|Vol. IV, No. 4, Spring 1991 / Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 1991|
Based on Jerry Ponder, "The Wilson Massacre," and "The Burning of Doniphan," previously unpublished articles submitted to OzarksWatch.
Part I: The Wilson Massacre
An unusual group assembled at the Pulliam farm in southwestern Ripley County, Missouri for Christ-mas in 1863. Nearly 150 officers and men of the Missouri State Guard's 15th Cavalry Regiment (Con-federate); at least sixty civilians, many of them women and children; and 102 prisoners, officers and men of Company C, Missouri State Militia (Union).
The civilians were family members, friends, and neighbors. Confederate "hosts" and Union "guests" were all Missourians; but they were divided by perhaps the bitterest of all enmities--those of civil war.
The day's activity was to begin with religious services conducted by the Reverend Colonel Timothy Reeves, commanding officer of the 15th Cavalry and a Baptist preacher of Ripley County. Then would follow Christmas dinner in the afternoon. The group at Pulliam' s farm numbered above three hundred at the very least, if the figures on the record are to be believed. It was too many for a mere religious service and holiday dinner. Pulliam's was one of Reeves's regimental camps.1
What began as a festive occasion ended in horror and tragedy. As the celebrants sat at dinner, their arms stacked, they were surprised by two companies of the Union Missouri State Militia, more than 200 mounted cavalrymen. Only those guarding the prisoners, about 35 men, were armed. The Militia attacked without warning, shooting into the crowd, attacking with sabers, and killing at least thirty of the Confederate men instantly and mortally wounding several more. According to local tradition, many--perhaps most---of the civilians were killed or wounded as well.2
The Union force had no casualties, suggesting the possibility that the Confederates may not have fired a shot. The survivors--some 112 officers and men, with their horses, arms, and equipment--were captured and taken out of the War for good, some to die in prison. Colonel Reeves, however, escaped.3
The official report of the Union Commander, Major James Wilson, confirms the quick, bloody character of the event: "I divided my men into two columns and charged upon them with my whole force. The enemy fired, turned, and threw down their arms and fled, with the exception of 30 or 35 and they were riddled with bullets or pierced through with the saber almost instantly." Wilson's account did not explain why, if the enemy fired, no bullet shot at point-blank range found its mark; nor, if the rest "fled," why they were all captured. Neither did Wilson mention the presence of civilians, nor harm done to them.4
The Union force was a quick-moving raiding party, sent out on December 23 from the Union stronghold at Pilot Knob in Iron County, some eighty miles to the north. Their purpose: recapture of the Union prisoners. They retired the next morning taking the freed personnel of Company C, MSM, and the new Confederate captives of the 15th Cavalry, MSG.
The stunned survivors were left to bury the dead and reflect on the carnage. About half of those killed, both soldiers and civilians, were taken to Doniphan and buried in the Old Doniphan Cemetery south of the courthouse. Tradition is that the graves were dug by a few Negro men, and the bodies were wrapped for burial by town women. Other bodies were buried near where they fell in the Ponder and Union Grove Cemeteries .5
In Ripley County, well seasoned to the war, the incident was no doubt taken in stride. But it was not forgotten, and not forgiven. It remains in the collective memory as the Wilson Massacre, memorializing in infamy the commanding officer of the Union force. It became part of the vengeful guerrilla warfare in the eastern Ozarks.
The Wilson Massacre exemplifies the fact that the Civil War in Missouri was often a war between Missourians themselves. Major James Wilson was from Lincoln County on the Mississippi River just above St. Louis. The Union State Militia and the Confederate State Guard were both Missouri forces drawn from and fighting in behalf of the divided populous. The events leading up to the Wilson Massacre provide insight into that internal war.
Union sentiment was strong in St. Louis, especially among Germans and Irish. It was also strong in the river counties where Germans were numerous, and across much of the Missouri Ozarks. Confederate sentiment was strong in the Arkansas Ozarks; and Missouri counties close to the state line tended to have more Confederate sentiment than those farther north. Especially was this true in the southeast Missouri Ozarks.
