The Civil War
As it relates to St. Clair County, Missouri
 

 

Bates County Refugees in St. Clair County
Bates County, Missouri History 1821-1900:

V.B. VanDyke makes reference to the banishment of the people of the county of Bates by the military order No. 11, by General Ewing, August 25, 1863.

The conditions of the people of Bates County, who to the date of the above named order No. 11, remained in the county, is difficult to describe. They had been pillaged, with few exceptions, of all their livestock and wagons, and communications had been cut off so that many did not hear of the order of banishment until the time allotted was nearly out; but so soon as they did get the information they procured such wagons and teams as they could and loaded in their most necessary articles and began their march out of the county. Their furniture, houses, barns, gardens, orchards and fields were abandoned to certain destruction. Most of the men were in the army on one side or the other, and the move had to be conducted by women and boys. Most of them took refuge in Henry and St. Clair Counties. Some families would move out and send the wagon back for others. For days and nights the roads were strewn with this mass of war ridden people exerting themselves to get out of danger. They went into vacant houses, barns and stables, and were called Bates County Refugees. The winter of 1863 was unusually cold and the suffering and privation was very great. When the fifteen days was out and the people all gone, the county was overrun by marauders and parties from Kansas, who removed to Kansas what the people had left. The dry grass of the prairie was set on fire, which completed the desolation and reduced the country to a wilderness, in which condition it remained until the close of the war.

In the spring of 1866 many of the Bates County refugees began to return and improve their land, which was all that was left. With few exceptions, not a vestige of farmer homes were left standing, and the chimneys of their homes could be seen looming up above a forest of rank weeds. The rich land however could not be destroyed.

The contract for the old brick courthouse was let in the fall of 1857 and it was finished in 1858, after which court was held in it until it was burned in the fall of 1861. At that time General Price had his headquarters at Osceola, and efforts were made to have a detachment stationed here. The Federal forces in Kansas heard of this and sent a detachment over here and burned the courthouse and several buildings on the west side, and perhaps others. Prior to this, early in the war, Robert L. Duncan, county clerk, had taken the records of his office to Clinton, and after General Lane, the “Grim Chieftan of Kansas”, had burned Osceola and was on his way back to Kansas, he passed through Butler and took the remaining records to Leavenworth. All records were preserved and returned after the war with the loss of the marriage records only. After the famous “Order No. 11” by General Ewing had practically depopulated Bates and other border counties, marauding parties passed through here and burned what was left of Butler in 1863.

Bates was the only counter under Order No. 11 that was entirely depopulated. Even those bearing certificates of loyalty were ordered to take up residence either in Kansas or other counties in Missouri. Military stations were not even allowed to remain within the county. Those who had braved the many dangers in their attempts to preserve their homes from total ruin were now compelled to leave all and seek homes among strangers. The order appeared harsh and unjust to many, but it was enacted as a military necessity, and undoubtedly saved many lives, as robbery and murder would have continued unchecked until the close of the war. There was no disputing the order, as the Military was the supreme authority and there was no appeal from its decree. The people hastily gathered up what few personal effects they had been able to save from the raiders, pressed into service every conceivable sort of conveyance, many of them hardly knowing which way to turn. Some went into nearby counties where they made some sort of temporary homes. Some went to Kansas, and not all of them were able to get as far as the order decreed that they should go. Some sought and found new homes, and never returned to Bates County. As a result of the Ewing Order, Bates County once again became a tenantless wilderness. Fires raged unchecked, through prairie, wood and overgrown field. Fences, buildings, improvements of all kinds were swept away. Where only three years previous had been a flourishing commonwealth composed of 6,000 people, now roamed the savage wolf and half-starved dog, and perchance, the hunted outlaw, who sought refuge in the forbidden territory. The history of the county from this time until the close of the war is a blank. As far as records or legal proceedings are concerned, there was no such organization of Bates County from September 1863 to the close of the war.

At the close of the war in 1865, Bates County, once populous and flourishing, now all but utterly ruined and tenantless, a picture of the most utter desolation. Perhaps no other part of the United States was so entirely and completely stripped of all improvements and material necessary for the subsistence of man or beast as Bates County, not even excepting the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, for the crow had long since departed from Bates’ orders in disgust at not being able to find sufficient provisions to carry with him in his journey across the country. Nothing to disturb the vast solitudes except an occasional body of troops who might for some reason be compelled to pass through here, or an outlaw seeking to hide himself where there were no officers and no civil laws to fear. At the close of hostilities, the county could boast only about three school houses in its territory and they were in a badly dilapidated condition. Along the eastern border there were some houses left standing and a few families living in them but the only signs of past habitation in a large portion of the county was an occasional lonely chimney found standing to mark the spot where once had been a happy home, but now deserted and desolate. In Butler, where before the war was a beautiful little village, there was but now left three or four cabins, the remainder having been destroyed by fire. Many of the county’s land owners had cast their lot with the lost cause, and thereby lost everything. They returned after the war to find their homes ruined and the money in which they had been paid being worth nothing, they were absolutely without means to make the necessary improvements. The result was that much of the land was never reclaimed by the original owners and returned to the government, or was sold for taxes. Of the towns that had flourished before the onset of war, Butler, the county seat, was the only one to regain its prestige.