Chalfant: Soldiers didn’t always act properly during Civil War

May 8, 2013

Sedalia was the site of a Federal military outpost, Fort Malcolm, during the Civil War. Hundreds of Union troops were stationed in the village, moving in and out of Sedalia to engage Confederate forces. Local residents, some too old, too young, or physically unfit for service, formed a Home Guard unit to assist in defending the town and another unit, Parker’s Rangers, to fight the guerrilla bands that roamed area.

The 1882 History of Pettis County identifies the leaders of Sedalia’s Home Guard: Captain Donnohue, Captain Frank McCabe, Captain F. L. Parker, Captain William Bloess, Lieutenant Ben Lyon, Lieutenant Dick Bard, Lieutenant B. F. Yankee and Adjutant Channel P. Townsley. Others in the Home Guard included Adam Ittel, Charles Lyon, William Jackson, Robert Barnhart, Frank Wear, George C. Taylor, Theodore Shelton, Jacob Nussberger, Fred Heep, Elias Bixby, and W. E. Bard.

Articles in the Sedalia Advertiser include Captain Lower and Captain Joseph Berry in the Citizen’s Guard, a group “called in from the country to defend this place against the raiders.” This is probably the group referred to in other articles as Parker’s Rangers.

In her memoirs, Lillie Faulhaber described Sedalia in late September and early October 1864 as “hourly in dread of a raid” from Confederate forces marching through the state toward Kansas City. The Home Guard was prepared; they had dug breastworks at various points in town and the men carried their weapons everywhere, even to church.

 An article in the Sedalia Advertiser in early October 1864 praised the men of the Citizen Guard as “gentlemanly,” in contrast with the raiders’ “lawless and cowardly” behavior.

The Citizen Guard’s actions “reflected honor on them as citizens or soldiers.”  The paper thanked the Citizen Guards for “prompt attention in time of danger.”

However, the Advertiser called attention to the “shameful and cowardly” conduct of two members of the Citizen Guards. The reporter attributed their actions to a desire “to show the authority” conveyed by uniforms and weapons.

During the first week of October, Lower and Berry entered Elias Bixby’s hardware store. Most of the employees were at that moment on guard duty at the various breastworks. Lower confiscated or stole stovepipe and other items, and Berry drew his revolver and threatened to shoot Mr. Meyers, the clerk at Bixby’s store, if he did not produce the stovepipe immediately.

Berry also threatened to shoot a Mr. Crandall, a lumber merchant who was, at the time, unarmed. Crandall defied Berry, who backed down in the face of a challenge.

The Advertiser continued its condemnation of Lower and Berry, noting that “to insult and abuse unarmed citizens, without cause or provocation, is too contemptible an act to be committed by any brave man, much less a true soldier.”

The article also noted dryly that if “we are to be insulted and our property destroyed, we had much rather it would be done by our enemies than by our friends.”

By mid-October, Sedalia was ready for battle. The Citizen Guard had been called into town, and the Enrolled Militia had been reorganized. The Advertiser assured the rebels “they will have to fight to take Sedalia.”

When General Jeff Thompson’s Confederate troops attacked Sedalia on October 14, 1864, the Sedalians fought bravely, but the 250 to 300 men available to defend Sedalia were outnumbered and outgunned by Thompson’s forces. The Confederates took the town, looted and burned some buildings, confiscated the weapons of the Home Guard, and rode on.

One of the members of the Home Guard continued in military service after the battle of Sedalia. Although he apparently fought bravely during the battle of Sedalia, his later military career was questionable.

After the war ended in April 1865, Federal policy mandated that former Confederate soldiers who had returned to their homes, taken an oath of loyalty to the U. S. government, and obeyed the law were to be left alone by Federal troops.

One of the Home Guard members, Captain Donnohue, took it upon himself to have his men harass some of the former soldiers living near Dresden and threaten to confiscate their land and property.

Donnohue’s actions came to the attention of General John L. Beveridge, headquartered in Warrensburg.

In June 1865, he wrote to Lieutenant R. G.Learning, commanding him to go to Pettis County to investigate complaints against the Pettis County Missouri Volunteer Militia, specifically Captain Donnohue. Learning was to warn Donnohue that he must stop harassing former Confederates or be dealt with by the military authorities.

The nature of Lower, Berry and Donnohue underscores the vicious nature of the Civil War, in which the enemy might also be a family member or friend.