Ripley County was on the Arkansas border, and its historic trade and travel routes ran south to Arkansas and the lower Mississippi Valley. Ripley County was a Confederate place. The Pulliam farm was but a few miles from the state line.
Union control of St. Louis and of Jefferson Barracks had been crucial at the outset of the war, in part because two Ozarks railroads radiated from there. The one to the southwest terminated a hundred miles out near Rolla. The one to the south, the Iron Mountain Road, terminated some eighty miles out at Pilot Knob in Iron County. The Federals established strong points at the ends of those lines, and their spheres of military influence radiated from them. The Wilson Massacre was one of many events in the continuing struggle between those Union strongholds and the Confederate-sympathizing countryside.
The unusual, and unusually brutal, characteristic of that war was not just that military lines were ill-defined to non-existent but that the citizens themselves, the local residents, were peculiarly involved. The case of Ripley County illustrates the point.
In the summer of 1861 practically every man in Ripley and neighboring Missouri counties answered the call of Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and joined the Missouri State Guard. Jackson was a secessionist and the State Guard was considered the legitimate state force by those who supported secession and the Confederate cause. One of the principal Ripley officers was the famous Timothy Reeves, whose story follows.
After their six months enlistments expired, those of the State Guard interested in extended soldiering join, ed the regular Confederate army and left for other battle areas, especially those east of the Mississippi. Some units manned defensive positions in southeast Missouri for a time on a line New Madrid-Bloomfield-Doniphan-Greenville-Alton. In Ripley County, they built and manned a fortified position, Fort Currentview, at the state line near the strategic Current River.
By 1862 the demand for manpower elsewhere had drained these Confederate positions. Ripley and adjacent counties were left without adequate defense. In this situation local militia began to organize. They considered themselves primarily defenders of their homes and families. But by the North they were termed irregulars or guerrillas, outlaw units .6
In Ripley County two such units were formed. The Reverend Timothy Reeves, Baptist minister in the county seat of Doniphan, raised Reeves's Independent Company of Missouri Scouts, which was attached to the command of Confederate General John Sappington Marmaduke, a Missourian from Saline County. Men joined from Stoddard County on the east to Oregon County on the west, and north toward the Union fort at Pilot Knob. Reeves was able to keep Marmaduke apprised of practically all Union troop movements in the region. His command were also charged with helping maintain civil order, a job he took with extreme seriousness.7
The second unit in Ripley was raised by Reeves's neighbor, William Righter. Righter, concerned that Reeves was often absent, raised a company whose express purpose was defending local citizens against Union raids or outlaw activity. Righter soon found himself with a much larger job. What began as one company grew to several from Ripley County and one or more from each county in the region. Righter' s troops were strictly citizen soldiers who refused to be sent to service elsewhere. They would fight only to defend their home area.8
Righter's commission came from Missouri State Guard Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson. Thompson had failed to receive a regular CSA commission, despite repeated attempts. Consequently, Righter denied in later years that he was ever a Confederate colonel, and had been only a Missouri colonel, because Thompson had the power only to issue a Missouri commission.9
Righter and Reeves did a creditable job of maintaining local order. When large Northern units raided, they of necessity adopted guerrilla tactics of fight and retreat, returning after the Yankees were gone. Usually they retreated to Confederate strongholds in Arkansas; but they also had some safe havens locally or in the swamps of the nearby Bootheel lowland.
