Volume 31, Number 2 - Winter 1992
Editors note: In 1959 Dewey Short, then Assistant Secretary of the Army, gave a number of talks commemorating the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of the Civil War. On November 10, 1959, he gave an address to the Washington D.C. Civil War Round Table entitled "The Battle of Wilsons Creek." Included in his address was the following excerpt concerning the skirmish at Dug Spring, a small preliminary confrontation before the major struggle at Wilsons Creek. The entire speech is contained in the Dewey Short Papers preserved by Robert Wiley, Crane, Mo.
With the Union forces in the capacity of guide was my GranPap Short. When the troops camped for the night following the Dug Spring skirmish, GranPap asked for leave to visit his family and the leave was granted. He reached home a little before dark, had supper with his folks and had just seated himself in the doorway to rest and catch up on what had been going on when the quietness was rudely broken.
Two men on horses rode up to the front gate which was some little distance from the house and shouted, "Hello." When GranPap answered, they asked to be directed to the Union lines, saying theyd lost their way. This part of the country served as sort of a runway for escaped prisoners, bushwhackers and lost men from both sides.
Without stopping to think or suspecting any treachery, GranPap walked quickly to the fence and jumped over. Almost as soon as he hit the ground, one of the men grabbed him. He reached for his pistol, but as he did so the second man seized his wrist and tried to twist the pistol out of his hand. In a fight as one-sided as that, GranPap was soon on his knees, with one man on his back trying to choke him and the other one attempting to get the pistol out of his hand.
It must have seemed like an eternity, this struggle, when really it lasted just a few minutes. Suddenly the man on his back rolled off, the grip on the pistol loosened and the second man fled down the road. GranPap sprang to his feet to see what had happened. There on the ground, sprawled out on his face, lay the man who a few short minutes before was trying to choke him, an axe sunk almost out of sight between his shoulders. And leaning against the fence ready to faint now that the deed was done, was Granny Short.
Uncle George, who was about eight years old at the time, ran to the woodpile and got the axe for Granny, and his quick acting and her quick thinking and acting saved GranPaps life.
Granny heard one of the men tell the other one to hang on "for the balance of the boys will be here directly." She insisted that GranPap go to the woods to spend the night so he wouldnt be in the house in case the others did come. He protested at first but finally did as she insisted.
Then Granny, Uncle George and perhaps another child or two dragged the dead man around the house to a straw stack in a field close by. They took off his coat clothes were hard to come by in that day and buried him temporarily covering him with straw. Then they cleaned up around so there were no tell tale traces.
That must have been a long night, Ive heard my Aunt Nan OBryant, my fathers oldest sister, say it was, and tell how scared all of them were at the least little noise outside. But somehow the hours dragged by, morning came, and so did "the balance of the boys", 24 or 25 of them.
The gang swarmed in, swearing, almost filling the house. They asked all kinds of questions, demanding all the time, "Wheres your man?" They pillaged through the bureau drawers and took everything that suited their fancy. All the while, as Granny told it, she sassed them.
Finally the leader, apparently, took a shovel full of live coals from the fireplace, turned back the feather bed, ripped open the straw tick and dumped the coals in the straw. More than one pioneer home was burned to the ground by that method.
Granny picked up the burning straw tick in her arms, carried it outside and dumped it over the fence in the road. That must have seemed an admirable feat even to ruffians of their type for the leader said, "Come on boys, no woman as brave as that deserves to have her house burned by us.
GranPap kept one of the horses for his own use and gave the other one to Judge Murphy who lived a few miles north of Hurley on what is now (1958) the Wade Kemp farm. Uncle George wore the salvaged clothing as long as it held.
Years later, at a Confederate reunion in Texas, the brother of a friend of Granny and GranPaps came across a man who knew this story to the last detail. It turned out he was the fellow who got away.
One of the most moving things for me in studying the Civil War is that I find it a very personal affair. We do not speak in terms of numbered divisions when we speak of the Civil War; we speak in terms of people and human values. These people, these values were the things that gave us a new America as the sound of the last shot of the Civil War died away an America confident in her new-found unity; a truly free America strong through the suffering she underwent.
Copyright © White River Valley Historical Quarterly