Expedition from Ozark, Missouri, to Marion County (December 9–15, 1862)
The weeklong expedition from Ozark, Missouri, into Marion County was a successful Union operation that resulted in the destruction of a major Confederate saltpeter manufacturing facility and the capture of forty-two Confederate soldiers.
Captain Milton Burch of the Fourteenth Missouri State Militia left Ozark on December 9, 1862, with forty men from his regiment. They reached the Federal post at Lawrence’s Mill that evening and conferred with the officers based there, learning that Captain Jesse Mooney and seventy-five Confederate irregulars were camped at Talbot’s Ferry on the White River in Arkansas. Reinforced by sixty men of the Seventy-third Enrolled Missouri Militia, the expedition continued its march toward Arkansas.
On the morning of December 11, the Federal column left the road and cut through the woods, guided by an African American woodsman named Willoughby Hall, and camped in the “dense forest” that night. Burch sent Lieutenant John E. Kelso and a party of eight men “to capture some rebel pickets that I supposed would be found at the home of a rebel by the name of Brixy.” Kelso captured two rebels and a horse, and the prisoners informed them that Mooney’s men had “temporarily disbanded.”
They also learned information about the Confederate saltpeter mining operation in Bean Cave; a separate expedition led by Colonel Dudley Wickersham in the November 25–29 Expedition to Yellville had disrupted it, but it was back in operation. Therefore, Burch decided to attack those works. The Federals slipped from the woods at midnight and moved forward, with Kelso in the lead, and “succeeded in capturing 7 or 8 rebels, who lived near the road, without giving any alarm to the country around.” They also captured a Confederate recruiting officer around daybreak.
They reached Mooney’s house soon after, capturing him and another man along with eight horses that had been stolen from the post at Lawrence’s Mill. They also destroyed “15 stand of small arms.” A separate scouting party rejoined Burch’s troops, “bringing several prisoners.” Having accumulated seventeen prisoners, Burch decided to send them north guarded by twenty-five men led by Captain Pleasant Green of the Seventy-third Enrolled Missouri Militia.
Burch then divided his command, with Captain J. H. Sallee leading the approach to the cave from one side of the White River, while Burch crossed with the remainder of his men to attack from the other side. They reached the cave at noon, as the Confederates were eating. “When at last they discovered us, they mistook us for a company of their own men which they were expecting, and they did not discover their error until we were in half pistol shot of them,” Burch reported. “I ordered them to surrender, which they did, without firing a shot.”
The Yankees then proceeded to demolish the saltpeter mining equipment, destroying an engine, six tanks, and twenty-six large kettles with sledgehammers and burning five buildings, including blacksmith and carpenter shops. They captured twenty-three men (three of whom were unable to travel and were left behind), four mules, three horses, a pair of wagons, and “500 barrels of jerked beef, together with a full supply of other provisions for the winter.” They also destroyed the Confederates’ weapons and $6,000 worth of saltpeter.
Learning that a party of Colonel John Q. Burbridge’s Confederates was expected, Burch decided to return to Missouri, heading north in a driving rainstorm. They reached Ozark on December 15, having “traveled 225 miles; captured 42 prisoners; destroyed 40 stand of small-arms; also captured 12 horses and 4 mules, and destroyed $30,000 worth of machinery, &c., and all without any loss on my side,” Burch reported.
For additional information:
Davis, Lee Carson, “Bean Cave, Marion County, Arkansas.” White River Valley Historical Quarterly 2 (Spring 1967). Online at https://thelibrary.org/lochist/periodicals/wrv/V2/N11/sp67b.html (accessed September 28, 2022).
Piston, William Garret, and John C. Rutherford. “We Gave Them Thunder”: Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas. Springfield: Ozark Studies Institute of Missouri State University, 2021.
The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series I, Vol. 22, part 1, pp. 159–161. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1888.
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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