THE ELSEY FARM FIGHT (DURING THE CIVIL WAR)
by Peggy Smith Hake
The date was 29 August 1862, early in the Civil War era, when a battle was engaged in the Big Richwoods of southeast Miller County on the farm site of John and Rachel (Rowden) Elsey. The battlefield was about 4 miles east/northeast of present-day Iberia near the Big Tavern creek.
This battle was fought when the Rebels met the Union forces in a blazing confrontation on Elsey's Prairie. The Union troops were made up of men from the 47th Enrolled State Militia who was headquartered at Iberia. Early in the war, some of these same soldiers had served in the Osage Home Guards, serving with Capt. Martin's Company E. They were enrolled in this group from June 22 to December 20 of 1861. Among the soldiers was Col. Henry A. Massey, 2nd Lt. Zebedee Spearman and Pvt. Levi Whittle. Zebedee Spearman was the husband of Mary Gardner, a native of Barren County, Kentucky and a member of my ancestral Gardner family.
Levi Whittle was my great, great grandfather, a native of Edmonson County, Kentucky. In 1862, by an Act of Congress, the Enrolled Missouri Militia was organized specifically for men in the state who were willing to enlist in the service but did not want to leave the state to fight the Confederates. Such was Company K of the MO 47th and it was in existence from August 1862 until July 1864. They were not in actual service all the time, but would be home a month or two in the wintertime and stationed at Iberia. There was a fort built in Iberia during those days of the 1860s where the old Farnham Store and Lumberyard once stood.
My great, great grandfather John Levi Whittle, enlisted in Company K of the 47th Enrolled Missouri Militia on 21 August 1862, only 8 days before the 'Elsey Farm Fight'. He was a Missouri farmer, 36 years old, with a young wife, Nancy Jane (Keeth) Whittle and three children (Josephus, Elizabeth, and Analiza.) Another child was expected in February 1863. He and his family were no strangers to this war because he had spent 4 months of active duty in the Osage Home Guards less than a year earlier. There were almost 7,000 people in Miller County at that time and very few really knew or understood what the fighting was all about.
They were ready to protect their homes and families. As time went by, the county became divided and men's ideas changed and varied as they decided to take sides; some for the Northern cause and others were Southern sympathizers. Families and neighbors became enemies with brother sometime fighting brother. Bushwhacking became common throughout the countryside and no one was safe from the guerilla forces as they plundered the land with their burning, destroying, and killing anyone in their way.
As the Rebels and Unionists met on the Elsey Prairie, the battle began on 29 August 1862 and evidently only lasted the one day. From the book, THE TILLEY TREASURE by James B. King, Jr. (pages 38-39)......"On August 29th (1862) a small skirmish occurred four miles east of Iberia, Missouri. A force of 42 Union men under Capt. Long (William), Company G, Enrolled Missouri Militia, attacked a confederate company. The Southern forces were thought to consist of 125 men under Col. Robert R. Lawther. His unit was the 10th Missouri cavalry from Shelby's Brigade.....The Union force routed the large Confederate force, with dispersed and fled. The Confederate loss was one man killed and three men who were wounded and taken prisoner. The Union force had one man, Lee Whittle (John Levi), severely wounded in the groin. His wound was thought to be mortal."
My ancestor, Levi Whittle, did indeed die from his 'mortal' wound suffered in that battle on Elsey's Prairie on August 29, 1862. Eight days after he had enlisted in the Union army, he lay dead on that bloody battlefield which was about 7 or 8 miles from his home in southwest Richwoods Township (in the Pleasant Hill community). Late that day or early the next morning, fighting continued to the south as a skirmish was fought at the California House in Pulaski County, southwest of Waynesville on the historic 'Old Wire Road'.
Levi Whittle is buried near the spot where he died on Elsey's Prairie. The cemetery where he is buried is called Billingsley and it is my assumption he was buried near the site of the battleground. The cemetery overlooks "Battleground Hollow" west of the Big Tavern Creek. At the time of Levi's death, the old cemetery had about 3 persons buried in it, so I believe since the cemetery was nearby, Levi was buried in that lonely spot so far from his wife and children who were living in the Pleasant Hill community. Did his fellow soldiers bury him there? Why did they not return him to his home and family for proper burial?
For many years he was in an unmarked grave, but about 1916/17, the U.S. government issued the family a military grave marker. It was delivered to the G.A.R. Hall in Iberia and was picked up by Levi's son, Josephus Whittle. Josephus Whittle and his youngest son, John Wilburn Whittle, and an old man (whose name my Uncle Wilburn Whittle could not remember), erected the military stone at Levi's grave. I imagine the old man may have been a Civil war veteran and perhaps a comrade who knew the spot where Levi had been killed and buried almost 54 years earlier.
The stone still stands today in Billingsley cemetery permanently marking the final resting place of my Civil War ancestor who gave his life for the freedom of an oppressed people who had lived their lives in slavery. Freedom is a wonderful gift and should be cherished as much today as it was all those years ago.