Saturday, September 27, 2014

150 Years Ago Today – THE CENTRALIA MASSACRE in Missouri’s Civil War

Father Hogan's Missionary Timetable kept him on the road despite the uncertainties of war.  After his harrowing handcar journey through federal lines only two nights before, Hogan took an afternoon train from Mexico to his home in Chillicothe. That train made a brief stop in Centralia. It was the last train through town before Bloody Bill Anderson's Confederate guerrillas attacked. Hogan wrote of his near-miss of the Centralia Massacre in his memoir, On the Mission in Missouri, 1857-1868.

      The train from St. Louis arrived in due time at Martinsburg Station, and having taken a seat in one of the coaches, I was soon reversing the journey I had made two nights previous on the handcars. Nothing unusual transpired on the way until we had reached Centralia, where, as the train was passing out from the Station, a troop of horsemen, moving rapidly across the prairie north of us, came in sight, halted, and quickly formed a line facing the train. Knowing well from their appearance, and as they wore no uniform, that they were guerillas, we feared a volley from their guns every moment. In anticipation of this, some federal soldiers who were aboard the train, brought their muskets to a ready to return the volley. But there was no firing, however; the train having passed quickly out of range. These armed horsemen were, no doubt, outposts from Bill Anderson’s guerillas, four hundred strong, then encamped in the woods and ravines in sight of Centralia, and waiting for an opportunity to attack some passing train.
     The ill-fated train that the attack fell on was the first following the one I was on. It came along the next day at noon. As it approached the Centralia Station, the guerillas with savage yells rushed out from their hiding places, and throwing obstructions on the track, commenced firing on the train which had to stop. Then the robbing began. Money, gold watches, jewelry, were dragged off the persons and pulled from the pockets of the passengers, men and women, indiscriminately. The express safe was broken open and rifled. Packages and boxes of express goods, and trunks were broken open and emptied of their valuables. A number of federal soldiers on the train were ordered out, put into line, and shot dead on the spot. A major of the federal army commanding one hundred and fifty mounted men, sallied out from a neighboring military post to give battle to the guerillas. These being vastly in majority and likewise better armed and equipped, fell upon the federals and slew them almost to a man. The railroad train, depot, and cars, were fired and burned.
     Never was there a more heart-rending scene of carnage and devastation; and for the like of it, for cold-blooded cruel atrocity, we look in vain in the annals of military history, even of savage nations. Had I waited or been delayed at Martinsburg or Mexico for that train, and had the federal military passes that I carried, been found on me, which certainly would have happened, as the pockets and pocket-books of all passengers were searched, there is no doubt whatever that I would have shared the fate of the poor fellows who fell on that occasion. Ever and always has the hand of God seemed raised over me, to protect me from otherwise unavoidable disaster and danger. To God’s infinite mercy I owe my life saved hundreds of times.

According to the Wikipedia article on Bill Anderson:
At Centralia, Anderson's men killed 125 soldiers in the battle and 22 from the train in one of the most decisive guerrilla victories of the Civil War. It was Anderson's greatest victory, surpassing Lawrence and Baxter Springs in brutality and the number of casualties

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

150 Years Ago Today: Through the night on a railroad handcar through Civil War military checkpoints in Missouri

2014 marks the sesquicentennial of the Civil War. Mostly we commemorate battles and troops and armies, but the Civil War in Missouri was a tumultuous, uncertain and brutal affair – with so many unknowns. Beyond battlefields, families and communities tried to carry on life and hope, but the battle sometimes came to them too.

One hundred and fifty years ago tonight, a young pioneer priest in north Missouri sought the help of railroad men and their handcars to carry him to his scheduled meeting with parishioners. To serve the spiritual well being of Catholic settlers in north Missouri, Father John Hogan had set a schedule for saying Sunday Mass in his widespread parish. His “Missionary Timetable” put him in one of five communities every week.  Making his appointed rounds was challenging enough in the best of times.  But 1864 was not the best of times.  The Civil War made traveling difficult and dangerous, but he kept his appointments

The night of Saturday, September 24, he was delayed by an urgent call to the bed of a dying man, a call he could not refuse. The last train from Macon City had departed when he returned to town but he was committed to Mass the next morning in Mexico, sixty miles away.  He recounts his harrowing trek in one of his memoirs, On the Mission in Missouri: 1857-1868 

 A PERILOUS NIGHT – September 24, 1864
The sick call attended, I returned to Macon City about sunset, with the grim determination on my features to make a night journey by hand car to Mexico, sixty miles distant. I knew that I could depend on the railroad section men to carry me, by successive relays from place to place, over the distance. The Macon City section men, informed of my purpose, although tired after the day’s work, hastily partook of supper, and well oiling the heavy machinery of their hand car, put it on the track and put me on it with them, and then we were away, speeding southward on our journey. In an hour we had passed over their section of the road, ten miles to Jacksonville. The Jacksonville men soon had their handcar on the track, and we rode on it, in an hour, ten miles to Allen, which place is now called Moberly. The Allen men made their run of ten miles in an hour to Renick. The Renick men, asleep when we called on them, were soon up and out on the track, and away on the course.

