|Vol. VI NO 1.||THE ELLER FAMILY ASSOCIATION||FEB 1992|
|ELLER CHRONICLES||Feb. 1992||Page 49|
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With the Ellers in the Civil War
From my reading on the Civil War it has become evident that the bushwhacker problem had plagued many areas of the country, particularly the border states where allegiance to the political situation of the time was mixed and in question. But first we must understand what a bushwhacker was considered to be, and who made up their numbers. Finley Paul Curtis, Jr. summarized the situation very graphically as printed in the Confederate Veteran Magazine of March 1919.
|"So that, as is the case in practically every civil war, the slackers, the deserters, the criminals, the thieves, the robber, Northern and Southern, and the base-born of all classes armed themselves, lurked in the mountains, and organized to pillage and burn and kill. Early in the war these bands of flagitious parasites became the deadly and most feared enemy of every habitation. Terror and wild outlawry reigned supreme in the mountainous districts. Life was miserable; property was valueless; cabin doors were barred day and night; women risked their lives to fetch a bucket of water from the spring, and were ofttimes subjected to the grossest insults; houses were boldly entered and ransacked from top to bottom at the point of the pistol. What child of the generation has not listened wide-eyed to thrilling grandmother stories of the lawless time?" (1)|
The problem as portrayed above existed in the western as well as the eastern parts of the country. Missouri was ravaged by these lawless bands, and so it was that Ellers became the victims of the depredations. This was addressed briefly in a previous article in the "Chronicles" concerning the Civil War experiences of Andrew Eller(4), [Adam(3), Leonard(2), George Michael(l)]. (2) To briefly review Andrew's experience, he had moved to Missouri probably to join his brother, David, in Kirksville, Adairs County. Adairs County is situated in the northeastern part of the state, somewhat removed from the major activities of the guerrilla gangs and marauders, but still the situation must have been sufficiently unsettled in that he fled the area and returned to Indiana where conditions were more agreeable. After the close of the war he went back to Missouri. (3)
Edith D. Lyle of Independence, Missouri, gives us a story of even graver consequences of the unsettled and dangerous situation existing in Missouri, this involving her great-great-grandfather, David Eller(4), [Jacob III(3), Jacob(2), Jacob(l)]. Edith mentions that David was "murdered by bushwhackers on his plantation during the Civil War". (4) Of course that could very well have been. However in the November 1990 issue of the Chronicles is an item from "The Booneville Weekly Advertiser" of January 10, 1913, in which it states
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"Her (Mrs Martha J. Eller) husband (David) was murdered during the Civil War (September 18, 1864) by Catherwood's State Militia, leaving her a widow with seven small children, all of whom she reared to maturity". (5) So there is a question as to just who were the culprits in this crime, bushwhackers or Catherwood's State Militia. Therefore, it was in hopes of clearing up this question that an attempt was made to reconstruct the situation as it existed in central Missouri as of September, 1864.
David and his family lived in Cooper County, Missouri, but the exact town is unclear, though his widow was living at the time of her death in Bunceton, a few miles south of Booneville located on the Missouri River. Because of the existing political situation Missouri had been essentially under a state of martial -law since 1861. As the war progressed conditions worsened over the entire state. Especially in central and western Missouri martial law was considered to be a necessity to maintain any type of law. Union authorities found themselves more and more occupied with the pressing and aggravating problem of combating guerrillas and guarding against Confederate invasion, as well as attempting to govern and control the civil elements which supported the partisans and made their activity possible. (6) By mid August of 1864 guerrilla warfare raged in the river counties west from Callaway on the north, and from Cooper on the south side of the Missouri river. These counties of central Missouri (Cooper, Boone, Howard) shuddered-with the barbarous activities of several bands of bushwhackers and guerrillas. By mid September all traffic on the Missouri river had been stopped, railroad transportation interrupted, telegraphic communication destroyed, all mail stopped. All this increased activity was to coincide with the proposed Confederate invasion of Missouri which was expected to take place in the southeastern part of the state.(7)
The most noted guerrilla gangs operating in central Missouri in mid September, 1864, were newly: William C. Quantrill, who was notorious for the Lawrence, Kansas, massacre of August 21, 1863, when 150 male citizens were murdered; Bloody William C. "Bill" Anderson, with 300 to 400 men operating in the Booneville area, masquerading as regular Confederate troops; John Thrailkill and his followers. (8)
