Skirmish at Osceola

Location: Mississippi County
Campaign: Burris’s Expedition into Southeast Missouri and Northeastern Arkansas
Date: August 2, 1864
Principal Commanders: Lieutenant Colonel John T. Burris (US); Captain Charles Bowen, Captain Hiram M. McVeigh (CS)
Forces Engaged: Battalion of the Second Cavalry Missouri State Militia, detachments of the Second and Third of the First and Sixth Missouri Cavalry Volunteers (US); Unidentified units associated with the command of General Joseph O. Shelby (CS)
Estimated Casualties: None (US); 7 killed, 25 captured (CS)
Result: Union victory

After losing most of his company (the Osceola Hornets, Company G of the Twenty-fifth Mississippi Infantry, later known as the Second Confederate Regiment) at the April 6–7, 1862, Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee, Captain Charles Bowen returned to Mississippi County in early 1863 with orders to seek new conscripts to supplement the dwindling Confederate ranks lost to sickness and death. Due to limited success with recruitment and Union control of the Mississippi River (making it difficult to cross), Bowen decided to remain in Mississippi County in order to protect lives and property from the rampant lawlessness that had compromised public safety and commercial activity in Osceola (Mississippi County) and the surrounding areas. Records indicate that he offered his resignation from the army “approved to take effect November 20, 1863” in order to serve as sheriff of Mississippi County. However, events during the summer of 1864 indicate that he remained an active participant in the war effort.

Between July 18 and August 6, 1864, Lieutenant Colonel John T. Burris led a scouting operation of approximately 500 Union troops that swept through southeastern Missouri and northeastern Arkansas. Although Burris observed that guerrilla activity was limited in the region, he sought to disrupt the activities of bushwhackers believed to be stealing horses and hiding them in the swamps until they could be safely transported to Rebel forces farther south.

In the late afternoon on August 2, 1864, after marching twenty miles through dense swamplands, Burris and his forces encountered a picket of Confederates camped near Osceola. Continuing their advance, they encountered a company of men commanded by Captain Bowen and Captain Hiram McVeigh (an enrolling officer with the Trans-Mississippi Department). As the general charge was made, the Confederates fled, and a “brisk” running fight ensued that lasted for several miles, ultimately forcing the Confederates to scatter in several directions.

There were no casualties on the Union side. However, seven Confederates were killed and twenty-five were taken prisoner, including Captain Bowen. Union troops also captured a significant number of horses, mules, and armaments.

Bowen was taken to St. Louis, Missouri, where he was charged with “recruiting within the Union lines.” He was tried by a military commission, found not guilty, and ordered released on September 14, 1864. He returned to Mississippi County, re-gathered his company, and continued to operate until his surrender in Osceola in 1865.

In his report filed on August 8, 1864, at headquarters in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, Burris stated that the actions of his troops in the past seventeen days had “effectively cleared out the guerillas and punished their accomplices [and] seriously checked the operations of the raiders and recruiting parties from [Col. Joseph O.] Shelby’s command in S.E. Missouri and the adjoining counties in Arkansas.”

For additional information:
Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Northeastern Arkansas. Chicago, IL: Goodspeed Publishing Co., 1889.

War Department Letter from the Adjutant General’s Office Dated 1934 Concerning Charles Bowen, p. 22. Compiled Service Records of Confederate Soldiers Who Served in Organizations from the State of Arkansas. National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD.

The War of the Rebellion: A Compendium of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. Series I, Vol. 41, Part 1, pp. 77–80. Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1893.

Willis, James. Arkansas Confederates in the Western Theatre. Dayton, OH: Morningside House, Inc., 1998.

Toney Butler Schlesinger
Granite Bay, California


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