Volume 5, Number 1, Fall 1973


CIVIL WAR DAYS IN BARRY COUNTY

By Senator Emory Melton


It was not long after the Confederate batteries fired on Fort Sumter April 12, 1861, that the general impact of the Civil War reached the middle west.

The border state of Missouri was already undergoing fierce internal struggles between the forces of Unionists and secessionists, and less than 90 days after the beginning of the war the "Battle of Carthage" brought 1,150 Union soldiers under the command of Col. Franze Siegel into armed fighting with over 5,000 Confederate troops led by Gov. C.F. Jackson.

This demonstrates how swiftly the war moved from the east coast to the middle west and particularly to southwest Missouri.

Dramatic evidence of the abrupt end of civil government in Barry county can be seen in the office of County Clerk Chester Snider in the court house at Cassville. Century-old county records show that the County Court met in regular session at the Court House on April 4, 1861. The succeeding record page is blank. The next one is dated July 5, 1864, and from there on follows a record of Court sessions. The one blank page is mute testimony to more than three years of military government.

Cassville was destined to be an important point so far as the military was concerned even though no battles of consequence occurred within the county during the war.

In April of 1861 it was the largest town in the county, with some 300 inhabitants. Other towns included McDowell, from which the county seat had been removed to Cassville in June of 1845; Keetsville (now Washburn) which was established about 1843 by two English born brothers, James and Josiah Keet, who later became prominent in the Springfield business world; and the small village of Gadfly (later Corsicana), which no longer exists.

The towns of Cassville, McDowell and Keetsville were all located on the "Wire Road," so named by reason of the telegraph line built in 1859 which ran along the road from Springfield to Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Although by 1861 there was an expanding network of roads in the county, the "Wire Road" was the oldest and most important one. Cassville, in addition to being the county seat and having a two story brick court house ideally suited as a military headquarters, enjoyed a strategic location on the road. Area roads from Berryville, Arkansas, Galena, Neosho and Pineville, Missouri, all converged with the "Wire Road" at Cassville.

Like Missouri, Barry county was sharply divided in loyalty. Generally speaking, it might be said that the northern and eastern portions of the county were almost solidly behind the Union with the southern and western parts, with a few exceptions, sympathetic to the Confederate cause.

When the war started there were 66 slave holders in the county with a total of 254 slaves. By the time the war ended a total of over 225 Barry countians had served in the Union cause, with a lesser number joining the ranks of the Confederates.

One of the early casualties of the war was the Butterfield Stage service which maintained three regularly scheduled stops in Barry county. It had been inaugurated in September of 1858 to serve as the 2,700 mile link between the western terminus of the railroad at Tipton, Missouri and the West coast. John I. Smith, who operated the stage stop in the northeast part of the county, joined the Union troops and lost his life in the latter part of the war in the community where he

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lived.

The Harbin family, who operated the stop near Keetsville, were sympathetic to the Confederacy, and there appears to be no record of the feelings of the Crouch family, who operated the stop near Cassville.

Perhaps the first military action of record in Barry County occurred on July 25, 1861, some three weeks after the Battle of Carthage. General Price moved from Elk River in McDonald County to Cassville where he was joined by McCullough and Pearce on July 29, 1861.

General Price at this time joined Pearce’s division, while Greer’s Texas Rangers and General Rains’ battalion of mounted Missourians joined forces on August 1 and 2. It was with the intention of attacking this large force at Cassville that General Lyons set out on that march which resulted in the heavy battle at Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861.

The duly elected but deposed state government of Missouri fled Jefferson City and went into

session in Neosho from October 21 to October 29, 1861.

Union forces were converging on the Neosho area and a hasty departure was made by the fleeing state officials, led by Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson, a 55-year-old tall, dignified politician who was a forceful speaker. Governor Jackson and his entourage arrived in Cassville on October 30, 1861, and again took up problems occasioned by secession. Jackson, who suffered from a rasping cough, was dying from cancer.

During the stay at Neosho, a series of six

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resolutions were presented by Representative George G. Vest of Cooper county complaining of the action of Federal troops. The resolutions were passed and according to most historians Vest then wrote the Act of Secession which was adopted at Neosho.

There are no complet records of the names of the legislators attending the session in Cassville, which convened on October 31, and continued until November 7, when the General Assembly adjourned to meet at New Madrid, Missouri, the first Monday in March 1862. Only a few members were able to keep this appointment and the Missouri government later went into exile in Marshall, Tex.

As a matter of fact, there is wide disagreement over the number that attended the sessions in Cassville. It is generally believed that there were eleven state senators and from thirty-five to forty-four representatives.

Historians differed in their statements concerning the place of passing of Missouri’s Act of Secession, so the publisher of the Cassville Republican, in 1896, referred the matter to the then United States Senator George G. Vest, the author of the Act of Secession, and received the following reply from Senator Vest:

"The Ordinance of Secession passed by Missouri Legislature in 1861, was drawn by me and adopted at Neosho. The Legislature adjourned from Neosho after passing the Act of Secession, to Cassville. In the northeast room of the Courthouse at the latter place, we elected delegates to the Provisional Congress of the Confederacy."

Barry county Representative W.S. McConnell, a 38-year-old druggist and hotel keeper who lived across the street from the Court House where the rump sessions were held, refused to vote in the body, although he believed in secession. Later, McConnell was indicted for treason and taken to Jefferson City for trial. Upon a showing that he did not participate in the session he was discharged.

Housing the sessions in Cassville was a relatively new brick two-story building erected in 1856. The meetings were held in the circuit court room.

During the war, while the town was first in the hands of the Union forces and then the Confederates, the building was transformed into a fort. A cannon was placed on the lower floor and portholes were made in the side of the building. County records, many of which may be seen and examined today, were hidden in a cave southeast of Cassville and kept there until the close of the war. The building was replaced by a modern stone Courthouse in 1914.

While the General Assembly carried on its work in Cassville, and for that matter all during the war, the townspeople lived in constant peril.

At the time Cassville had about 60 dwelling houses—mostly of log construction—and 15 stores and business places, including six dry goods merchants, five blacksmiths, a steam flour mill, a carding mill, a tanyard and two grocery stores.

The town was the center of activities in the county during the war. At times house-to-house fighting occurred. Federal troops occupied the town as area headquarters for over three years. The headquarters were established in the Courthouse.

The McConnell Hotel, owned by the indicted legislator, was taken over by Union troops and served as an area Union hospital. Many of the casualties from the Pea Ridge battle in March of 1862 were transported by wagon to Cassville hospital where they received treatment and care.

A skirmish near Flat Creek, two miles west of Christian’s, near McDowell, took place February 15, 1862. Gen. S. R. Curtis moved slowly until his command passed Crane Creek, when, as he wrote, "the precipitate flight of the Confederates suggested pursuit." The latter made a stand and held the valley until Curtis’ heavy artillery drove them to flight. That evening the Federals moved on south to Cassville, taking with them straggling cattle, and resolved to drive Price out of the State. Col. Clark Wright of the Sixth Missouri Regiment, writing from Cassville on February 27, 1862, referred to a skirmish at Keetsville of February 25, in the following manner:

"I learned that 500 Texan rangers attacked Capt. Montgomery, killing two men (Maj. Ross says nine), capturing one, and sixty horses, and burning five sutler’s wagons, at Keetsville. On arriving there I learned that Montgomery had fallen back on Cassville, and though dark I resolved to join him, and did so at 9 o’clock that night. The Captain related that at 11 o’clock on the night of the 25th, 500 well armed mounted men descended on the camp, fired right and left; but the men being rallied a general fight ensued. A part of the command was cut off, but the remainder repulsed the rangers three times. After twenty minutes the Federals fell back on the town of Keetsville, the enemy retiring, and then fell back on Cassville, leaving Lieut. Mongomery to collect

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the scattered property, bury the dead and bring up the rear. The rebels lost three killed, ten wounded, one prisoner and one horse. There were eight full companies under Maj. Ross, of Young’s brigade, except Bird’s, Smith’s and Davis’ companies of McBride’s Missouri Confederate State Guards. After this attack they moved south, and at Harbin’s captured ten prisoners, a sutler and teamster, and burned three wagons before the door. It was rumored that three rebel regiments were near Keetsville to capture trains and that Col. Coffee was at or near Pineville, with 500 men."

It was about this time that the "Battle of Blockade Hollow" occurred. Blockade Hollow is less than a mile south and east of the town of Washburn (during the war known as Keetsville.l

Actually, there was no battle at all on this site since there was no engagement between the federal and confederate troops. The action consisted of fleeing troops cutting timber in the very narrow hollow which delayed the pursuers. There is some argument as to which side actually cut the timber in the hollow. The writer has always been under the impression (gained from a story handed down by a federal participant) that the troops which employed the delaying tactic were Union troops.

On July 15, 1862, General Brown commanding the third Missouri Infantry, ordered Col. Hall to destroy his stores and arms at Cassville and fall back toward Springfield. About a month later, following some severe comments on the destroying of the stores and arms Brown answered his critics saying that the force at Cassville was 644. not 3,000; that the arms destroyed were a few old country guns; and that the stores were small in quantity.

In 1862, at a time when the Confederates held Cassville, a Federal force of about 150 men entered town at a gallop driving the pickets before them. The Confederated fled to the houses and the battle was continued from house to house. Confederates poured into town from the east and west and the Federal forces retreated. In the fall of 1862 following several skirmishes in the Cassville area and after rather wide destruction of homes and property, the Union forces took undisputed command of the county seat.

The only other engagement of consequence in Barry County occurred in the latter part of the war on October 29, 1864, in the northeast portion of the county, approximately one mile south of Aurora. It is known in the official reports as "The Battle of Upshaw’s Farm."

On this date several hundred Confederate troops were marching north on the Old Wire Road when they were sighted by Federal scouts. A Union force was sent out from Mt. Vernon to intercept the Confederates and the two contingents met at the site of the battle. In a space of less than two hours more than 25 participants lost their lives and there was a heavy toll of wounded. The Federal troops were victorious in the engagement and the routed southerners fled back along the Old Wire Road.

As noted previously, the location of the town of Cassville on the Old Wire Road was responsible for the importance attached to the town during the war. The road was used extensively for troop movements by both sides and as a consequence there was widespread destruction of homes and property adjacent to the road.

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