Righter was not safe on one occasion in Arkansas, however. He was captured along with Jeff Thompson during a Union raid on Pocohontas, some thirty miles down Current River from Doniphan, in July 1863. He went to Gratiot Prison in St. Louis, was paroled, and spent the rest of the war in the city reading law. He consequently missed the fateful Christmas massacre. 10
After the Thompson-Righter capture, the Reverend Reeves combined his Independent Scouts with Righter's cavalry, and took command of a united 15th Missouri Cavalry Regiment. Together with remnants of Missouri units that had fought in Arkansas (Battle of Helena, July 1863) and many new recruits, Reeves's new regiment had as many as twenty full companies--actually a brigade-strength command. Colonel Reeves's brother William, from neighboring Butler County and also a Baptist minister, was his adjutant. 11
The county-based companies under Reeves were widely spread; no doubt command was difficult. Mostly farmers and merchants, the men were mobilized only when necessary for defense of the region. However, permanent posts were maintained: at Doniphan, the fords of Current River, Fort Currentview, along main roads, and elsewhere.12
The immediate cause of the Wilson Massacre was a series of events at Centerville, Reynolds County. Centerville Courthouse was some sixty miles north of Doniphan and twenty-five southwest of Pilot Knob. Late in 1863, Centerville was captured by the Union 3rd Cavalry from Pilot Knob. Company C was left as garrison. On December 21, while engaged in building stables on the courthouse grounds, they were surprised and surrounded by Company N of Reeves's 15th Missouri Cavalry, under command of Captain Jesse Pratt, before the war the Baptist minister of Centerville. Company N was composed of farmers and merchants of Reynolds County. Probably Pratt and the Reeves brothers, also Baptist preachers, were long-time acquaintances. That Pratt was accorded the honor of recapturing his hometown was not accidental.
Captured were 102 Union men with their horses. Pratt took them south to Ripley County with a small group, leaving most of his men to garrison Centerville. He presented the prisoners to Reeves at Pulliam's on Christmas morning, and joined his fellows of the regiment for the day's festivities.13
One Union soldier had been allowed to escape at Centerville, doubtless to carry news of the event back to Pilot Knob. Reaction there was swift. Colonel R.G. Woodson, commander of the 3rd Missouri, ordered two mounted cavalry companies under Major James Wilson to pursue Pratt. They left Pilot Knob mid-morning on the twenty-third.
Wilson's force rode swiftly, rising in the darkness of the twenty-fifth to be on the road at 3:00 AM. They passed through Doniphan that morning, and continued west toward Ponder, capturing pickets as they went, and descended on Colonel Reeves's group and prisoners just as they were eating Christmas dinner.14
Wilson probably was able to follow the tracks of the captured Union Company C and their guard. One hundred and fifty horses would leave a trail in December mud. However he accomplished it, he went to Reeves like an arrow to its target. His report said, "...eight miles from Doniphan, I captured 2 pickets; 2 miles farther (and only some five miles from Reeves) I captured another post, and still 2 miles farther we came upon a rolling picket on patrol and ran them off the road, capturing 1 and compelling him to lead us to the camp of Reeves." The "rolling picket" who escaped obviously was unable to bring a warning to Reeves in time. 15
During the Battle of Pilot Knob the following month, Major James Wilson was captured by elements of General Shelby's command. Shelby ordered an immediate military court for Wilson and two others captured with him. Major Wilson and the two soldiers were found guilty of murder for the Christmas Day, 1863, massacre and were ordered to be shot to death. No record has been found to prove who shot Wilson and his men, but the consensus is that members of the 15th Missouri Cavalry Regiment made up the firing squad. No doubt there were plenty of volunteers for the job. After the war ended Colonel Reeves was charged with the act, but later released. 16
The massacre site has gone by many names since: Battle Hollow, Battleground Hollow, and Battlefield Hollow. It is no longer listed on maps, but residents of southwest Ripley County know the location and story. The action has become known as The Wilson Massacre. It was the bloodiest day of the war for Ripley County.
Part II: The Burning of Doniphan
On September 19, 1864, some one hundred mounted Union Cavalry burned the town of Doniphan. It was an action associated with the beginnings of Price's Raid, which culminated in the Battle of Pilot Knob the following month. But the torching of Doniphan was primarily an act of vengeance, without military significance, and was in effect an afterclap of the Wilson Massacre ten months earlier. It was a measure of the hatred the Yankees had for Timothy Reeves and his "guerrilla band," as the 15th Cavalry Regiment was known.
