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History of Livingston County
from The History of Caldwell and Livingston Counties, Missouri. 1886
The Missouri Legislature of 1861 - Election of Delegates to the State
Convention Called to Consider the Question of Secession - Up to the Firing on
Sumter - After - Preparing to Fight - Gen. Slack's Cannon - The Missouri State
Guards - The Federal Troops Appear - The Secession Forces Disappear - Federal
Military Movements - Trouble in "The Forks "- The Skirmish at Hale's
Branch, Etc. - First Union Military Companies Raised in the County - The Home
Guards, "Merrill's Horse," the 23d Missouri, etc. - Lewis Best's
Exploit - "Prentiss' Pets," - Three Noted Tragedies in 1861 - Killing
of Kirk and Curtis - Murder of Wm. Avery - The McWilliams and Snead Tragedies.
On the last day of December, 1860, the Twenty-first General Assembly of
Missouri met at Jefferson City. The retiring Governor, "Bob" M.
Stewart, delivered a very conservative message, taking the middle ground between
secession and abolition, and pleading strenuously for peace and moderation. He
declared, among other things, that the people of Missouri "ought not to be
frightened from their propriety by the past unfriendly legislation of the North,
nor dragooned into secession by the restrictive legislation of the extreme
South." He concluded with a thrilling appeal for the maintenance of the
Union, depicting the inevitable result of secession, revolution, and war. Many
of Gov. Stewart's predictions were afterward fulfilled with startling and
The inaugural of the new Governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, indorsed the
doctrine of his famous resolutions of 1849 - "that the interests and
destiny of the slaveholding States were the same; that the State was in favor of
remaining in the Union so long as there was any hope of maintaining the
guarantees of the constitution; but that in the event of a failure to reconcile
the differences which then threatened the disruption of the Union, it would be
the duty of the State to stand by the South," and that he was utterly
opposed to the doctrine of coercion in any event. Gov. Jackson concluded by
recommending the immediate call of a State convention, in order that "the
will of the people may be ascertained and effectuated."
In accordance with the Governor's recommendation, the Legislature, on January
17, passed a bill calling a convention, to be composed of three times as many
members as in the aggregate each Senatorial district was entitled to State
Senators - that is, three delegates from each Senatorial district in the State -
and appointing February 28, as the day on which they were to be elected, and
February 28, the day on which the convention would assemble. The tenth section
of this bill was as follows: -
No act, ordinance, or resolution of said convention shall he deemed to be
valid to change or dissolve the political relations of this State to the
Government of the United States, or any other State, until a majority of the
qualified voters of the State, voting upon the question, shall ratify the same.
The author of this section was Hon. Charles H. Hardin, then a Senator from
the Boone and Callaway district and Governor of Missouri in 1874 - 76. Thus the
secession of the State was made an impossibility without the consent of the
majority of the voters. After a much disturbed and very turbulent session, the
Legislature adjourned March 28.
Hon. A. J. Austin, the representative from this county, and Hon. Wesley
Halliburton, of Linn, the Senator from this district, both voted for the Hardin
amendment, although both were known to be favorable to secession. Mr.
Halliburton voted for the Hyer resolutions, which passed the Senate, but were
never introduced into the House, instructing the Missouri delegation in Congress
to "retire from the halls of Congress" if any act or hill should be
passed granting supplies of men or money to coerce the seceded States."
Pursuant to the act of the Legislature the election of delegates to the State
Convention was held Monday, February 18, 1861. The candidates in the Eighth
Senatorial District, to which Livingston then belonged, were Jacob Smith, of
Linn; Wm. Jackson, of Putnam, and Alex Woolfolk, of Livingston, who were
regarded as the "unconditional Union" candidates; the
"conditional Union," or secession candidates were Charles J. Rackliffe,
of Livingston; B. F. Canterbury, of Sullivan, and C. G. Fields, of Linn. All of
the candidates were announced through the newspapers, none regularly nominated
by conventions. There was not much time for a canvass of the district, and so
but few speeches were made. The matter was thoroughly discussed and considered
by the people, however, and the voting was intelligently done. The result was
that the "unconditional Union" candidates carried this county by a
vote of nearly two to one, and the district by a large majority. Following was
the vote in Livingston -
|TOWNSHIPS||UNCONDITIONAL UNION.||CONDITIONAL UNION.|
|A. M. Woolfolk||Jacob Smith||Wm. Jackson||C.J. Rackliffe||B.F. Canterbury||C.G. Fields|
During the months of January, February and March, 1861, there was
extraordinary interest manifested in public affairs by the people of this
county. The prospect of war was fully and freely discussed, and many prepared
for it. Many men resolved to take a hand when hostilities should begin, upon the
side with which their sympathies were, while many others declared that should
war break out they would take no part on either side. It afterwards came
about that some men, who declared stoutly that when war came they would fight,
did not fight when the opportunity presented itself, and that men who
declared they would not fight did fight.
Before hostilities actually broke out, there was a general hope that they
would be averted, but there were even some individuals who actually desired that
the occasion might not pass without an armed conflict with the despised
"Abolitionists and Black Republicans," of the North, whose character
was detested and whose courage and capacity to fight were derided. A large
majority of our people, however, earnestly deprecated war and sought to avert
it. It was contemplated, even at that early day, that if war should come it
should not come to Missouri. Its boundary lines were to be the metes and bounds
of a territory of peace - barriers outside of which the armed partisans of
either side might presume to hover, but across which they should not dare to
At last, on the early morning of the 12th of April, old Edmund Ruffin pulled
the lanyard of the cannon which sent the first shot against Fort Sumter and set
in motion the huge machinery of war, which did not cease to operate until it had
ground the institution of slavery to powder, crushed the life out of half a
million of men, and destroyed billions of dollars' worth of property. Then our
citizens began to take sides.
The Secessionists in Livingston county were in the majority, and were active
and aggressive besides. While they were active, the Unionists were passive;
while they were demonstrative, the Unionists were unobtrusive and quiet. Their
leaders were the prominent men of the county, such men as Wm. Y. Slack, C. J.
Rackliffe, Hon. A. J. Austin and John Graves, and for a time they had everything
their own way. Some of them grew insolent and intimidating, and a few Unionists
in various portions were either compelled to leave the county, or else became
unnecessarily frightened and left without sufficient cause. The following is a
copy of a message sent through the post-once at Utica to a Union man of the
May 6, 1861.
Sir: - You and your friends that vote[d] for Lincoln better go where you
belong and take your property and stay there if you know when you are well off,
better tak refug in Abraham Bosem. We are the Boys that for Southren Rights.
The position of a majority of Missourians had been often expressed that both
secession and coercion were wrong - the latter especially so! President Buchanan
and various other statesmen shared practically the same belief. No provision had
been made in the constitution for either secession or coercion, and therefore
neither could be or must be attempted. But all the same the Southern States went
on seceding, and it was to be noticed that here in Missouri, long before there
was any attempt on the part of the Federal Government at coercion, whenever a
State seceded there were thousands of men that cheered her for her action; but
whenever there was a threat of coercion made anywhere these same men denounced
it in unmeasured terms as wicked and particularly as being
"unconstitutional!" Yet very many of these men, on public occasions
especially, took care to assert that they were opposed to both secession
and coercion. The real truth is they were Secessionists, and acted as they did
from motives of policy. It had been declared that should the United States
attempt to repossess its property and restore its authority in the seceded
States, then it would be the duty of Missouri "to stand by her sister
States of the South." This declaration was made by men who knew full well
that the Federal Government would never sumbit to its disruption and
dismemberment without an effort to prevent it, and when they made it they knew
that it was but a clever device to manufacture Secessionists out of men on short
notice at the proper time.
Those who honestly doubted the policy and the legality of coercion, while at
the same time strongly condemning secession, occupied an anomalous position. No
State has a right to and must not leave the Union under any
circumstances. But what if it does? Why, then, let it go in peace! This idea
must have been borrowed from Dog-berry's instructions to the Messinian watchmen:
Dogberry - This is your charge - you shall comprehend all vagrom men; you are to bid any man stand, in the prince's name.
Watch - How if a' will not stand?
Dopb. - Why, then, take no note of him, but let him go; and presently
call the rest of the watch together and thank God you are rid of a knave. * * *
It is an offense to stay a man against his will.
The powers of the General Government are enumerated; the power per se to
coerce a State is not enumerated, but under section 8 of article I of the
Constitution there is authority enough, it would seem, for preserving the
property of the United States and enforcing the laws thereof. A strict
constructionist of the Jefferson school, the writer is willing to admit that the
Federal Government has the power to protect and preserve its life and property,
and events have shown that it has the ability so to do.
The announcement that hostilities had actually begun created great
excitement, but no surprise. The formation of military companies in earnest was
not begun until a month later, or until after the convening of the Legislature
and the passage of the military bill; but certain persons in different portions
of the county began to put their shot-guns in order.
The leading Secessionist in the county was Capt. William Y. Slack. He was a
prominent politician, and the previous fall had been a Breckinridge elector.
Withal he was the leading lawyer of the county, a man of strong, natural
ability, and of undoubted honor and integrity. To him those who were for
secession went for counsel and instruction, for from the first he favored the
secession of the State and its union with those already seceded.
In the latter part of May the organization of companies of the State Guard
was begun. Two or three companies were formed in this county, all mounted. It
was proposed to defend the county against invaders from all outside quarters,
whether Federal troops or Confederate forces, and this proposition met with
great favor. But the little deception this proposition contained deceived but
few. The authors, as well as many others, knew that while all Federal invaders
were to be excluded, yet those of Secession proclivities in the State would not
be considered "invaders," but rather fellow-citizens, and so given
free entrance and exit. In time everybody and everything anti-Federal would be
On the 18th of May Gov. Jackson commissioned Wm. Y. Slack, of Chillicothe, a
brigadier-general of the Fourth Military District, composed of the counties of
Worth, Gentry, DeKalb, Clinton, Harrison, Daviess, Caldwell, Ray, Carroll,
Livingston, Grundy and Mercer. The appointment was regarded as a judicious one.
As previously stated Gen. Slack had been from the first an avowed Secessionist;
he had served under Gen. Price in the Mexican War and was known to be an able
and brave military man; he was universally popular wherever he was known, and
had the confidence of the State authorities.
Gen. Slack set to work at once to organize his district. While the Price-Harney
treaty was supposed to be in effect, the work of perfecting and strengthening
the Missouri State Guard went on all the same. "To defend our homes against
the invader," it was proposed by certain citizens of Chillicothe to put the
town in a state of defense. A subscription paper was circulated and a
considerable sum subscribed to purchase two pieces of cannon, iron six pounders,
with suitable ammunition, etc., for the same.1 Gen. Slack contracted
with the firm of Cleaver & Mitchell, foundrymen, at Hannibal, for the
manufacture of the cannon, to be shipped to Chillicothe by rail and to be paid
for on delivery.
1 The original of this subscription list is now in the hands of C. H. Mansur,
Esq., and contains the names of some men who afterwards became extremely loyal.
The cannon were cast about the first of June and when finished were presented
to the railroad for shipment. But the authorities of the road were thoroughly
loyal and refused to receive them. Recourse was then had to strategy. A covered
wagon was procured, the cannons loaded into it and covered with straw, a good
team and a driver, Wm. A. Wilson, engaged, and the outfit set out for
Chillicothe, by the "dirt road," Wilson giving out to all inquirers
that he was an emigrant on his way to Pike's Peak. The wagon seemed an innocent
affair, and the driver a guileless individual, and neither aroused any
Soon after the cannon had been started from Hannibal the fact was known to
the Federal military authorities at St. Louis, but the exact road they had taken
was not learned until a day or two later. As soon as it was known, however, word
was sent to Brookfield and other points where there were Union Home Guards to
look out for them and seize them. A company of Home Guards from Brookfield under
Capt. Crandall, or Capt. Worthley, set out at once to intercept the outfit, and
at a point on the State road, three miles north of St. Catherine, it was met and
captured and carried to Brookfield in triumph.1
1 About June 12.
Well was it that the Home Guards came upon and captured the cannon when they
did. Word had been sent to Gen. Slack of the manner of their shipment, and he
had sent Capt. James A. Small with about twenty well armed and mounted men out
to meet them and convoy them in to Chillicothe. Small reached the point of
capture about an hour too late. Had he been about two hours earlier the Home
Guards would have been forced to fight for their prize, and the issue would have
been doubtful. As it was the Secessionists were forced to return to Chillicothe
in much discomfiture.
