Volume 1, Number 3
During the engagement between the Union and the Confederate Armies, families on both sides had but little protection. Only women and children and very old men were left in the county. They became a prey for scattered bands of guerrillas or bushwhackers as they were sometimes called. These guerrillas did not belong to the Union or Confederate Armies. They were low-down skunks who preferred to live by robbing, killing, and plundering the helpless women and children of Newton County, rather than serve in either army. This condition in the county made it very risky for the soldiers to visit their homes and families.
G. P. Bridges, a grandson of Capt. McCoy, who lives at Ozark, Missouri, said he had heard his aunt Martha tell how she and her mother and the other children would meet Captain McCoy out in the woods near their home during the night. The mother and children huddled close for a short visit, During the latter part of the war, living conditions became so bad in Newton County, especially for the Union families that Capt. McCoy secured permission from General Steele to escort a wagon train of Union families to Missouri. Assisted by Capt. James B. Vanderpool of Company C. 1st Regiment, Arkansas Infrantry, Capt. Mc Coy escorted 20 wagons loaded with families from Newton County to Missouri.
Some very interesting happenings took place during this trek from Newton County to Missouri, as related by Martha C., the daughter of Captain John McCoy.
Capt. McCoy, who was commanding officer of the two companies, rode a very fine black saddle mare. One of the wagons was occupied by a mother and some small children, the father and husband of whom had been murdered by some guerrillas a short time previous, while he was sleeping in an orchard near their home. This wagon lumbered along a river bank, the oxen driven by one of the soldiers. He let the oxen get too near the bank and the wagon overturned into a deep hole of water. It landed bottom up. The soldiers jumped on the wagon bed with their heavy boots and succeeded in breaking the bottom of the wagon bed and rescued the family, They had not gone very far until Capt. McCoy observed this same ox team was about to run over a stump, and in order to avoid another accident he rode his horse between the stump and the oxen and the horse fell on him, breaking five ribs.
The accident confined Capt. McCoy to a bed in one of the wagons and the command was now in charge of Capt. Vanderpool. Later as they were passing some fine plantation homes, the landlady came out and cursed them and called them names saying that a Rebel Army was in their path and that every d----- one of the men would be killed and their women and children would be sleeping in tents in less than a week. On the way, a short distance at a ford of a creek, they met one of the women's husbands and one of the soldiers shot him off his horse. Capt. Vanderpool and his caravan camped on the bank of the river that night and a short time after they had pitched camp, some steers belonging to the Rebel woman came near their tents and began bellowing at the Union troops steers. Capt. Vanderpool ordered his men to shoot the steers, saying "no d--- Rebel steers could bawl at his oxen."
What the Rebel women told the Union troops about the Rebel Army proved true. For in the afternoon of the next day they were seen advancing upon the wagon train. The Rebels were about 1,000 strong. Capt. Vanderpool ordered all the wagons to corral and the battle began.
It lasted until sundown when both sides ceased firing. Only one young Union soldier was killed in the battle. Capt. Mc Coy, who was only able to sit up in bed, saw that the caravan must have reinforcements at once, or be captured. He called for volunteers to send a dispatch to Cal. I. M. Johnson at Ft. Smith, a distance of about 40 miles. Winfield, the 16 year old son of Capt. McCoy was the first to volunteer. Capt. McCoy handed his son the dispatch with the instructions to his son that the success or failure in delivering the dispatch would certainly mean life or death probably for them all. So after giving his mother what might be a farewell kiss, he mounted his father's black saddle mare and was off like the wind. There was but little sleep for anyone that night. But the next morning, just as the sun was rising, they heard the fife and drum, and soon saw the Union troops advancing, double file, the commanding officer and young Winfield riding in front.
Everything went pretty well with them until they reached a place on the Arkansas and Missouri line, known as 'Murder Rocks' which was noted as a place for raiding parties to lay in ambush. As the caravan neared this place, Capt. Vanderpool insisted that they go on through. Capt. McCoy protested telling Capt. Vanderpool that if he led the women and children into this trap and got them killed, he would be responsible. Finally Capt. Vanderpool agreed to Capt. McCoys request that he (McCoy) go ahead as a scout to investigate before the caravan attempted to go through the trap. Capt. McCoy mounted his horse and rode close enough to draw their fire, but fortunately he was unhurt. He then dispatched some troops which dislodged the guerillas and the caravan moved on to their destination unmolested.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly