(Editor’s note: During the past several months, Bill Graham has written occasional columns recognizing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and the impact it had on Platte County. Following is Graham’s latest entry in the series.)
Can you imagine an uncertain fate for the United States? What if local government was in tatters and criminal elements could appear at your door at any time and those charged with justice might or might not be inclined to help?
One hundred and fifty years ago, the Civil War was leaving deep scars in PlatteCounty. Bitter conflict that arose in the 1850s over slavery in nearby Kansas was now in the third year of a dreary and deadly war. No large armies marched across PlatteCounty. But small units of federal troops and bands of southern sympathizers clashed and pillaged. Even worse, outlaw gangs masquerading as soldiers left little or no quarter for whoever they encountered. All of western Missouri was the same.
It’s one thing today to watch the ongoing violence on the news regarding civil war in a country far away like Syria. But it’s harder to imagine blood flowing and meanness dominating on our own soil.
Yet, June began on the heels of a frightening May a century and a half ago. Historian W.M. Paxton in his “Annals of Platte County” quoted a report from the Conservator newspaper of May 16, 1863.
“Pretended federal soldiers ransacked the house of the widow Permelia Morgan and then went to the house of the widow Daniel, shot Miss Lucinda Wymer and Mr. G. McCaffrey, leaving them, as they supposed, dead; and after burning the house, went to the house of Mrs. Gordon and robbed it of all they fancied.”
A way of life was passing, too. Paxton reported that when the Missouri River froze over in February, slaves fled the farms where they were held and joined the Union Army. Slaves likely overheard talk among the masters and they also whispered hopeful words among themselves about a strange battle. On Oct. 29, 1862, black troops led by black officers had fought Confederate guerillas at the Battle of Island Mound in BatesCounty. It was the first time African-American troops had fought in the regular Army for the United States against an enemy. They fought fiercely and well.
Slave-holders in the County, especially with FortLeavenworth just across the Missouri River, must have been frightened. Paxton said the Conservator mentioned Judge Birch’s efforts at FortLeavenworth to reclaim certain runaway slaves, “and the contempt shown him by the military officers.”