As the cannons were to be paid for only on delivery, they were never paid
for. The money was collected, however, and the most of it afterwards expended
for powder and other munitions of war. The subscription list was preserved and
the knowledge of its existence was often a source of uneasiness and annoyance to
On the 12th of June Gov. Jackson again ordered the State Guards into the
field. Those of Slack's division were ordered to repair to Lexington. Geo. Slack
at once set to work. A considerable force was organized in Carroll and the
county court had appropriated $10,000 for their equipment and support. In. every
other county in the district there was a mustering of the clans.
Livingston county was ready. At least 200 men were organized and ready to
take the field. In Jackson township, between the forks alone, there were two
companies. On the 13th there was a parade of volunteers in Chillicothe. In every
part of the county men were enlisting to do battle for the Southern cause.
Secession flags were flying at various points. The Secession ladies of
Chillicothe prepared a fine banner, but circumstances prevented its being given
to the breeze. Everywhere was heard the note of preparation for armed conflict.
The Union men were quiet, but they were watching and waiting, knowing full well
that their turn would come ere long.
Early in the beginning of the Civil War the Federal authorities realized the
importance of protecting the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad and maintaining it
intact. If that great thoroughfare could be preserved, Federal troops could be
moved rapidly from one side of the State to the other as they were needed,
supplies and munitions of war sent, and all of Northern Missouri kept under
federal denomination. The road would also be of incalculable service in keeping
open communication with the first line of operations adopted by the Federal
commanders - the Missouri river. It was of the utmost importance that the road
should be well guarded and kept continuously in running order. The authorities
of the road were nearly all Northern men, heartily in sympathy with the Union
cause, and could be relied on to act accordingly.
For some time the Secessionists in this quarter had been threatening an
attack on the railroad. Certain parties wanted to burn the bridges across Grand
river and Medicine creek, to capture Brookfield, where there were a round-house,
machine shops, and division headquarters, and there were even threats made to
blow up or tear up the track. It was expected that the road would be of great
service to the Federals, and it was regarded as a "Yankee concern
anyway." At one time there was a well natured scheme on the part of some
Livingston and Carroll men to burn the Grand river bridge,1 and it is
said that the turpentine and cotton batting were actually purchased. But better
and wiser counsels prevailed and the attempt was given over.
1 See, for action taken in
Carroll county, History of that county, by Missouri Historical Co., p. 302 (ed.
The Federal authorities were a little slow about taking action in this
quarter, but when they moved at last they moved with force and vigor. They were
quite well informed as to the situation and acted intelligently. The first thing
to be done was to secure the Hannibal anal St. Joseph Railroad, and to do this
the road itself was made to assist in its defense.
The Secession squadrons were forming in the county, preparatory to departing
to Lexington, and it was rumored that when they left they would put the torch to
the Grand river and Medicine creek bridges. Word was sent to the Federal
authorities, from Chillicothe, of the suspicion, which after all may not have
been well founded.
At Hannibal the 16th Illinois infantry, Col. R. F. Smith, was then stationed,
having arrived from Quincy on the 12th of June, the first Federal troops to
enter North Missouri. On the 13th of June the 2d Iowa infantry was sent from
Hannibal over the Hannibal and St. Joseph, going at least as far west as Macon.
On the night of June 13 a detachment of the 16th Illinois, under Lieut.-Col.
Wilson, passed over the road from Hannibal to the Grand river bridge, where they
remained in the cars until daylight. The train carrying the soldiers arrived at
Chillicothe at 1 a. m., of the 14th, halting a few minutes, but the occupants
keeping themselves under cover as well as possible. The regular evening train
had passed some hours before, and a passenger had quietly given information to
one or two parties about the depot of the approach of the soldiers. The alarm
Gen. Slack was in town and he and others were warned. There were quite a
number of Gov. Jackson's troops in town, but the general rendezvous was over in
"the forks." There had been frequent alarms of the approach of the
Federals, and at first some were inclined to consider the report as sensational,
but it was confirmed, and soon Gen. Slack and his men were mounted and on their
way to the forks, which they reached in safety.
Near noon, on the 14th, a strong detachment of the soldiers came up to
Chillicothe, Col. Wilson at the head. That officer's first care had been the
bridge; then he sought the capture of Gen. Slack. The Federals marched to the
square and soon scattered themselves in squads throughout the town, in search of
"secesh" prisoners and contraband of war. They had with them a small
cannon, which they unlimbered and placed in position on the square. It is said
they had received information that Gen. Slack and some of his men were yet in
town, and when they left Grand river they expected a fight.
At sunrise, on the morning of the 14th, a company of the soldiers were in
Utica. Here they found two secession flags, which they took possession of. One
was a Palmetto flag with the motto "Constitutional Rights." In a short
time they returned to their camp at Grand river, which they named Camp Wilson.
No armed prisoners were taken. A few "secesh" citizens were
arrested, and after taking an oath of loyalty were discharged. Nothing
contraband was found. Two days later Col. Wilson repaired to a printing office,
and had printed and distributed hand-bills, of which the following is a copy: -
CHILLICOTHE, June 16, 1861.
I have been sent here by the United States Government for the purpose of putting down armed rebellion against the Government of the United States, and I call upon all good citizens to aid in carrying out the object. I call upon all companies or regiments of troops, whose object is not the upholding of the Government of the United States, to deliver me their arms and disperse immediately. Protection will be given to all peaceful citizens, and I hope the common avocations of life will be resumed, and trade and commerce go on in their usual channels, and all the power at my command shall be extended to the utmost to protect all loyal citizens.
Lieut.-Col., Commanding U. S. Forces.
The same day troops went to Utica, Mooresville, and Medicine creek.
Thereafter, until the close of the war, without an hour's intermission,
Livingston county was in possession of the Federal or Union authorities.
