Searching for a Rebel Camp in Missouri

In the area of south-central Missouri in Phelps, Pulaski and Texas counties, there were so many engagements between bushwackers and Union troops that it was impossible to capture every single event. However, engagements such as the following show that the activity in this area during the war was not only frequent, but intense.

This report is by Lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Eppstein to his commander, Colonel Albert Sigel of the Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry. The adversary and leader of the rebels in the area was CSA Colonel William O. Coleman.

Another interesting detail of this report is the closeness of the engagement. That is, the simple fact that Eppstein decided to charge bayonets rather than waste ammunition. This personal fighting was fairly typical in this area of Missouri as the militia indeed had to conserve ammunition. It once again shows the brutality of the the events in Missouri during the war.

JULY 6-8, 1862.-Scout from Waynesville to the Big Piney, Mo.

Report of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph A. Eppstein, Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry (Militia).
HDQRS. THIRTEENTH CAVALRY MO. STATE MILITIA,
Waynesville, Mo., July 9, 1862.

COLONEL: In pursuance of Special Orders, Numbers 12, from these headquarters, dated Waynesville, July 6, 1862, I started with 30 men of Companies B and F, under Lieutenants Ellington and Brown, to Wayman’s Mill, on Spring Creek, 12 miles from here, where I was informed that a company of Coleman’s men were encamped, about 20 miles from that place on the Big Piney. I immediately left in that direction, and on my way learned that Coleman had taken possession of Houston the day before and was running north toward the Springfield road, a statement which I disbelieved.

Reports of the whereabouts and strength (from 100 to 400) of the company above mentioned was so contradictory, that I did not know how to operate until I came to Johnston’s Mill, about 30 miles from this place, on the Big Piney, where I succeeded in arresting one of Coleman’s men, who told me that he had left camp an hour previous and was on his way home. His farther, who is also a rebel and belongs to the same gang, lives about 10 miles farther on. I compelled him by threats to go with me as guide to the camp, which I certainly could not have found without his assistance.

I started from Johnston’s Mill at sundown on the 7th instant, and at 8.30 p. m. arrived at another mill, where I ordered my men to dismount, leaving the horses in charge of 10 men as guards. From that lace I marched with the balance of my force (20 men, with officers) about a quarter of a mile up the road, thence through a dry creek, following the same for about 300 yards. Half an hour was lost in trying to ascertain the exact whereabouts of the camp, until I suddenly was hailed to halt. I made no reply to their sentinel, but pushed slowly forward until I found myself obstructed by a deep, stagnant creek, which could not be forded. I ordered my men to follow me around until I came to a shallower place; we crossed.

On climbing up the rock on the other side we found the enemy alarmed and formed in line 12 yards in front of us. I ordered them to surrender, but was greeted by several volleys of musketry. It was only then that my men commenced firing, having previously been instructed by me to save their ammunition, and after a few rounds I ordered them to “Charge bayonets,” which was immediately and gallantly executed. The enemy could not stand the charge, and broke in every direction in their shirt-tails, leaving behind them coats, pants, boots, and hats. Owing to the darkness of the night and the thickness of the brush I could not pursue them, and hearing of the proximity of another force of Coleman’s men, was apprehensive of the safety of my little force, and returned after having reconnoitered the ground. I found 4 dead bodies, 1 wounded man, several horses killed, and a lot of clothing and camp equipage strewn in every direction. Considering the proximity of our firing, I judge that many more rebels were wounded, but succeeded in escaping.

Bradford, the prisoner and guide, tried to escape during our charge, but was run through with a bayonet. He was left wounded on the field, but I ordered a neighbor to his assistance. But one of our men was slightly wounded by a buck-shot, as the volleys of the enemy went over our heads.
I captured 3 prisoners, 10 horses, 8 saddles, and 5 guns. The camp equipage was destroyed, as we had no means to take it along. The names of the prisoners are William Hamilton, George Logan, and James Ormsby, all of Company A, Coleman’s battalion.
One of the prisoners stated that Coleman had left Arkansas with about 600 men, but that he had recruited his force since that time to about 800 to 900 men in the adjoining counties; a statement which I fully believe.

Very respectfully, yours,
JOSEPH A. EPPSTEIN,
Lieutenant Colonel, Thirteenth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia.

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