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Grundy County

Grundy from 1862 to 1865
The Dark Days of the Civil War

During the dark days of the civil strife which shook the pillars of freedom to their foundation, there was, outside of the army, much of history which has not and never will he recorded. The records of local affairs, not mentioned in army history, and much of the fierceness of that strife and its retaliating spirit, is found in the home or local surroundings. Of this local history we give a chapter below from the graceful pen of Dr. Thos. Kimlin, who depicts, as with a practiced hand, the home events of Grundy county-, while the struggling combatants, in serried columns, fought for supremacy upon the battle-fields of the South. The following is from the Doctor's graphic pen:


"In the month of June, 1862, the writer of this sketch, then a young man of twenty-four, walked from Chillicothe, in Livingston County, to Trenton, in Grundy. He had come from New York, and on arriving at Chillicothe found his means exhausted, consequently was obliged to resort to natural locomotion to reach his destination. The Harry House was the only hotel in Chillicothe, and as the tired traveler rested there for one night, thinking of his walk on the morrow, he was anything but delighted to hear that the bushwhackers were seen on the Trenton and Chillicothe road the day before, and were raiding around Springfield.

"The next morning dawned bright and beautiful, and as our traveler struck north he thought he never saw a more lovely country. The prairie was of a gentle, undulating character, covered with a fine growth of grass and interspersed with belts of timber—hickory, oak, ash, elm, cottonwood and black walnut. Numerous streams crossed the country, along the banks of which the wild plum and crab-apple grew in' the greatest luxuriance. The soil was a fine, deep, dark loam. The woods and streams abounded in game. The chattering squirrel ran across the road or, perched on a stump, scolded like a fish-woman; the shy rabbit loped along under the shade of the bushes; coveys of quails from time to time rose whirring in the air; and on passing the creeks and water pools many a wild duck flew away on clamorous wing. Only the road was deserted. In the entire distance he met not a single individual. No farmers were at work in the fields; no loaded teams wended their way to town; no market wagons filled with noisy lads. 

“‘Rosy lasses, or aged parents, went clattering home with recently acquired stores of dry goods and groceries. Even the few houses along the road looked deserted—in one or two the doors and windows were jealously closed, and in a few others the widely open door and broken windows revealed empty desolation within.

"About half way between Trenton and Chillicothe stood two farm-houses a short distance from the road which were some months afterward the scene of a terrible tragedy that to-day invests the neighborhood with a strange horror. Again a few blackened beams, a pile of crumbling brick or stone, showed where a house had been. What had happened here? What had become of the inhabitants? Happily for the traveler's peace of mind he did not know then, or until long afterward, for those who knew of these occurrences were very reluctant to speak about them.

"Our traveler, however, arrived safely in Trenton, which he found to be a town of perhaps seventy or eighty houses, clustered irregularly around a square brick building, the county house. The appearance of the place was not such as to impress a stranger very favorably. Instead of being located on one of the fine prairies with which Grundy County abounds, the town was built on and between a number of scraggy bluffs adjacent to Grand River. These bluffs had been washed out of all shape by rains, and cut into gullies so deep that some of the streets were impassable. The streets were overgrown with a prodigious growth of "jimson" and dog fennel, which, when in bloom, filled the atmosphere with an odor that was more striking than pleasant. The population was rather heterogeneous. The war had swept off the best part of the people—the young men to join the Onion armies; the feeble and weak-kneed in body and loyalty to the more bracing climate of Montana and Oregon.

"In politics Trenton had been Democratic, so much so that in the election of 1860 but two or three votes were cast for Lincoln. Now it was all the other way. Trenton got so loyal it leaned backward; or, rather, when the really patriotic men had joined the army, many rough characters came to the surface who, otherwise, would have remained hidden in their native obscurity, and these ruffians, assuming the garb of loyal men and Republicans, were a disgrace, alike to the cause of the one and the name of the other.  In no State in the Union did men, both Democrats and Republicans, turn out in defense of their country more enthusiastically than in north Missouri; and no county in north Missouri exceeded “loyal old Grundy."

"Rampant ruffians made it almost as dangerous for a man to say he was a Democrat, as to say he was a rebel. Even the families of Democrats, whose sons perhaps were in the Union army, were not altogether safe.

