Volume 1, Number 5
(The author extends acknowledgements and appreciation to Charles L. Grimm, Society member, of Orange, California, for copies of the Civil War records used in this account.)
In 1862 President Lincoln and his military advisers planned campaigns that would open the Mississippi River to the Gulf, march an army through the heart of the Southland and then east ward toward Virginia where they would be joined by other Union forces in an attack on the Confederate capital at Richmond. The Federal Government, however, found these plans difficult to execute.
Admiral Farragut did manage to capture the city of New Orleans but Vicksburg and Port Hudson, both well fortified, could not be taken without the aid of ground troops.
In the east McClellan's advance to capture Richmond, and after the battles of Yorktown, Williamsburg, Seven Pines, Fair Oaks and other lesser engagements which brought no glory to the Federals, pushed within sight of the Confederate capital. General Lee and the Confederates hotly contested each advance, captured many prisoners and forced McClellan back toward Washington. After turning the advance, General Lee pressed his advantage threatening the Union capital and won the second Battle of Bull Run.
General Halleck with the aid of Grant and others was determined to move into the heart of the Southland. In this they were partially successful. With the aid of Commodore Foote they captured Fort Henry and moved on to take Fort Donelson. They won the battle of Shiloh and took Corinth, but failed to push any great distance into Dixie.
In the West the opposing forces maneuvered for a major contest of force. The contest took place in early March at Pea Ridge, Arkansas, in the upper reaches of the White River watershed. The bloody battle resulted in a costly victory for the Union forces. Following the Battle of Pea Ridge, the Confederate forces moved south leaving the upper White River valley a contested battleground for guerrilla war fare. During the remainder of the year and for that matter the remainder of the war, numerous skirmishes occurred between the Rebels and the Federals.
Two such skirmishes took place in early August of 1862. In late July, Colonel Robert R. Lawther and his Missouri Partisan Rangers of the Confederate States of America were encamped on Long Creek near White River a short distance above the present site of Branson, Missouri. Colonel Lawther was bent on attacking the 14th Missouri Cavalry Militia encamped at Camp Brown, Ozark, Missouri. Here is the official battle action report of that engagement written by Colonel Lawther, C.S.A., and later captured in a counterattack south of White River by the 14th Missouri cavalry Militia.
General: On the morning of July 31, while encamped at the mouth of Long Creek, I learned that Colonel Richardson, USA with his command of Hamilton Rowan Gamble's Militia, amounting to some 300 or 400, was encamped at Ozark, Missouri, a distance of 50 miles.
I immediately determined to surprise him, if possible, so I took up line of march for that point, traveling all day and the following night up to 12 o'clock, when I caused a halt at a distance of 2 1/2 miles from Ozark, Missouri. I then went forward to reconnoiter their position, but found that I could not approach near enough to see their camp without alarming their pickets. I then returned to camp and paraded all of my armed men, and found that I had but 55 men that were armed with arms suitable to engage the enemy with. Leaving my pack-mules and unarmed men at that point, I moved on, intending to take a position near their camp and remain until the break of day before making the attack, but when within a quarter of a mile of their camp we ran upon their pickets. I ordered my advance guard to charge upon them, which they did with spirit. I followed up closely, intending not to give them time to form, but on arriving in sight of their camp I found that they had been advised of our approach and were prepared to defend themselves, having all their tents lighted up. I instantly formed my men and ordered a charge. The enemy was found in front of the court house and posted in several adjoining buildings. We charged upon those in the street, tramping them down and scattering them in all direc tions. We then charged upon those in the court house and drove them out, they taking shelter in the adjoining brush. Learning that a large body of the enemy was forming in the street below, I ordered Captain Peabody to attack them, which he did, charging upon them with great ferocity, driving them back, they taking shelter in the houses and stables, keeping up a continued fire upon us. I then drew off my men and formed them in line of battle on the enemy's campground, expecting them to come out of the houses and give us a fair fight; but we soon found that it was impossible to draw them out, and as they had 8 men to our 1, I concluded that it would not be prudent to attempt to drive them out of the houses.
It was impossible for me to learn the number killed and wounded of the enemy, it being dark and many of them in houses. Our men saw three killed and ten wounded. I put their loss at 10 killed and 20 wounded. We had but two men slightly wounded.
My officers and men fought well. Captain Peabody, Lt. Biser and Miller and Captain Gibbs are among those that distinguished themselves.
I am, general, very respectfully your obedient servant.
ROBERT R. LAWTHER
Colonel Missouri Partisan Rangers CSA
Following the engagement at Ozark, Colonel Lawther and his men withdrew toward Forsyth, Missouri, and encamped on Snapp's farm south of White River. Here is the Union version of the Ozark engagement given by Captain Milton Burch of the 14th Missouri Cavalry Militia.
of Cant. Milton Burch
14 Missouri Cavalry Militia,
Camp Brown. Ozark, Missouri
August 5, 1862.
I have the honor of reporting to you for the information of the commanding general, the particulars of the battle fought by the men under my command at Ozark.