The Union Army was actively, though many times frustratingly occupied in counteracting the terrorizing work of these guerrilla bands. State Militias were organized in an endeavor to keep peace and control the deprivations and rampant killings. One such unit was the 6th Missouri State Militia Cavalry, Colonel Edwin C. Catherwood commanding, operating as a part of the District of Southwest Missouri, Department of Missouri. (9)
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Major Austin A. King was in command of the detachment of the 6th Missouri State Militia Cavalry operating in Howard and Cooper County as of September 11. On August 18 he had received the following communication from the commanding general of his district. "I congratulate you on the good beginning of the bushwhacking campaign. Strike with vigor and determination. Take no prisoners. We have enough of that sort on hand now. Pursue and Kill!" (10) In response to these admonitions came the reply "If you deem it best I can move down through Carroll, Boone, and Howard counties and clean them up.... I have ordered quite a number of the most notorious families in the county to leave .... If they are permitted to remain you will soon have another page of like outrages". (11)
It appears that the units receiving such instructions went about their business in earnest for in one communication Brigadier-General Clinton B. Fisk writes, "I would like Colonel Catherwood to remain with me for a little time yet. His veterans are hard to manage." (12)
Just on which side of the political issue David Eller stood is difficult to ascertain. However, his father Jacob III had migrated to Cooper County, Missouri, probably from Rowan County, North Carolina, by August 1818, or just four years before David was born. Though his father bad died by the time of the Civil War his mother and others of the family were still living and sentimental ties must have remained strong for North Carolina and the Southern cause for which that state was, in the main, supporting. (13)
It is my opinion that the newspaper account of David's death at the hands of "Catherwood's veterans", rather than as a result of the bushwhacker villains who were so active and producing much of the conflict in the county of which the Ellers were residents.
Another example of heartache and tragedy through similar circumstances was brought to light in the last issue of the Chronicles, submitted by Bill Eller, excerpted from material presented by Mary Edith Cochran Eller, which is the story of Daniel S. Eller (the great-great-grandfather of Mary Edith's husband, Denver Lowell Eller) who had migrated from Montgomery County, Ohio, to Missouri in the late 1850s. Their final stopping place was apparently Cedar County, in the southwest section of Missouri not far from the Kansas border. By 1861, as we have seen in the forgoing saga, the tension of the Civil War had blossomed almost to the full and this part of Missouri was resounding to the atrocities of the bushwhackers and guerrilla bandits, especially Quantrill's gang. Having come from Ohio, Daniel S. no doubt had Unionist leanings and so suffered at the hands of the quazi Confederate bands. Quoting from the Chronicles: "During the Civil War the Confederate Soldiers came and burned all their wheat fields and Aaron and William remembered looking back and seeing the stalks of grain burning in the fields. The people took what possessions they had and started back to Ohio. They suffered many hardships and two of Daniel's children were buried along the way, Ira Calvin and Amanda Jane. Daniel related he felt so sorry to have to leave them there. They were buried in a box made by the men, no grave marker or anything else to remember them by." (14)
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So we have seen how innocent families of the western border states, particularly Missouri, were terrorized at the hands of the lawless bands, known as bushwhackers. A similar problem existed, just as well, in the eastern theater of the war, particularly southwest Virginia, western North Carolina, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, where the rugged mountainous terrain was effective in hiding the gangs. In the fall of 1864 as Lee's army appeared to be disintegrating, hundred of men left the army and for one reason or another, some of them went into hiding in the recesses of the mountains and became engaged in the indiscriminate plundering, and at times, even murdering.
The ancestors of many of us were living in just such a remote area of western North Carolina where some of these men hid out and from their hideaways went forth to perform their dastardly deeds. One account is mentioned briefly by James Hook about the James(5) Eller family. [Simeon(4), John(3), Peter(2), George Michael(l)]. (15) To enlighten us all with additional facts in this story Gerald has obtained a delightful recollection of some of those times by James' grand-son, Paul Eller Hubbell, entitled "The James Eller Family and the Bushwhackers of Wilkes County, North Carolina, 1864-1865.” I'm sure you will be as fascinated in reading this story as I was. Thank you, Gerald, for sharing this material with us.