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- General Interest
By Sue Curry Jones
Independence Day is a summer season holiday we all look forward to celebrating. It’s an occasion that generates family get-togethers, town gatherings, community parades, and national unity. The holiday brings everyone together for spectacular organized celebrations.
And, for children, the holiday is exciting and fun, as it promises a weekend mixed with the adventure of firecrackers, sparklers, barbecues, swimming, and permission to stay out later than usual to play with cousins, neighbors, family, and view the firework displays.
It’s fun, and reminiscent of easier times.
But, as we continue to celebrate the anniversary of our country this week, it’s important to look back and take into account the daring decisions and sacrifices our founding fathers not only made, but acted upon and carried out.
It is important to remember the Civil War, and the heartache and internal strife that almost tore our nation apart. An important factor as 2011 commemorates 150 years.
It is also important to honor our veterans, and to remember the many struggles faced and overcome. And, we can’t overlook the difficulties we confront today.
As a country, our triumphs arise from the bravery, hard work, blood, sweat and tears amassed by our military troops, past and present. Their commitment and willingness to sacrifice for our banner of liberty has kept this country safe, free and strong. It is through foresight, commitment, and readiness that we live life freely by choice and remain safe.
And, it was those same principles and moral convictions that fueled our fight for liberty and freedom of choice during the Revolutionary War –– a fight that was America’s first military triumph.
At the time of the Revolutionary War, lands west of the Appalachian Mountains, such as Missouri, were predominately inhabited by natives indigenous to the area. Missouri was part of the Northwest Territory, and Douglas County was Osage territory. In these western areas, the war was fought as an “Indian War,” with the majority of Native Americans in support of the British.
In conjunction, British rule had designated the Ohio River as a westward boundary for colonists, prohibiting settlements to go beyond the waterway. The mandate was put in place to prevent further conflict with the Indians. However, the restriction quickly provoked the indignation of colonists, and helped fuel the fire for freedom. History indicates no one single event led to the uprising, but American colonists believed they were entitled to the same democratic rights as the English, and the British believed American colonies were settlements to be used for the benefit of Great Britain.
Even so, the Revolutionary War is an amazing account in history; it demonstrates how commonplace people fought for freedom and the right to choose –– and won.
America’s self-determination is a story that rivals any movie script in the marketplace today –– it reveals the fight and fortitude of ordinary people, and the character of those who stand for liberty. Our nation instituted a high level of patriotism during the country’s first war, and that earmark that has been followed ever since.
It is documented by the Ozark Mountain Chapter of SAR that a number of revolutionary war soldiers from southern Missouri are buried nearby in Christian, Greene, and Webster counties. At present, there aren’t any grave sites identified for Douglas County, but as research continues the record may change.
In Christian County, four men are cited as Revolutionary War soldiers: Isaac Garrison, John Pettijohn, John Petty, and Timothy Scruggs.
In Greene County, William Freeman is buried in the Springfield National Cemetery; and others buried nearby include, Samuel Austin, Hazelwood Cemetery; James Barham, Mount Pleasant Cemetery; David Bedel, Old Salem Cemetery; Elisha Headlee, Old Salem Cemetery; Samuel Steele, Mount Comfort Cemetery; and Thomas Thompson, (unknown); and in Webster County, Nathan Clifton, is buried five miles south of Marshfield; and an unknown soldier is among those buried at the Ebenezer Cemetery near Marshfield.
In Springfield, near the entrance of Springfield National Cemetery, a special marker commemorates and honors all the soldiers who fought in the Revolutionary War. It states:
“During the Revolutionary War, almost 232,000 patriots served in the Continental Army, with 174,000 more serving in the Militia. Many more also served in civilian positions. This marker is to commemorate all those patriots who served our nation during the war. Thousands gave their lives, and all sacrificed so that we may live free. We must never forget them.”
But, even though history warns we must never forget, the memories are often forgotten –– as the angst and sacrifice associated with war don’t always stay strong in the hearts of men, and in 1861, civil unrest and hostility over the slave trade divided our nation in two, and the State of Missouri played a vital role in the disagreement.
The Civil War started about four years after Douglas County was formed in 1857. General J.H. McBride was sent to this area to control Douglas County and contain Union support, but several locals led by John Sevier Upshaw, defied the order and formed a group called the Douglas County Home Guard. The group supported the Union Army and used the Vera Cruz courthouse as their headquarters. Initially, the Douglas County Home Guard was successful in maintaining the Union stance.
The Guard was involved in a small battle near present day Rome, Missouri, and there were additional encounters between Confederate and Union troops near Vera Cruz.
Several Douglas County residents also fought in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek in Greene County.