On the 23rd ultimo I was left by Major Wilhelm, command of the post, with about 80 men fit for action left under my command. These were parts of Companies D.F.G., and H of the 14th Regiment of Cavalry Missouri State Militia. About 5 o'clock on the evening of the 30th, a Union citizen arrived in camp, bringing the information that a body of the enemy was on Bull Creek approaching this place. He did not know their number, having seen only 12. He described some of the men as having red blankets, and this led me to the conclusion that the party might be some of our own scouts. I determined however to ascertain the facts, and for that purpose sent James Keithley, a man of tried courage and skill, disguised as a citizen, and accompanied by a man well acquainted with the country and the resorts of the enemy. At about 1 o'clock at night two citizens came in, bringing the intelligence that the enemy was advancing upon us from the direction of Forsyth. Half an hour later Keithley came in bringing the same intelligence, and adding that the enemy was taking citizens prisoners as he approached. Keithley had been for a time cut off, having gotten behind the enemy. As soon as he came in I called the men to arms. The horses had been saddled in the evening and the men in tructed to sleep with their arms in their hands. All turned out promptly and in good order. Captain Robertson, though on the sick report, took command of Company F. Lt. John R. Kelso, the provost marshal, was put in command of Company H. Companies G. and D. were respectively under the command of Lt. Etter the quartermaster and Lieutenant Mooney. Lieutenant Allison, of Company G., was officer of the day. The men were ordered to fall into line upon their horses. After they were properly numbered off and divided into platoons, I marched them to the western side of the camp, opposite the side on which I expected the attack to be made.
I considered this movement necessary from the fact that the camp is almost surrounded by dense undergrowth within gunshot, and to have remained in the camp would have been to expose my men to the fire of a concealed foe and to danger of being surrounded.
Having arrived at the place selected, I ordered the men to dismount and every fourth man to hold horses, the rest to form into line and await the attack on foot, after concealing the horses in the dense thicket in our rear and all fight on foot. Previous to this time, the pickets had been re-enforced, and the camp guards placed in greater distance and concealed in the brush. When the horses were secured, I ordered Lieutenant Kelso and Lieutenant Etter, who commanded on the left, to wait till the enemy charged fully into camp and discharged their pieces into the enemy tents, as I rightly supposed they would do and then advance to meet them. Captain Robertson and Lieutenant Mooney, who commanded on the right were ordered to hold their men in reserve to sustain Lt. Kelso and Etter in case they should be overpowered or to resist an attack from the other side should such an attack be made. Scarcely were these arrangements made when the pickets on the east commenced firing and rushed in, followed by the enemy, who poured out of the dark woods and thundered down upon our camp yelling like devils, and firing at our tents. On they came, like a tornado, striking our strong picket ropes, overturning some of their horses, and throw ing the balance into disorder.
Then was our time. The order to fire was given on the left, and as the guns roared out, the men set up the most deafening yells. The enemy quickly fled in all directions. A few passed by our left flank, passed around some houses and lots and returned, passing our right flank and receiving another fire as they did so.
We remained in line till day light, when we ascertained that our loss was two men wounded, one only slightly, and 2 horses killed. The enemy lost one man, taken prisoner, and as we have since learned from Union men who were taken prisoners, they lost 9 wounded, 3 of whom died before reaching Forsyth. They also lost two horses, killed on the ground, and several severely wounded which had to be left behind in the flight. We captured two horses, eight guns, two holsters, two revolvers, three saddles, and many other articles such as saddle-bags, blankets, hats and so forth.
The men generally conducted themselves in a manner which does them the highest credit. They seemed to regard the battle as a grand species of sport. Too much praise cannot be given to Captain Robertson and Lieutenants Mooney, Etter and Kelso. Captain Robertson forgot his sickness, and, though his horse was shot under him, he continued to cheer his men, regardless of the danger to which he was exposing himself in his feeble condition. Lieutenants Kelso and Etter seemed really to enjoy the scene, and their men partook of their spirit, while the calm and firm deportment of Lieutenant Mooney served equally well to inspire his men with confidence. Lieutenant Allison, though not directly in the battle, deserves praise for the skill with which he managed the guards. Major Ashley, our surgeon, also deserves a favorable notice. Mingling in the thickest of the fight, he displayed a zeal in inflicting wounds upon the enemy only equaled by that which he displayed after the battle was over in dressing the wounds which the enemy had inflicted upon some of my men. With such officers and men I should always calculate on victory, even against greatly superior numbers. The enemy numbered about 120, and were commanded by Colonel Robert R. Lawther. These I think Major, are all the facts worthy of notice in regard to the battle of Ozark, Mo.
Report of Capt. Milton Burch 14th Missouri Cavalry Militia Camp Brown, Ozark, Missouri.
August 5, 1862.