No immediate attempt was made to attack Gen. Slack and his men in their
position near Spring Hill. Wilson feared to leave the bridges unguarded, and he
could not move with much prospect of success unless he took with him all his
men. He sent word to his superiors of the situation, and hurried preparations
were begun to attack and capture Slack and his forces; but two days before these
preparations were completed the opportunity had passed.
On Monday, June 17, a number of the Union ladies and gentlemen, of
Chillicothe, went on an excursion, by invitation, to the camp of the 16th
Illinois, just beyond the Grand river bridge. Speeches were made by E. L.
King, of Chillicothe, on behalf of the citizens; and by Maj. Hays, Col. Wilson
and Capt. Marsh for the soldiers. Col. Wilson seemed anxious to quiet the
apprehensions of the people that he intended harm to them or to the county, and
the "picnic" was really an effective stroke of policy.
About the 25th of June Cos. A and B of the 2d Iowa and a company of Home
Guards, from St. Joseph, were sent down to Grand river bridge and remained a few
days. Detachments went to Linneus and other points in this quarter and arrested
a number of secesh citizens.
June 19 some printers of the 16th Illinois, by permission of Mr. Hughes, of
the Constitution, printed a small newspaper at Chillicothe, which they
called "The Illinois 16th." Francis Ashton was "editor," and
Mat. Ashby "assistant." July 2 the printers of the two companies of
the 2d Iowa, having taken possession of the office of the Chronicle - whose
editor, Col. L. J. Easton, had left town - issued a little sheet which they
called "The Anti-Secessionist." Lieut. T. I. McKenny, of Co. A, and R.
M. Littler, of Co. B, were the "editors." Copies of both of these
papers, now in the possession of W. C. Wood, Esq., have been consulted by the
writer for dates, etc., and are valuable for these and other particulars.
On the night of the 16th of June Gen. Slack, at the head of about two hundred
and fifty men, chiefly from Livingston, with a few from Grundy and Daviess, set
out from near Spring Hill. The men were on foot and all fairly armed with
shot-guns, rifles and revolvers, and carried some provisions with them. Marching
silently and swiftly southward the little column crossed the railroad in safety
at Mooresville, neglecting to call on the Federals at Grand river and bid them
good-bye, and soon passed through the northwest corner of Carroll into Ray, via
Tinney's Point, and on to Richmond and Lexington. Here the men were organized
into a regiment, of which Col. Rives, of Ray, was colonel.
The Livingston men took part in every principal engagement fought for
Missouri in 1861. They were at Carthage, Wilson's Creek, Drywood and Lexington.
In all of these engagements they bore themselves bravely, and were highly
commended by their commanders.
At the desperate and bloody battle of Wilson's Creek the brunt of the Federal
attack was sustained by Slack's division, and here some of the hardest and best
fighting of the day was done. Gen. Slack was wounded very badly early in the
conflict, and forced to leave the field. A musket ball struck the posterior
portion of the hip, passing through the body, coming out in front through the
groin. For a time his life was in great danger. In the same engagement sixteen
Livingston county Confederates were killed, viz., Lieut.-Col. A. J. Austin, of
the 1st regiment of cavalry, Slack's (4th) division, and the representative of
the county; ten men of Co. A (Capt. N. G. Dyes), of the 1st regiment of infantry
(Col. John T. Hughes), 4th division, as follows: James P. Minnick, Jesse
Minnick, W. Black Martin, M. P. Duncan, William Hutchinson, J. T. Rosson, L. M.
Doyle, Nathaniel Tippet, John Ballenger and Wyatt Jennings. Capt. Dyes' company,
all Livingston men, from the vicinity of Spring Hill, lost more men than any
other company on the Southern side. Other Livingston men killed in other
companies were Samuel Bowman, James Stanford, Henry C. Lansing, John H.
Wolfskill and James Cloudas.
At the battle of Carthage Capt. John N. Stone, of Utica, commanding Co. D,
1st regiment cavalry (Col. Rives), 4th division, was shot from his saddle and
killed by a cannon ball, which passed through both legs. The list of wounded at
Carthage and Wilson's Creek can not here be given.
Quite a number of the Livingston men entered the Confederate army, and served
on that side during the war, some in Arkansas and Missouri, and some east of the
Elated and confident upon the capture of Lexington, Gen. Price and Gov.
Jackson meditated an advance into Northern Missouri, intending to occupy
Chillicothe as a base of operations against the Federals in this quarter. But
the movements of the Federal forces against their rear compelled Price and
Jackson to retreat to the southwestern quarter of the State, and the Missouri
was not crossed by the army of the State Guards.
After the fall of Lexington, however, some of the Livingston county men
obtained leave of absence and made stealthy and brief visits to their homes.
Their presence was known to but few, and they soon returned in safety to Gen.
Price, A few remained and engaged in irregular warfare against the Federal
cause, doing in the end, however, more harm than good to their own side.
After the 16th Illinois and 2d Iowa the next Federal troops sent into the
county were detachments of the 50th Illinois, Col. Bane, who came to
Chillicothe. They were followed by the 3d Iowa infantry, under Maj. W. M. Stone,
afterward Governor of Iowa. Chillicothe was made a Federal base of operations,
and the organization of Federal regiments was here begun. Gen. John Pope was
placed in command of the district of North Missouri in the summer of 1861 (July
29), and the same day he placed Gen. Hurlbut in charge of the troops on the line
of the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad.
The 50th Illinois made for itself a hard name among the people of Confederate
sympathies. It made frequent incursions into the country, and some of its
members made a practice of billeting or quartering themselves upon the citizens
for meals. It was some of this regiment that, by orders of their commander,
burned the house of John Blackburn, in Jackson township.
While the siege of Lexington was in progress Gen. S. D. Sturgis was sent up
from St. Louis to Mexico by Gen. Fremont to co-operate with Gen. Pope in a
movement to "annihilate" a strong Secession force under Gen. Thomas A.
Harris, before it could reach the army of Gen. Price. But the annihilation
scheme failed, as did a large majority of Gen. Fremont's schemes, and September
14 Sturgis was ordered to proceed to re-enforce Mulligan at Lexington, using the
Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to Utica, and from thence marching across the
country to Lexington, by way of Austinville, Grove and Morton.
Gen. Sturgis' force was composed of the entire 27th and four companies of the
39th Ohio regiments of infantry. At daylight on the morning of the 18th he left
Utica, and by marching day and night reached a point four miles north of
Lexington the next morning. Here he was met by 4,000 of Gen. Price's forces sent
to intercept him and keep him from re-enforcing Mulligan, and without risking an
engagement he retired, first to Richmond, then to Camden, then to Liberty and
Kansas City. En route to Lexington such was the rapidity of his march that
Sturgis' men out-traveled the baggage wagons, and the latter were left at a
A portion of the time in the autumn of 1861, the 3d Iowa was stationed at
Grand river bridge. The 50th Illinois and 39th Ohio, with some detachments of
the cavalry at Chillicothe, were sent up into Jackson township to disperse some
bands of Confederate recruits and bushwhackers under Joe Kirk, David Martin, Jim
Ryder, Lewis Best and others, who were greatly annoying the Federals and their
sympathizers in that region.
The expedition consisted of two columns: one, composed of a detachment of the
39th Ohio, crossed Grand river at Graham's mill and went west into what is now
Sampsel township. At Hale's branch (sec. 13 - 58 - 25), four miles west of
Graham's mill, this detachment was fired on by Joe Kirk and his company, who
were in ambush in a well chosen position near the road and waiting for it. One
Federal was killed, half a dozen wounded, and the detachment retreated.
The other column, a detachment of the 50th Illinois,. and some of the
cavalry, went northwest of Graham's mill and into the northwestern portion of
the township. The day was Sunday, and a number of the citizens were at Lilly
Grove Christian Church, where services were being held. The Illinois troops
visited this church, to the great alarm of certain attendants, but harmed no
one. Up on the Blackburn prairie they were not so pacific. They burned John
Blackburn's house and a number of Mr. Hutchinson's haystacks, and did
considerable foraging. They alleged that Blackburn was "in the brush,"
that he was a guerrilla and a bushwhacker, and had fired into trains, etc. After
his house was burned, while gazing upon its ashes, Blackburn swore that he would
fight the Federals as long as he lived. And he did.
The rebel partisans in the forks sunk the ferryboats in Grand river to
prevent the Federals from crossing, but Col. Wilson, of the Illinois 16th, sent
a force to Darr's ferry - now Graham's mill - in time to protect it. The leading
spirits of the Confederates at this time were Joe Kirk, David Martin, Lewis
Best, Chas. Cooper and Jim Ryder. All knew the county thoroughly, all were
desperate fighters, and for some time they held Jackson township as completely
as the Federals held the rest of the county. Joe Kirk posted written notices on
the trees and elsewhere, warning the Federals to keep out of the township
"until invited." Said one notice: "We were here first, and we
will be here last. Look out! "
The first company organized to render service to the Union cause in
Livingston county was a company of Home Guards, numbering in all 67 men, formed
in June, 1861, soon after the appearance of the first Federal troops. The
officers of this company were Peter Sutliff, captain; A. C. Stone, 1st
lieutenant; James W. Anderson, 2d lieutenant.
The company was an independent one, belonged to no regimental or battalion
organization and was known as the Livingston County Home Guards. It did
considerable active duty in scouting through portions of this and Carroll, Ray,
Caldwell and Daviess counties. It was finally mustered out by order of Gen.
Later in the fall Union Home Guard companies were organized at Utica, on
Shoal creek, and at Spring Hill. Of the latter company Greenberry Lyons was
chosen captain; it numbered about 50 men. The captain of the Utica company was
Thos. H. Reid.
In the month of September a company of Federal cavalry was organized at
Chillicothe, being recruited principally from this county. This company, 70
members of which were citizens of Livingston, afterward became Co. E, 2d
Missouri cavalry, better known as "Merrill's Horse," from the name of
the colonel, Lewis Merrill. The Livingston company was at first officered as
follows: Captain, Garrison Harker; first lieutenant, Wm. N. Norville; second
lieutenant, S. W. McCoy. These officers were commissioned September 3, 1861. A
year later Capt. Harker was promoted to major, Lieut. Norville became captain,
S. L. Watson first lieutenant. There were other changes in the official roster
from time to time during the company's service, occasioned by expiration of term
Co. E served in Missouri and Arkansas and took part in numerous battles and
skirmishes. Its members were efficient soldiers, and their record is a good one.
They were chiefly from the southern portion of the county.
In the month of August Hon. Jacob T. Tindall, of Trenton, began the formation
of a Federal regiment composed of Union men from this quarter of the State. This
regiment, the 23d Missouri infantry, had its headquarters at Brookfield.
Companies came in from Harrison, Grundy, Mercer, Linn and other counties, and by
the 1st of September seven companies were formed. September 1 the regiment was
ordered to St. Louis, where it remained till October 15, when it was sent to
Macon City, and November 1 was ordered to Chillicothe. Here it relieved the 39th
Ohio, Col. Groesbeck, and the 50th Illinois, Col. Bane.
The 23d Missouri remained at Chillicothe from the 1st of November until in
March, 1862. During the winter the companies were quartered in buildings in the
town. About 50 men from this county joined the regiment at this time. The
railroad bridges were strongly guarded.
While Tindall's regiment was stationed in the county detachments, mounted on
"pressed" horses, did a great deal of scouting through the country,
accomplishing nothing of importance, however. On February, 1862, four companies,
under Lieut.-Col. Quin Morton, made a march towards Lexington and return, but
the trip was barren of results.
Soon after going into quarters at Chillicothe hundreds of the 23d were
attacked with measles. The official records shows that "more than 400
men" belonging to the regiment were in the hospitals or under treatment at "one
time." (Mo. Adj. Gen. Rep. 1865, p. 197.) Quite a number of cases
terminated fatally. In addition there were some deaths from a disease resembling
spinal meningitis. This latter disease was not generally understood, and
some ignorant alarmists started a report that its victims had been poisoned by
the "seceshe sympathizers" of the town. There was no sort of
foundation for this report; it was as false as it was cruel.
