By Kevin McClintock
NEWTONIA, Mo. —
One of the oldest and most historic homes in Southwest Missouri — the two-story brick mansion built by Matthew Ritchey about 160 years ago — will be the centerpiece for the 150th anniversary of the first Civil War battle at Newtonia.
Slated for Saturday, Sept. 29, and Sunday, Sept. 30, the sesquicentennial won’t be a battle re-enactment, said Don Jessen, but rather a “living history” demonstration and Civil War encampment, with people in period costume recreating what life was like in the village of Newtonia in 1862.
Jessen oversees the historic mansion and some of the surrounding battlefield, which is owned by the Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association.
On Sept. 29, there will be artillery demonstrations, infantry drills, a Civil War field hospital will be set up, and at 4:30 p.m. there will be a salute to fallen Union and Confederate soldiers. Tours of the 160-year-old slave-built mansion will be offered from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Inside the house is a museum displaying a number of artifacts, including shells, a rifle, Minie balls and a miniature replica of the mansion. On a nearby wall hangs Doug Hall’s painting titled, “First Battle of Newtonia — September 30, 1862,” showing a Native American Confederate soldier on horseback jumping a low brick wall to attack Union forces.
The battle is unique in that Native Americans from different tribes fought on both sides as military units clashed at Newtonia in 1862, according to historians.
Also on display are copies of rare “picket passes” that allowed civilians to safely cross military lines.
“It’s like a hall pass,” Jessen said with a chuckle.
Upstairs, in the main Ritchey bedroom, the original wood floors have been painted black to hide blood stains after the house was used as a makeshift hospital, according to local historian and author Larry Wood. The upstairs bedroom during the battle was used for surgery. In it, wounded soldiers were tied down, shattered limbs were cut off and then thrown through the nearby window to the ground below.
At 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 30, there will be a memorial service, with Eastern Shawnee Chief Glenna Walker serving as the featured speaker. It will be held at the First Baptist Church in Newtonia.
The one-day battle, which occurred on Sept. 30, 1862, began at 7 a.m. around a stone-and-timber barn near the mansion. About 350 men were killed or wounded during the first battle. A second battle would occur nearby in October 1864, as Union soldiers pushed the remnants of a Confederate invasion force out of Missouri.
The National Park Service has undertaken a study to determine whether the Newtonia battlefield site should be added to the federal system, either as a free-standing battlefield or military park or as a unit of nearby Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
“It’s very rare” that two Civil War battles would occur nearly on the same real estate, said Jessen. “And it’s even more rare that the first battle involved Indian brigades on both sides, where they faced each other during the battle. It pretty much put us on the map.”
According to historian Larry Wood, in 1859 a New York journalist traveled through Southwest Missouri and passed through Newtonia, describing it as a “neat village” with “tasteful buildings” set in a fertile valley.