Current road map of Missouri 
 The north-south railroad line Hogan took that night is no longer there, but the towns he names still line Highway 63. The Kansas City Southern now crosses Missouri east to west along the last miles of his journey.
     Instantly, in the flash of our headlight lantern, we saw armed men ahead of us, with leveled revolvers calling us to a halt. We halted. A number of them mounted our handcar, and with a harsh command to us from their captain to go on, on we went. They stayed on our handcar for several miles, not saying a word the while. Again the captain cried, halt. We halted. They alighted, and ordered us to go on. We went on, glad to be free, not knowing whether they were friends or foes who had pressed us into their service. As they wore no uniforms we conjectured they were guerrillas, probably belonging to the band that had robbed Huntsville in that neighborhood the day previous, and now very likely reconnoitering the federal force encamped at Sturgeon, some miles before us.
1904 transportation map of Missouri shows the Wabash Railroad running east and west through the state, along part of Hogan's route that night.     

We went on to the Sturgeon outposts, where we were halted by the pickets, and by them taken to camp headquarters, where, having given satisfactory account of ourselves, we got a written order to pass through the federal lines and beyond the camp. It was now midnight, and there yet remained twenty-two miles journey before us. The next relay of men took me eight miles, to Centralia. The Centralia men, aroused from their slumbers, soon had their handcar on the track, and with them I proceeded over the intervening distance, twelve miles, to Mexico; where, arrived at half past two o’clock Sunday morning, I was once again, as at Sturgeon, halted by the federal pickets, and by them taken to camp headquarters, where, having satisfactorily accounted for myself, I was again furnished with a military pass to go through the lines. I now had on my person three federal military passes, the first one having been given me a considerable time previous by Provost Marshal General McKinstry, of St. Louis, as a necessary condition to pass beyond the lines of that city.
Father Hogan met his schedule that difficult Saturday night.  His return journey, a couple of days later, would bring him even closer to renegades - passing through Centralia just ahead of Bloody Bill Anderson and Quantrill's Raiders.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

THIS OLD WORLD by Steve Wiegenstein - a Review

Utopian communities – designed to live a philosophy, often using experimental models of governing, wealth sharing, and re-defining the relationship between the sexes – were not uncommon in the nineteenth century. states that 80 such communities were founded in the 1840s alone.  Daybreak, Missouri, setting of This Old World, could have been one of them.

Steve Wiegenstein’s new historical novel propels the reader through the passions and tragedies of this fictional, but very convincingly real, experiment in the Ozarks wilderness. As the reader advances deeper into the lives and events of the citizens of the small Ozark town of Daybreak, each short chapter ends with an enticing lead-in to the next.  “Just a few more pages tonight…”

The “situation report” of this second novel in the Daybreak trilogy comes in Chapter Two when James Turner, who has returned a changed man from his service to the Union, mulls over their rocky descent from idealistic, hopeful community that would lead the way to a new, better social order. Their once bright optimism now "seemed like a relic from an antique time." The ravages of the Civil War has left them struggling to survive the failings of human character as well as the brutalities and privations of warfare – military and guerrilla.

Wiegenstein has put faces and strong characters to the tantalizing questions of history: who were the people beneath the tombstones of a country graveyard?  Who were the individuals who filled the ranks behind the generals, preachers, politicians who shaped history’s larger events?  Who tilled the soil, built the buildings, ground the wheat of the utopian communities? How did they live their lives? What kept them going?

I was sorry to encounter one character who was an embittered survivor of a real Missouri pre-Civil War utopian experiment. Still, his bad behavior begs the question – was he always that way or did the brutal Civil War, the loss of wife, family and settlement make him so?  His pre-Civil War home, Father John Joseph Hogan’s Irish Settlement in Oregon and Ripley counties (now included in the National Wilderness system as the Irish Wilderness) was not fiction. It was a real community for a few years before the Civil War, but failed because of exterior forces – the Civil War.

I read This Old World without having read the first volume of the trilogy, Slant of Light. However, Wiegenstein’s subtle references to the earlier time and past relationships are woven skillfully into this new volume so new readers are not left in the dark, but are enticed to go back to flesh out the original inspiration for Daybreak and make acquaintance with its young and hopeful leaders in the first volume.

This Old World is available on

Wednesday, September 3, 2014


Fifty years ago today, on September 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law after more than sixty drafts and eight years of work. When Johnson signed the act, he made the following statement: "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it." 

Nearly twenty years later, March 27, 1984, 16,500 acres of rugged, wooded land between the Eleven Point and Current rivers in Oregon and Ripley counties in the Missouri Ozarks were “designated as wilderness and shall be known as the Irish Wilderness.”

The inclusion of the area once known as Father Hogan’s Irish Settlement was not done without controversy. Mystery of the Irish Wilderness outlines the competing camps (Sierra Club and environmentalists vs. local landowners) and their arguments that supported or opposed its inclusion. 

See more photos of the Irish Wilderness on our Facebook page: