By Larry Wood
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Editor’s note: Over the next few weeks, in observance of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, The Joplin Globe will publish a series of stories written by area historians setting the stage for observance of the massacre of black troops that occurred at Rader’s farm and the burning of Sherwood in May 1863.
During America's Civil War, political sentiment was divided in the slaveholding border state of Missouri. The question of which side would control the state hung in the balance from the outset of the conflict.
Confederate-allied forces won important battles at Carthage in July 1861 and at Wilson’s Creek a month later, securing the Southwest portion of the state for the South, while Northern forces held the rest of the state.
After Confederate forces were driven out of Missouri in early 1862 and defeated at the Battle of Pea Ridge in Northwest Arkansas, the Union took control of the entire state. But Southern irregulars remained in Missouri to carry on fierce guerrilla warfare.
With more than its share of Southern sympathizers, Jasper County was a hotbed of guerrilla activity, partly because of its proximity to the devoutly Union state of Kansas. The county also was home to guerrilla chief Thomas R. Livingston, who commanded Southern partisans throughout Southwest Missouri.
A prominent miner and merchant at French Point (near present-day Oronogo) before the war, Livingston was loosely affiliated with the regular Confederate Army, but he operated independently most of the time.
Partisan activity peaked in Jasper County in the spring of 1863, and events unfolded that would not only shape the direction of the war in Southwest Missouri but also stir debate throughout the country.
It culminated with Livingston's massacre of black troops at Rader’s farm northwest of present-day Joplin on May 18, 1863, and the burning of the village of Sherwood in retaliation the following day by Union troops from Baxter Springs, Kan.
Larry Wood is a Joplin-based historian and author who has written extensively about the Civil War in Southwest Missouri.