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What Do You Do Upon Discovering Your Land Was a Civil War Battle Site? Host a Reenactment, Of Course.

The "Battle of Clark's Mill" in south-central Missouri will be remembered Nov. 2 and 3; admission is free
Civil War Hats
(Photo credit: KSMU)

Jack Vineyard’s life already had no shortage of military history:  he landed on Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day, where he was shot by a German sniper in the mouth.

But it was in the early ‘90s at his farm home in rural Douglas County that he received a call from the Ava Chamber of Commerce. They wanted to know if they could stage a Civil War reenactment on his hilly property along the Bryant Creek.

“And I said, ‘My goodness, yes you can, but why in the world would you want to?'” said Vineyard.

The answer was because his land used to be the county seat—first a town called Red Bud, then Vera Cruz—and Union and Confederate troops fought for control of it early in the war.

“I couldn’t believe it. I had no idea it was anything like that. I told the Chamber of Commerce, ‘If I can search out the history of the incident, and if I can prove that it was a battle site, why then, sure, you can do a battle site,'” he said.

Vineyard set out to do some research. He first visited the Springfield-Greene County Library’s Civil War archives, where he found three files on the “Battle of Clark’s Mill.”  He contacted the United States Postal Service to learn about the old postmasters in Red Bud and Vera Cruz.

Then he started asking townspeople for their family histories—many of them knew about the battle. Finally, he found maps of the battle at the Missouri University of Science and Technology in Rolla. They confirmed that it had indeed taken place on his land.

So, he agreed to a reenactment back in the mid-90s, and subsequently wrote a book on the “Battle of Clark’s Mill.”  Now, he’s gearing up for another reenactment in early November to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the event.

Danny Keller is organizing the reenactment and the festivities.  He says in 1862, the town of Vera Cruz had a courthouse, post office, grist mill, two saw mills, blacksmith shop, church, and roughly 15 homes on or near the Bryant Creek.

“Which is funny, because today, you’d never know anything was there. There’s nothing there to show that but a cemetery,” Keller said.

You can still see the remains of the old Vera Cruz Road on Vineyard’s land. A Confederate colonel by the name of John Q. Burbridge was given the task of heading north from Arkansas. Again, Dan Keller.

“His job was to come up the Vera Cruz Road, and to destroy anything that was of any value, of being put to use to help the federal sympathizers," Keller said.

Douglas County, like much of southern Missouri in the early 1860s, was mostly lawless and dangerous; bushwhackers took advantage of the instability the war offered.  The Union Army saw it as a strategic spot to secure.

“Now, the 10th Illinois Calvary was stationed at Vera Cruz. And they were assigned there to recruit local people into a militia, or into their troops, into their 10th Illinois, so that they could build their forces to fight guerilla warfare—people coming up from the South, confederate sympathizers—and to help fight them,” Keller said.

The Union troops only numbered 110; some wrote in their journals that they were dismayed at being deployed to a quiet hole in the wall rather than out East, where all the action was. But before long, the Confederates reached Vera Cruz.  The Union troopers only had two cannons, and they were outnumbered by more than 10 to 1.

“1,500 Confederates fought 110 troopers in an artillery duel for control of the town.  And they shot the town to pieces, which is why everybody fled, obviously.  All of the civilians and the people who lived and worked there fled up the hill to get away from the battle. But these troopers held onto this place for five or six hours,” Keller said.

Eventually, the Northern troops ran out of ammunition, Keller says, and the Southern troops began to fan out.

“The Confederate forces worked their way around and surrounded them, so that their escape was cut off. The Confederate forces asked for a surrender, and they agreed to it,” said Keller.

The Confederates took their enemies shoes, equipment, horses, cannons, and guns, but let them walk free.  The northern troops walked back to Marshfield, Missouri.

Although it was a Southern victory, Burbridge didn’t march his troops any further north, indicating that perhaps the resistance he encountered had some effect.

On Friday, November 2, demonstrators and reenactors will bring back to life the town of Vera Cruz; that day is primarily for school kids, but it’s open to the public. On Saturday, November 3rd, about two dozen soldiers will reenact the battle, including some from the Illinois 10th Cavalry unit. Many townspeople in period dress will tell stories about Vera Cruz in its Civil War days, and vendors will sell food.

There is a $5 parking fee, but admission to the festivities is free.  There will be a wheelchair accessible bus. The event is being paid for by a West Plains couple, Colin and Leslie Collins, but organizers are also taking donations.

For KSMU News, I'm Jennifer Davidson.

For more information: 

Click here for the event's facebook site

Organizer's email address:  dannykathykeller [at] yahoo [dot] com

DIRECTIONS to the Reenactment site:   From Ava, go East on Highway 14 (from West Plains, go West on 14). When you reach AB Highway, turn North onto AB.  Drive until the road turns to dirt. Take a Left at the "Y" in the road, and cross over a concrete slab bridge.  Take a Left at the next road, and go up a hill. Go 1.25 miles, past a blue house. Take the next dirt road on the Right.  Parking will be $5;  shuttles will transport visitors to the actual site. One shuttle is wheelchair accessible.