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.