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Today is the 150th anniversary of the first shots fired in the American Civil War. For our ongoing local history series, Sense of Place, KSMU’s Emma Wilson visits with two women who trace their roots back to soldiers who fought during one of the bloodiest times in American history.
I’m standing in the Springfield National Cemetery at the corner of Seminole and Glenstone amidst graves of Union Soldiers who fought and died at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The descendants of these soldiers and those of their confederate counterparts have long drawn courage and strength from the tales of bravery and endurance that have been passed down from generation to generation. The Civil War began on April 12th, 1861. One hundred and fifty years later, local residents are sharing stories of their ancestors who live on in our memories of that war that put brother against brother.
“I have five Union ancestors: one was from Indiana, three from Tennessee, and one from Missouri. And I have one Confederate ancestor and he was from Taney County, Missouri.”
That’s Sally McAlear. She’s the president of the local tent of Daughters of Union Veterans of the Civil War. She told me about two of her ancestors: a Taney County Confederate and a Union soldier who fought in the Battle of Pea Ridge. Neither were typical Missouri soldiers at the time. David Snap, her confederate ancestor, was from a well-to-do family who migrated from Tennessee. He was captured during General Sterling Price’s infamously failed Missouri Expedition, also known as “Price’s Raid.”
“Then he was incarcerated in four different Union prisons. He was in Alton, Illinois, in St. Louis, in Rock Island, Illinois, and last in Point Lookout, Maryland, where he remained until the end of the war.”
One of McAlear’s many Union ancestors, Sam Merritt, was a Justice of the Court in Ozark County and enlisted when he was in his fifties, making him much older than the average soldier fighting in the Civil War. He served with the regiment of John Phelps.
“Most notably, he served—or fought at the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas and was shot in the foot. So he was taken to a hospital in Cassville for two weeks and then taken home to Ozark County. And he died two months later of what the doctors called ‘mortification of the wound’ which was gangrene.”
Patti Hobbs is also a member of the Mary Whitney Phelps Tent of the Daughters of Union Veterans.
“Well, I have five that I know of, but one was a deserter, so I don’t talk about him.”[Laughter]
Hobbs says that because of the research she’s done to discover her family history, she’s grown an appreciation for the soldiers on both sides that Generals, Governors, and other major players in history relied on.
“I think that the faithfulness of the individuals that were serving under all of those is just an important thing to remember. Not to just remember the important guys, but to remember the common people who just did what they were supposed to do and suffered hardship in order to do that.”
McAlear says that the knowledge of her ancestors has changed her perspective on the meaning of citizenship. “I’ve learned so much about the sacrifices they made for what they believed in. So I think I strive harder to be a good citizen, and I just have a deeper appreciation for the freedom we have today. I think that’s how it’s affected me.”
Today is the sesquicentennial of the start of a war that tore this region of the country apart, where neighbors drew the line of war by their fence posts and families split loyalties between the North and South. Today is a day to remember the lives of all those soldiers who fought, often because they had no choice, in that bloody civil war.
For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Emma Wilson.