Vol. IV, No. 4, Spring 1991 / Vol. V, No. 1, Summer 1991



Civil War Begins for the Polk County Rangers

From the journal of T.H.B. Dunnegan, with introduction by George F. Hooper



The Rangers were organized immediately after the exaggerated slave incident at Christmas time in 1859. Starting out as a maverick vigilante group, they called themselves The Bolivar Mounted Riflemen. But when a request was made to the state militia for rifles, they were informed by the Adjutant General that they would be known as the Polk County Rangers and would be subject to the regulations of the Missouri Militia.

A year later young Dunnegan, who lived at Fair Play, happened to stay overnight on a visit to Bolivar. The next morning when he stepped out of the hotel on the southside of the square, he saw the Rangers uniformed and mounted, with orders to depart for Bali's Mill on the Little Osage river in northern Vernon County. There they were to join a company of infantry and cavalry from St. Louis which had been sent there to combat any of the raids (from Jayhawkers and Bushwhackers) which had been coming from Kansas Territory. Since they were wanting more men, Dunne gan, who was not yet 19, and several men from the county enlisted and joined the encampment at Bali's Mill several days later. The following is Dunnegan's account of his experiences:

I found the company quartered in the mill house and some little houses in the mill yard. The weather was very cold. The summer had been very dry and the water in the Little Osage was so low that the mill was not running, and what little water there was in the river was frozen in most places. The mill house, like most of the old mills of that day, was very open, and as I remember it there was only an open platform or hearth upon which we built log fires to warm and cook by. I remember there were several quarters of beef hanging up frozen as hard as it could freeze, and each fellow, when he felt so disposed, would go and cut off what he wanted and broil it over the open fire. I was there about ten days, and since then I soldiered about three and a half years, and I think those ten days were the most disagreeable that I ever put in anywhere.

The St. Louis companies, artillery and infantry, were encamped on the other side of the river from us and the Parade Grand [ground?] was on that side. The first day that I arrived we wem over there to drill and it was soon discovered that I knew so much about the Manual of Arms that I with several others, were put into a squad to ourselves and a German corporal was detailed to instruct us. He endeavored to do so mostly by swearing at us and bemeaning us (sic) to his heart's content, and I have never had much admiration for German petty officers since.

Since Sergeant W.C.C. Akard was my uncle, and he having some business with the Commanding Officer, took us with him to headquarters which was upstairs over the store of Orrick, McNeil & Co. We found the Lieutenant Colonel though very dignified and austere, a very affable gentleman, and after some conversation, mostly between my uncle and the colonel, we bowed ourselves out. The most notable object in headquarters was a ten gallon keg of whiskey on tap, although I don't remember the colonel offered to treat.

But soon the 8th day of January arrived (Jackson Day) and of course we celebrate with a Parade and Review. But there was one little incident in the early morning that I think had something to do with the Polk County Rangers. The little artillery company from St. Louis was commanded by a man who afterwards became the celebrated Captain Emmett McDonald of the Confederate Army. On the morning of the 8th, McDonald raised over his camp, a flag containing a star for each of the southern or slave-holding states, and he swore that those were the only states he would fight for. Lt. Richard Menefee of the Rangers swore that for a little he would "take some of the boys and go over and shoot the d....d rag full of holes." But we had the Parade and Review, the first one that I ever heard the command given, "Artillery by section (we had two pieces and two caissons) Cavalry by fours, March!"

The parade over late in the afternoon, I think about sundown, the following battalion order was promulgated:

Headquarters S.W. Batt., Little Osage, Vernon County, Missouri, January 8, 1861-Battalion Order #8: The third company of this Battalion, the Polk County Rangers of Bolivar, having represented that they were induced to tender their services to the State upon assurances from Col. J.F. Snyder, late Division Inspector of the 6th Military District, that said term of service would be but of a few days duration. And that owing to this fact they have left their families and business affairs neglected and unsettled. That their personal interest precludes their serving the State for a longer time, and that their presence is necessary at home. In view of these facts and that many citizens of the state are willing and anxious to serve at this time. So that said Third Company can soon be reorganized, the Lieut. Col. Commanding deems it for the best interest of the state to discharge from further service with their Battalion, the Polk County Rangers."
By order of Lieut. Col. Jno. S. Bowen W. Nugent Jr. Lieut. and Adjt.
[Editor Flanders's note: The family farm of my boyhood was between the villages of Humansville and Dunnegan in Polk County, Missouri; so when the Polk County Historical Society newsletter, The Resume', carried T.H.B. Dunnegan's 1917 reminiscent account of the Polk County Rangers, it caught my eye.
The Polk County Rangers were typical of local paramilitary units which fought in the Ozarks in one way or another, on one side or the other, sometimes well led and well disciplined, sometimes not. One wonders if perhaps in the case of the Polk County Rangers their unmilitary character may have been a factor in their being quickly mustered out of service! Note the division among Union and secessionist sentiment beginning to surface in the Missourians' camp.
Dunnegan's account is reprinted here courtesy of George F. Hooper, Polk County Historical Society Secretary and Resume' editor.]

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