An Uncivil Warrior: Missouri’s Col. James J. Clarkson

By Nancy Bunker Bowen

The defeat of a ragtag battalion of Confederate soldiers in an obscure skirmish the morning of July 3, 1862, near Locust Grove, Oklahoma, by a larger force of Union troops out of Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, rates only a footnote in most Civil War histories. Scholars dismiss the Confederate officer in command, Colonel James J. Clarkson of Missouri, and charge him with the loss of a valuable supply train containing gunpowder, weapons, and clothing destined for Confederate Cherokee units in the Oklahoma Territory. Historians also note that Clarkson’s defeat encouraged many fleeing Cherokee soldiers to defect to the Union side.

James Clarkson’s ambiguous reputation as a military officer rests on an unusually contradictory body of opinion. Arkansan N. Bart Pearce, a fellow Confederate officer, once remarked that had the loss at Locust Grove been Clarkson instead of the wagon train, the Confederacy would have been better off. But another Confederate veteran, Missourian Lewis Renfro, later declared Clarkson the "the greatest military man" Dade County, Missouri, ever produced. The record and memory of James J. Clarkson of Missouri remains without a consensus, a metaphor for warfare Clarkson himself conducted on behalf of the Confederacy.

Clarkson, like many Missourians of the period, was at once both Southern and Western in outlook. A Kentuckian by birth and a Virginian by heritage, Clarkson moved west to Missouri nearly twenty years before the Civil War began, but had spent many years even farther west. He raised a company of troops from Dade County in the spring of 1847 to serve in the Mexican War and spent months of tedious duty of escorting army supply trains over the Santa Fe Trail from Westport, Missouri Territory, to New Mexico.1 When Company F returned to Greenfield after the war, Captain Clarkson, however, remained behind in Kansas Territory and contracted out his services as an armed escort for the government freighters and mail contractors operating out of Leavenworth City.

The volatile political climate of Kansas Territory appealed to Clarkson, who quickly became active in the proslavery cause and later took command of the strongly proslavery Kansas Territorial Militia headquartered in Leavenworth City. His notorious Kickapoo Rangers wreaked bloody havoc in the lives of hundreds of abolitionist settlers to Kansas in the 1850s and earned him the animosity of many men who later wore the blue uniform of the Union Army.

Clarkson, to some, represented the very worst of the Missouri "border ruffians" who terrorized "Bleeding Kansas" during the 1850s. Not only did Clarkson personally participate in the 1856 "sack" of Lawrence, but he and his Kickapoo Rangers routinely harassed free-soil settlers at gunpoint. Shalor Eldridge, an officer the New England Emigrant Aid Society vilified Clarkson, named him "conspicuous in the bloody annals of Kansas," and offered the opinion that "such perversion of a many nature is wrought by service in a wicked cause."2 Daniel R. Anthony, brother of suffragette Susan B. Anthony, complained that Clarkson and others continued to "foist this foul thing [slavery] on Kansas."3

Even after abolitionist Kansas Governor John W. Geary disbanded the proslavery Kansas Militia in 1857, James Clarkson remained in Kansas as an independent proslavery guerrilla. It was not until 1859, when the Wyandotte Convention finally officially abolished slavery in Kansas that Clarkson’s family in the proslavery stronghold of southwest Missouri’s Rock Prairie Township in Dade County word that "Unkle [sic] Jim would be out there soon."4

The national election year of 1860 was turbulent in Missouri. Local, state, and national politics set proslavery and antislavery factions against each other, reflective of the turmoil in neighboring Kansas. Published 1860 national election results reflect Kansans overwhelmingly voted the Republican ticket while residents of Clarkson’s Dade County, Missouri, overwhelmingly voted for anyone else.

Of the nearly one thousand votes cast in Dade County that year, only five went to Abraham Lincoln.5 To the dismay of Missouri’s antislavery voters, proslavery gubernatorial candidate Claiborne Fox Jackson also won the state’s top office that year--with the support of most Dade County voters. At his January 1861 inauguration, Governor Jackson publicly vowed compromise in the national crisis concerning the issue of slavery, but privately worked to encourage secession.

When news reached southwest Missouri in the spring of 1861 the nation had broken apart, James J. Clarkson did not question that Missouri must be allowed to leave the Union. He shared with his family and his neighbors, fellow Southerners from Kentucky and Tennessee, a heritage of slave holding and a strong belief in independence and autonomy.6 Clarkson and most of his Dade County neighbors supported Governor Jackson’s April 1861 refusal to provide Abraham Lincoln’s government four regiments to put down the growing rebellion.

Jackson vowed Missouri would not supply men for the president’s "unholy crusade" to hold Southern states in the Union by force.7 By June, after a series of abortive attempts to keep peace in Missouri, Governor Jackson issued a call for loyal men of the state to take up arms against Union forces. One of the first men to answer Governor Jackson’s call was former army officer and experienced proslavery guerrilla fighter James Clarkson.

On July 12, 1861, Governor Jackson commissioned Clarkson a colonel in the Missouri State Guard, under the command of former Missouri governor and Mexican War hero Sterling "Pap" Price.8 Clarkson quickly returned to Dade County to recruit volunteers for the 8th Division of the Missouri State Guard, a unit under the command of Brig. Gen. James S. Rains, a Jasper County politician with little or no military experience.

At Greenfield, James Clarkson was elected colonel of the 5th Infantry in Rain’s 8th Division while John T. Coffee, a local lawyer and former legislator, was elected colonel of the division’s 6th Cavalry. Among those who signed on for six month’s service in Company E, a cavalry company attached to Clarkson’s infantry regiment, were his older brother David Smith Clarkson, who had served as a Dade County judge in the 1840s, and his nephew Davy M. Clarkson, a Westport farmer and the judge’s only son.9

By the end of July, Clarkson’s regiment was on the way to join Gen. Sterling Price and his five thousand raw recruits training on Cowskin Prairie in the extreme southwest corner of the state. Price planned to make an early and decisive move against Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyons’s forces at Springfield with the help of Confederate regulars commanded by Texan Ben McCulloch and Arkansan N. Bart Pearce. Price chose General Rains’s "huckleberry cavalry" to spearhead the Confederate advance toward Springfield because many of his men, like Clarkson, were locals familiar with the area.

