Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Family's Struggles in Missouri during the Civil War

When I originally started this blog, I wanted to preserve some family history in it.  So far I haven't done that but since it's the 150th anniversary of the start of the War Between the States I am going to share this:

Laying railroad track into Phelps County, Missouri, 1860
The Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri was built in 1860 and used as a Union Hospital during the civil war.
This story was told to me by my mother-in-law.  Thomas Logan Johnson was her great grandfather.

Missouri suffered horribly during the civil war, probably as much as the states that actually did secede from the union.  Because Missouri never seceded from the Union, it became sharply divided.  Most of the State north of the Missouri River was Pro-Union while those South of the river were Pro-Confederacy.  Brother was pitted against brother quite often.  This is the tale of one family who lived in the southern county of Phelps.

In 1859, Thomas Logan Johnson (who always went by the name of Logan) took out a patent for a homestead on 40 acres 2 miles south of Beulah, Missouri in Phelps County. Probably 40-50 acres was all a man could farm by himself with a horse or mule or ox. Since this was also in the heart of the Ozarks the entire 40 acres would have been timbered so he needed to clear his fields. He was 26 years old.

It must have taken a few years to get his farm to be productive, but in April 1862, he married Julia Ann Denison. All I know of her was that she was said to be a small dark-haired woman. Genealogy records show she was born in Kentucky while Logan came from Tennessee. Both had moved to Missouri when children with their parents.

In the summer of 1862, the Confederate General who presided over Arkansas and Missouri declared that all able-bodied men must join the CSA or face conscription (draft). This declaration forced the men to make a choice - Union or Confederate. Logan, like most of his neighbors, traveled to Oregon County, Missouri which bordered Arkansas to join the CSA near present-day Thomasville. His enlistment date was August 4, 1862. He was 29 years old--not exactly a young man for that time period.

At first Logan was placed in the First Missouri Cavalry, but 3 days later most of the men, including him, were transferred to the 8th Missouri Infantry. Logan was placed into Company C under the command of a Captain Pinnell. Fortunately for our family, the wartime dairy of Captain Pinnell was recently published and I can trace Logan's path day by day throughout the entire war.

Logan fought in several battles and was in the Camden Expedition which was commanded by General Sterling Price. Conditions were brutal. The men were ill-clothed and ill-fed. Their unit did not participate in the battle of Poison Spring because 80% of them had no shoes. They went into the winter with no shoes. Logan was elected 2nd Lt August 7 of 1862 (3 days after enlistment) and 1st Lt Oct 22, 1863 which was his final rank.

Desertion and illness took a heavy toll on the recruits. The Diary mentions men going to the hospital in Little Rock and then weeks or days later noting they died. A few recovered and returned. Most died from either water-borne or food-borne illnesses like typhoid and dysentery. Pinnell's diary mentions how badly he felt having to raid Arkansas homes for provisions as the country was so 'poor'. They had little to spare. At one point they took farm wagons from the population and used the iron from the wheels to make horseshoes for their horses as they were becoming crippled from the rocky terrain in the Arkansas Mountains.

Meanwhile back home, Logan had a daughter born in March, 1863. Captain Pinnell notes in his diary that Logan was 'ill at Little Rock' in July of 1863 and no mention is made of his return back to the unit. His military records state he was absent sick in July and August of 1863. Therefore I have wondered if perhaps Julia hadn't gotten word to him of the new baby's arrival and he went home but perhaps not. He is mentioned 3 times in Pinnell's diary after his illness so I know he was still with Company C.

The unit participated in the Battle at Camp Pleasant, Louisiana, traveled north and fought in the battle at Jenkins Ferry, Arkansas. The diary says that the men were fighting in water up to their knees at Jenkins Ferry. Imagine trying to keep your powder dry in those conditions? And the snakes!! Cottonmouths, water moccasins, coral snakes are all common and prolific! Thomas Logan Johnson was listed on the Roll of Honor for the Confederacy for his actions at Jenkins Ferry. It was their equivalent of the Medal of Honor today. Unfortunately Pinnell's diary does not detail exactly what he did to achieve this.

The Union actually lost in the Trans-Mississippi area. It was one of the few places the Confederacy was successful and whipped the yanks. After the surrender at Appomattox it took several months for the news to reach Arkansas and Louisiana. In June of 1865, the Confederacy surrendered at Shreveport, Louisiana. Logan's dismissal is different than the other men's; his service records stating he was paroled from Shreveport, LA (Claiborne Parish). Shreveport is not in Claiborne Parish. After some sleuthing I discovered that most of the CSA was camped at a huge encampment near present-day Minden which was in Claiborne Parish.

