Battlefield Dispatches #33
Burned to Ashes
After the successful destruction of Morristown in Cass County, Missouri on September 16, 1861; [James H.] Lane’s Brigade of “DEATH & DESTRUCTION” continued advancing east deeper into enemy territory (Missouri). It’s next objective was to destroy an enemy Ordnance Depot (weapons storage buildings) and an ammunition train that was on it’s way to provide “bullets” for the Major General Sterling Price’s Confederate army that had passed near Osceola & was advancing toward Lexington, Mo. Union “Scouts & Spies” had reported the presence of the depot & ammunition train to Lane the “Grim Chieftain” & he was determined to destroy them and the town, because Osceola was reputed to be another nest of Confederate Bushwhackers & Guerrillas! [Note: unless indicated otherwise, the word “train” refers to a “military convoy or type of supply train (Quartermaster, Ordnance, Medical, Commissary, Ammunition etc) that consisted of numerous horse or mule drawn wagons, NOT A RAILROAD. During the Civil War there were only 3 basic railroads in Missouri & none in Kansas. The Missouri railroad lines went from Hannibal to St. Joseph & from St. Louis to Rolla & Sedalia. The “Iron Horse” arrived in Kansas after the Civil War, from 1865 - 1873.]
James H. Lane
Lane’s Brigade arrived in the vicinity of Osceola and destroyed it on September 23, 1861. General Lane’s Report describes his perspective of this action & is located on P. 196 of Series I, Vol. 3 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion and is as follows:
[To: Major-General Fremont, Commanding Western Department, St. Louis, Missouri.]
Camp Montgomery, September 24, 1861.
Sir: Your dispatch of September 18 is this moment received. My brigade is now marching to this point from Osceola, where I have been on a forced [rapid] march, expecting to cut off the enemy’s train of ammunition. The enemy ambushed the approaches to the town, and after being driven from them by the advance of colonels Montgomery & Weer, they took refuge in the buildings of the town to annoy us. We were compelled to shell them out and in doing so the place was BURNED TO ASHES, with an immense amount of stores of all descriptions. There were 15 or 20 of them killed and wounded; we lost none. Full particulars will be furnished hereafter.
[The following perspective is by a “Lady of Osceola” & Lieut. Joseph Trego, a Union officer, who witnessed the return of Lane’s Brigade to Camp Montgomery, Kansas and learned of the destruction of Osceola.]
And now Lane ordered his men to scatter and APPLY THE TORCH to every house in town. The band went to work and soon the business portion of the town was a SEETHING MASS of FLAMES!
The fire leaped from house to house. The flames & smoke seemed to have reached their element, but still raged on. The county buildings [Courthouse & offices] were soon enveloped by the devouring fiend, but still the flames went up. It was not long before the entire city of MAGNIFICANCE & WEALTH – the pride of the entire people of Southwest Missouri, was a SMOKING MASS of RUINS!
Even the women & children were not allowed to move anything from their burning houses & much suffering was the result.” [Note: This statement is contradicted by many Union soldiers & other citizens of Osceola who stated that as much personal property as possible was allowed to be removed before the houses were burned.]
Lieut. Trego Stated, “All who were fit for duty, went to Osceola. They returned yesterday, having had a little brush with the enemy; scattered them, took the town, obtained all the horses, mules, wagons & niggers; loaded the wagons with valuables from numerous well supplied stores, and SET FIRE to the INFERNAL TOWN. IT WAS BURNED to the GROUND.
September 23, 1861 was indeed a miserable day for the citizens & town of Osceola, Missouri. The “Death, Destruction & Havoc” that rained down on Missouri villages & towns was in the minds of the soldiers of Lane’s Brigade PAYBACK, REVENGE & RETRIBUTION for the murders, mayhem & devastation that were perpetrated on Kansas & it’s citizens by the BORDER RUFFIANS from Missouri during the era of “Bleeding Kansas” from 1854 –1861. Orders No. 10 & 11 were almost 2 years away & they would continue to FAN the FLAMES of the SCORCHED EARTH WARFARE that dominated the Kansas Missouri Border & occurred throughout the “Show Me State” during & for ten or so years after the Civil War.