Clarkson and his hometown recruits met federal opposition just days after leaving Greenfield. On August 2, a detachment of Lyon’s Springfield-based Union infantry, cavalry, and artillery surprised scouts from Rains’s division near Dug Spring. Rains relayed this information to General McCulloch and then confidently moved his entire advance command of about four hundred men to engage Lyon.10

Lyon's artillery and well-trained cavalry mauled Rains’s green troops, earning the engagement the derisive nickname "Rains’s Scare" because so many Missourians fled in panic on foot and on horseback. The rout of the Missouri State Guard at Dug Spring caused General McCulloch to lose what little confidence he had in the untrained Missouri irregulars. Rains’s men, according to McCulloch, "were put to flight by a single cannon shot, running in the greatest confusion without the loss of a single man except one, who died of overheat." Worse, Rains’s men were unable to bring him reliable information about the number and position of the enemy, nor were they of "the slightest service as scouts or spies afterwards."11

Although victorious at the skirmish at Dug Spring, Lyon realized his men were outnumbered and quickly withdrew to the safety of greater numbers at Springfield, followed at close range by the combined Confederate forces. By August 6, McCulloch, Pearce, and Price's troops were encamped on hilly farmland near a creek about ten miles south of town.

Four days later, Missouri State Guard Col. James Clarkson and his Dade County recruits found themselves in the middle of the first major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River, the costly, dubious Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield. Before breakfast on August 10, 1861, Union troops overran Confederate camps and advanced to the crest of nearby Oak Hill.

Fighting for the strategic hill raged for more than five hours, often at close quarters, with the tide turning with each charge and countercharge. Col. Richard H. Weightman, commander of the 1st Infantry Brigade of Rains’s division, assigned the seven hundred men of Col. James Clarkson’s 5th Regiment and Col. Edgar V. Hurst's 3rd Regiment the daunting task of crossing Wilson’s Creek at the ford and then moving quickly to take the hill, now described as "Bloody Hill." Weightman, a distinguished veteran of the Mexican War, was killed as he led his troops across the creek directly into the enemy, leaving Clarkson’s and Hurst’s companies to fend for themselves, exposed to what Weightman’s successor John R. Graves termed "galling fire" for more than an hour.

The noise and confusion while Weightman's orphaned regiments struggled to take Bloody Hill created, ironically, a nearly comic moment when soldiers of Col. George Deitzler's 1st Kansas Infantry literally ran into men of Clarkson's 5th Missouri. Deitzler, who had been in the land business with Shalor Eldridge in Lawrence, Kansas, in the years before the Civil War, remembered Clarkson clearly from his part in the 1856 "sack of Lawrence." Likewise, many of Deitzler's officers were from Lawrence and knew James Clarkson well, at least by reputation.

At one point during the siege of the hill, Capt. Powell Clayton of the 1st Kansas did not hear Deitzler's command to retreat and instead marched his men directly into another group, who, by their uniforms, Clayton mistakenly thought to be one of Col. Franz Sigel's regiments. The colonel in charge of the regiment asked Clayton where the enemy was and Clayton pointed to the retreating rebel forces.

Something about the Missouri officer looked familiar. Clayton suddenly "recognized in him an old acquaintance, being no less than Col. [James] Clarkson of ‘Kansas-Border-Ruffian’ notoriety, ex-postmaster of Leavenworth."12 The confusion was compounded when Clayton asked the regiment's adjutant, who had approached him, what unit he represented.

The adjutant, Greenfield dry goods merchant Maj. Michael W. Buster, responded he was from the "5th Missouri Volunteers." "Union or Confederate?" asked Clayton.13

"Confederate," responded the major.

Clayton immediately took Buster prisoner and forced him to stand between him and Clarkson’s Missourians. Disregarding his own safety, Buster ordered his men to open fire. Clayton shot the daring adjutant, a sergeant ran him through with a bayonet, then the Kansans turned and fled the opposite direction, reforming their company at the brow of the hill.

By midmorning, General Lyon was killed leading a charge on Bloody Hill, the first Union general killed in action during the Civil War. Maj. Samuel Sturgis assumed command, but before noon his ammunition was nearly exhausted and he ordered his troops to fall back to Springfield. The battle was over, a costly and tenuous victory for the Confederate side. Losses were heavy--Union troops suffered 1,235 casualties while 1,095 Confederates were reported killed, wounded, or missing.14

While Mary Phelps in Springfield buried General Lyons in her garden and Mary Clarkson in Greenfield waited for news of her husband and son,15 Generals Price and McCulloch quickly issued self-congratulatory proclamations, promoting their version of the events at Wilson's Creek. "The flag of the Confederacy now floats over Springfield, the stronghold of the enemy," McCulloch gloated. Price bragged, "we have just achieved a glorious victory over the foe, and scattered far and wide the well-appointed army which the Usurper in Washington has been for six months gathering for your subjection and enslavement."16

Col. James J. Clarkson, less than a month into his Civil War military career, won praise from Col. John R. Graves for his "cool deliberation and courageous deportment." In his official report to General McCulloch a few days after the battle, Graves also promised he would "have a more extended report of Colonel Clarkson's regiment of this brigade as soon as possible," but Clarkson "had not yet handed his detailed report in."17

Clarkson did not give military paperwork top priority: he had been shot in the leg and his nephew Davy, grievously wounded, had been taken prisoner. Although his brother David was unharmed, several other Dade County men had been killed. Clarkson’s bold adjutant, M. W. Buster, shot and run through with a bayonet, survived. The bayonet, miraculously, hit a rib.18

Buoyed by his apparent victory at Wilson’s Creek, Price immediately sent James Rains with a mounted force to clear the western counties of Missouri of marauders from Kansas. Rains and Price both soon found Clarkson’s knowledge of the region and his personal hostility toward Kansans useful and allowed him to lead Rains’s 2nd Brigade during these forays against Jim Lane’s "jayhawkers."19

Clarkson made a recognizable target as he rode through southwest Missouri that summer searching for Lane’s Kansans. By late August, Union spies reported "a body of men 1,000 strong left Greenfield on Tuesday last on their march to Fort Scott. Our informant saw them 12 miles this side of Greenfield, under command of Captain Clarkson."20

Price maintained his headquarters at occupied Springfield throughout late summer, plotting and executing raids designed to drive the hated Kansans from Missouri. By early September, however, Price moved his troops north toward the well-supplied Union garrison at the Missouri River town of Lexington. In addition to the valuable military munitions and commissary stores, federal forces at Lexington also possessed the Great Seal of the State of Missouri. Of great practical interest was the nearly million dollars in paper and gold that Lexington garrison commander Col. James A. Mulligan, an Irish politician from Chicago, had confiscated from local banks and buried beneath his tent floor.

For nearly a week in mid-September, General Price and seven thousand Missouri State Guard troops laid classical siege to federal fortifications at Lexington. Although his garrison was greatly outnumbered, Colonel Mulligan had been ordered to hold Lexington at all costs. For days, federal troops defended the site and waited in vain for reinforcements. James Clarkson, who commanded a brigade, and other members of Rains's division occupied a strong position on the east and northeast of the fortifications, overlooking the Masonic College where federal troops were entrenched.

Rains’s cavalry found redemption at Lexington for their humiliation at Dug Spring, but, according to eyewitness Pvt. Lewis Renfro of Dade County, it was no "before-breakfast spell." Supported by two artillery batteries, the division directed heavy fire to the federal fortifications there for more than two days, before closing in around the college and cutting off the water supply to the federal soldiers within. General Rains, in fact, offered a gold medal to the artilleryman who could shoot down the large Union flag on the building's southeast corner, a prize quickly won by Churchill Clark, the nineteen-year-old grandson of famed explorer William Clark.

"We tried for a day and a night to capture the fort, but was unsuccessful," Renfro remembered, "but finally General Price adopted a plan which proved a success. Hemp bales were rolled up for embankments and we starved them out. Two victories in succession filled our boys with courage insomuch that many of them thought Price’s command would whip the whole Yankee army."21

By midafternoon of September 20, 1861, after more than fifty-two hours of continuous fighting, Colonel Mulligan surrendered himself and his Illinois Irish Brigade to Sterling Price. In a display of dueling gallantry, Mulligan surrendered his sword to Price, who immediately returned it and offered Mulligan parole. Mulligan politely refused the general's offer on the grounds that his government did not acknowledge the Missourians as belligerents. On this technicality, Mulligan preferred to wait for exchange as a regular Union Army prisoner of war.22

Although he did not specifically cite Clarkson in his official report, General Rains praised the men of the Second Brigade for their "patience, courage, and endurance worthy only of the cause engaged in." For more than fifty hours, Rains reported, they "lay there panting like hounds in the summer when they scent the stately deer, eager not for revenge, but to teach the minions of the tyrant that Missouri shall be free."23

Sterling Price also lavished praise on the Missouri Guardsmen. "This victory has demonstrated the fitness of our citizens for the tedious operations of a siege, as well as for a dashing charge," he wrote. "No general ever commanded a braver or better army. It is composed of the best blood and bravest men of Missouri."24

Not everyone in Missouri agreed that Price's men were the state's best and bravest. Boundaries of civil or military province in Missouri were murky and defined primarily by whether one's loyalty was to Abraham Lincoln's government in Washington or to Claiborne Jackson's pro-secessionist government-in-exile in Neosho. Most pro-Union Missourians believed Price’s military aggressions little more than insurrection. If, as the politically savvy Mulligan intimated, the federal government did not officially recognize Price's Missouri troops as "belligerents"--reserving that designation only for regular Confederate Army troops--were these non-soldiers who had just forced the surrender of a federal garrison then guilty, as private citizens, of treason--or worse?

James Clarkson soon found himself caught in this civil and military crossfire. An indictment issued in October 1861 by the federal court of the Western District of Missouri charged him with treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government and earned him the dubious distinction of being one of the first Confederates so indicted.25 Surviving records do not reveal whether it was a newly-enraged pro-Union Missourian or an old Kansas antagonist bent on revenge who brought the indictment against Clarkson, for he had surely made enemies in both states. Among those political adversaries, Clarkson would find, was John S. Phelps, U. S. Congressman from Springfield. Phelps’s only known prior connection to the Clarksons of Dade County was bureaucratic: he had facilitated the transfer of matriarch Phoebe Clarkson’s Revolutionary War widow’s pension from Kentucky to Missouri in 1845.

As a practical matter, however, Clarkson had to be in civil federal custody before he could be brought to trial in Missouri. But by late fall, Colonel Clarkson was raiding Kansas from the safety of Price’s encampment near Osceola on the Sac River. "Colonel Clarkson, bringing up the rear, left Greenfield last Sunday, November 24," one informant reported. "The men are poorly clad and very short on food and forage, and express manifest threats against Kansas."26

From Osceola, Price planned to reorganize--or, more accurately, to organize--his army. Many of his men, whose six-month enlistments as members of the Missouri State Guard had expired, left the camp to return to their homes for the winter. To replace them, Price called for more men and sent recruiting officers throughout the state to enlist volunteers.

"Come with your guns of any description that can be made to bring down a foe," Price urged his fellow Missourians. "If you have no arms, come without them...Bring blankets and heavy shoes and extra bed clothing if you have them...We must have 50,000 men," Price demanded, piqued that he had earlier received only five thousand men, instead of the fifty thousand he requested.

"Are we a generation of driveling, sniveling, degraded slaves? Or are we men who dare assert and maintain the rights which cannot be surrendered...?" he challenged his countrymen.27 Price followed up his proclamation by sending Col. James Clarkson and 1,100 cavalrymen back to Lexington, where in a few days they collected 2,500 new recruits and brought them safely to his lines.28

Unusually harsh weather in late December, however, forced Price to abandon his position on the Sac and withdraw to the relative comfort of Springfield on December 23. There, according to Union rumor, all pretense of professional military conduct vanished. Price "has no discipline, no roll-calls, no sentinels, nor picket to prevent passing in and out of Springfield," Union informants reported, adding "Rains drunk all the time. Price also drinking too much."29 Men also continued to wander away from Price’s camp for various reasons. David Clarkson, his own enlistment over, rode home to Greenfield the day after Christmas; the following spring the former judge received $140.22 for his military service.30

After a month or two, Union Generals Samuel R. Curtis and Franz Sigel believed Price’s troops were too soft and careless to resist a move to push them south out of Missouri. In February 1862, while the weather was still intensely cold, Curtis's 12,000 federal troops moved toward Price's camp at Springfield. Unable, and perhaps, unwilling, to fight, General Price rapidly retreated with his eight thousand men through bitter cold and blowing snow toward the safety of the Boston Mountains in northwestern Arkansas.

By the time the demoralized and inadequately-provisioned Missourians reached Cross Hollows, near Fayetteville, Arkansas, they had marched six days and seven nights, during which time they had eaten only six meals, slept less than twenty-four hours, and often leaned against each other for support when the line of march temporarily halted.31

After he outfitted his tattered Missouri army with new shoes and uniforms taken from stores held for Brig. Gen. Albert Pike's Confederate Indian regiments, "Pap" Price again asked for help from his reluctant partner at Wilson’s Creek, Ben McCulloch. Price and McCulloch, strengthened by the armies of Generals Earl Van Dorn and Albert Pike’s two thousand Indians, turned to attack Curtis and Sigel on March 7, 1862, on Elk Horn Prairie at Pea Ridge in northwestern Arkansas.

