours as ever W. L, Ball

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Mrs. Cooper continued, "The women and children who were left behind when the husband or father went off to fight in the war just managed the best they could in the rural areas and of course the small towns too. There were rural stores, small town stores, small town post offices and life went on. Out on the farms they had their livestock, poultry and gardens, things like that. Then the husband would be home on furloughs at intervals. One trading post was over at Fort Scott about forty miles away where they would go by wagon and team and get things cheaper. They would get their sugar and flour there. But then when they would get it home, it would be stolen, some of it. Virgil City, north of here, and old Montevallo, of course, had all kinds of commodities for trade and they had good trade at their stores.

"While the men were gone, families moved together. My great-grandmother had an aged aunt that came to live with her from the south as the war was in progress --and three of my grandmother's nieces who were teenagers. The younger teenage boys were left to do farm chores and the girls and women helped to get along. She had several different members of her family come to live with her seeking refuge. Some were from down in the boot heel of Missouri. Their family was broken up and their house burned. So she had a houseful of people besides her own family.

"When the war broke out, the farm was all divided up and sold. My great-grandmother kept an acreage. The house didn't burn in the Civil War, but it burned later on. She rebuilt a two-story house."

Many people wanted to protect their wealth during the war by putting valuables or money away. Lieutenant Ball was one of these people. "He was supposed to have buried a metal box of gold coins on their place before he went to war, but he never told anyone where he buried it. And long years after the war people would go there and dig. The story got out. I suppose my grandmother must have told it.

"Great-grandmother Ball had a story she told my grandmother. In later years Union troop stragglers from the regiments came through one time. They had already stolen all her cows but two. She had a young baby--that was my grandmother--and needed the cow's milk. She also had a few chickens left for fresh eggs. They came through and drove her cows off. They also had other cattle they had rounded up. They took the few remaining chickens she had. They came in the house, took her lard, and her flour and butter and sugar that she had gone in a wagon over to Fort Scott to buy. So she went out and pleaded with the officer who was on a horse. She pleaded with him and told him she had a baby in the house and she had an old lady, she had an aunt and some cousins. He said, 'Well, lady if you can call your two cows by name and they will follow you back, you can have them.' She called them and they turned around and came toward her. 'Lady, you may have your cows back.' So I thought he must have had a heart after all. She never did lose those two cows to men coming through.

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"She told stories of them coming in and pounding on the table for certain kinds of food. She and her relatives living with her would prepare the food and set it before them. Then as a pastime the soldiers would line them up against the wall and throw knives at them and the knives would go into the wall. But none of them lost their lives and their house wasn't burned like some.

"People weren't safe anywhere. And the people living with her weren't safe there with her, but their lives were spared. Seems almost like a miracle that they were because people in other places were more mistreated.

"People in this area of the confederacy were called bushwhackers and their method of fighting was called bushwhacking. But really the fighting wasn't any different than what the Union troops did, it seems to me. Of course, I had sympathy with the Confederate side because this was all southern through here and my ancestry were Confederates. We have a museum now in Nevada--it's a restoration of the old jail that was there. And they call it the Bushwhacker Museum. At one time, according to our Vernon County history book, my great-grandfather was called a bushwhacker. It made the statement about him and said that he was a Confederate lieutenant but many times he was known to resort to bushwhacking. That was plundering and things like that, but that is what they called those around here on the side of the Confederacy bushwhackers.''

During the Civil War, Montevallo township was the scene of a battle or two plus many skirmishes. Someone kept count and at the close of the war no fewer than thirty-six had been killed in the vicinity. Eight were Union men and twenty-eight were Confederates.

"When Montevallo was attacked it was hand-to-hand combat," Mrs. Cooper said. "But the Union regiment usually moved in on horseback, sometimes on foot. They usually used guns. I doubt if they had cannons here, but they used cannons at the Battle of Lexington.

"Montevallo had three battles right there in the town. There was also one up near Deepwater, up northwest of here that my great-grandfather was in. He received an injury to his foot in that battle. Then there was a battle down here close to Horse Creek. It was the Third Wisconsin going through, a small regiment. They overpowered a group of five Confederates who had strayed away from the larger regiment. They are all buried in one grave on a farm over in there. It took quite a while for the town to be defeated, but finally they had no resources left. That was their way of capturing. The Federals had come in there at different times and put up at the hotel there and while they were sleeping, why they whipped them out--Montevallo men attacked the Federal troops while they slept and made them get out. One was the First Iowa who came in, another was the Third Wisconsin. They were both defeated, but finally the town was dwindling down under the pressure of the war and weakened."

This experience was typical of many small towns in Missouri during the Civil War. Quite often there was the spirit but not enough power or slyness to outwit the enemy. Mildred Cooper told how her great-grandfather fared.

"He was captured as he was coming home on furlough after the Battle of Lexington. They took him over to Fort Scott prison where he served three months. In some of his letters written from prison he said they gave him the job of whitewashing hospital rooms. According to his letters he had time for prayer and to read his Bible--he was a Southern Baptist. He also had time to visit with the other prisoners. They weren't really mean to him. They didn't mistreat him while he was in the Fort Scott prison.

"While in prison Confederate men around him were plotting to escape. They talked to him about it and he wouldn't go along with it. He told them they would be caught and killed. So they turned against him. He was so concerned for their lives he went to one of the guards and told him to keep an eye on them. One of the prisoners, a former Vernon County sheriff, told my great-grandfather the minute he got out to look out for him.

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"Then he was released in July of '62 on oath--he had to take an oath that he wouldn't fight on either side. And then in September of that year, he was shot out in his yard by three Union men who were neighbors. So he didn't get to stay home very long. He was home three months when they shot him just because he was a Confederate. They accused him of siding with the enemy. They knew he would be defenseless in the dark of the night. They came riding up the lane to their house. My great-grandparents had a light inside and were getting ready to go to bed on a warm September night. The men called him out by name. He went out and if he hadn't, they would have gone in and got him. Then they shot him in the back and rode off. His widow determined who they were and they were neighbors. Before the war started he had sold them some land which they never paid for. Nothing was done then, for the war was still on. One was a captain in the Union Army and his son and son-in-law. After my great-grandmother remarried, after the war ended and Montevallo rebuilt, she went to court and proved it on these three. They had to leave the state of Missouri. They couldn't put them in jail because of the war, but they had to give back the land they hadn't paid for. I think that's why she filed the suit, to get back her land."

Today there is very little left of old Montevallo--just some old chimneys, two unfilled wells and some plum thickets to show there were once people living there. After old Montevallo burned, it was not rebuilt until after the war. Then a man donated land for the new town to be built about a mile and a half from the old one. The first merchant built a small store then other buildings were added. It became quite a busy town with four or five stores, a drugstore, a hotel, two churches, a new stone school and a population of about three hundred.

During recent years Montevallo like many rural towns has declined. Now there are just the memories left. There is one small combination store and museum, open in the summer months. In "new" Montevallo the old school still stands empty and silent, dying away while people like Mildred Cooper keep these memories alive.

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Copyright 1981 BITTERSWEET, INC.


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