Later Union accounts of events in Ripley County that September focused on the bloody skirmishes connected with Price's invasion of Missouri. They ignored or covered up the burning. Only 39 years later, when a Union veteran participant, William Nevin, wrote a more complete account, did the Northern written record show what Ripley Countians had known all along. 17
By mid 1864 the war was going badly for the Confederacy in Missouri and Arkansas. Southern commanders decided upon a bold stroke: an invasion from Arkansas of eastern Missouri, aimed at St. Louis. It would also rally support for the Southern cause and recruit new troops, by then desperately needed. Major General Sterling Price, CSA, from Chariton County, Missouri, would command a three-division strike force. The intrepid Brigadier General Jo Shelby, CSA, of Lafayette County, Missouri, would command one of them. Independent units like Reeves's regiment would be attached to Price's force for the operation.
But the burning of Doniphan had other causes. In late August or early September of 1864 a party of a half dozen Union soldiers, Illinoisans paroled in Arkansas, were making their way from Little Rock to St. Louis. They were on foot, having given their "parole" (i.e. their word) not to fight again until officially exchanged. They were hot, ragged, tired, and hungry. When they reached Doniphan they went to the hotel and asked for a meal and lodging.
The hotel keeper was one Lemuel Kittrel, a Confederate veteran forced to return home because of wounds. His brother-in-law was Confederate Colonel Willis Ponder. Kittrel was a successful businessman and merchant, an ardent Confederate, and, like most Ripley Countians, still enraged by the Christmas massacre.
Kittrel turned the Union men out unfed and unhoused. They slept that night in a field north of Doniphan, doubtless nursing their grudge against rebel Missourians.18 They were to receive the same treatment as they continued north; and by the time they reached the Federal garrison at Patterson, some fifty miles away in Wayne County, they were barefoot, almost naked, and nearly starved. The officer of the group, a Colonel G.W. Mitchell, is reported to have requested of the 3rd Cavalry at Pilot Knob that they bum the town of Doniphan if they ever had the opportunity. 19
Mitchell and other informants apprised the Union command of Price's impending invasion, including the fact that Jo Shelby's division planned to head north on a line through Ripley County. On September 18, a Lieutenant Eric Pape was sent south from Pilot Knob with a hundred mounted men to determine Shelby's location and strength. According to the 1903 Nevin account, he also had been ordered by Major James Wilson to bum Doniphan. Pape's company arrived in the town about five o'clock the morning of September 19.20
A company of Reeves's 15th Missouri Cavalry Regiment, all Ripley men, were deployed over the county as an advance party of Price's army. (The 15th Cavalry Regiment was by now attached to Price's command and integrated into his plans for the invasion.) About 40 of them were in Doniphan that morning. Pape attacked the little force three times, after which they retreated south on the road to Kittrel's Mill, burning the bridge over Quick Creek behind them. Pape's company crossed Current River at the Doniphan ford and rode south to the Arkansas border, the Confederates retreating in front of them. Pape then returned to Doniphan about noon.
William Nevin, who was a soldier in Pape's company, went to the home of a widow Lowe, and asked for a noon meal. (His companion was Sergeant Steakly, one of the diarists of the action.) Though the widow's husband, Colonel Aden Lowe, had been killed at Fredericktown, Madison County, in 1861, she agreed to feed them. Just as dinner was ready, she looked out the window and saw the town ablaze. She sensed instantly what was happening and turned to her guests, beseeching them to intercede to have her house spared. Of all the buildings in Doniphan, only the Lowe house and the Methodist Church (ironically built in 1847 by Lemuel Kittrel) escaped the flames that day. Nevin also reported that the smaller Confederate force returned and attacked the Yankees while they were firing the town, but were driven off by the superior Union numbers and the Federal repeating rifles.21
Pape's Yankees withdrew east and north toward Butler County, stopping to burn every house and outbuilding along the road. (Nevin, however, wrote that no houses were destroyed outside of Doniphan.)22
General Jo Shelby, leading the westernmost of Price's three divisions just south of Ripley, doubtless heard of the burning and hastened to Doniphan with a force of cavalry, arriving at the town in the afternoon. He was furious. He had friends and relatives there, and had recruited in the vicinity several times with good results. He dispatched 150 men under Lieutenant Colonel Hector Johnson to run down Pape's company. They were able to follow the line of destruction.