Although Jim Rains’s 8th Division was listed tenth in Price’s March 3 marching orders for the battle to come, the orders also specified that "Col. J. J. Clarkson, infantry division, will be left in charge of camp [on Cove Creek, near Bentonville]." Clarkson’s men were in such a poor state of health Price feared they were "unable to undergo fatigue and hardship" and detailed them to "guard camp and to bring up the camp equipage and trains."32 Clarkson thus sat out the first major loss for Confederacy west of the Mississippi.

After the defeat at Pea Ridge, General Price and Colonel Clarkson parted company. Price, promoted to the rank of major general in the regular Confederate Army over the initial political objections of Jefferson Davis, was transferred east of the Mississippi River in early April 1862. But Clarkson, whose knowledge of the Kansas and Indian territories to the west would prove valuable to General Van Dorn, remained in northwest Arkansas.

Clarkson also soon transferred his service from the Missouri State Guard to the regular Confederate Army and took his colonel's rank with him. That Clarkson was never officially commissioned a colonel in the Confederate Army would prove to be a point of significant interest to the petulant Gen. Albert Pike, whose own commission as a brigadier general dated from August 15, 1861, nearly a month after Clarkson received his colonel’s rank from Claiborne Jackson.

On March 20, 1862, Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn authorized James Clarkson "to muster into service and organize a battalion of cavalry of six companies--for six months if they furnish their arms and equipment, otherwise for the war" and ordered him to report back for further orders as soon as he raised his battalion.33 He quickly organized Clarkson’s Missouri Cavalry Battalion, Independent Rangers, composed primarily of men he had soldiered with since the beginning of the war. M. W. Buster, Clarkson’s reckless but lucky adjutant at Wilson's Creek, signed on as his second-in-command.

On April 8, the same day Sterling Price boarded a steamboat to Memphis, Clarkson received orders from General Van Dorn to make his way "as quickly as possible to the route between Leavenworth or Independence and Santa Fe, or other points in New Mexico" and to use his "utmost efforts to interrupt and capture the supply trains of the enemy in that department, to cut off their mails, and annoy them by every other means in your power." If Clarkson could not bring stores or property he captured into the Confederate States limits, he was authorized to destroy them.34 Clarkson’s Mexican War experiences on the Santa Fe Trail put him on familiar ground and, eager to attack Kansas--an ambition for which he now had license, he and his Missouri battalion enthusiastically "bushwhacked" Union troops and sympathizers in the region throughout the spring and early summer of 1862.35

Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman replaced Van Dorn as commander of the Trans-Mississippi Department in mid-April 1862 and inherited an extremely perplexing military and diplomatic situation in the Indian Nations. Driven from their settlements in Oklahoma to refugee camps in Kansas by Confederate and Cherokee troops under Generals Albert Pike and Stand Watie, Indians loyal to the Union were pressuring federal troops in Kansas to restore them to their homes before winter. In response, James G. Blunt, commander of the Union Department of Kansas and loyal Jim Lane supporter, massed white and Indian troops at Fort Leavenworth in preparation for a southern invasion into Oklahoma. Blunt, a frontier doctor in Kansas before the war whose only previous military service had been as a seaman during his youth in Maine, put Col. William Weer, another Lane jayhawker and notorious alcoholic, in charge of the "Indian Expedition."

Uneasy Confederate Cherokees demanded help against the gathering and overwhelming Union forces. From his headquarters at Little Rock, General Hindman ordered the eccentric Gen. Albert Pike, to move north to defend the Oklahoma-Kansas border. Pike, however, heeded his own counsel and remained at Fort McCulloch, a fortified camp he established in the Choctaw territory north of the Red River, firm in his personal belief that Indian troops should be used only to defend their home territory.36

As General Hindman in Little Rock grew increasingly infuriated with the distant and arrogant Pike, Confederate Cherokee Cols. Stand Watie and John Drew also grew disillusioned with Pike's passive tactics and implored Hindman to place James Clarkson, whom they trusted, in Cherokee country.37 Hindman obliged, and on June 26, in a move calculated to draw Pike nearer to Arkansas, put Clarkson in command of all Confederate troops within the limits of the Cherokee, Creek, and Seminole nations, effectively reducing Pike’s domain by half.

Hindman’s General Orders No. 26 charged Clarkson to defend Confederate Indian allies "against federal enemies, as well as marauders and vagrants among our own white population."38 He was approved to raise his single battalion strength to a full regiment of mounted men--using conscripts, if necessary, a policy for which Hindman was often criticized--and was authorized to requisition whatever commissary stores and ordnance he needed from Pike’s supplies at Fort Smith.

Surely one of the summer’s great ironies was that Clarkson, reviled in Kansas for his lawlessness, now had permission to take the law into his own hands in the Indian territories. Hindman’s orders also gave Clarkson the authority to arrest, try, and punish any officer, soldier, or citizen in Oklahoma guilty of offenses against the Confederate government or the Indian government. The responsibility of carrying out death penalties, however, was to be deferred to General Pike.39

Little Hindman had done to date was of much concern to Albert Pike, but Clarkson’s promotion to commander of all troops in the upper Indian territories outraged him. Abandoning all military protocol, Pike openly criticized his commander for promoting Clarkson, whom he still considered only a Missouri State Guard colonel, over two or three other Confederate Indian colonels who were superior to him in date of rank. He also complained to Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph that Hindman had transferred out his surgeon and had undermined his command by allowing Clarkson and others direct access to his quartermaster.40

At the end of June, while Pike sulked at Fort McCulloch, Weer’s six thousand-man Indian Expedition began to move south from Fort Leavenworth. Weer’s command included infantry, cavalry, and artillery units from Kansas, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Indiana, as well as several pro-Union Indian regiments. Again, General Hindman ordered Pike to move up to confront Weer’s Expedition, and again, Pike declined.

In exasperation, Hindman ultimately sent James Clarkson and his three hundred Missourians against Weer’s thousands to defend Confederate Cherokees in Oklahoma. Clarkson was eager to challenge Weer and his old Kansas adversaries and had gone out well-equipped. His cumbersome mule-drawn supply train contained clothing, tents, guns, and nearly 100 kegs of gunpowder, all requisitioned from Pike’s personal stores at Fort Smith.

Clarkson’s battalion headed directly west into Cherokee territory and camped the night of July 2 at Locust Grove on the east side of the Grand River, near the Cherokee capital of Talequah. Col. Stand Watie’s Cherokees camped at their salt mills on Spavinaw Creek, some twenty to thirty miles away.

