The Civil War: Militia Attempts to Protect Citizens From Bushwhackers

Grandmother remembers Battle of Pea Ridge and soldiers coming to take the family's food.

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During the Civil War, my father's family lived in Polk County, Missouri. Two of my father’s uncles served in the home-guard, a militia organized by the government to protect the local area from Confederate "bushwhackers." My Grandmother Carter was born in northwest Arkansas. When she was about 12, she heard the guns of the Battle of Pea Ridge. During that time the area was full of soldiers looking for food, or anything else they could steal. Her family had lost all their livestock, and the men had all left home. There was only she, her mother and the other children, and all they had for food was a large bin of crushed wheat that was kept hidden under a bed.

One day one of the girls came down with a minor fever and she was put in the bed. Then some soldiers came looking for food, and as one of them approached the bed, he noticed the sick girl. "What's wrong with that girl?" he asked.

Their mother told him, "I'm afraid she's got the smallpox, there's a lot of it around." Hearing that, the soldiers left in a hurry, thus saving their precious bin of wheat.

After being mustered out in 1863, my great-uncle was on his way home with several other Union men when they were captured by some local Confederate sympathizers wearing Union uniforms. They were taken to a schoolhouse in northeast Cedar County and executed. This aroused so much hatred in the area that the captain of the bushwhackers left for the duration of the war.

After the war was over, hearing that the captain was home, my grandfather, who was too young for military service during the war and was probably only about 16 at the time, saddled up, and with some friends, rode into Cedar County to find him and avenge the killing. At the man's farmhouse, his wife told them he wasn't at home. Then they saw him running from the back of the house to a horse he had waiting for a quick escape.

They all fired, but only one hit him, they didn't know which, but he was down with an ugly wound on his neck, and they left, thinking he was dead. They probably didn't stay around long to see, for it was against the law to kill Confederates after the war was over. But there wasn't much organized law at that time. He didn't die, his wife nursed him back to health, and years later, he could be seen in public with a big scar on his neck.

V.E. Carter
Topeka, Kansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.