Some Unwritten History

Suggested by the Reunion of Pindall’s Men at Moberly”

“Fighting by day, fighting by night. Now stopping a wild charge of Patterson’s cavalry in and around Helens, now kneeling quietly on the banks of Red river and picking off the “feds” on some passing government steamer; fighting as they ate, fighting while they rested, snatching perchance, when the noise of battle rolled away into the lowering night, some brief moment to talk of home, some brief moment to talk of home, friends and sweethearts in far away Missouri. Such was the daily history of Pindall’s famous battalion from 1862 to 1865. The whole Confederate army did not contain a more daring or determined lot of fighters and it was only with the most tearful regret that they stacked their arms at Shreveport in June of 1865 and began their long and fateful journey homeward. The battalion was made up in Monroe and surrounding counties and was one of “Pap” Price’s main standbys in the long and desperate running fight from the Missouri to the Red river, a distance of 500 miles, a campaign which will some day take its just rank among the military achievements of the century. Every day and hour nearly was a fight. Now throwing out a regiment behind to check the pursuit of a horde of blue coats, cutting the tall cypresses to impede their artillery, now beating their way against overwhelming numbers in front, and Pindall’s battalion always led the fight.  

It’s personnel was picturesque, and gathered around it was an air dashing romance and chivalry that would furnish material for a novel that would make Conan Doyle’s “Micah Clarke” or Stephen Crane’s “Red Badge of Courage” pale in comparison. It was made up almost entirely of young men, most of them indolent young fellows, sons of wealthy slave holders, who could make love furiously and fight in the same manner. Leaving comfort and ease, sweethearts and sisters, they jumped into the saddle and followed the young Virginian, Col. L. A. Pindall into the South, for three years of the most bitter fighting the world ever saw. There was Elliott Majors, the handsome and dashing Elliott, with his company of Monroe countians. What a picture tradition paints him to be. Tall, sinewy and graceful, idolized by women and brave to be foolhardiness, he was a typical cavalier. Swinney, the one handed bersiker, who fought like a madman, and a hundred others from Monroe county, constituted a body of troopers whose deeds should be preserved to the credit and honor of the grand old ‘county’ from whence they came. Col. Pindall came to Monroe county from Virginia, and was a typical Southerner in every respect; frank, openhearted, gallant and hospitable, and a natural born soldier. He too, left a sweet heart behind and tradition still tells of the sweet young lady, Nora, they call her yet – for old people are ever young in a memory – Nora Snell, who kept her long troth until the young Virginian again rode up to the gate of her father’s home and dismounted, war-worn and weary, to claim his promise. She was the daughter of Ashby Snell, of Middle Grove, one of the most extensive slave owners in Monroe county at that time, and loved the Virginian from the time she met him as a guest under her father’s roof until he came again when the negro cabins had been emptied and the tide of war, sweeping over the land, had changed the old order to the new. 

Gathered at Moberly last week were 20 survivors of the old battalion – John Baron, Granville; E.P. Noel, Clarence; R.F. Noel, Labelle, Mo.; J.R. Baker, Enterprise; W.H. Eads, Arrow Rock; (Jas. McLeod, New Francine); E.A. Hatfield, Dalton; Thos. O. Meals, Evansville; E.A. Wilson, Glasgow; W.K. Howell, Holliday; G.O. Mitchell, Woodlawn; E.A. Ellsbury, Madison; R.H. Smithey, Paris; C.E. Price, Paris; I.N. Turner, Woodlawn; Henry Bryan, Ash; W.A. Kleigh, Ash; Joseph Boulware, Ash; Jas. I. Majors, Paris; W.M. Farrell, Paris; T.J.C. Smith, Greenfield, Kan. They mingled, talked and rehearsed the stirring scenes of the long ago, but their joy was unbounded when they heard the battle flag of the battalion had been sent to them by the widow of their old commander, together with a letter of greeting from his son. The letter follows and was read by W.H. Kennan, who broke down almost completely before he finished: 

Arkansas, Ark., Sept 23 d. 

To the survivors of Pindall’s battalion, 

DEAR FRIENDS – I sent today to Gen. W.H. Kennan, at his request and Maj. Newman’s request, your old battle flag, to be displayed upon the occasion of your reunion at Moberly. To say that it affords my mother and me great pleasure in thus being able to allow you to view again in memory’s vision some of the scenes now hallowed and almost sacred in which this old flag played a prominent part, is but feebly expressing our feelings. We wish that it could be so that we could be with the flag and meet you grand old heroes, who, to his dying hour my noble father cherished as companions far dearer than friends. Your well wisher,


In memory’s vision they did live again the past and see again the dead faces of them that sleep in unmarked graves beneath the spreading cypress trees in the far southland, brave fellows who came not back to home, wife or sweetheart, some dying in battle and some of fever, but the greater number giving up their lives in the great unwritten tragedy immediately after the war, when the rage of battle had spent itself and they were looking eagerly forward to a joyous return home; going down beneath the sullen waters of Red river in one of the most criminal and inexcusable catastrophes in the history of the nation, and that, too, after peace had been declared. 