Weer’s large Indian Expedition marched into the Indian Territory in two columns and quickly overwhelmed their Confederate opponents. At daybreak July 3, 1862, soldiers of the 6th Kansas Cavalry fell on Stand Watie's Cherokees, seized their supplies and most of their horses, and drove the mixed-bloods in flight toward the Arkansas River.

Weer himself sought out Clarkson. Moving rapidly toward the sleeping Confederates, unencumbered by extra supply wagons and ammunition, Weer's 9th Kansas and 1st Indian Home Guard, composed primarily of Creek Indians, approached Clarkson’s camp unnoticed and overran his pickets before dawn.

Shocked from sleep by the Indian war cries and federal gunfire, Clarkson and his battalion were bushwhacked, caught completely off guard by Weer. The battle raged for several hours through the surrounding dense underbrush and up and down the rocky hills that surrounded Clarkson’s unfortified camp. After the short but decisive engagement, Clarkson, still in his nightshirt, was captured, along with his wagon train and most of his men.41

Some Confederate survivors of Clarkson’s command headed straight back to Fort Smith, "without arms and many minus their hats," while others of Clarkson’s routed Cherokees fled in panic toward Talequah, spreading word of the disaster. Nearly a thousand discouraged members of Chief John Drew's Pin Cherokees instantly defected to the Union side. 42

"Our little victory has had a wonderful effect on the Cherokees, deciding all the wavering in our favor," Colonel Weer noted in his official report a few days later. "I have a great difficulty in restraining the Indians with me from exterminating the rebels." Weer also forwarded to Blunt "the regimental books of the enemy, by which it will be seen that Colonel Clarkson was instructed by General Van Dorn to enter the state of Kansas," a reference to Van Dorn's April 8 directive.43 Indignant to be in such a humiliating predicament, Clarkson probably did not realize that the loss of his only copy of Van Dorn's order would soon cause him even greater problems than those he suffered at the hands of William Weer.

After relieving Clarkson of his regimental books, personal arms, and papers, Weer marched him and his captured Missourians twelve miles to temporary camp on the Grand Saline. At Grand Saline, they destroyed the Cherokee salt works that supplied the Indian Territories and much of western Arkansas with salt. Weer then crossed the Grand River and joined the rest of the Union expedition at their camp at Cabin Creek on the Fort Scott-Fort Gibson Military Road.

At Cabin Creek, Weer’s troops divided up their Confederate booty (much of the captured clothing went to the refugee Indians traveling with the expedition) and celebrated Independence Day. Colonel Weer observed the holiday in characteristic fashion. For ten days Weer stayed on at camp on Cabin Creek, drinking heavily and trying to decide what to do next.

Their provisions running low, pressed by Confederate bushwhackers and Indian regiments who threatened to cut off their escape route to Kansas, and suffering from idleness and the oppressive prairie heat, Weer’s officers soon mutinied. Col. Frederick Salomon, leader of the 9th Wisconsin, arrested the inebriated Weer and took command of the expedition.

Salomon explained to General Blunt he had concluded that Weer "was either insane...or perhaps that his grossly intemperate habits long continued had produced idiocy or monomania."44 General Blunt met Salomon and the hungover Weer at Fort Scott and accompanied the expedition--and their prisoners--back to Fort Leavenworth.

Confederate finger-pointing, blame, and counter blame for the rout of Clarkson’s battalion at Locust Grove began almost immediately. Unforgiving Albert Pike, still smarting from imagined insults to his command, lost no time in exposing what he thought was General Hindman’s calamitous lack of judgement. Within weeks, he filed written complaints to Hindman, to Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph, and, astonishingly, to Confederate President Jefferson Davis.45 Thus, when Pike, in a fit of pique, offered his resignation on July 15, it came as no surprise that the Confederate command lost no time accepting it.

Even before Pike stalked off to Texas, Clarkson was not without other detractors from within the ranks of his fellow Confederates. Two days after Clarkson's capture, Maj. N. Bart Pearce, commandant at Fort Smith and chief Confederate Commissary officer in western Arkansas and the Indian Territories, fumed to Hindman that Clarkson and Stand Watie's commands had been "taken by surprise, and we not firing a gun, the enemy being right in camp before they had an intimation of their approach by the Federals." Worse, Pearce related, Clarkson’s wagon train included some fifty wagons and fifty to 100 kegs of gunpowder taken from Fort Smith. "Had the loss been Clarkson, without that of the train and powder, I think that the Confederacy would have been the gainer," he wrote.46

Such confusion reigned in the Cherokee Nation that summer that few people knew what was actually happening at any location. On July 12, possibly unaware of Clarkson’s misfortune, Cherokee Col. John Drew's assistant quartermaster requested permission to return three Missouri teamsters to Major Buster of Clarkson’s command. He thought they might be good soldiers because they were not good teamsters, and they needed an "escort." Evidently, some thought it was possible to reorganize Clarkson's shattered battalion and return it to service.47

As late as August 23, 1862, Sterling Price was still not aware of Clarkson's defeat and capture. In a letter to Confederate Secretary of War George Randolph, Price expressed faith in Clarkson's leadership abilities and listed him as a man Randolph could count on to raise troops for the Confederacy in Missouri.48 In addition to Clarkson, Price suggested Randolph's agents contact several other Missouri "gentlemen," including Dade County's John T. Coffee and Jackson County's renegade guerrilla leader, William Clarke Quantrill.

If Clarkson’s friend Sterling Price was unaware of his plight, others were well aware of his new vulnerability. When Weer’s Indian Expedition--and prisoner Clarkson--arrived at Fort Leavenworth in mid-July 1862, they found Thomas B. Wallace, U. S. Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, at the gate. Wallace had traveled from Lexington, Missouri, with a copy of Clarkson’s 1861 civil indictment for treason and conspiracy in one hand and a writ ordering the transfer of Clarkson to Wallace’s civil custody in the other.

General Blunt, however, initially refused to release Clarkson, whom he considered a military prisoner of war, to Wallace. After Wallace returned empty-handed from Fort Leavenworth, he sought the assistance of the well-connected John S. Phelps, then in St. Louis. Phelps, apparently, had recovered from the wound he received at Pea Ridge in time to be named military governor of Arkansas by President Lincoln in July 1862.