In March, 1862, Col. Tindall's regiment was ordered away from this county to
join Gen. Grant's army on the Tennessee. It took part in the great battle of
Shiloh, or Pittsburg Landing, where Col. Tindall was killed, and the greater
portion of the regiment either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners.1
Subsequently it reorganized and recruited and served creditably until the
expiration of its time.
1 Official report shows 30 killed, 170 wounded, and 375 taken prisoners (Adj.
Gen. Rep. 1865, p. 199).
Col. Tindall was as well known in this county as at his own home, in Grundy.
He was a good lawyer, and prior to the war had an extensive practice here. His
administration of affairs as a military commander was as acceptable as was to be
expected. He was a thorough Unionist, a brave soldier, and his untimely death
was generally regretted.
After the battle of Wilson's Creek, the 1st Kansas regiment, Col. Dietzler,
was ordered back to its State to recruit its badly broken ranks, having lost 284
men out of 770 in that one engagement. On its way to Fort Leavenworth from St.
Louis, the regiment stopped at Chillicothe, where there were already about 1,500
In the latter part of September, or probably the 1st of October, two Federal
soldiers whose identity can not now be well ascertained, but who are said to
have been paroled prisoners captured at Lexington, left the cars at some point
near here, and stealing two horses north of Chillicothe were riding toward Iowa.
About eight miles north of Chillicothe, on the Trenton road, at the crossing of
a small branch, they were bushwhacked by Lewis Best and two of his men. Both
were first shot with doubled-barreled shot-guns and then Best cut their throats
and plunged his bowie-knife repeatedly into their bodies. The same evening he
halted at Mr. Hirsh's house near Farmersville, showed him his gory knife still
reeking with the blood of the two soldiers, and said, "I put two d - d
Yankees out of the way - I have been butchering. See!"
The bodies were found frightfully mutilated in the brush just north of a
little creek, and west of the house now owned by Mr. Wait.(sec. 30-59 - 23).
December 18, Gen. B. M. Prentiss, with a Federal force of near 2,000 men,
arrived at Chillicothe terminating an expedition from St. Joseph (which place he
left December 4), through Platte, Clay, Ray and Carroll counties. His force
consisted of four pieces of artillery, 475 cavalry, and 1,175 infantry. (Rebell.
Rec., Vol. VIII., p. 404.) At the time of Prentiss' arrival at Chillicothe, the
greater portion of Tindall's regiment was stationed at the Grand river bridge. (Ibid,
p. 446.) Under orders from Gen. Halleck, Prentiss soon left for the eastern
part of the State, taking with him four companies of his command and sending the
remainder back to St. Joseph. Prentiss' men demonstrated an almost phenomenal
fondness for chicken meat during their short stay, and stripped some hen roosts
On the 12th of April, 1861, J. T. Jennings (commonly called Tom Jennings)
shot and killed L. D. Kirk and Thomas Curtis on the northeast corner of the
square in Chillicothe. The shooting of Kirk was intentional and deliberate; that
of Curtis was accidental. The circumstances leading to the tragedy were these: -
For a long time there had been a feud between the Jennings and Kirk families
and certain of their partisans in the forks of Grand river and in the
neighborhood of Spring Hill. The Kirks were brave men, not afraid to fight, and
L. D. Kirk (whose Christian name was Lorenzo Dow, and who was commonly called
"Dow,") was the hero of many a desperate personal encounter, not only
in Missouri, but on the plains and in California. He was a man of large stature
and well proportioned, and is said to have been a splendid specimen of physical
strength. On one occasion he had been shot by old John Stewart, of Spring Hill,
who thrust a shot-gun out of a window as Kirk was walking along the street in
Spring Hill in front of Stewart's store, and gave him the contents. He had also
been wounded in some of his combats, but was not at all permanently injured.
"Dow" Kirk had threatened Tom Jennings, and had gone so far as to
say that "he and I can't both live in the same county." Of these
threats Jennings had full knowledge, and "forewarned was fore-armed."
On the day of the tragedy Kirk had come to town in his wagon for some
groceries and other supplies, and was loading or stowing away his purchases,
unconscious of danger. Jennings crept through the public square, then fenced
with a panel fence, to the northeast corner, only about the width of the street
from where Kirk was, took deliberate aim and fired at his enemy. At the crack of
the gun Thomas Curtis, who stood fully ten feet from Kirk's wagon, fell to the
sidewalk dead, two buckshot having struck him in a vital part. Kirk fell back
into his wagon, with part of his body hanging over the side, and called for
help. Jennings had walked away some distance after he had fired, but hearing
Kirk's cries he walked back, leveled his gun and discharged the other barrel at
his struggling, prostrate form. Kirk died almost instantly.
Jennings surrendered himself into the hands of the authorities and underwent
a preliminary examination before Justices J. M. Alnutt and A. S. Hughes, of
Chillicothe. A number of witnesses who saw the shooting, and others who
testified to certain incidents and circumstances connected therewith, were
examined. The evidence of C. C. Pratt was as follows: -
I was in Chillicothe yesterday, the 12th inst., and standing on the east side
of the public square in front of Dunglin & Morling's store, and saw the
shooting; the gentleman, Thos. Jennings, is the man. The first I saw of Mr.
Jennings he was in the court-house yard, probably twenty yards from the north
fence, on the east side, and about ten feet from it, going along up the side of
it in a northerly direction. He was in a stooping posture, going in the
direction of the northeast corner; he had what I took to be a double-barreled
shot-gun; he was in a stooping posture as he proceeded, and advanced to the
fence on the north side of the square. He then appeared to take sight over his
gun between the bars of the fence; he then raised to his feet and appeared to
take deliberate aim; he then lowered himself in a stooping posture, then raised
again, took deliberate aim, and fired one barrel of his gun. I saw one gentleman
on the sidewalk fall immediately; the one in the wagon did not fall as quick;
his back was toward Jennings and when the gun fired his feet caught in something
and he fell backward and hung over the side of the wagon. As soon as Mr.
