In recent months, Citizen columnist Bill Graham has written columns about the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War and the impact the War had on Platte County both then and now. Following is another entry in the series.
Perhaps winter cold felt even more bitter in Platte County 150 years ago, as the Civil War that decimated the county and divided a nation wore forward into 1865. Those families who leaned toward the Union likely had a cheerier Christmas Eve and a more hopeful New Year’s Eve than their neighbors favoring the South.
That is, if the neighbors were even still on the farm.
Platte Countians heading to the warmth of south Texas are nothing new. Although a century and a half ago it was soldiers and perhaps wives or families rather than retirees heading south, if they fought against the Union.
In October, 1864, General Sterling Price’s Confederate Army was whipped at the Battle of Westport in what is now Kansas City. The fight ended the South’s ill-fated late invasion to win Missouri late in the war. Price’s Army was pursued south in various small battles and skirmishes until the men in gray or butternut brown limped toward Texas for the winter.
Likely some Platte Countians were among them. Or they were with some other southern army. Or if they had fought for a time for the South and came home, they would be laying low, despite the county’s southern leanings. Men had been murdered in cold blood for their sympathies, for either side.
Abraham Lincoln was re-elected president in November, 1864. The vote total in Platte County was 882 for Democrat George B. McClellan, a general for the Union Army, and 488 for Lincoln. The voters were all men; Women’s Suffrage had not yet happened.
More men than that could not cast ballots that fall.
“Platte County has sent 1,800 men to the Southern army,” W.M. Paxton wrote for November of that year in his history book, “Annals of Platte County.” That tally may not have included boys and men bushwhacking as outlaws or southern fighters.
And what of the women, children and elderly left behind?
On Nov. 25, 1864, Paxton wrote, “Judge Heren commenced a long session of circuit court, and did much business. An immense amount of land was sold by the sheriff, for debts of Southern soldiers, and many farms sacrificed.”
For those still farming, “the year was remarkably unfavorable for corn, owing to the dry spring,” Paxton wrote as December began. Potatoes were selling for $2 a bushel, eggs for 40 cents a dozen and salt for $6 a pound. This was back when a dime bought a lot.
“These high prices are owing, in part, to the depression of the currency and to the war,” Paxton wrote.
A military order banished all bushwhackers and men who had been in the southern army, whether for the state or the county Paxton is unclear. County officials were being pressed for more recruits for the Union Army as a new year began in January, 1865.
A $200 “bounty” for signing up was being offered.
But by February the county was short the number of recruits specified, and a draft was feared. At a public meeting late in the month at Platte City, the public was being asked for “subscription” money to add to the bounty for recruits.
The Union had banished most residents of Jackson, Cass, Bates and parts of Vernon County from their homes earlier in the war to stifle bushwhackers and Southern sympathizers. Troops in blue burned homes and crops and carried off valuables in what became known as the Burnt District. Late in 1864, the news had come that General Sherman’s Union Army was marching through Georgia and laying waste to all in its path.
A public meeting in Platte City to raise Union troops was likely an effort to keep a scorched earth policy out of Platte County.
The Union cause for abolishment of slavery was in the news in the county 150 years ago this month, too. Freed slaves held a meeting.
“The first public meeting of freedmen was held at Weston, and several enthusiastic addresses made by whites,” Paxton wrote.
Little did those speakers know that civil rights for all would still be a legal issue a century later, and that 150 years hence tensions over race relations would still face a nation.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.