Price, traveling farther east with the central division of his command, was perhaps as close to Pape as Shelby. Upon hearing of the burning, he, too dispatched a force to chase the Yankees. His adjutant' s report later described witnessing women and children going through the still smoking ashes of their houses and barns, searching for food.23
Johnson's pursuing force from Shelby's division found Pape's company in the dark of night on the ridge back of Ponder' s Mill, near present Fairdealing. Nevin wrote that Pape' s men could hear the Confederates getting into position in the darkness; bur Pape, doubtless dead tired, did not take it to be a serious threat.
It was serious. At daybreak, Johnson attacked. The repeating rifles held him off for a time; but when the force from Price's central division arrived, the Yankees were overwhelmed. Forty-seven of the original hundred were killed; the rest fled into the woods.24
Ripley County spent the remainder of the war without significant intervention from Union troops. Doniphan, an important town before the war, rebuilt when the war ended. But it was well over twenty years before it reached its pre-war size and never again was the regional center of importance it had been. After the war a small group of Union soldiers under the command of Captain W.A. Naylor was sent to Doniphan to govern the county and appoint officials to act as county commissioners. Naylor became a leading citizen of Ripley; the present town of Naylor is named for him.
Many former Northern troops moved to Ripley County after the War, and while trouble continued through the 1870s between the two factions, by the mid-1880s little trace remained of the war. It was many, many years however, before a Republican would be elected to office in Ripley County. As far as can be learned, not one of the survivors of
Lieutenant Pape's command that burned Doniphan was ever in Ripley County again.
Notes for "Between Missourians"
1 Compiled service record of Major James Wilson, Record Group 94, National Archives, Washington, D.C.M. Jeff Thompson, The Civil War Reminiscences of General M. Jeff Thompson, ed. by Donal J. Stan-ton, Goodwin F. Berquist, and Paul C. Bowers (Dayton, Ohio: Momingside, 1988), 16-17, 65-68. Jerry Ponder, The History of Ripley County, Missouri (Doniphan Missouri: Ponder Books, 1987), 27, 58. War Department correspondence file for 1863, National Archives microfilm publication M1064. T.L. Wright, Jr.,"Doniphan--No Man' s Land During the Civil War," 1929, Doniphan Public Library, Doniphan, Missouri.
2 ponder, History of Ripley County, p. 52.
3 One of the captives was Lieutenant Amos T. Ponder who had served in the 9th Missouri Infantry Regiment, but had resigned due to illness. Though a civilian at the time, he was treated as a military captive. Another, Elijah Dalton, was home on leave from the 9th Missouri. He subsequently died in the Federal prison at Alton, Illinois. Compiled service record of First Lieutenant Amos F. Ponder, Sr., Record Group 94, National Archives; St. Louis Prison records, National Archives microfilm publication M598-0072. Compiled service record of Private Elijah Dalton, Record Group 94, National Archives; Alton, Illinois Prison records, National Archives microfilm publication M598-0014.
4 Report of Major James Wilson to Colonel Richard G. Woodson, December 30, 1863, in United States War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (130 vols., Washington DC, 1880-1902), Series 1, XXXIV, Pt. l, 784. Hereafter cited as OR., All citations are from Series 1.
5 Interview with Mrs. Wash Harris by Dr. John Hume, 1889; Jean Ponder, "Doniphan During the Civil War," 1950, Doniphan Public Library.
6 M. Jeff Thompson, Civil War Reminiscences, 16-17, 65-68.
7 Letters of Captain Timothy Reeves to Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke, November 14, 1862 and June 11,1863, Library of Congress, Washington DC; reports of Captain Timothy Reeves to Colonel John Q. Burbridge, May 31, 1863, and to "Colonel Commanding" at Batesville, Arkansas, August 22, 1863, in "Loose Military Records," National Archives.