Although it is unknown why such personal animosities existed between the two men, Phelps was determined not to let Clarkson slip away again and quickly appealed to U. S. Attorney General--and former St. Louis lawyer--Edward Bates for help. Phelps explained to Bates that General Blunt refused to deliver Clarkson to the U. S. Marshal, noted Clarkson’s outstanding civil indictment, and commented, "In my opinion, Clarkson ought to be tried for the offence for which he is indicted or for an offence of a higher grade."49

James J. Clarkson, an unknown Missouri bushwhacker with a tenuous colonel’s rank, soon became the subject of a flurry of correspondence between the highest officials of the Lincoln administration. Within days, Atty. Gen. Bates asked U. S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton for an order which would force Blunt to deliver Clarkson to Missouri civil authorities. By late August, L. C. Turner of the U. S. War Department’s Judge Advocate Office prepared Stanton’s order and transmitted it to Phelps.50

While in the Fort Leavenworth stockade Clarkson learned the Confederate officers captured with him at Locust Grove had already been exchanged while he remained incarcerated, unaware of the legal maneuvering going on in St. Louis and Washington. When Tom Wallace returned to Kansas in September, however, he was armed with Secretary Stanton's tersely-worded order, " . . . you will deliver James J. Clarkson, now a prisoner at Fort Leavenworth, to the United States Marshal for the Western District of Missouri, that said Clarkson may be tried upon indictment of conspiracy to overthrow the government."51

Blunt now had no choice but to release Clarkson to the Missouri marshal. By the end of the month, Jim Clarkson found himself in the Gratiot Street jail in St. Louis, awaiting arraignment in civil court for actions undertaken, ironically, while a military officer in the Missouri State Guard. His formal arraignment came during the October 1862 term of the Western District civil court in St. Louis.52 Clarkson also found that the court would not meet again until April 1863, making his earliest possible trial date at least six months away.

Spending half a year in the aging and overcrowded Gratiot Street Prison was not an appealing option. Constructed in 1847 for a medical college, the building's safe capacity was scarcely five hundred, although at times more than twice that many prisoners were crowded inside its walls. Gratiot Street prisoners included Federal deserters, bounty jumpers, offenders against the laws of war, spies, bushwhackers, and citizens charged with disloyalty, as well as the occasional legitimate prisoner of war.53

Clarkson considered himself a legitimate prisoner of war and argued for an early exchange. The Confederate Clarkson thus, ironically, demanded the same treatment asked by Union Col. James Mulligan after his defeat at Lexington, Missouri, at the hands of Sterling Price's Missouri State Guards, the very battle that had now cost Clarkson his own freedom.

Bureaucracy moved slowly in late 1862; it was not until early December that Clarkson first obtained an official interview with Capt. James F. Dwight, the assistant provost-marshal for St. Louis. After the December 2 deposition, Captain Dwight seemed to support Clarkson's claim to military status.

Although he recognized Clarkson's original commission was from the Missouri State Guard, Dwight noted in his brief that Clarkson carried orders from General Van Dorn to raise a battalion of six cavalry companies for the Confederate army, he was authorized to swear men into the Confederate service, and he was addressed by Confederate generals Van Dorn, Hindman, and Price as "colonel." "A majority of his new regiment is from Arkansas," the junior officer wrote, underscoring Clarkson’s claim of allegiance to the regular Confederate army instead of to the officially unrecognized Missouri State Guard.54

Clarkson's military status--or lack of it--would soon need clarification because the U.S. Marshal remained convinced that Clarkson should first answer his civil charges. On December 3, Lt. Col. Franklin A. Dick, provost-marshal-general for St. Louis, asked for a ruling on Clarkson’s special situation from Col. William Hoffman, the U.S. Army Commissary-General of Prisoners in Washington, D.C. Hoffman declined to make a decision and instead referred the issue a week later to U.S. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.

Whether Secretary Stanton spent even five minutes pondering Jim Clarkson's plight is doubtful, for no record exists of Stanton's official response to Hoffman. Although Hoffman quickly found the unanswered question of Clarkson’s status back on his desk, he soon found a way to avoid making himself solely accountable. In his elliptically-worded December 12, 1862, letter to Lt. Col. Dick, Hoffman suggested that unless the Confederate government officially claimed Clarkson as one of their own, he supposed Clarkson would have to sit in jail in St. Louis and wait for a civil trial.55 What Hoffman left unsaid was that if Clarkson could obtain official military recognition from the Confederate army, he could be considered for exchange.

Colonel Dick in St. Louis had finally found a way to rid himself of the stubborn Missouri officer. In late December, Captain Dwight jotted a note on Clarkson's file, "in my opinion, Col. Clarkson is entitled to the rights of prisoner of war and should be exchanged as such." After returning Clarkson's remaining papers to him, the St. Louis provost-marshal released him to the custody of the U. S. Marshal to await trial on civil charges.56

Clarkson’s task was now clearly defined: to avoid a civil trial for treason he needed to secure official recognition from the Confederate government that he was, indeed, a Confederate military officer. He then could be reasonably sure of the privilege of exchange--and his freedom--regardless of the civil court calendar.

Two days after Christmas, Clarkson finished a six-page letter to the Confederate Commissioner for Exchange of Prisoners in Vicksburg in which he asked for the recognition he needed. The letter, which also illustrated the frustration Clarkson must have felt with both the Union and Confederate bureaucracies, was particularly critical of the Union Commissary General of Prisoners, the indecisive William Hoffman.

"I understood the purpose of the authorities was, on referring my case to Washington," Clarkson wrote,

Instead of deciding the question, Clarkson charged Hoffman went "off on the fact that my original commission was not direct from the Confederate Government but from Gov Jackson in the Mo. State Guard--ignoring altogether the special order exhibited which plainly recognizes my position as Colonel in the Confederate Army."

Worse yet, Clarkson complained, "since my capture, the order of Genl Hindman to me under which I was acting when captured has been lost or mislaid (at any rate not returned to me) by those having charge of my papers." This piece of paper, Clarkson knew, was critical to his case and he may have had reason to suspect its loss was intentional.57

Clarkson explained he had refused bail--a privilege afforded those accused of civil offenses--when first held in St. Louis, so strong was his conviction that his was not a civil case. Instead, he had remained in jail, demanding prisoner of war status and exchange, until his brother arrived in St. Louis that autumn and, against his protests, bailed him out. So, Clarkson somewhat sheepishly explained, "I am now under civil bonds."58

In closing, Clarkson wrote, "I am thus particular in stating the facts that you may judge of them and act without delay--I suppose as soon as my position as Col is recognized, I will be exchanged and having already suffered a long confinement am extremely anxious that no unnecessary delay may occur to prevent that desirable object."

