During the Civil War and all conflicts before and after this war, almost all shots or a shot to the head were fatal. They were normally inflicted by a “sharpshooter” or, in the modern military, by a “sniper.”

This was usually accomplished at a great distance. Often when the chaos of rough and tumble “hand-to-hand” combat occurred, any type of wound inflicted on an enemy would suffice, and this could include a fatal head shot.

Such was the case and unfortunate demise of a local Vernon County, Mo., confederate guerrilla or, if you prefer “bushwhacker,” by the name of “Brice Mayfield.”

The “Mayfield” sisters of Brice and his brother were all southern partisans and were thorns in the sides of many Yankees from Missouri and Kansas early in the Civil War.

Brice Mayfield and his brother John were killed on Dec. 26, 1862, near Neosho in Newton County, Mo. Wagon boss R.M. Peck described the killing of Brice Mayfield in his column in the Aug. 4, 1904, edition of the National Tribune Newspaper that was published in Washington, D. C., as follows:

“The killing of Brice Mayfield”

One day a company of the 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, on returning from a foraging trip down in Missouri, came into Fort Scott accompanied by Bill Tuft (Tough), Gen. Blunt’s chief of scouts, who was riding a fine blooded flea-bitten gray mare, that had formerly been owned and ridden by Brice Mayfield, a notorious rebel bushwhacker, who had been killed on this trip, in a desperate rough and tumble fight by a German soldier of the 3rd Wis. Cav.

Tuft had bought the mare for a trifle from the soldier, who did not realize her value and, with that immaculate gall for which he (Tough) was famous, took great pride in riding her about the streets of Fort Scott, giving out — and even having an item published in the “Fort Scott Monitor” that he acquired the fine mare by killing Brice Mayfield!

(Note: Captain Tough was recognized throughout eastern Kansas as a very successful “horse trader” before, during and after the Civil War, so it is not surprising that he acquired Mayfield’s fine blooded gray mare.)

The facts concerning the killing of Mayfield, which I heard from one of the soldiers, as near as I can remember them, are about as follows:

The Company of the 3rd Wis. Cav., while on a foraging expedition, had camped near Neosho, Mo., and a German trooper accompanied by a comrade, started out on their own account.

They had ridden up to a farmhouse, hitched their horses to the fence and gone inside to try and buy some butter.

The women of the house being rebels, detained and delayed the soldiers by pretending to send a little girl after the desired butter to a neighbor’s house near by, where they knew that Mayfield and another rebel were in hiding; but in reality the errand of the little girl was to inform the bushwhackers of the presence at the other house of the two soldiers.

While our two troopers were sitting in the house waiting for the girls return and the women by pleasant conversation were trying to make their visit agreeable, the German chanced to step to the window in front of the house and was astonished to notice two more horses hitched to the fence near his and his comrade’s and at the same moment he saw two men in butternut clothes (a sure sign of a rebel) approaching the door.

Instantly comprehending the situation, the German soldier, who was a powerful big fellow, informed his comrade and drawing their revolvers they both sprang to the door, opened it quickly and fired at the same instant receiving fire from the rebels.

At the first shots the German’s comrade fell dead and Mayfield’s companion was also killed.

As Mayfield made a rush to come in, the German quickly stepped behind the door, both firing at the same time, the soldier hitting the rebel, but not wounding him seriously, while Mayfield’s ball (shot) struck the door and glanced off.

The bushwhacker was also a strong, active man, and as he sprang into the house they grappled, each trying to wrench the other’s pistol from him.

In the struggle, they fell to the floor, where, after several moments of desperate strife, the Dutchman (another word for the “German” soldier) succeeded in disengaging his pistol, placed the muzzle to the rebel’s head and fired, killing him (with a fatal head shot)!

The women and children had fled out of the back door at the first shot, and on disengaging himself from the dead rebel and rising, the plucky “Dutchman” found he was the sole surviving tenant of the house.

Fearing that the women had gone to bring other rebels to take him in, he hastily examined his late comrade and, finding him dead and making sure that the two rebels were “safely converted” (were indeed dead), he stripped each of his belt and pistol, hung them on their respective saddles and rode off to camp, leading three riderless horses.

A detachment of soldiers was immediately sent out from our men’s camp to bring in and bury the body of the brave German’s comrade, and while they were at the house — the women and children being still absent — a spark of fire somehow got started in some combustible material, and the house and outbuildings with all their contents, were soon a heap of ashes!

(Now, of course, this is not surprising because both bushwhackers and Yankees burned their enemy’s civilian houses as it was total war here in Missouri and eastern Kansas.)

Tuft (Capt. William Tough) was in the soldiers’ camp when the German returned with his captured stock, and being a good judge of a horse, he saw that the flea-bitten gray mare was an extraordinarily fine animal and succeeded in buying her from the soldier before the man found out her good points.

And that is how Bill Tuft killed Brice Mayfield and captured his fine thoroughbred.