8 Address of Captain W.C.S. Lackey to a meeting of Ripley County Confederate veterans in 1901, a newspaper clipping in the Doniphan Public Library, Doniphan, Missouri.
9 W. R. Ponder, "Colonel William H. Righter," Twice-A-Month Magazine, (St. Louis), September 2, 1909, pp. 5, 6, 16.
10 Thompson, Reminiscences of M. Jeff Thompson, 202-210; Ponder, "Colonel William H. Righter;" St. Louis prison records, National Archives microfilm publication M598-0072.
11 Confederate Organizations--Missouri, a microfilm publication of the United States Army Historical Unit, Washington, DC. Letter of Francis Tate to Jerry Ponder, 1987; report of Captain Abijah Johns to Colonel Richard G. Woodson, February 28, 1864, OR, Pt. 1, 154. By these events, Reeves seems to have advanced in rank from captain to colonel.
12 One battalion-sized unit withdrew to Coon Island in the lowlands of eastern Butler County. Them, surrounded by swamps, they carried on almost a normal life even during the war, and returned home after it ended. Their commander, George Thannisch, was killed from ambush January 1864, the month after the Christmas Massacre, by troops of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment from Pilot Knob. Their report of "Captain Thannisch and two soldiers" was subsequently changed to read "three bushwhackers." Personal communication from Francis Tate to Jerry Ponder regarding Captain George Thannisch, 1987.
13 personal communication from James E. Bell to Jerry Ponder, 1987; historical information at the Reynolds County Courthouse, Centerville, Missouri.
14 Report of Major James Wilson to Colonel Richard G. Woodson, December 30, 1864, OR, XXII, Pt. 1,784; interview with Mrs. Wash Harris by Dr. John Hume, October 1889, Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis.
15 Colonel R.G. Woodson wrote his superior, General Fish, as follows: "Official dispatches from Major Wilson inform me that he attacked Reeves seventeen miles southwest of Doniphan, Ripley County, Missouri, about three o'clock Christmas Day; killed and wounded 35 of the enemy, captured 115 prisoners, including 13 Commissioned Officers, with all their equipment, ammunition and campage and 125 horses; also recaptured every man of Company C, captured at Centerville with their arms and campage. Wilson says that the 3rd behaved splendidly, officers and men." Daily Missouri Democrat, St. Louis, December 29, 1863.
Wilson's report to Woodson is.as follows: "Pilot Knob, Missouri, December 30, 1863, To: Colonel R.G. Woodson, Commanding Post Pilot Knob, Missouri. Sir: In compliance with your orders of the 23rd instant, I left Pilot Knob, in command of 200 men, about 10:00 AM December 23, 1863, arriving at Patterson at 9:00 PM. Left there at daylight on the 24th and encamped at Long's at 9:00 PM, having traveled 35 miles. Marched again at 3:00 AM 25th instant; passed through Doniphan, taking a southwesterly direction towards the Arkansas line. Eight miles from Doniphan, I captured 2 pickets; 2 miles further I captured one other post, and still 2 miles further we came upon a rolling picket on patrol and ran them off the road, capturing 1 and compel
ling him to lead us to the camp of Reeves. Arriving at the Camp, I divided my men into two columns and charged upon them with my whole force. The enemy fired, turned, and threw down their arms and fled, with the exception of 30 or 35 and they were riddled with bullets or pierced with the saber almost instantly. The enemy lost and killed about 30; wounded mortally 3, slightly 2, total killed and wounded 35. Prisoners captured 112; horses, besides those of Company C, 75; also their arms, ammunition and camp equipage. On morning of 26th, I started for Pilot Knob, arriving here about 4:00 PM on the 29th of December, 1863. I cannot speak in too high terms of praise of the officers and men under my Command. There was no loss on our side in killed or wounded. James Wilson. Commanding, Third State Militia, Major James Wilson to Colonel Richard G. Woodson, December 30, 1863, OR, XXII, 784.
