Volume 1, Number 4
The War of the Rebellion has often been referred to as the last great war in which chivalry played so notorious a role. Upon many occasions during the great conflict splendid examples of dignity, decency and kindness were exhibited, even in the numerous engagements of the upper White River Valley.
Some historians of the Civil War period have left the impression that the officers of both the Union and Confederate armies held strict discipline over their men, and that it was only the bushwhackers, who swore no allegiance to either side, who committed the hideous crimes of the era. To some extent this was the case, and numerous examples appear on the official records of the war to substantiate such a statement. A careful study of the official records, however, reveals the fact that some of the officers experienced great difficulty in discipling the freedom loving, civilian minded soldiers who made up the great bulk of the armies.
In a number of cases even the officers failed to adhere to the principles of civilized warfare and the high qualities of moral conduct that usually characterized their office. It is to this phase of the war in the upper White River Valley that this manuscript is directed.
Following the Battle of Pea Ridge, the main Confederate army withdrew south of the Boston Mountains in Arkansas, leaving the region, for the most part, to guerrilla warfare. Guerrilla warfare, then as now, was characterized by secreted bands of soldiers operating behind the lines or in disputed areas under orders from their superior officers at distant points. For the remainder of the great conflict the upper White River Valley became the "No Man's Land," of a good portion of the battleground of the West. Missouri was always threatened by raids from Confederate forces, thus keeping the region generally disturbed with numerous guerrilla activities. Guerrilla bands of both the Union and Confederacy constantly contested each other's right to the region.
It was always more difficult to direct and discipline detached units of guerrillas than of the regular forces. Discipline was left, for the most part, to the officers in charge of the small units. These guerrilla forces were many times made up of local men, or at least in part of local men familiar with their habitat and the people living in the area of their operations. Many of these men carried grudges for wrongs, real or imaginary, done to their kinsmen or friends by the other side. To avenge depredations to their flesh and blood or property often motivated their every act. As the weeks and months passed, there were ever more wrongs to avenge on both sides, and it seemed that each half lived only to destroy the other half.
The following excerpts taken from the official records of the War of the Rebellion reveal many atrocities committed in the upper White River Valley, not by bushwhackers, but by the officers and men of the regular armies. An official communication from Colonel James O. Gower, (Union) Third Division Head quarters, Forsyth, Missouri, dated January 25, 1863, to Colonel C. W. Marsh, Assistant Adjutant General, reveals the following.
"I have called upon Lt. Colonel Baldwin, Provost Marshal of the division to furnish a written statement of what disposition was made of the nine prisoners of war (referred to in Colonel Dan Huston's letter) supposed to have, been murdered at Huntsville, Arkansas, on the 10th instant, and will report as soon as the matter can be investigated. I have no doubt but that some officer of this division ordered these men shot, and regard it myself as a great out rage."
An official communication from Colonel Wm. Weer, (Union) commanding, Headquarters Division, Army of the Frontier, Carrollton, Arkansas, dated April 2, 1863, to Major General John M. Schoffield states:"Marmaduke has sent a party of some 1,000 men to Vera Cruz, (Douglas County, Missouri) - I am thrashing corn, so as to deposit it at Forsyth. I am enveloped in a cloud of guerrillas. They are firing into my forage trains. One of the drivers will, I presume, die of his wounds."
Evidently the Confederate Guerrillas were causing Colonel Weer considerable trouble, for on April 4, 1863, he ordered Lt. R. Carpenter to take drastic steps to stop them. Here is his official communication to Lt. Carpenter:
Headquarters, 1st Division, Army of the Frontier, Carrollton, Arkansas April 4, 1863.
Lt. R. Carpenter: (Union)
Commanding expedition to Osage Fork,
It having come to the knowledge of the colonel commanding that the forage trains of this command are repeatedly fired into on Osage Fork of Kings River by lawless men, who secret themselves in the bushes and are encouraged and entertained by the inhabitants in that vicinity, you are therefore instructed to proceed to said neighborhood with the wagons placed in your charge, destroy every house and farm etc. owned by secessionist, together with their property that cannot be made available to the army; kill every bushwhacker you find; bring away the women and children to this place, with provision enough to support them, and report to these head quarters upon your return.
WM. WEER, COLONEL, COMMANDING DIVISION
Little Rock, Arkansas, April 17, 1863.
Lt. General Holmes, (Confederate)
Commanding, District of Arkansas:
Sir: I left Dardanelle, Arkansas, on the 5th instant, and returned yesterday, the 16th, having gone as far into enemy country as Cassville, Barry County, Missouri.
They (the Union forces) have murdered every southern man that could be found, old age and extreme youth sharing at their hands the same merciless fate. Old Samuel Cox and his son (age 14), Saul Gatewood, Heal Parker and Capt. Duvall, of Missouri, were a part of those murdered in Carroll. They burned on Osage, in Carroll County, fifteen southern houses and all the out houses, none of those thus made homeless being permitted to take with them any clothing or subsistance. They seem to have hoisted the black flag, for no southern man, however old and infirm or however little he may have assisted our cause, is permitted to escape them alive.