"The Rev. Mr. Starr, an infirm Methodist preacher whose only son was in the Union army, and who was on Grierson's staff in his famous raid to New Orleans, was subjected to numerous petty persecutions. One was the nailing of a Union flag over his front door, not as a sign of loyalty, but as a mark of disgrace—pretty much of the same character as the red flag nailed to houses suspected of containing small-pox.

"Street fights were common, and it was a poor day that did not afford two or three fights, perhaps coming off at one and the same time.

"The business of the town had suffered a severe shock by the war. Some of the best firms had succumbed; probably the largest amount of trading was done at' Moberly's Corner,' and carried on chiefly by Wm. 0. Benson, who was at that time treasurer of the county.

"The people were frank and hospitable in their manners, and their tastes were simple. They had few amusements. Among the ladies, good looks were then, as well as now, the rule, especially among the girls up to the age of twenty, and plain looks the exception. The writer don't remember of seeing a really ugly woman except once, and she hailed from an adjoining county. To join in their social recreations, one might easily fancy himself in some primitive arcadia, where the shepherds piped to their lassies on wheaten straws; indeed, one favorite game was called 'Weevily wheat,' from an artless song of that name. This song was sung by the entire company while marching two and two around a circle. The refrain was:
I won't have none of your weevily wheat,
I won't have none of your barley,
For I must have the best of wheat
To bake a cake for Charley—
"The song went on to tell who Charley was and what were his qualifications, thus:
For Charley he is a nice young man,
And Charley he's a dandy;
And Charley loves to kiss the girls—
As sweet as sugar candy.

"But for the matter of that, each young lady mentally fitted the name to her own particular admirer.

"There was one piano in town, perhaps two, but for good downright ear piercing music the fife bore off the palm. We may be mistaken, but we believe that the fifer's stock of music consisted of two pieces, the one he was always playing, at least when we could hear him—and that was daily—the other tune was never heard.

"Pitching dollars into a hole in the ground was a favorite out-door game. It was generally carried on in front of a groggery, and the players were sure to be surrounded by a circle of highly interested spectators, their interest being partly accounted for by the fact that, with western generosity, many of the games were played for 'drinks for the crowd.'

"Correspondence with the outer world was carried on by means of a hack which made a tri-weekly trip to Chillicothe. The arrival of the hack was always the signal for a crowd to gather around the post-office, and listen while the address on each letter and paper was called out by the worthy postmistress, Mrs. Collier. When the papers were distributed, they adjourned to some convenient fence corner to hear the news about the war. This was generally read aloud by Mr. A. K. Sykes, who has done more gratuitous work of this kind for the people, than any other man in the county.

"At times the monotony of this life would be broken by a report of a raid of bushwhackers somewhere in the neighborhood, and the men and boys would be hastily gathered together, enrolled as militia, and either stationed as guards on the roads leading to town, or sent off to protect some more threatened or scared locality.

"The writer has a distinct recollection of a certain hurried march to the neighboring town of Edinburgh, taking possession of the college there, and being quartered on the town for a day or two, very much to the disgust of the inhabitants, who appeared more relieved by our departure than overjoyed by our presence.

"Truth compels me to say that the militia made no nice distinctions between them et tuum, in the matter of corn and chickens. These militia raids were sometimes more extended, even on occasion going as far as the Missouri River. On one memorable tour the Grundy county militia was gone two weeks, and scoured the counties of Livingston, Ray, Carroll and Caldwell. The militia from Mercer, Harrison, Daviess, Sullivan and Putnam took part in this demonstration, as well as a few companies of Illinois cavalry. The writer, who had never been on horseback before, was mounted on a little scrub of a pony that had a vicious tendency of falling upon its nose every few hundred yards. Two of the heaviest doctors in the county accompanied the men, well gladdened with lint and bandages. Several preachers also went along, presumably, to attend to the morals of their flock. The company was under the command of Capt. R. A. DeBolt. The first day's march brought them to Chillicothe, where muskets and ammunition were distributed to the men, who were then slightly drilled and the new recruits initiated into the duties of militia men, i. e., stealing fodder and trading horses. As Chillicothe was a friendly town and near home, the first was generally done by moonlight or starlight under the guidance of a more experienced comrade. The latter was performed on the authority of an order issued by our worthy colonel, J. H. Shanklin, directing his men if the inhabitants did not supply them with horses when they needed them, to take them by force.

"'The recruits were all apt scholars. Indeed, how could they be otherwise with such teachers? To be sure, the preference was given to rebel corncribs and rebel horses, and a Union corn-crib, if empty, was not touched, and a Union horse, if blind or lame, was considerately left to its owner. The expedition was a grand success. All the more so, perhaps, because it fell in with no bushwhackers. Rebel chickens were plenty, and so were rebel horses, and the men of Grundy helped themselves as coolly to one as to the other, so that the fame of their exploits went through that entire region round about. Indeed, it was maliciously said that when the women would hear the Grundy militia were coming they hastily gathered up their children and valuables and hid themselves in the brush. It is hard to say what gave them this notoriety; whether it was from their hungry looks (for by accident or design they had been assigned to the rear of the column where there was but scanty picking), or whether it was because they had so many preachers in their company, and a natural inference in regard to chickens was the consequence—one divine had the bow of his saddle adorned with a defunct rooster, that caused considerable merriment—or whether it was, as the writer suspects to be the fact, because the militia from the neighboring counties when they stole anything and were caught at it invariably said they were from Grundy county. At any rate the Grundy militia got the blame for all the depredations committed and for years afterward were hated by the people of the river counties even as the Jews hated the Philistines. The truth is, that except taking a little corn-fodder, occasionally borrowing a horse when their own gave out, leaving their name and address with the owner, the Grundy county militia paid their expenses out of their own pockets.

"One beautiful morning down on the Missouri bottom the bugle sounded the companies to fall into line. The tired militia who had been reclining on the grass, or eating their scanty breakfasts, mounted their horses in haste and took their stations in their respective companies. The militia of Grundy, always among the first to obey an order, were soon in their places, wondering what was going to take place next. On their right and left were stationed the various other militia companies composing the expedition and on the extreme left the Illinois cavalry. Some important order was about to be given. Some said that the bushwhackers had escaped and that they would be followed over the river. That was good news, for there was not one there who would not willingly have gone over the Arkansas line if necessary. The officer commanding and his staff were posted some little distance oft". Suddenly an adjutant left the group and rode to the place where DeBolt's company was stationed. Halting, he took out a paper and read the following:

"'whereas, Continual complaints have reached the ears of the commanding officer that the militia company under the command of Captain R. A. DeBolt have been guilty of numerous crimes and misdeeds whereby the morals of the command in general have been very much deteriorated, therefore they are discharged from further participation in this campaign. They are ordered to report in Chillicothe and be discharged.'

"And so the poor militia—victims of unjust suspicion and lying accusation—turned their horses' heads and sadly wended their way in silence over the hills to the right of the encampment and struck out for home. The same evening on halting for the night an examination was made of the entire company, at their own request, to ascertain if any had been guilty of stealing. The result was: One old horse blanket, one curry comb, three onions and twenty ears of corn.

"The greater part of the company had too much respect for themselves to forget, for a single moment, that they were gentlemen and men of honor, and would have scorned to commit the petty crimes with which they were charged.

"Two days afterward the company reached Trenton, where, in the welcome they received, they soon forgot their fatigue, disasters and mortification. In the foregoing sketch, when alluding to the Grundy county militia, DeBolt's company, composed of men living in and about Trenton, was more particularly meant, as that was the company that was so especially honored on the Missouri bottom.

"Before the war closed the disorderly spirits in Trenton, got so outrageous in their conduct that Col. Shanklin was ordered to take a company, of militia from St. Joe, proceed to Trenton to arrest the violators of the peace, and take them to St. Joe for trial. This was done and Trenton had no more trouble. The war came to a close, and with the return of the heroes who went, happiness and peace settled down, though here and there a mournful face looked out on the silent night, and the gazer thought of her loved one lying dead beneath the stars that twinkled so tremulously in the Southern sky.

"Time passed on, the clouds of war faded away one by one, and instead of the roar of distant cannon, the roll of the emigrant's wagon was heard upon all the roads of Grundy and adjacent counties. Many passed on through, crossing the Missouri River and seeking a home on the distant prairies of Kansas and Nebraska, but many remained and made their homes on the rich prairies that lay between Grand River and Medicine Creek, and none ever regretted having done so. Law and order, peace and plenty, virtue and happiness have existed in old Grundy for many years, and that they may ever continue to do so is the sincere wish of one who came here a stranger and found friends; who came penniless and found a competence; who came a bachelor and found a companion to cheer him to his life's end."
Source:  The History of Grundy County, Missouri: Birdsall & Dean, publ. 1881; Submitted to Genealogy Trails and Transcribed by Andrea Stawski Pack  

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