16 Cyrus A. Peterson, "The Capture and Murder of Major James Wilson," January 26, 1906, Pike County Historical Society, Bowling Green, Missouri.
17 Sergeant James C. Steakley, "The Story of Price's Raid," Thomas Ewing, Jr., papers, Library of Congress, Washington, DC. Letter from William Nevin to Cyrus A. Peterson, 1903, Ewing papers. Official reports are lacking and few participant accounts agree on factual details regarding the military action at the town and the burning. Two Union sergeants later published a"diary" which obstinately provided only a biased account, failing to mention the burning. Most writings were based on those accounts until publication of the 1903 Nevins letter.
18 "Lemuel Kittrell," Genealogical Society of Butler County, Missouri, Area Footprints (August-November 1990), 91; Jerry Ponder and Eldon Dow Vandiver, The Family of Abner Ponder (Doniphan, Missouri: Ponder Books, 1989), 82, 96, 176, 305. One report had it that Kittrell had earlier poisoned the food of Union men eating in his hotel.
19 Same Rowe, "My Recollection of the Events Leading Up to, During and Following the Battle of Pilot Knob," n.d., Ewing papers; letter from William Nevin to Cyrus A. Peterson, 1903, Ewing papers.
20 Ibid.; an undated newspaper clipping from The Prospect (Doniphan, Missouri), Doniphan Public Library. Nevin to Peterson, 1903 Ewing papers. Papes men were drawn from companies O, I, and K, 3rd MSM, and Company JA, 47th Missouri Infantry Regiment. All were mounted.
21 M. Jeff Thompson, Reminiscences; Wright, "Doniphan--No Man's Land"; letter of William Nevin to Cyrus Peterson, 1903, Ewing papers. Most descriptions of this action are confused. Sergeant James Steakley's account in the Ewing papers mentions a bridge across the Current River which was allegedly destroyed by Confederate troops, but no bridge existed at this location until 1899. Not even a ferry operated there until 1867. William Nevin states that the bridge was on the road to Kittrell's Mill, which indicates that a small bridge spanned Quick Creek on the south edge of Doniphan. The road passed Kittrell's Mill about one mile south of Doniphan and continued down the east side of the Current River to Indian Ford, which was the location where General Sterling Price and General James B. Fagan's division crossed the river and encamped on the night of September 19, 1864. Price and Fagan marched from Indian Ford to Martinsburg by a secondary road. The Butterfield Stage used the Kittrell's Mill route and Indian Ford on its line to Pocahontas, Arkansas, in the 1840s. Beginning about 1850, the stage crossed the Current at Doniphan and proceeded down the west side of the river before joining the former route near the present site of Pratt, Missouri. Sergeant Steakley's account of Price's Raid misidentified other points of geography. The bluffs he describes on the west side of the Current River, where Confederates fired on Union troops, are actually on the east side of the river. They are the bluffs on Red Hill, just across Quick Creek at the south edge of Doniphan.
22 Letter of WilliamNevin to Cyrus A. Peterson, 1903, Ewing papers; Benjamin LaBree, The Confederate Soldier in the Civil War (Louisville, Kentucky: Courier-Journal Job Printing Co., 95), 286.
23 L.A. MacLean, "Price's Army Daily Journal," September 20, 1864, Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
24 Steakiey, "The Story of Price's Raid," Simon U. Branstetter diary, and letter of William Nevin to Cyrus A. Peterson, all in the Ewing papers; Major James Wilson to Brigadier General Thomas Ewing, Jr., September 20, 1864, OR, XLI, Pt. 1,454; Morning Reports, Various Missouri Posts and Units, Microfilm Series 617, Reel 180, Numbers 1040, 1066, 1077, and 1531, United States Army Historical Unit, Washington DC; War Department correspondence file for 1864, National Archives microfilm publication M 1064; Genealogical Society of Butler County, Butler County, Missouri II (Poplar Bluff, Missouri: Taylor Publishing Co., 1988), 8-9.
