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Civil War interests Stoddard CountiansPosted Wednesday, August 19, 2009, at 3:15 PM
Jim Mayo presents Paul Arnold with the copy of a drawing (which has been completely whited out by my lightning process), showing the "hanging tree" which stood at the Dry Creek south of the courthouse during the Civil War. As many as four men could be hanged from the tree at one time.
Paul Arnold, curator for the Stars and Stripes Museum and 2008 Missouri Teacher of the Year, told about his Civil War research on the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry, which was stationed in Stoddard County, particularly Bloomfield, throughout the year 1861.
Arnold is doing his Master's thesis on this Union Cavalry regiment.
"Not many folks have taken a look at an outfit that came here from out of state," Arnold said. "But I kept reading about them, and the subject just snowballed. They were a very unusual group."
Arnold explained why the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry was so "unusual." In a era of unspeakable brutality, these men and their officers were actually humane, unlike the 7th Kansas Cavalry, which made a reputation for itself on the Kansas-Missouri border and was later moved to Southeast Missouri.
"Under Col. James Daniels, the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry largely behaved themselves while they were here," said Arnold. "Some of them even visited the mother-in-law of one of their enemies, to check on her."
One Wisconsin soldier who rode his horse into the Bloomfield courthouse was punished by his superior officer.
Arnold's thesis asks the question, "What impact did the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry have on this area, and why were they so humane?" Much of his research was obtained through original letters from the men.
The Stars and Stripes Museum is fortunate to have one of these original letters, written by the company surgeon. The library also has copies of all the letters, which illustrate the soldiers' level of education.
"They gave detailed accounts of the war," Arnold said. "So many of their letters are heart-wrenching, because you know that they later died while they were here. These men found that fighting guerrillas was a thankless job. They suffered from disease and homesickness."
In fact, 309 men in the 1st Wisconsin Cavalry died of disease during the war, and 203 of them died in Stoddard County. It seems that they could not adapt to Southeast Missouri's climate. Most of them died from lung congestion.
While they were here, the 1st Wisconsin had a big effect on the locals. The Confederate forces in the area soon learned the difference between the Wisconsin forces and the other Union military. The usual Confederate tactic was to fire shots and then retreat into the swamps, guerrilla style, when they were attacked. Regular Union forces would then give up and leave, but the Wisconsin troops went into the swamps after them and brought them back.
Once they caught them, the 1st Wisconsin did not resort to the brutal hangings and shootings committed by other military forces. Col. Edward Daniels, in particular, seemed to be an efficient, humane leader during the Wisconsin occupation of Bloomfield.
One possible reason for the units humane attitude might have been their upbringing. Most came from rural areas similar to Stoddard County, and they seemed to feel sympathy for the local population. They had no reason to seek revenge, as some of the other troops did.
Arnold will present his paper at the MidAmerica Conference in Oklahoma in mid October, and he will then begin writing a book.
"I took me 16-17 hours to do the footnotes for this paper," Arnold said. "One of the things I've noticed is how often people will save an important piece of information from the past without documenting the source. If I don't have the source and the date, I can't use the information."
Arnold is currently teaching high school history in the Malden, Mo. school system.
The Stoddard County Historical Society meets on the fourth Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m. Dues are $5.00 per year. The society operates the Stoddard County Historical Museum, which is housed in the old First Baptist Church building in Bloomfield.
At the August 24th meeting, the group will take a tour of the museum. If you would like to join them, you can either meet at the Stars and Stripes or (if you know where it is) you can just show up at the museum. Guests are welcome!
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.