Jennings fired he walked ten or fifteen steps in a southwest direction; about
this time I heard the man in the wagon call for help two or three times, and
Jennings then walked back to near his former position and deliberately fired the
second time, pointing towards the man in the wagon. Shortly after that a number
of gentlemen moved the man from the wagon to the sidewalk; I went around to
where he lay and he was dead. The shooting took place near 11 o'clock in the
forenoon. * * * As soon as Mr. Jennings fired the second shot he walked away,
passing around the north side of the court-house. * * * I did not know Mr. Kirk,
but it was the man in the wagon who called for help.
This evidence was corroborated by Dr. W. W. Woodward, F. L. Morling, A.
Craig, Dr. Wm. Keith, Wiley Clark and Robt. S. Moore.
The defense sought to establish that Jennings was in constant peril of his
life from threats made by Kirk, who had declared to different persons that he
and Jennings could not live in the same county, and that he meant to kill him,
etc. This peril, the defense claimed, was all the time deadly and practically
imminent, and hence Jennings was justified in shooting Kirk on sight. One of the
witnesses for the defense was Joseph Weldon, who testified as follows: -
L. D. Kirk, the deceased, told me that about a year ago or longer, he was
riding with Thos. Jennings and held a pistol to the back of his (Jennings') head
for the distance of half a mile; tried to fire it off; thought it was cocked,
but it would not fire; on examination he found the pistol had been only half
cocked. The next day, on his farm, he drew his pistol and fired at a
rabbit, and the pistol fired just as clear as it ever did; he said that he
intended to kill Jennings. I heard Kirk say at another time, in reference to Tom
Jennings, that he would "get him." I told Jennings these things about
two months ago, and told him to be on his guard. I always considered Kirk a
James Fugate testified: -
About a week before Christmas I and Kirk were playing cards at Utica, and
during a conversation Kirk stated that he had out-lived many of his enemies, and
that he and Tom Jennings could not live in the same country; said he had lived
to dance on old Stewart's grave; said he had killed a number of men in
California. All this conversation I had told Stewart, and told him to watch out.
Matthew McGaugh testified: -
I heard Kirk make threats against Thos. Jennings. Soon after a fight between
Kirk and Cameron, in Utica, he (Kirk) said Tom Jennings had been fooling around
there with a pistol during the fight, and that after the fight was over he
(Kirk) went up to Jennings and pretended to be friendly with him, thinking that
Jennings would put up his pistol, and then he would have a chance to get a
"clue" at him, and he would have "put him out of the way,"
but he had no chance and went off and left him; said he intended on the first
good opportunity to make way with Thos. Jennings. I told Jennings this a couple
of weeks ago in Chillicothe.
Lafayette Woolsey testified: -
* * * About three weeks ago I was down in the bottom and met Mr. Kirk as I
was going to Spring Hill. * * * I told him we had a fight over in Breckinridge -
that Joe Weldon and John Pemberton fought, and Weldon whaled Pemberton; it was
about a dog that Weldon had taken from Pemberton, and Pemberton sued Weldon, and
made him pay for it. Kirk wanted to know if Thos. Jennings was there; I told him
he was. He then wanted to know if Jennings was passing through there often, and
I told him he was, going up to Weldon's. He then wished me to let him know
sometime when Jennings was passing through, and I said I could if he had urgent
business, and I wished to know what he wanted to see Jennings about, and he held
back. I insisted on his telling me, and then he told me he was satisfied he and
Thos. Jennings could not live in the same county; that he intended shooting him,
and he allowed to do it when no one else was present; said he had been shot
several times that way, and he allowed to do the same. I told Mr. Jennings this
last Thursday was a week ago.
It was proven that Jennings had no ill will against Thos. Curtis, but that on
the contrary there was the best of feeling between them, and that Curtis was
Jennings was committed to the Chillicothe jail, but in a few weeks some
parties furnished him with a key and he made his escape, leaving the State and
going to Nebraska Territory. A huge reward was offered for his apprehension and
was arrested at Omaha and an officer started with him for Chillicothe. His
friends in "the forks" got wind of his capture, learned when he would
be brought back and a strong party of them obstructed the track of the Hannibal
and St. Joseph near Breckinridge, stopped the train, took him from the officer
and spirited him away to a secure rendezvous. It is said that when leaving the
train Jennings took with him the officer's revolver.
In a few days Jennings joined one of the companies that had been made up for
Gen. Price's army and went South with it. Joseph Kirk, a brother of L. D. Kirk,
was a member of the same company or battalion, and it is related that an
exchange of shots took place between him and Jennings, near Millville, Ray
The grand jury at the November term of the circuit court, 1861, examined the
case, but found no bill against Jennings, either for shooting Kirk or Curtis.
But in the spring of 1862, Jennings returned to Livingston county, and was
captured, and at the May term of the circuit court was indicted for the murder
of L. D. Kirk. At the July term, July 22, he was tried and acquitted. Soon after
he entered the Federal service. No indictment was ever found against him for the
killing of Curtis, the latter's nearest relatives forbidding all legal
proceedings in the matter, holding that the shooting was wholly accidental. Mr.
Jennings is still a citizen of the county.
On the 31st of August, 1861, Wm. Avery was waylaid and murdered by Samuel
Husher, near the residence of the latter, in Jackson township, a mile east of
south of Spring Hill. The circumstances leading to the murder are said to he as
follows: There was a neighbor hood feud existing in the community, between
Matthew McGaugh, Wm. Avery and others, and Samuel Husher, Henry Cooper and
others. At last Husher warned Avery that the next time he traveled the road
which ran not far from his (Husher's) house he would be a "dead man."
It was on a Saturday evening and Avery was on his way to the house of a
neighbor for a sack of corn. The neighbor's house was far from the house of
Husher. The latter was in ambush and when Avery came opposite fired upon him
with a shot-gun heavily loaded with leaden slugs and killed him instantly. He
then dragged the body into the brush a considerable distance and partially
concealed it after having first mutilated it in a horrible and revolting manner.
As Avery did not return home, his wife became uneasy and alarmed the
neighborhood, and there was a general search for the missing man. His body was
discovered the next day and when it was found that he had been foully murdered,
there was great indignation, although it had been already generally believed
from the first that this had been his fate. Esquire R. B. Moss, acting as
coroner, held an inquest. The jury was composed of J. P. Hutcherson, J. M.
