JOPLIN, Mo. — EDITOR’S NOTE: Over the next two weeks, in observance of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the Globe will publish a series of stories written by area historians about events leading up to the attack on a foraging party of black soldiers at Rader’s farm in Jasper County on May 18, 1863, and the burning of Sherwood the next day by Union soldiers.
The guerrilla conflict in Missouri during the Civil War has become legendary. Through the years, it has been the subject of various books and films.
Its terror, ferocity and violent confusion have been compared to modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The main protagonist in the guerrilla war in Southwest Missouri was Thomas R. Livingston, a burly, hard-drinking, natural leader of men. Before the war, he proved himself a bold entrepreneur, establishing one of the earliest lead mining operations in the area. He and his brother-in-law ran a mine, smelter and general store at a place called French Point on Center Creek, just north of where the Joplin Regional Airport is now located.
When the Civil War broke out, Livingston cast his lot with the Confederacy. By the spring of 1862, he held the rank of major and was in command of a partisan ranger unit known by several names, including Livingston’s Confederate Rangers and the Jasper County Partisan Rangers. Its official military designation was the 1st Missouri Cavalry Battalion. A slang name for the force, which varied in number from about 70 to 200 men, was the “Cherokee Spikes.” This term may have reflected the sometimes numerous Indian troops who rode in Livingston’s command along with white volunteers from Missouri.
Livingston’s rangers became such a thorn in the side of Federal efforts to control the region that the Union attempted more than once to destroy the band. There are detailed accounts of Livingston’s wartime operations, and reports of the Union’s efforts to trap him and his men. Reports also indicate that Livingston was tenacious in his raids and ambushes on camps, patrols and supply wagons.
Livingston and his men ended the second year of the war with a blazing night raid on a Federal camp at Carthage on Nov. 20, 1862. The mounted partisans launched a surprise attack on the 2nd Kansas Cavalry encamped on the courthouse square. First, the guerrillas struck the cavalry’s seven-man picket (guard) post a mile from the camp. The pickets fired one volley, then rode hard toward the town square, exchanging shots with their pursuers all the way. At the first sound of gunfire, Capt. Samuel Crawford (who would later become governor of Kansas) formed 80 troopers in line to meet the attack. When the dark forms of the raiders burst out of the night, Crawford’s men cut loose with two flaming volleys that emptied several guerrilla saddles. The element of surprise was lost and Livingston retreated, leaving behind four casualties.
Before the inevitable commencement of hostilities in the spring of 1863, Livingston took his command southwest across the border into Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). There, he reported to his commanding officer, Brig. Gen. Douglas Cooper, for whom he and his men had performed valuable scouting duties just before the Battle of Newtonia on Sept. 30, 1862. Cooper reinforced Livingston with perhaps as many as 75 men from the 2nd Cherokee Mounted Rifles.
On May 8, 1863, on their way back to Southwest Missouri by way of the Texas Road (also known as the old Military Road), Livingston’s rangers clashed with a detachment of Federal Indian soldiers of the Creek Tribe under the command of Lt. Maxwell Phillips at Cabin Creek, in Mayes County, Okla.
Only two brief accounts exist in the official military records concerning this skirmish. One was written by Livingston himself, the other by Col. William A. Phillips, commander of the U.S. Indian Brigade.
(The two accounts are good examples of how battle reports differ greatly in descriptions of the same action and also give conflicting numbers of casualties, depending upon which side is telling the tale.)
Livingston’s report reads as follows: “At the house of Capt. Martin, on Cabin Creek, met a scout of the enemy from Fort Scott (Kan.). I immediately engaged them, killing one and wounding one. He (the enemy) then took shelter in and around the houses. I endeavored to draw them out, but without success. He was soon re-enforced (sic) by a company of cavalry from Fort Gibson (Okla.). I then retired to Gary’s Gap and camped for the night. My loss was three men slightly wounded. The following morning I took up the line of march for Southwest Missouri, and arrived in Jasper County without any incidents worthy of note.”
Col. Phillips’ report reads as follows: “Lieutenant Phillips, who recently came down with a detachment of stragglers from the Creek regiment up at Fort Scott, had a fight at Cabin Creek with Livingston’s men. After an hour’s fight, he routed them, killing three and wounding several.”
The only other account of the Cabin Creek skirmish from the period appeared in a letter from Fort Gibson dated May 13, 1863. It was printed in the May 28, 1863, edition of the St. Joseph Weekly Herald.
It reveals that the Creek Indians referred to by Col. Phillips in his report were actually members of a military detachment performing a valuable service: delivering mail from Fort Scott to Fort Gibson, which was by this time of the war a Federal stronghold. The letter also claims that the skirmish involved only a small portion of Livingston’s command, which seems to conflict with Livingston’s report.
The letter, by an unidentified party, reads as follows: “Lt. Phillips arrived to-day (sic) from Fort Scott, bringing the mail. On the route down he encountered a squad of Livingston’s guerrillas under command of Lt. Harris. They were repulsed with the loss of three men. It is suspected that this was a part of the force laying in wait for the supply train, which we have every reason to believe they are intending to capture.”
The skirmish at Cabin Creek was a precursor of what was to come in that violent month of May 1863.
As Livingston rode back into Jasper County, Federal authorities prepared to launch a merciless drive to annihilate his 1st Missouri Cavalry Battalion.
The guerrilla war in Jasper County was about to reach a bloody peak.
This account was compiled from several sources, including the “Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies”; the St. Joseph Weekly Herald; Samuel J. Crawford’s “Kansas in the Sixties”; Rowland Diggs’ “Thomas R. Livingston, Partisan Ranger: His Life & Times”; and “Jasper County, Missouri, in the Civil War,” by Ward Schrantz.