The former Kickapoo Ranger then allowed himself the luxury of editorial comment, "Without arguing the question, it would be strange indeed if an officer in the Confederate Army while on duty may be indicted by the U. S. Courts and if captured instead of being held a prisoner of war shall be held subject to the indictment. If so, the cartel of exchange is or may be a nullity and all captured in war may be changed to criminals and held by the courts."59

His ambitious correspondence to Vicksburg, however, did not gain an immediate response. By February 1863, Clarkson tried another tack: he wrote to his former commander, Maj. Gen. Sterling S. "Pap" Price and also appealed in writing to Confederate Sen. Robert Ludwell Yates Peyton, who had once served with Clarkson in Rains’s 8th Division at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington. To Sterling Price, Clarkson implored, "I am anxious to be exchanged at once, and allowed to rejoin in some capacity, your command."60

Clarkson remained under house arrest in St. Louis throughout the spring and early summer, but no official word of recognition came from the Confederate government. The April 1863 term of court also came and went, apparently without action on Clarkson's case.61 In July, Clarkson grasped an opportunity to make good use of an old enemy--the occasionally sober William Weer, his captor at Locust Grove.

Weer, who had already been relieved of several commands in the West because of his intemperate drinking habits, that summer had been assigned a desk job in St. Louis as assistant to the U. S. Inspector General. Clarkson managed to appeal to Weer’s slighted ego: the capture of Clarkson and his wagons in Oklahoma amounted to one of the finest moments in Weer’s troubled military career.

Weer reciprocated by writing a letter on Clarkson's behalf to J. O. Broadhead, the current provost-marshal in St. Louis. "Some time last summer," Weer wrote, "in the Cherokee Country, I captured Col. Clarkson of the Confederate Service when I was in command of what was known as the Indian Expedition. He claims that by military cartel he should be exchanged and appeals to me as his captor to present his claim."62

Weer’s begrudging recognition of Clarkson as Confederate Army officer, however, did not make the wheels of bureaucracy move more quickly. It was not until some weeks after his second Christmas in custody in St. Louis that the previously indecisive Union Commissioner of Prisoners William Hoffman finally found a loophole in the timeline of the cartel of exchange that would suit Clarkson's particular case.

"Col. J. J. Clarkson of the rebel army who has for some months past been held on bail in St. Louis under an indictment found against him in the U. S. District Court," Hoffman wrote Lt. Col. C. W. Marsh, new provost-marshal in St. Louis, "will by directive of the Hon. Edward Bates, Atty. Gen. U. S., be turned over to the military authority at St. Louis as a prisoner of war.

"Having been captured previous to the 1st of Jany 1863, Col. Clarkson’s exchange is covered by Gen. Order No. 10 of Jan'y '63 and you will therefore forward him to City Point for delivery by the first opportunity." Hoffman did not have much faith in Clarkson's word of honor and warned Marsh "it is not advisable to send him thoro’ly [by] himself on parole" and ordered him to "place him in the charge of an officer who will deliver him to Maj. Gen. B. F. Butler, Comm. for Exchange at Fort Monroe."63

The only problem, of course, is that Colonel Marsh did not have custody of the officer in question; civil authorities did. Bureaucracy required that St. Louis military officials re-arrest Clarkson and jail him before they could send him away. Accordingly, Marsh's Special Orders No. 27, dated January 29, 1864, ordered the arrest of Col. J. J. Clarkson, prisoner of war, and ordered him committed to the Gratiot Street Prison. United States Marshal John McHowe swiftly delivered Clarkson to Marsh’s office at the prison the next day.64

Events now occurred with unfamiliar and perhaps inconvenient speed for Clarkson, who had several items of personal business to tend to in St. Louis before his removal to Virginia. In the early hours of February 4, 1864, Clarkson scribbled a hasty note to his jailer Colonel Marsh, making reference, surprisingly, to a wife. "Having been ordered to hold myself in readiness to leave for City Point this morning, I would beg of you if possible to allow me to visit your office at as early hour as possible this morning. My wife is to visit me and I would wish as long an interview with her as you can grant."65 Official records do not show whether Marsh honored Clarkson's discreet request, but neither do they show a marriage for James J. Clarkson during the sixteen months he was under house arrest in St. Louis.

Military prisoner Clarkson found himself on an eastbound train to Fort Monroe, Virginia, from St. Louis on February 4, 1864. Even though Clarkson signed a routine parole agreement in which he promised not to try to escape while in transit, he was escorted East by at least one armed Union officer. Two days later, Clarkson arrived at Fort Monroe where agents of exchange calculated his equivalent in enemy prisoners.66 On February 17, Clarkson was officially paroled and put on a flag-of-truce steamer and sent up the James River to freedom at City Point, Virginia.

Clarkson, now fifty-three, was a veteran of several remarkable campaigns: southwest to Santa Fe during the Mexican War, pitched battles across the plains of Kansas during the border wars of the 1850s, and combat across Missouri farmland and the prairies of the Cherokee Nation. By the spring of 1864, he was also a veteran of wearisome warfare between unarmed bureaucrats in Washington and Richmond.67

Freedom, however, was expensive and the former prisoner was without funds when he arrived in the besieged Confederate capital, where the cost of living had increased one thousand percent since the beginning of the war.68 He promptly applied for reimbursement of army wages lost while he was imprisoned and requested orders to return to active duty.

He received his new duty assignment April 6, 1864. The Confederate command in Richmond believed Clarkson’s military and personal experience would prove useful west of the Mississippi where Maj. Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith was planning a major fall campaign into Missouri. Section IX of Special Orders No. 81 from the Adjutant and Inspector General’s office in Richmond stated, "Col. J. J. Clarkson will proceed without delay to Shreveport, La., and report to Genl. E. K. Smith, Commnd’g. Transportation will be allowed him to the Trans-Mississippi Department."69 Clarkson’s former commander, Sterling Price, now in charge of the Confederate Department of Arkansas, had successfully lobbied Smith for this campaign and planned to lead the drive to rid his home state of "Union usurpers."

By April 16, Clarkson had provisioned himself for the long trip west--laying on supplies of bacon, flour, sugar, coffee, lard, butter, and eggs--and set off for Shreveport. His travel vouchers reflect a stay at Demopolis, Alabama, on April 22, and a stopover in Meridian, Mississippi, on April 24. Since Vicksburg had fallen to Union forces in July 1863, a river crossing there was impossible, so Clarkson turned south. By May 10, Clarkson reported he breakfasted at Woodville, Mississippi, about twenty miles from the Mississippi River and the Louisiana state line. He then lingered near Woodville for several weeks for an uncharacteristically practical reason: the Union Army still controlled the Mississippi River. Clarkson, in a rare display of prudence, may have decided to wait out the last days of the Union army’s failing Louisiana Red River campaign in Mississippi. Although that campaign’s last skirmish took place at Yellow Bayou, near Simmesport, on May 18, 1864, Clarkson waited still longer before attempting to cross the Mississippi.