Hutcherson, Andrew Anderson, John M. Crews, John Simpson and James Nave, and
their verdict was that the deceased had "come to his death by being shot
with a shot-gun; he had six holes in his breast and back, and his jaw bone was
Suspicion at once fell upon Husher and Henry Cooper as the murderers, and
they were taken into custody. The latter had some blood spots on his clothing,
but he accounted for them by proving that the previous day he had butchered a
sheep; he was discharged. No evidence of guilt was ever proved against him, and
no one had the least doubt of his innocence.
Husher was tried by a sort of lynch court, partly legal and largely illegal.
A sort of informal venire of twenty-four good and reputable citizens of the
neighborhood, without distinction of party, opinion, or any other, save that
they were all reputable men, was returned, and Husher was allowed to choose from
among them twelve men to serve as his jury. The trial came off at Spring Hill
before this jury and two magistrates, Esqs. Samuel Pepper and William Lewis.
Very strong and convincing testimony was produced. The threats of Husher
against Avery were proven; his shot-gun was produced and examined and found to
be double-barreled, with one empty and one loaded barrel, and in the latter were
found slugs similar to those found in Avery's body. But the strongest proof
against him was furnished by his daughter, a young girl of 12 or 14 years of
age, who testified in a manner that convinced all who heard her that she told
the truth, that on the evening of the murder her father came home with his gun
and with his clothes spattered over with blood; that he took off these clothes
and burned them, and then warned her never to tell what she had seen.
There were no continuances, changes of venue, dilly-dallying, or subterfuges,
tolerated in that court. Everything was done fairly but promptly. No
injustice was shown to the prisoner. He was allowed to cross-examine the
witnesses against him, to introduce others, to plead his case, and he did not
complain that his trial was not fair. The jury did not deliberate long; they
were empowered not only to decide upon the guilt or innocence of the accused,
but if they found him guilty they were to fix the penalty. They soon returned.
Their verdict was brief and emphatic - guilty! Their sentence was severe
but satisfactory -" Death by hanging within the next 24 hours!"
The verdict and the sentence were applauded by nearly every man in the
county; the verdict was universally approved. The murder of Avery following so
soon after that of Elisha Boucher, in the same neighborhood, and the escape of
Tom Snead, the murderer, determined the people to see to it that there was no
miscarriage of justice in the present case. Husher murmured at his fate, but
prepared to meet it. He gave directions concerning his property, and had Richard
Reeves make his coffin.
The hanging took place September 4. The gallows was set up on the spring
branch near the big spring, a little east of south, but almost within the
confines of the village of Spring Hill. Hundreds of persons were present, but
there was no disorder, and the proceedings were conducted quietly. Husher's son
was on the ground, and witnessed the execution. Husher himself protested to the
last that he was innocent, but no one believed him, and his execution received
almost universal approval.
Sometime afterward Esq. Moss, who was a stickler for the forms of law,
procured the indictment of certain parties who had taken part in the hanging of
Husher, but these indictments were quashed and the accused never brought to
Subsequently Mrs. Husher married Andrew Prager, and yet resides in the
vicinity of Spring Hill. The daughter who testified against her father now
resides in Caldwell county.
On the 10th of August, 1861, a man named Elisha Boucher was killed by his
brother-in-law, Thomas Snead, in what is now Sampsel township. Boucher had
married Martha J. Snead, a sister of his slayer. Boucher was a rough character,
and addicted to drink, and he and his wife did not live pleasantly together. On
the evening of the tragedy he came home drunk and a quarrel between husband and
wife resulted. Tom Snead was chopping wood for his sister, and when the
altercation took place he ran up, knocked Boucher down and chopped off his
head with the ax. Many persons believed that the killing was the result of a
plot between Mrs. Boucher and her brother, and it is asserted that the woman
held her husband by his coat while her brother assaulted him.
It was war times then, and amid the excitement prevailing in the county no
arrests were made. Snead left the country and joined the Confederate army, and
was finally killed in one of Gen. Johnston's battles in Georgia, in 1864. A year
or so after the killing of Boucher his widow married John McWilliams.
May 7, 1863, Mr. McWilliams killed his wife and another of her brothers,
named John Snead. The circumstances, as related by McWilliams and generally
believed, were that for some time, and from certain evidences, McWilliams
believed that his wife and her brother had designs on his life, and meant to
kill him. He therefore always went armed and kept a close watch over himself. He
said that his wife admitted to him that she had assisted in the murder of her
former husband, Boucher, and that she had begun the quarrel with him in order to
afford a pretext for putting him out of the way. Afterward McWilliams became
afraid that he too would be "removed," and passed much of his time in
apprehension and fear.
On the evening of the day mentioned McWilliams said he returned home, and
almost immediately his wife began a quarrel with him. They were standing in the
court yard, when suddenly John Snead appeared on the scene, armed with an ax,
and instantly Mrs. McWilliams caught her husband by the coat and held him, as,
it is said, she caught and held Boucher on a former and similar occasion. Before
Snead with his ax could reach him McWilliams drew his revolver and shot his
wife, the ball taking effect in the nose near her right eye, killing her
McWilliams now ran into the house, pursued by Snead. There was a desperate
conflict. Snead dealt terrific and rapid blows at his brother-in-law, who,
however, contrived to avoid every one of them. The door was marked in many
places with large and deep gashes, or ax-prints. All the time, however,
McWilliams was using his pistol to the best advantage. He shot Snead once
through the shoulder, but failed to bring him down. At last, in dodging a blow,
he sunk to the floor, and while in this position he fired the fatal shot. The
ball struck Snead in the head, above the ear, ranged upward and came out near
the center of the skull, splitting and shattering the skull and scattering the
brains about the room.
This latter tragedy occurred about one mile and a half east of where is now
Sampsel Station. McWilliams at once made known what he had done, and told his
story. There was some sort of investigation before Esq. R. B. Moss, and a
coroner's inquest over the body of Mrs. McWilliams rendered a verdict that she
had "come to her death by being shot in the side of the nose, near the
right eye." Who fired the shot the jury did not say. Soon after McWilliams
entered the Federal service, in which he continued during the remainder of the
war, and was never arrested.