And now as they say, the rest of the story. 

Back home, Julia Denison must have been very enterprising. For the entire 3 years Logan was in the army, he had received not one single paycheck. Phelps county had a population of 5300 at the beginning of the war. It's county seat, Rolla, however, became headquarters for the Union Army because it had a railroad.

Union troops raided the countryside for food and animals. Julia lost all her livestock to the Union troops and it can only be guessed at how much food she had 'put by' for the winter they confiscated from her. By the end of the civil war, due to the hardships caused by Union troops, less than 500 people remained in Phelps County and most of them were in Rolla. Julia Denison Johnson and her 3 year old daughter, Annie Lee, were still on the farm that Logan had established.

Company C was pardoned and placed on a train for home near the end of June, 1865. By July 1st they were all home--except for Logan, which states he was not paroled until July of 1865 from Shreveport , La (Claiborne Parish). Sometime after arriving home, one of Logan's friends came to the farm and told Julia Logan was very ill. Too ill to travel. And he remained in the Union Prison Camp at Minden, Louisiana, 475 miles as the crow flies from his home. (Captain Pinnells dairy noted in at the end of March someone had gone for supplies, beef and water, both bad. Did he have dystentery or typoid? Perhaps but I think it was something else).

Julia probably grabbed what provisions she had and could carry, and taking little Annie by the hand, walked 8 miles to nearby Licking where she was able to get a very poor old horse. Probably her story melted the heart of some Union officer who allowed her to have it. She and Annie rode to Minden, Louisiana, where they found Logan. I figure it probably took her about 3 weeks. It was probably close to the first of August when she arrived.

She built a travois, placed Annie and Logan on it and leading their poor horse, headed back to Missouri. She must have had superb nursing skills as Logan not only survived the brutal trip, but by the time Julia arrived back to Missouri, she was pregnant with her second child, Toledo Lorraine Johnson (my mother-in-laws grandfather), who arrived at the farm on May 3, 1867.

The dates mean it took them over a year to arrive back home and family oral history definitely stated she became pregnant while traveling. Then we come to the name of the child - Toledo. It was not a common family name although Lorraine was. Why Toledo? Two possibilities, there is a Toledo Bend near Pleasantville, LA where Logan had fought. Had something occurred there that the child's name commemorated? Or more likely, near Pine Bluffs, Arkansas lies the small town of Toledo, 150 miles from Minden, Louisana and 300 miles from Beulah, Missouri.

I surmise Logan was so ill they could not get far before winter set in and they had to stop and wait for him to recover his health, which took a long time. I also suspect his illness was tuberculosis as his obituary stated he died from a 'smothering disease'. Several things point to this -- the length of time he was ill and the extended time needed for him to recover plus how he died. Logan died at the age of 59 in 1893 and Julia followed him in 1895 at the age of 52.  They had a total of nine of children, five sons and four daughters.
Shafer Cementary near Licking, Missouri
The cabin they lived in and built burned about 1930 
when one of their daughters was living there. 
There are no known photos of him or Julia and no 
known mementos from the war that survived. 
There is an interesting story about this house which
 I'll tell on the next post.   
Oral histories like this usually only survive two or three
generations UNLESS they are written down. 
I am fortunate that my mother-in-law, the 
fourth generation, told this to me and I wrote it down.


  1. That was soooo very interesting. He was very ill on that trip home but still conceived a child. I think Julia Ann (which happens to be my sister's name too) was one heck of a woman to make that long trip, with a toddler, to bring him home. What strength she had. And then had 9 children to raise with a chronically ill husband. Wow!

  2. It is so important to preserve family history, and I am glad that you posted this story. Julia Ann was one tough lady. I'd say Logan chose his wife well, but he was no slacker either.

  3. I love this post. It's always interesting to read history written from personal accounts.

  4. This is so fascinating to me. I think it is absolutely amazing that you have that family record, how cool! Thank you, I really enjoyed reading that! What an amazing woman that Julia must have been :)

  5. Thank you for posting this. I'm commenting with tears in my eyes.

  6. How wonderful that you are sharing this heart felt family story and that I actually found it to read. Thank you so much! My Great Grandfather joined in Texas and fought for the CSA. Some of those towns sound familiar. Wish I had a family history that someone had written down. This account helps me understand a bit better the hardships everyone suffered. They were amazing people!

  7. That is one of the most amazing stories I have ever read. Oddly enough, I was born in Shreveport and my entire family is from there.