However, most records show more casualties occurred in this area due to bushwhackers and outlaw warfare groups rather than in true battles. “Citizen soldiers” such as Colonel William Quantrill, Frank and Jesse James, and the Younger Brothers were active contributors to the war, and regrettably, most of these men continued their renegade ways after the war was over.
During the Civil War, new tools for communicating were emerging, with tintype photography one of the latest, new-fangled item. It allowed people to visualize the war.
Another modern innovation, the wire telegraph, allowed messages to be sent across the wire which was much faster and more reliable than posting by mail or by messenger on horseback. Newspaper reporters were also allowed to travel by horse or wagon near the battlefield to report on the war, and with the wire telegraph in place, the stories were quickly returned for publication.
However, letter writing was still the main form of communication for soldiers, and even though it was a slow connection home, letters were still written, and many were kept for years, as is the case of a letter written by Civil War veteran J.B. Porter, a farmer and county judge, from Harmony, Arkansas.
Porter, the great-grandfather of Wendell King, of Ava, wrote many letters to his family; the letter below was one written by Porter to his wife Caroline, June 23, 1862, from Camp Priceville, Itiwomba County, Mississippi.
I seat myself this evening to the pleasant task of writing you a letter. I have nothing new to write. We are still camped at the same place that we were when I wrote last. We are doing very well at present, getting plenty to eat. I think as a general thing we are all mending in health and getting somewhat better satisfied.
This is a great country for blackberries, and we have fine times now eating blackberry pie. We have one every day, sometimes twice. We also get tolerable plenty of meat. We can swap flour for meat, occasionally and get a mess of cornbread, which is a great rarity. Everything in the meat line is very high. Beef is worth ten cents a pound. A sheep sells for 6 to 8 dollars a head. Bacon is unreasonable high. We paid eight dollars the other day for 16 pound, it cost us 80 cents a piece as there is ten in our mess.
… Everything is quiet in the fighting line. I do not know where the enemy is. Only from hear say I heard that our men attacked them last Sunday morning at Holly Springs west of here, but do not know whether it was so or not, as I have not heard anything more about it. …
We have very good water here by digging about twenty feet for it. There is but one man absent from our company at the hospital, and two or three sick in camp. Where we are camped is a high hilly poor country, but every little branch is a swamp. I am afraid it is a good chilling country. Every branch and creek puts me in mind of dirty creek, only they are a little worse. They have to bridge wherever a road crosses. …
Puss, I must write the same old thing over that I do not know when I will be at home. We may be soon or it may be a good while. They still tell us we are going to be reunited, but I expect it will be sometime. If I get home by fall, I will be tolerable well satisfied, but I know you think that a long time; but I don’t have much hopes of being there sooner. I would risk some money by Mr. Morgan and send you some, but they have not paid us any more. Two months wages is all that I have ever been paid.
Puss, you must kiss Mary for me. Do the best you can. I trust and pray to God that I may soon meet you. Give my best respects to your Father and Mother and the children and acquaintances, generally.
Your husband, J.B. Porter
Member of the 1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles, Confederate Army
Except for the date and formal style of writing, Porter’s poignant thoughts could echo the sentiments of any soldier, fighting in any war.
During the turmoil, President Abraham Lincoln stood firm on his personal stance and interpretation of the Declaration of Independence. He held true to his belief that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness applies to all men, and he quoted the passage often. His ideals prevailed. The Civil War was officially over in 1865, but it took many years of healing and adjustment before the scars of war were laid to rest.
And, unfortunately, Americans have fought in many wars since that day, as the struggle to maintain a free and fair society still exists.
So, Independence Day is not just a celebration of a nation’s birthday or let’s get-together party day, but it is a time of recognition for honoring the multitudes of ordinary people who throughout the years have accomplished extraordinary feats of courage and bravery for our nation. It’s a time to note the many gifts of bravery and sacrifice that have been bestowed upon us by our military.
Independence Day is the perfect occasion to reflect upon our right to immeasurable freedoms and infinite opportunities –– our right to voice opinions, to worship as we please, and pursue our dreams. To celebrate our option to vote freely in elections and support a candidate of choice for government.
Our country’s patriotic framework started with words formed from the hearts of our founding fathers, including Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and we must remember to keep that foundation in the forefront today.
Citing the words often spoken by President Abraham Lincoln:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
America’s Fourth of July holiday is a commemoration of patriotism, past and present. It is also a salute to veterans and military forces that make our freedoms possible.
May we always remember, and never forget the sacrifices made.
And, to our beloved Uncle Sam, happy birthday. Heartfelt wishes for many more birthdays yet to come.