Two of the Confederates were killed and four were wounded. The dead were buried at the site, the Yankees in a mass grave on the west side of the Military Road, and the Confederates in individual graves on the east side. The Confederate site became a cemetery which was used well into the present century, known as The Military Cemetery.
Editor's Post Script
Writers in addition to Ponder have noted the final Reeves-Wilson encounter. Excerpts from three of them follow. All appear to be authoritatively documented:
--From Joseph Conan Thompson, "The Great-Little Battle of Pilot Knob. (Part II)," Missouri Historical Quarterly, April, 1989,283 n:
After their capture [at Pilot Knob], Major Wilson, Captain Dinger and the others were led to [nearby] Ironton. There they assembled with the other prisoners. After being stripped to the waist and forced to relinquish their boots, the prisoners marched barefooted behind General Fagan's column to a farm located 10 miles west of Union and 15 miles southwest of Washington [in Franklin County, some 70 miles north of Ironton]. While on the farm, Confederate Colonel Tim Reeves singled out Major Wilson and five other men, chosen at random, and had them executed by firing squad. All of the others were paroled. No explanation for the major's murder has ever been offered.
--From Michael Fellman, Inside War: The Guerrilla Conflict in Missouri During the American Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 182:
Union Major Wilson died a good death at the hands of Reeves' guerrilla band....Two southern men on their way back...to their homes [perhaps among those paroled in Franklin County?] stopped off at Mr. Alexander's house in Greenville [Wayne County] and reported Major Wilson's honorable death. At the execution Reeves said to Wilson, "'Major, you are a brave man--but you never showed my men quarter.' At the execution Major Wilson himself commanded: 'ready, aim, fire!' Those two men," Alexander wrote, "though [Wilson's enemies], praised his bravery."
Fellman proposes that a"central metaphor of war [is] the great hunt," which could be stretched to include war by stealth-----common in guerrilla warfare: There were few opportunities for courageous and manly engagement with an enemy who was almost always unseen, who rarely came out to fight in the serried ranks of storybook wars. In such a nasty war [as guerrilla war in Missouri], it was unusual to look the enemy in the face, to discover in him the manly foe truly worthy of your honorable battle. Still, if you did capture the enemy, you would execute him and want him to die nobly; and if you were captured, you would be shot and would want to die an honorable death. That was the fit end of the great hunt.
Thus Fellman' s characterization of Wilson' s end as a"good death," and an"honorable death," and his context for the witnesses' report to Mr. Alexander of Reeves's chivalrous salute to Wilson and the condemned man's command of the firing squad.
--From Andy Collins, "To the Victor Belong the Spoils," Missouri Historical Quarterly, January, 1986, pp. 191,192:
As a result of the Battle of Pilot Knob, Colonel Tim Reves [sic] acquired the eternal hatred of the Union forces in Southeast Missouri. According to witnesses, Major James Wilson and six of his men...had allegedly been turned over to Tim Reves, who...had them shot. On October 24 (1864), the bodies...were found by a farmer near Washington, Missouri.
Collins writes that at the close of the war 7454 Confederate regulars and irregulars surrendered at Wittsburg and Jacksonport, Arkansas. "Of this number,'' he writes, "the Union forces refused to parole only one man. This man was Colonel Timothy Reves." But he was soon able to return home nevertheless.
In 1867, [Reeves] was back in Ripley County, when...he performed two marriage ceremonies in his capacity as a minister. The rest of his life seems to have been that of a semi-itinerant minister. In October, 1867, he married a Carter County widow and...officiated at marriages [there] from 1867-1869. Marriage books from Butler County show Reeves as a minister there in 1877....His short obituary in the Doniphan Prospect News (1885) did not even mention his Civil War exploits. (pages 194, 195)
Jerry Ponder is a retired military intelligence officer, a Ripley County native, and author of writings on the history of that area. His ancestors were participants in the events described in this article.
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