I (R.M. Peck) afterwards passed by the ruins of the house where Mayfield was killed, which was near the bank of Shoal Creek, a little way north of the town of Neosho, Mo.”

Now then, it is rare when one finds two descriptions of the same event from slightly different perspectives, and next week’s column will include another description of the killing of Brice Mayfield and, of course, the war went on!

Cole Camp Missouri is in the rolling hills and plains of west-central Missouri south of the Missouri River. The events at Cole Camp are a prime example of how hot passions, prejudices, and the brutal nature of unconventional warfare defined the entire state during the American Civil War. As one of the early battles, it proved without a doubt that the brutality witnessed during the battle, would be the harbinger of that which would take place over the next four years.

However, many people, even those who study the conflict in Missouri know little if anything at all about the events in Cole Camp. There are many possible reasons. According to Robert L. Owens, “The most logical explanation is that the two forces involved were hastily thrown-together, rag-tag outfits with no regular officers or forces involved so there were no reports or details.”

This would also tie in with an eyewitness to the event at Cole Camp, Friedrich Schnake, who stated that he believed that Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon took no measure to pursue the retreating Confederates and that he “remained quietly with his men in Camp Cameron, near Boonville, until 3 July, as if nothing happened.” His reasoning for this was that he believed Lyon, as a Know-Nothing, hated Germans, who made up 95% of the Benton County Home Guards, Missouri Volunteers, and therefore did not concern himself with the event and even more likely, did not even make an official report of the event. While this seems to be very legitimate reasoning, due to a very brief and vague account in the Official Records (O.R.), however, the event was carried a week later in a New York paper with specific details of KIA and even including names.

In 1861 Cole Camp was situated at the crossroads of four major roads and any information, travel or troop movements across the state would eventually wind up passing through it. Benton, Pettis and Morgan Counties were split between southern-sympathizing residents and the German immigrants, who favored abolition and the Union. Suspicion and hostilities were ever-present and the rosters for the Home Guards and the State Guards would reflect this division. As the breakdown in negations at the Planters Hotel in St. Louis ended and Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and Major General Sterling Price were on the run towards the southwestern portion of Missouri, General Lyon authorized loyal communities to organize Home Guards for protection. In Benton County, Abel H.W. Cook was commissioned to enlist men for the Home Guard and held rallies on June 11 and 12 where he enlisted over 900 Benton county men, mostly Germans, and then setup “Camp Lyon” on the north-south ridge between the adjacent farms of John Heisterberg and Harm Harms. The barns were their shelters and they drilled in the area between them. However, since the volunteers elected their own officers, most out of popularity rather than for their experience, a host of problems arose that would most certainly play into the forthcoming engagement. The men were over-confident, poorly trained, discipline was almost nonexistent, weapons had not arrived from St. Louis leaving half of the recruits unarmed and to top things off whiskey was in abundance. Just six days later these ill-prepared men would meet a foe they were scarcely ready for.

About 20 miles south of Cole Camp, the southern sympathizing town of Warsaw had raised two State Guard companies with a force of about 350 infantry and 100 cavalry. Led by Walter S. O’Kane, with the scouting information of Benton County Sheriff B.W. Keown, the State Guard skillfully planned their march to clear the way for their retreating governor and in the process, attack the hated “Dutch.” Their plan was simple – through intelligence gained by the Sheriff, they were aware of the deficiencies of their Union foes and chose to make their advance under cover of darkness. In addition, they carried a Union flag to deceive the pickets and the very green soldiers they were going to encounter. On June 19th around 1:00am, as they marched up the Butterfield Trail from Warsaw, they encountered a slave-holding, but loyal Unionist John Tyree who had witnessed the State Guards approach to Cole Camp and reported it to Abel Cook, who mostly disregarded Tyree’s report. Tyree was questioned and then shot, becoming the first causality of the battle.

Back in the Union camp, Cook not having taken Tyree’s report seriously sent for half his force he had furloughed and let the others sleep. This effectively left him with about 400 men in camp, 125 asleep in the two barns, muskets left outside to make room. To make matters worse, fifty more of them were asleep just north of the Heisterberg barn and none of these soldiers were aware of any danger or the attack that was to come.

Around 3:00am the State Guard arrived at Camp Lyon. The cavalry was sent to attack from the southwest as the infantry unfurled a Union flag and continued on, confusing the Union guards, who were then bayoneted before they could sound the alarm or even fire a single shot. The rebels then rushed the Heisterberg barn, shouted, “No mercy for the Dutch!” firing into the barn and killing anywhere from 15 to 20 sleeping Home Guard soldiers and wounding many more. At the sound of gunfire, the sleeping soldiers began to fire into the Southerners flank, pushing them back in retreat until they again regrouped and once again attacked the barn, now empty except for dead and wounded. The Union soldiers however, were now out of ammunition and retreated into the woods. As the soldiers who were asleep in the open formed ranks and prepared to make a defense the State Guard cavalry flanked them and chased them as well into the woods, however, the heavy undergrowth prevented the cavalry from penetrating too deep and the Home Guardsmen were able to take a defensive stand.