On June 9th, 1865, Pindall’s battalion then at Shreveport and having stacked their arms and surrendered with the remainder of the Trans-Mississippi army under Gen. Kirby Smith, were given transportation, and with paroles in their pockets, were placed on board the transport steamer, “Kentucky,” together with several hundred other Missouri troops, and started to New Orleans on their journey homewards. They were glad enough to leave the scenes of disorder succeeding the surrender at Shreveport, during which two of Kirby Smith’s trusted staff officers had been shot down by a Monroe county seargant, the latter remaining unmolested for fear of a mutiny from the troopers, who at that time acknowledged but little discipline. The “Kentucky” was a lower Mississippi packet and it was in some degree a happy, though ragged crowd of Missourians that swarmed her deck as she swung out from the wharf at Shreveport, and for the last time in the southland they sent that terrorizing Missouri yell floating back over the sluggish waters of Red river, in which within a few hours, so many of them were to sink to death, after having passed through three long years of blood and carnage where death had been denied them. It was a strange, wild crowd, not a company of church deacons, but a throng of disbanded soldiers, free from restraints, civil or military. Few of us, to day, know what such a thing means. They were mongrel in dress, being clad in the odds and ends given them by the government after the surrender, caps too small, pants too short, no shirts to speak of, in fact there being only one white shirt in the remnants of the Monroe county company, and that belonged to James I. Majors of Paris. It was indeed a Falstaffian band in regard to shirts.  

The river was low and the packet, with its consignment of vanquished heroes, drifted slowly down stream, now running alongside low flat banks, now striking the hurricane deck against the overhanging maples and thrown toward the middle of the narrow stream, slowly by surely making its way, and they were content, for they counted every turn of the wheel, every vanishing cypress as only another step nearer home. Night (paints …unknown… lower) decks the tired troopers were lying about, most of them asleep, all those who had them with coats beneath their heads. On the upper deck the same scene was visible, the poor fellows dreaming no more of the battle’s din, of sudden charges, uplifted sabers and groans of the dying, heard not perhaps the long roar of artillery rolling over woodland and prairie, but in dreamland’s fancy, perhaps, were at home again listening to the low, sweet greetings of mother, sister or sweetheart.  

Most of the Monroe county men were on the upper deck, some asleep, others standing in groups, talking lowly, too, of home and watching the ascending of a rich southern moon, which had just peeped above the cypress trees. The boat had struck a cypress knee in the stream that day and had (shoved) an immense (hole) in her side, but the Federal officer in charge, with a reckless disregard deserving death, had ordered it to be run on. A few hundred ex-rebels were of small consequence. The river was getting wide and deep. It was about 11 o’clock when a crowd of Monroe countians, J.I. Majors, Bob Smithey, Wm. Baker and others, standing on the hurricane deck, felt the boat quiver. Immediately the cry went up that she was filling, and before the sleepy and half-dazed men could gain their senses the transport was nearly half under water. The wild and tragic scene that the moon looked down on that night beggars description. Some escaped over a gang plank that had been hastily run out, hundreds jumped into the river and amid fighting, cursing and strangling, struck out for the shore, some of them reaching it in safety while others sank in the wild struggle or were swept out into the middle of the river. Men fought friends, had their clothes torn from them, and were choked with mud and loam. How many sleepers on the decks failed awaken will never be known.  

To add to the weird and tragic scene dried leaves were gathered and fires kindled on the banks, besides which the shivering and almost naked men dried and warmed themselves. The reflection intensified the outlines of the ill-fated transport, with nothing but her stern shining against the moon, while far out over the waters could be seen their unfortunate companions and could be heard their despairing cries as they were swept away. Many were rescued when they drifted near the bank. Most of the Monroe county boys who were standing on the hurricane deck escaped, some of them grasping the flag pole when the boat careened, which, however broke from the weight of the half-hundred desperate men (clinging) to it and the crowd being first in the water succeeded in getting out without much trouble. Wm. Baker, however, went down with the boat. He stood as if paralyzed and never moved after the alarm was given. Other Monroe countians were lost also, including Doc Wilson and a man named Clayton, an uncle of Elisha Grigsby in the same company. 

It was a wild night on the bank by the fires. Some of the men had nearly all the clothes torn from them, and Neal Price still tells of the noble rescue work done by R.H. Smithey, at present the giant sheriff of Monroe county, as, with only a shirt on, he stood in a clump of willows and pulled out drowning men as they were swept by. Next morning when the sun arose the scene was indeed a desolate one. The waters rippled silently, over the decks of the ill-fated, transport and flowed sluggishly among the willows, but never a message of their dead did they whisper, to the ragged shivering men on the bank. That day, another transport was sent down the river to pick up the remainder of the joyous crowd that had left Shreveport the day before, (unknown) the journey home was resumed. About midday the river began to give up its dead, and from the decks of the boat the men could see the upturned faces of dead friends as they floated past on their journey towards the sea. Some were seen in the mud along the banks, others caught in the clumps of willows that lined the stream. Where they were recognized friends got off the boat and gave them burial. Clayton was discovered on a scorching mud bank, his face turned toward the boat. He sleeps today in a lonely and unmarked grave among the cypress trees where a few of his old comrades in (arms) laid him to rest.  

What a more pathetic tragedy than this does the page of history contain? Little wonder that the Federal commander at Shreveport wept when he heard of it and cursed the criminal stupidity of the officer detailed to take the boat to New Orleans. Coming, as it did, fight after four years of bloody strife, in which human life was wasted as chaff, it attracted but slight attention. Probably for the first time it is given in its terrible details in the Mercury today. Far from the battle’s din, beyond the sounds of clanging strife, these gallant Missourians sleep the dreamless sleep. The battle death of heroes, sought in blood and carnage, denied them, while yet thinking and dreaming of the distant home, the prattling – children, mother, sister, sweetheart, they went down to death among the willows and waters – a mute, inglorious death for such a band of heroes. The same moon looks down, the same winds sigh among the southern cypress trees, but the silent sleepers, each with his long parole, wake not, but wait for the last roll call when earth, sea and river shall give up their dead and all the brave, the good and true shall be marshaled again within Wahalla’s Hall.” 

Source: Newspaper article from the Paris Mercury, Vol. 60, No. 41, on October 8, 1897. From the files of Neil Block, Commander, William T. Anderson Camp #1743 SCV, Huntsville, Mo; transcribed by Lisa Perry