Volume 2, Number 7, Spring 1966
Lyman O. Bennett was a young farmer from near Oswego, Illinois. During the Civil War he served in a regiment of Illinois volunteers as a part of the Army of the Southwest, commanded by Maj. Gen. Saml Curtis. Early in 1862, after a lengthy hospitalization in St. Louis, he was ordered to rejoin his regiment, then near Cassville following the bloody fighting at Pea Ridge.
He made his way across southern-Missouri, traveling by Army freight wagons, and his daily journal provides some fascinating views of the Ozarks during those trying times. As has happened to so many since that time, Mr. Bennett was pleased with what he saw here, and following the war he brought his family westward and settled in Springfield. The three-story brick house, just behind the Dairy Queen at Glenstone and Sunshine in Springfield, is the home he built for his family.
The journal, together with the original topographical maps he prepared for Gen. Curtis, are now in possession of his grandson, Mr. John Bennett, retired financial executive, in Springfield.
A couple of significant entries from the Bennett journal follow:
Saturday, Feb. 22, 1862
Editors Note: The author, Mr. Bennett, had spent the night in the village of Marshfield the journal entry follows:
I started shortly after daylight ahead of the teams. The morning was dark and foggy, dampning the ground and making it so slippery that it was difficult traveling. The train did not overtake me until one oclock. I saw the place where Prices's first pickets were encountered at the forks of two roads. The secesh rapidly retired to within five miles of Springfield, where being reinforced to about 3000 they made a stand. The ground was rolling prarie, now a cornfield, an orchard and a house. Sigels advance of cavalry charged upon and dispersed them. Tis said that Gen. Curtis ordered several Howitzers to open upon them which Price heard in Springfield and immediately commenced his retreat. The rebels had a large supply prepared and were about to distribute a large amount of clothing and had no idea of leaving until morning, but the roar of artillery hurried his flight, and his supper remained uneaten. Tis said that if Curtis had not opened fire with heavy guns Price would in a measure been surprised. At any rate, his escape would not have been so easily made. A part of the prarie was low and muddy and difficult to travel. It is a wonder to me that the heavy guns were hauled through the mud.
We reached Springfield about 3 p. m. We found the place thronged with soldiers who made free with the property of secesh as if it was theirs. Most of the houses were empty. Many were occupied by the soldiers. I soon found some of the boys of the 36th and was at home again.
Springfield is scattered over a wide area and save around the Public Square, but few of the buildings are in tact. The court house, a large church and a large brick hotel are used as hospitals for the sick of Prices army, who number about 400. A green or yellow stripe sewed on their sleeve is the only indications of uniform or marks of secession soldiers. Otherwise they are the same miserable butternuts I have seen all over the country.
Many buildings, many of them large and elegant, have been burned, some say by our soldiers and others say by the owners themselves who have fled with Price to the south. Whoever may be the guilty party, the act is heathenish and touches of the barbarian. The large stone chimneys, common to the country generally, remain standing. No place that I have seen tells so fearfully of the dread effects of war as Springfield and its environs and no picture, however vividly drawn, had ever conveyed to my mind its saddening qualities so clearly as the desolation I have seen (here) with my own eyes.
Sunday, February 23, 1862
A portion of the train were ready for a start early in the morning to convey provisions to the army and as I had decided to move on with it I had but little time to write to Melissa. We went about 3 miles on the Wilson Creek road and halted till near the middle of the afternoon to await the arrival of the remainder of the train. We passed several houses that had been burned and I am sorry to say, by our own troops. Among them was a large brick mansion belonging, I am
told, to a Union man who was driven away last summer by the Rebels and is now at Rolla. Such proceedings is a burning shame and officers allowing it should be cashiered and discharged from the service.
While the teams were waiting, a small party of us went to the battle ground at Wilsons Creek. On the way we came across an old darkey who seemed overjoyed to see Federal soldiers. His account of Prices retreat from Springfield was rather ludicrous. A party of secesh secreted themselves in the brush near his masters house for the purpose, as they expressed it, "of giving the damed Yankees hell."
At length a party of our cavalry appeared in the distance and the leader shouted, "There they are, boys, trying to surround us run for your lives!" And such skeedadling fur de brush Ill be burn fired if I ebber seed in all my dog gone days," were the old darkeys expression. Some lost their hats and never stopped to pick them up, but with long hair, coat tails and blankets streaming in the wind, rushed pell mell to join the flying army.
The old darkey told us of a secessionist living 3/4 a mile away who has a large drove of horses and suggested that it was too bad for us to go on foot. The hint was sufficient for Jake Home, and at once he was in for a horse and urged me to go along and steal one also. He had lost a horse by secesh and was bound to make it up in some way. Finding him bent on the project, I went along. Not to assist, but to look on. We found the horses in a large cornfield, but after a chase of an hour, Jake was obliged to relinquish his project, not being able to catch one. We went to Wilsons Creek and walked over the grounds where on the 10th day of last August, one of the most terrific and destructive battles ever known on the continent occurred, and which will occupy a conspicuous page in American history.
I found graves thickly scattered along the bank of the creek for a mile or more and in some places, was told scores were buried in one common trench or grave. A sort of cave upon the hill was filled with the bodies of the dead and lightly covered with logs and dirt. The trees in many places, were scored with bullets and many entirely cut down. One oak tree, about 18 inches in diameter, was entirely perforated by a cannon ball going completely through its center. The white bones of horses and their tough hides lay scattered all over the battlefield. Old shoes, hats and other dilapidated portions of wearing apparel was strewed all over the field. The small ravines entering the valley of the stream and the woody slopes of the hillsides were admirably adapted for concealing the approach of the enemy, while our forces were exposed on the tops of the hills where the trees were few and the land open.
And not with standing these advantages, as well as an overwhelming superiority of numbers, the enemy was driven about a mile, the ground covered with their dead and drenched with their blood and were it not for the fall of Lyon, the enemy would have been driven into an ignominious retreat. Indeed, a Lieutenant, now a prisoner in our hands, has told me that McCulloch advised retreat and a few more rounds from our cannon, and rigorous blows from the infantry, would have sent them hurrying over the hills. The ground has been thoroughly searched for bullets and other mementoes of the fight. The balls have been hacked from the trees and I could find nothing to take from the field but two flesh colored flint stones which I will preserve to remember Wilsons Creek and remind me of the martyred Lyon.
The train did not arrive until sundown and it was late before the teams were cared for and our supper eaten. Dan Whitney and myself crawled into a wagon but nearly froze and could sleep but little. At three oclock we were up, the teams fed and everything ready for a start at daylight.
(To be continued next issue)
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