Wehmer discusses area Civil War history
At the Oregon County Historical Society meeting held Friday, May 10, guest speaker Lou Wehmer discussed Civil War events in the area.
Wehmer, who is retired from Missouri Highway Patrol, spends his time working in the community as president of Development Corporation of Willow Springs, Community Foundation of Willow Springs and curator of Harlin Museum in West Plains and board of directors of museum in Willow Springs. Weimer explained his introduction to local Civil War history began with the reading of Lewis Simpson’s book, Oregon County Three Flags.
He is currently co-authoring a book about John James Sitton, who fought in the Civil War.
In April of 1861, the Civil War began, with Missouri being actively engaged with men in the area being organized to fight. Weimer stated Oregon County was primarily southern sympathetic and some believed the Union needed to be preserved. “More sympathetic to the idea that Missouri was a sovereign state and the United States didn’t have a right to invade it,” said Weimer.
In 1863, Sitton ended up as a guerilla on the Arkansas border at Evans Mill located on English Creek. Weimer stated it is unknown where the Evans Mill was exactly located. A detailed diary was kept by Sitton from 1860 to 1880. In 1863, Sitton was in the Oregon County area where he recruited on the Missouri and Arkansas border.
Wehmer discussed the guerillas or bushwhackers located in Oregon County including the most famous guerilla Richard “Devil Dick” Boze. In the early part of the war, waterwheels were a target. Wehmer stated he and fellow historian Carl Burkhead believe Boze’s mill was located on the upper Eleven Point River near Roaring Spring. The mill was attacked by Union soldiers and Boze’s brother was killed. This is believed where the hatred for the Union stemmed from resulting in Boze leading his own band of men and at times aligning with Confederates. He refused to surrender in June of 1865 when the war was over. Boze was later killed by a trooper. Peter Younger and other members of his band were picked up as well as stolen items.
Wehmer discussed the formation of the Missouri State Guard and how several companies from the area, many from Oregon and Howell counties, fought at the battle at Wilson’s Creek.
In the spring of 1862, terms of enlistment for joining the Missouri State Guard began to expire, requiring men to decide to join the Confederacy or stay in Missouri and defend the state. It was considered by federal government to be Union territory and if not part of it, you were considered a guerilla or of treason. The state was also considered southern but was not Confederate.
Portions of Missouri were constantly battled over, including control of Alton, which was exchanged a few times. In 1862, a Union raid resulted in the burning of a mill in Mammoth Spring. In 1863, Alton was under Union control. After they left, the courthouse was burned.
There was constant raiding from both sides in the region, which included troops traveling through the Irish Wilderness on their way back to Pilot Knob resulting in some Irish arrested by Union soldiers and taken to prison in St. Louis.
To avoid being drafted into either side, many men hid in the brush. They would often sleep in the woods during the day and farm at night to avoid being drafted.
After the war, many men still did not come out of the brush and Oregon County Scouts was formed to eliminate “horse shines.”
Oregon County Historical Society meets the second Friday of the month at Country Cottage at 12 noon.