Back south at the Harms barn, the Home Guard were forming when they again saw the approaching Union flag in the darkness and before they knew what was happening, the Southerners fired a volley into them and killed quite a few and caused the green Germans to flee in confusion. As the Home Guard fell into total disarray and retreated into the night, they had abandoned almost every single weapon, 362 of 400, which fell into the hands of the State Guard. In 30 minutes it was over. It was the bloodiest battle the Civil War had seen to date, and it allowed Governor Jackson and General Price and their entourage to pass unscathed through Cole Camp as they headed to the southwest portion of the state. At dawn, drunken State Guard troops harassed prisoners, one German named Tomforte was shot because he stated he was a cook, not a soldier, and in their drunken state they believed him to be the Home Guard commander, Able Cook. Wounded men were tended to by women from nearby farms, some exchanged under a flag of truce and the rest as prisoners were taken back to Warsaw.

The numbers have varied but according to muster rolls 600 Union men are listed, however, an Adjutant Generals report dated 31 December 1865 listed only 526 and listed:

“2 officers and 22 men killed, 3 died later of wounds, 2 died of disease.”
 “18 officers, 456 men honorably discharged, 23 discharged for disability.”

Reports of the time stated that nearly a third of the German’s were casualties, somewhere around 35 to 40 dead, 60 wounded and 25 to 30 had been captured. In contrast, the State Guard six or seven killed and about 25 wounded.

The question remains as to why the Battle of Cole Camp has fallen into obscurity? Why has it never received the attention that other battles have, with equal or less casualties? Official reports seem to be non-existent. General Lyon was more concerned with Boonville and Warsaw than he was with Cole Camp where he dictated the following to General George B. McClellan,

BOONEVILLE, MO., June 20, 1861.

General McClellan: I have notice that Missouri is assigned to your command. This (Booneville) is an important point, and should have at least a whole regiment, with an advance post at Warsaw, which is a nest of rebels, who have massacred at Cole Camp Union men. These will permit the Second Missouri Volunteer Regiment to concentrate at Jefferson City. I would have you send a regiment here, with a large supply of stores.

N. LYON.

This seems to lend validity to the view of Friedrich Schnake who believed that Lyon had no concern for the Germans. But as Lyon was about to meet his fate at Wilson’s Creek, his battle plan partner was the native German Col. Franz Sigel. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle of this view and the fact that larger battles were beginning to take place, overshadowing the events at Cole Camp and sending it into the dusty memory of those fighting a war that was just beginning and would see more lives lost than all the wars prior combined. The other possibility is that the Union was soundly defeated by a better prepared and determined State Guard rather than the boastful Home Guard and this was an embarrassment that needed to be swept under the carpet. Even to this day, Cole Camp is not listed as one of the battles for the state of Missouri by the National Park Services CWSAC Battle Summaries.

The Battle of Cole Camp was significant in that it showed the brutality of war, the division that existed in small, rural communities, and a glimpse of what the next four years would hold in store for the rest of the country.

After the beginning of the Civil War, the arsenal in Liberty, MO had been attacked by pro-Confederates and a large number of rifles and muskets were taken. The arsenal in St. Louis was by far much larger than the one in Liberty, with as much as 40,000 rifles and muskets. Fears that the pro-Confederates would attempt to seize the St Louis arsenal, a militia was raised under the command of Captain Nathaniel Lyon to protect the arsenal. Lyons militia was largely composed of German immigrants and members of the Wide Awakes organization.

Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson ordered the Missouri Militia for maneuvers just outside of the arsenal in what was known as Camp Jackson. The governor at this point was considered neutral, but had strong leanings towards the South.

On May 10, 1861, Lyons would force the surrender of the militia, but the men refused to take the oath of allegiance and Lyons marched the men to the arsenal through the streets of St Louis, guarding them with members of the German Home Guard. This sparked outrage with the citizens and they began to hurl rocks and pavement at the Union soldiers, particularly aiming at the Germans. A shot was fired and then Germans opened fire into the crowd, killing at least 20 civilians and wounding at least 50 more.

Rioting ensued and many more citizens and soldiers were beaten and mistreated. Eventually, Federal regular Army troops arrived and martial law was enacted. The relief of the Germans however, abated the situation and the rioting ended.

The Camp Jackson Affair would be an event that further provided proof of division in the country, and in the state of Missouri. It would also be one of the deciding factors in forcing most Missourian’s to pick a side as issues of the day such as nativism, slavery, and state’s rights were now thrust upon them. It would also be the catalyst in Lyons promotion to Brigadier General and replacing General William S. Harney as commander of Union forces in Missouri and for solidifying Governor Claiborne Jackson’s and former governor Sterling Price’s pro-Confederate position.

Price, Jackson, Lyons and Frank P. Blair Jr. would meet at the Planter House Hotel in St Louis to try and come to terms with the situations in Missouri, but Lyons would basically declare war and would then begin his pursuit of the pro-Confederates across the state, sparking many of the battles that would dot the countryside.