On the second day after the battle of Ozark, being also the second day of the month, I was placed by Colonel Barnes in command of 100 men, composed of detachments from all the com panies of the 14th Regiment Cav alry,. Missouri State Militia, and ordered to proceed to Forsyth, Missouri, and ascertain whether the enemy in any considerable number had crossed the river either above or below that place. I was ordered to attack any force I might meet, and, if overpowered, to fall back and draw them toward this place. I marched at 2 p.m., and proceeded 10 miles without the occurrence of any incident worthy of notice.
We then met a man, who stated that he had been taken prisoner by some of Lawther's men two days before, and kept at Moore's, two miles beyond Forsyth. He stated that Lawther was encamped somewhere between Moore's and the river, though he did not know the exact position of the camp.
He had learned, however, that there were pickets at the crossing of the river at Forsyth. Nothing further of interest occurred till we arrived within seven miles of Forsyth, Missouri.
We reached this point a little after dark, having traveled 23 miles, most of the way over very rough and almost uninhabited country. Here we fed and rested an hour and a half, and in the meantime took three prisoners. One of these by the name of Jackson who had been a Rebel Captain, but had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States. He informed me that he was an old settler, and knew every hog-path in that part of the country.
I asked him if he could take me to Snapp's, 1 1/2 miles on the other side of the river, without crossing at the Forsyth ford. He said he could do so by going 10 miles out of the way and crossing at Clapp's old mill at the mouth of Beaver. I gave him to understand that if he in any way proved false. I would put him to instant death, and then following his guidance, I moved toward Clapp's Mill. Here I expected to find a portion of the enemy and I was not entirely disappointed, as We found Bob Wisener, whom we killed, and Marion Thompson, whom we took prisoner, These were two notorious jayhawking Rebels, who formerly lived near Ozark. Wisener was the one who had acted as guide to Lawther when he made the attack upon us at Ozark. He was a man of considerable influence and his death has created quite a sensation among the rebel sympathizers about Ozark.
On leaving the mill I ordered my guide to lead us to within 300 yards of a large spring near Snapp's, where he supposed the enemy to be encamped. Up to this time I had taken prisoner all the rebel citizens I met.
It was my intention to form my command into two divisions, and after having reconnoitered and ascertained the enemy's position, to send 40 men, armed with sabers and mounted, with orders to pass around and attack them in the rear, while the rest of the command, having dismounted and concealed their horses, should approach silently on foot, and await the attack of the cavalry, At the place, however, where we were to halt the guide, the advance guard came in full view of the enemy's pickets. They did not immediately give the alarm, but seemed to look upon us with astonishment, as if they did not know what our appearance meant. When I came up with the advance guard and saw the pickets myself, I concluded that perhaps the enemy was apprised of our approach and was prepared to give us a warm reception. I quickly ordered those armed wlth sabers to advance six paces to the front, the balance to dismount, hitch their horses, and form on foot. This was all done promptly and in good order.
Putting Lieutenant Colley in command of the cavalry, I ordered him to form on the right of the advance guard, which alone had as yet been seen by the enemy's pickets, as Lieutenant Colley's party came in view the enemy's pickets fled without firing.
I then ordered Lieutenant Colley to charge, which he did in gallant style. He found the enemy totally unprepared. Some were undressed and asleep; some sprang up and fled without either guns or clothes; others, snatching up their arms retreated into a cornfield close by and returned quite a spirited fire. I came up with my footmen at a full run, expecting that the cavalry would have to fall back. In this I was mistaken, for the cavalry, charging up to the fence and firing their revolvers upon those in the field, put them all to flight, except four, who were left dead upon the field. Many others, from the way they ran were thought to be severely wounded. After crossing a corner of the field they reached a thick brush, into which it was impractical to follow them.
We captured 23 horses, 2 mules, 30 strands of small-arms, 75 saddles and bridles, all their commissary stores, number of saddle bags full of clothing, all their camp equipage, number of blankets, hats, shoes, and so forth, as well as the Colonel's trunk, containing all his documents, and many other articles. I endeavored to obtain a wagon in which to bring away the plunder, but failing in this, and not considering it safe to remain long in the place, I had all the things burned which we could not carry away. Two of my men were wounded, one seriously. We left him in the care of a Union citizen, The other was a slight buck-shot wound in the chin. The name of the man we left is ______ _______. The name of the other wounded man is Mark B. Evans.
Sergeant Baxter received a full load of buck-shot in the breast but was unhurt, the shot not entering the flesh.
Both officers and men conducted themselves in a manner that should do credit
to veteran soldiers. The attack was made at sunrise, and the battle lasted about
ten minutes. The enemy numbered about 150 men
commanded as at Ozark by Colonel Lawther. After the close of the battle we returned to Ozark where we arrived at 10 o'clock in the night, after an absence of thirty hours, having rested only one hour and a half of that time, and having marched 80 miles over very rough roads.
Skirmishes such as these were numerous in the upper White River valley for the remainder of the war. When the guerrilla forces of the two sides were not after each other they were chasing bushwhacker, and jayhawkers or foraging for subsistance.
Copyright Ó White River Valley Historical Quarterly