General, I have not the language to describe in truthful colors the ravages these Hessians are committing In the northwest of this State. Their guide and principal leader up there is an Arkansian, formerly a Baptist preacher in Carroll county, of the name of Crysop.
The infantry and a battery of five guns, numbering about 1,000 men, left the cavalry at Carroll- ton, they moving in a northeast direction and toward Forsyth, Missouri, on White River, about 43 miles from Springfield, Missouri on the river road from the latter place to Yellville, Arkansas.
No troops at Huntsville, Berryville, or Bentonville, Arkansas. The Pin Indians have moved out of the nation. An occasional scout visits these places, murdering and stealing.
General Herron is at Springfield, very sick and not expected to live. But few troops at Springfield.
The main force is concentrating at Hartville under command of General Blunt. They report 10,000 men and I do not believe they miss it far. They are concentrating to check Marmaduke, whom they fear as honest men do the devil. On the border, both in Arkansas and Missouri, they are murdering every southern man going north or coming south. A first Lieutenant (Robert H. Christian) of the Missouri Militia committed one of the most diabolical, cold-blooded murders that I heard of during my trip. Four old citizens had gone to the brush, fearing that by remaining at home they would be murdered. Their names were Asa Chilcutt (who was recruiting for the C. S. Army), Alias Price, Thomas Dilworth, and Lee Chilcutt. Asa Chilcutt was taken very sick, and sent for Dr. Harris, a Southern man. The doctor came as requested, and while there, this man Christian and 17 other militia came suddenly upon their camp. Lee Chilcutt made his escape. The others were captured, and disposed of as follows: Asa Chilcutt, the sick man was shot some six or seven times by this leading murderer, Christian. They marched the others 150 yards to a ridge, and, not heeding their age or prayers for mercy, which were heard by citizens living near by, they shot and killed the doctor and the others, all of them being shot two or three times through the head and as many more times through the body. They (the Federals) then left them, and, passing a house nearby told the lady that, they had "killed four old bucks out there and if they had any friends they had better bury them." This man Christian also tried to hire two ladies, with sugar and coffee, etc. to poison southern men lying in the brush. Christian proposed furnishing the poison and also the subsistance, and would pay them well if they accepted his proposition. The names of the ladies are Rhoda Laton, and Mrs. Simms, and every word of all the above can be proven in every particular.
I have given you the above narrative of Christian's acts at the request of the public living in that section. They look to you as the avenger of their wrongs.
I have the honor to be, general, your most obedient servant,
Capt. Company B. Hunter's Regiment,
Missouri Infantry on Detached Service.
Captain Peevy is a perfectly reliable man; very cool, and intelligent and was sent by me to obtain information.
THOMAS H. HOLMES, Lt. General
Despite harsh measures taken by each side against the other, atrocities continued. No doubt many were never reported in the official communications. Often each side branded the guerrilla forces of the other as "bushwhackers," which made their exterm ination more justified.
Negroes in the service of the Union Army as soldiers, camp attendants, or teamsters were treated especially harsh, when captured, by the Confederates. One such example is given in the following official report.
Headquarters Second Arkansas Cavalry, April 28, 1864.
Commanding S. W. District of Missouri.
General: I transmit the following list of killed, wounded, and missing. (list
not available). The party belonged to the post at Berryville, Arkansas, and
consisted of 26 men under Sergeant Watts, Company A, Second Arkansas Cavalry.
They were foraging on the Osage Branch of King's River, Carroll County, Arkansas,
and were attacked on the 16th instant by guerrilla Cooper and a band of some
80 to 100 strong. Twice my men repulsed the rebel crew, charged and drove them,
but out numbered and overpowered at last they had to abandon the six wagons
for which they had fought, leaving besides in the hands of the enemy 3 prisoners,
which have since returned. THE SIX
COLORED TEAMSTERS WERE BUTCHERED WITHOUT
MERCY, and the wagons were destroyed. The event is an unfortunate one; yet, though I cannot but regret the loss of those men and of the train, the gallantry displayed by the little band challanges all blame, and can but call from me praise which I feel proud to have to bestow.
Colonel Commanding Second Arkansas Cavalry.
According to numerous official communications the area of the upper White River watershed was practically depopulated near the end of hostilities. The people of both Union and Confederate sympathies were either killed or had to move out, going north or south depending upon where their loyalties lay. The guerrilla forces of both sides had to limit their activities because there was little left to subsist on. The fields and the farms were deserted. There were but few homes left standing to return to should anyone have thought of returning. The bush whackers and the guerrilla bands had laid waste the countryside.
Perhaps the people of no other section of the country suffered more than those
of the upper White River Valley in the "NO MAN'S LAND OF THE WEST."
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly