Sunday, November 27, 2005

Return Home and the Civil War in Southwest Missouri

We have returned from a nice visit with my folks in Houston. As is our preferred schedule, we did about two-thirds of the driving the first day, and and coasted into Columbia the second day.

As we left our overnight stop in Joplin, Missouri, I glanced down at the instrument panel and noted that we were about at 1/8 tank. We got off the interstate at Carthage and filled up.

Carthage was the site of another Civil War battle on July 5, 1861 involving the Missouri State Guard under General Price Governor Claiborne Jackson, and Federal units under Colonel Franz Sigel who had been dispatched by General Nathaniel Lyon to cut off the retreat of State Guard forces following the battle at Boonville on June 17, 1861. After Boonville, the Missouri State Guard retreated quickly to the southwest and arrived ahead of Sigel's federal troops at a point north of Carthage. Sigel attacked, apparently unaware that he was seriously outnumbered, and the Missouri State Guard ran them through Carthage. Sigel and his men got out of the way, and headed back to Springfield where the rest of the Union forces in the area were gathered. Price, later joined by CSA General McCulloch, headed for northern Arkansas, which was his original objective. As battles go, the casualties were relatively light -- 44 Union, 74 Missouri State Guard -- but these forces would meet again in a month at Wilson's Creek as the Missouri State Guard attempted to position themselves to retake Springfield.

As mentioned before, Wilson's Creek, was a loss for the Union, but the Confederates were weakened. The Union troops withdrew from Springfield, moving closer to Rolla and the railhead, and the Missouri State Guard, for the moment, occupied Springfield. By the end of October, Price, having won several victories, including a major one at Lexington, Missouri, withdrew to Neosho at the approach of additional Union forces. Governor Claiborne Jackson and about 10% of the Missouri State Legislature (far from a quorum) met in Neosho on November 3, and passed an act of secession. By late December, Price had been forced into Arkansas along with the secessionist government (which never actually exercised any civil authority in Missouri) and settled in to prepare for further operations in Missouri, which would finally be thwarted at Pea Ridge in early March of 1862.

There were numerous battles and skirmishes in Missouri and the West, including some of the bloodiest of the early stages of the Civil War. Overall, the war's effects fell disproportionately on the South, and cost measured in civilian suffering was enormous.

As we enter Advent 2005, I want to present a familiar hymn of the season, but with two verses of the original poem that are not ordinarily sung. These verses, four and five in the original seven, lead into the verse beginning with "Then in despair I bowed my head." Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote these words in 1864 at a particularly dark time during the war:

I heard the bells on Christmas day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Till ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound the carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

It was as if an earthquake rent
The hearth-stones of a continent,
And made forlorn, the households born
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”
Longfellow wrote this as a poem rather than a hymn, but it has established itself as one of the best-loved Christmas carols. The complete words are on the Cyber Hymnal website, along with more than 5400 other hymns, many of which have historical information along with the words.

No comments: