FEBRUARY 19, 1865

Excerpt from a book by Wiley Britton

On the 19th of February, 1865, Major Milton Burch, commanding the post of Neosho, Missouri, received information from a reliable source that there was a party of bandit outlaws operating in the neighborhood of Centre Creek in the southwestern part of Jasper County, some twenty-five miles distant.  The Major had been known in Southwest Missouri, since the early part of the war, as a brave and energetic officer in breaking up and dispersing the bands of guerillas operating within the limits of his territory.  Probably no Federal officer operating in Southwest Missouri was so much dreaded by the bandit outlaws of that section as Major Burch and his captains, Kelso and Ruark, for the weather was never too inclement and no night too dark and stormy for them to venture out, and no spot too inaccessible for them to find the foe and engage him in hand-to-hand encounters.

Determined to break up the band of outlaws on Centre Creek, on the 19th of February Major Burch sent out a detachment of twenty-five mounted men under Lieutenant John M. Baxter, of his battalion of the Eighth Missouri State Militia Cavalry, in search of the enemy. The detachment left Neosho in the morning with several days' rations in their haversacks, and marched north that day down Shoal Creek and across the prairies to the timber on Centre Creek, where, late in the evening, Lieutenant Baxter received definite information of the place where the bandits were stopping.  It was then too late to reach the place and attack them that evening, and the detachment, finding a secluded spot where their presence would not likely be observed, encamped for the night.  Early the next morning the Lieutenant resumed the march to the point where the outlaws were reported to be located.  It was soon understood among the men of the Federal detachment that the bandits were occupying a house, and were less than a dozen in number, but probably well armed for a desperate fight.  When Lieutenant Baxter came up within a quarter of a mile of the house he ordered a charge with drawn revolvers, and when he approached within a few yards of the building the outlaws ran out of it, both parties at the same moment opening a deadly fire upon each other.  Private Dodson Britton, one of Lieutenant Baxter's detachment, being a few yards in advance of his comrades, shot down one of the bandits directly after he ran out of the house.  Though the outlaw was mortally wounded, he at once rose to his feet and came forward a few steps, seized Britton's horse by the bridle-reins, and shot its rider through the heart, and he fell off dead upon his antagonist.  In another moment Lieutenant Baxter rode along over the ground where the desperate struggle took place, and the dying bandit raised himself upon his elbow and shot the Lieutenant off his horse, mortally wounded.  In this short, decisive action three of the outlaws were killed, and of the Federal detachment one was killed and five wounded. Lieutenant Baxter died on the return of the detachment to Neosho that day.  A more experienced officer would have displayed greater caution than the Lieutenant in attacking a desperate foe who had all the advantages of position for making a good fight.

The father and mother of young Britton resided at Neosho at the time, and when the lifeless form of their son was brought home that evening, a sacrifice to the cause of the Union, their grief was almost unsupportable.  They had borne with patience the loss of property through the enemy from time to time since the first year of the war, but the loss of this son seemed to almost fill their cup of bitterness.  Of their three sons who had enlisted in the Union army, two had now fallen in action with the enemy, leaving the surviving son, the author of this work, to pay this slight tribute to their devotion to the Union.

SOURCE:  Wiley Britton, The Civil War on the Border.  A Narrative of Military Observations in Missouri, Kansas, Arkansas, and the Indian Territory, During the Years 1863-65, Based Upon Official Reports and Observations of the Author (Volume II, 1899), pages 360-362.

Main Page, Stone Prairie Home Guard

Roster, Stone Prairie Home Guard

Home: Historical Items from Barry & Newton Counties, Missouri

© 2004 Robert O. Banks, Jr.  All Rights Reserved