MILLER COUNTY IN THE CIVIL WAR
by Peggy Smith Hake
Miller County, established in 1837, was populated largely by southern pioneers during the era 1840-1860. Some of the families were slave owners so leaned toward the Confederacy when the Civil War broke out. In the election of 1860, President Abraham Lincoln only received 23 votes in Miller County which strongly suggested the residents favored the southern cause.
During 1860 and 1861, mutterings were heard across the county and often discussions were heard in the circuit court room at the courthouse in Tuscumbia. Strong speeches were given in defense of both the Union and for secession. As the weeks passed by, more meetings were held at the various settlements in the county....Tuscumbia, Iberia, Ulman's Ridge and other places. The first Rebel flag was hoisted high on a tree near Simpson's store in Tuscumbia. At one time during the war, at the ferry landing in Tuscumbia, the Rebel flag flew on the left and the National flag on the right of the ferry.
As time went by tempers flared; neighbor distrusted neighbor; and as one old-timer once stated..."It turned into the roughest country on this earth."
Among early companies organized during 1861, which were of Confederate sympathies, were Capt. Abraham Castleman's at Iberia in Richwoods Township with his Lieutenant, Jesse W. Burks, living east of Iberia; William Rankin Wright who lived west of Iberia; and Capt. James Johnson at Tuscumbia. Some of the early Union companies organized were Company K under Capt. J. W. Canada; Co. E under Capt. Charles D. Martin; Co. D under Capt. Benjamin Jeffries; and Co. G under Capt. W. A. Bradshaw. On June 10, 1861, at Camp Union near present-day Brumley, these companies met up with other companies and organized McClurg's Osage Regiment with the following officers: Col. J. W. McClurg, Lt. Co. Emly Golden, Major J. K. Hall, and Major Kitchen. Golden and Hall were citizens of Miller County and the others were from Camden County. Two Union companies were organized north of the Osage River, commanded by Capt. Jacob Capps, Capt. E. B. Rice, and Capt. Thomas J. Babcoke.
At the beginning of the war, Miller County's population was approximately 7,000 people. It has been estimated that about 1,000 men from Miller County took part in the Civil War....700 fought for the federal tropps (Union) and 300 for the southern forces (often called Bushwhackers). History tells us that many men who had leanings toward the Southern cause often joined the Union army because they knew they would receive pay vouchers each month...the Southern army was much poorer and did not always have the money to support their soldiers.
There was actually only one battle that occurred in Miller County during the four years the Civil War raged across the countryside. It was fought on 29 August 1862 about four miles east of Iberia in southeast Richwoods Township. It has been called "The Elsey Farm Fight", held on land owned at the time by John and Rachel (Rowden) Elsey, a pioneering family from Roane Co., Tennessee.
A force of 42 Union men, under the command of Capt. William Long (Company G, Enrolled Missouri Militia) attacked a Confederate company. The southern troops (10th Missouri Cavalry from Shelby's Brigade) were about 125 men strong under the command of Col. Robert R. Lawther. The Union forces routed the larger Confederate group and they fled the scene. The Rebels lost one man with 3 injured taken prisoner. The Union militia lost one man, John Levi Whittle. He died of mortal wounds to the lower extremities of his body...NOTE: Levi Whittle was my great, great grandfather who came to Miller County from Edmonson County, Kentucky with his parents in the mid 1840s---he left a young wife with 3 children and another one on the way when he died on that hot August afternoon in 1862.
One other atrocity happened in Miller County during the war....the massacre on Curtman Island. The Confederate guerilla, General Crabtree and his outlaw group, pillaged, plundered, burned, and murdered many citizens across central Missouri. He was headquartered in caves along the Osage River in northeastern Miller County. From there he sent his guerilla army out into the countryside to harass all the families in the area. The Curtman Island massacre happened in late August 1864 when his band of marauders bush whacked a small scouting troop of Union militiamen who were resting on Curtman Island, located in the middle of the Osage River, not far from Crabtree's cave. Seven of the sixteen Union men were lined up on the small island and were shot, execution-style. Some of the others escaped and returned back to their command post. The men executed were: Samuel McClure, John Starling, William Gibson, Richard Crisp, Nathaniel Hicks, Yancy Roark, and F. B. (Pharoah) Long, all residents of Saline township in northern Miller County. The bodies of the seven men, who died on that August day 135 years ago, were later recovered and given proper burials, most at the Allen cemetery north of Eldon. The United State government erected seven white military gravestones at the burial site of these Union soldiers.
The end of the Civil War came in the spring of 1865, but it did not bring an end to the old hatreds and animosities in Miller County for many years. As late as the 1880s, a shoot-out occurred in Iberia which was brought about by old war memories. It seemed the violence would never end.