In Bollinger County, Missouri

by Pitter Seabaugh

The Civil War began at 4:30 a.m. on the 12th of April, 1861. Within weeks militia were being organized in both the North and the South. The bloody years of war that followed cost the lives of 600,000 men, two percent of the country's population. At the heat of the conflict, the issue of slavery divided states, nationalities, neighbors and even families.

In no other part of Missouri was the loss of property and life more devastating than in Southeast Missouri. Federal troops intent on preventing a Confederate invasion from the south, moved back and forth through the region. Confederate armies, determined to gain a foothold in Missouri, marched through the Region from the south.

Guerrilla bands, some loyal to the North, others with allegiance to the South, engaged in some of the most widespread, longest-lived and most destructive guerrilla warfare of the Civil War. The war had the effect of brutalizing its participants. Soldiers who, only months before sat in church pews singing hymns, and who would return to those same pews after the war, found themselves capable of unspeakable atrocities.  Individuals and families suspected of opposing sympathies were murdered. Homes and businesses were looted and burned. Civilians and fighters, men, women, and children were swept into nightmares. Soldiers who returned home after the war often found nothing left. Whole families had fled to safer areas. Homes had been burned, fences torn down and used for firewood and livestock slaughtered or gone wild. Weeds and undergrowth overran what once had been fertile fields.

Following is some accounts of what happened to some of mine and many of your ancestors during the Civil War in Bollinger, Wayne, Ripley and St. Francis County. You will recognize many of these names as your Cherokee ancestors.

Last month I wrote on the Bushyhead and Hildebrands in this S.E.MO. area.  You will recognize Hildebrands again along with Cates, McGee, and Ladds.

Throughout the war, both Federal and Confederate troops moved through Bollinger County regularly.  Dallas, now Marble Hill, the largest town in the county and the county seat, was the frequent destination of units from both sides.  Passing armies and roving guerrilla bands ravished the country side slaughtering livestock for food, stripping fields of corn and often burning farms.

In Ripley County, the Wilson Massacre occurred Christmas Day of 1863.  Major James Wilson was a heartless Union officer with a take no prisoner policy.  He and his troops rode into town Christmas Day and killed 35 soldiers and 62 civilians, some less than one year old, while they were eating Christmas dinner.  When Confederate Colonial Timothy  Reeves, a Baptist Minister, learned of this, he and his troops set out to track down Major Wilson and his troop of six men.

At the Battle of Pilot Knob, in September 1864, Major James Wilson and six of his men were captured by the Confederates.  They were held for one week then turned over to Major Tim Reeves, CSA (called a guerrilla by the Union Forces) of Marmaduke's command.  It has never been determined who gave the order, but Major Wilson was taken out and hung, and his men were shot.  When word of this murder reached General Rosecrans, who commanded the Department of the Missouri Military Calvary, he issued an order to retaliate.  The order was to the effect that a Major and six enlisted men of the Rebel captives be shot.  In carrying out this order, only those prisoners who refused to take the oath of Allegiance to the Federal Government were selected.  These men were marched into a room where they were ordered to draw lots.  A container which held marbles or small balls, of which there were six black ones, was held above eye level so the men could not see the color they were drawing.  The ones drawing a white marble were paroled and those drawing a black one were to be executed.

Asa Valentine Ladd, born November 23, 1829, son of Ransom and Anna Eve Ladd of Wayne County, Missouri, was one of the soldiers to be executed in retaliation for the death Major Wilson.  Asa and the other five men were given a few hours to get their lives in order.  Asa was concerned for the welfare of his wife and six children.  He spent his remaining hours writing two letters... one to his wife and the other to his father Ransom.  Asa was executed October 28, 1864.  The letter Asa had written to Amy was advising her not to leave for her homeland of Arkansas until the dry season.  He told her that the water would be high making it impossible to cross the St. Francis River.  Amy never received the letter.  She loaded up two wagons and left for Arkansas with a hired hand and her six children.  The St. Francis River was at a flood stage as she tried to cross it she lost one of  her wagons and all her possessions in it, including the family bible.  She managed to get the second wagon across, and went on to a town near Pocahontas, Arkansas.  Amy raised her children in Arkansas, and never saw the letter her dear husband Asa wrote.

Greenbrier Cemetery, in southern Bollinger County, contains a mass grave discovered many years ago.  An investigation of the grave determined the plot contained the remains of Confederate soldiers.  Uniforms, coats, buttons and skeleton remains were found.  The remains are thought by some to be those of Confederate troops under the command of Captain Daniel McGee, who were killed by Union troops in the Mingo Swamp on February 3rd or 4th, 1863.  Although accounts vary, over 20 Confederates were killed in the encounter, no Union soldiers were injured.

Many of the Ladds, Catos, and McGees had married and settled around Bollinger County. The connection between the Catos and the Ladds is what ties this story together.  The Union soldiers set out to get Daniel McGee and his band of outlaw guerrillas that had infested Southeast Missouri, who according to Union soldiers were making there headquarters in the swamps.  Simon Cato (whose daughter married a Ladd) was said to be harboring these outlaws for a long time and his house was the headquarters for these guerrillas.  Union Lieutenant Colonel B. F. LaZear rode into Simon Cato's house (farm), everyone at the house was taken by surprise.  There was a brief struggle, the forest was again quiet.  The sharp report of the pistol and carbine had ceased.  McGee and eight of his men were killed and twenty wounded, all but four too seriously to be removed.  Leaving the dead and wounded to the neighborhood, they left for Bloomfield.

In the report that Lieutenant Colonel Bazel F. Lazear made, he said they returned yesterday from a scout to Mingo Swamp, and reported killing only three and wounding only two more of the band of General McGee.  He said there are no more than three of the notorious ones of the gang left.  Their names are Sam Hilderbrand, Cowan and Dixon.

There were different stories told of this account by the Union and Confederate.  I have to wonder why.  I wonder also if it is just a coincidence that Simon Cato's son in-law was Ladd and a Ladd was executed for Major Wilson death.  Why is it most the time the Confederates being massacred were names of Cherokee Indians?  It makes me wonder, was there a cover up?

In the next issue of our newsletter, I will finish the story of Sam Hilderbrand as it pertains to St. Francis and Ste. Genevieve County, Missouri.

References from: 

* A Guide to Civil War Activities in Southeast Missouri Region - Missouri Division
of Tourism.
* National Archives.
* A History of the 15th Missouri Calvary Regiment, CSA.
* History of Stoddard County - Robert H. Forister. 

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