Deciding, at last, that the time was right to move again toward Shreveport, Clarkson paid a ferryman $75 to take him across the Mississippi River on June 7. He spent the next two or three days in Alexandria, Louisiana, and arrived at last at General Smith’s Shreveport headquarters on or about June 17, 1864. Although travel was often hazardous at best, Confederate auditors later questioned why it took Clarkson two full months to get from Richmond to Shreveport.70

Once in Kirby Smith’s camp at Shreveport, Clarkson learned about plans for a fall campaign into Missouri. He also discovered his brother David, now sixty-two, had accompanied George Gambill, a Dade County teenager, to Powhattan, Arkansas, the year before to re-enlist in Confederate service. Encouraged by rumors that J. O. Shelby’s "Iron Brigade" would re-take Missouri, the two signed on for three years’ service in Co. A of Col. John T. Coffee’s 6th Missouri Cavalry. Coffee, who had earlier served in the Missouri State Guard with the Clarkson brothers, and Tillman H. Lea, the company captain, were also from Dade County.71

Since the 6th Missouri Cavalry was part of Shelby’s Missouri Brigade, David Clarkson and young George Gambill likely participated in Shelby’s bold raid into Missouri during the fall of 1863. One of Shelby’s targets was their hometown of Greenfield, where a fifty-man garrison of Union troops had been stationed. At daybreak October 30, Shelby’s troops surrounded Greenfield, captured the Union soldiers and seized the stockpiled supplies and munition. As they turned north toward Stockton, the Confederate cavalrymen burned down the Dade County courthouse which had been used as a fort by the Union soldiers.72 Thus, Judge David Clarkson’s original documents, along with most of the county’s vital records dating from the 1840s, were lost.

Throughout the summer of 1864, General Smith in Shreveport encouraged General Price, now headquartered in Camden, Arkansas, to use friends in Missouri to collect information on road conditions, available Union forces, and muster more recruits. Partisan leaders were encouraged to raid Union outposts, cut telegraph wires, burn bridges, and tear up railroad track. By late summer, bushwhackers again were active in Missouri’s western and northern counties. As June gave way to July, however, Price’s Missourians became greatly concerned that the whole summer and fall were to pass without a movement into their state.

By August, Kirby Smith, who had once favored a large-scale campaign into Missouri because he believed a grand success in Missouri would bolster waning Confederate fortunes in the East, wrote Jefferson Davis that he had abandoned plans for an all-out offensive into Missouri, although he was still considering a cavalry expedition.73 On August 4, 1864, however, Price finally received the word he had been waiting for.

"Make St. Louis the objective," Smith ordered Price. Possession of St. Louis, Smith wrote, "will do more toward rallying Missouri to your standard than the possession of any other point."74 Price quickly organized his Army of Missouri and drew up plans for what would be his last campaign to seize Missouri for the Confederacy. By August 28, Price at last moved his restive troops north out of Camden toward the Missouri border. They forded the Arkansas River September 7 and joined Shelby’s troops in northeast Arkansas, near the village of Pocahontas, on September 14. Five days later, Price’s army marched north out of Pocahontas and crossed into Missouri.

Although it is impossible to confirm that Kirby Smith assigned Col. James Clarkson to Sterling Price for the campaign into Missouri, Clarkson’s experience and familiarity with the region would have proven useful. What is known is that Clarkson, in late August, attempted to tidy up the details of a career of haphazard military paperwork before he embarked on another military campaign. On August 23, 1864, he filed for reimbursement from the Confederate Treasury for the $511 in expenses he incurred traveling from Richmond to Shreveport under orders from the Confederate War Department. Once again, Clarkson’s careless approach to paperwork would lose him a fight with bureaucrats.

"While not imputing any improper motive on the part of the claimant respecting his account," the Confederate auditor noted two months later, the account presented "should be specific and definite in the items charged." The first problem the meticulous auditor saw was the unusual length of time it took Clarkson to reach his Shreveport destination: sixty-eight days. A second problem was a questionable delay of twenty-six days, between May 10 and June 6, near Woodville, Mississippi, during which Clarkson ran up a $145 boarding house tab at a "Mrs. D[illegible]’s." The auditor let pass an $87 charge for provisions purchased in Richmond between April 10 and April 16 and was not concerned with the $80 in ferrying charges, but objected to most of the $344 in hotel charges Clarkson reported.

"My opinion is the claim should be suspended, for the claimant to modify the account in the manner before indicated, and for the necessary explanation of the cause of the delay in performing the journey," concluded W. H. Taylor, second auditor, Confederate Treasury Department, October 25, 1864. Louis Conger, Confederate comptroller, concurred four days later.75 Clarkson’s request for travel expenses was thus, returned--unpaid--November 2, 1864. Clarkson may never have been able to re-file the claim; a notation on the document indicates the claim was suspended.

As Clarkson rode into Missouri in late fall 1864, he did, however, have with him more than five thousand dollars in Confederate money, back pay for the period between July 1, 1862 and July 31, 1864. A colonel’s rank from whatever source (the receipt lists Clarkson as an "Indian Agent") apparently afforded him a salary of $210 a month. Although five thousand dollars in Confederate currency would not buy much, it was a sizeable fortune in a time when a barrel of flour cost $300.76

Although the remainder of Colonel Clarkson’s military career cannot be documented, historical context supports the published claim that he was robbed and murdered in late 1864 as he returned home to Greenfield. James Clarkson may well have been part of a scouting or foraging party for Price’s army in southeast Missouri in the late fall of 1864 and fell victim to highwaymen who hoped the aging officer had valuables or money in his possession. According to some historians, "bands of murderous bushwhackers" lurked on the fringes of marching armies at the close of the war, "preying on innocent people already swamped with the conflict. Riffraff and deserters from both sides joined these bands. If they surprised army scouts or foragers, they killed without mercy, robbed and disposed of the bodies, and fled."77

Whether the story of "Uncle Jim’s" death at the hands of robbers in the remote, swampy counties of southeast Missouri was fact or whether it was a romantic fiction created by his family to explain James’s post-war absence can never be proven. Even so, the story became part of Dade County’s Civil War mythology and Clarkson’s achievements were embellished each time the story was told.

In 1917, Lewis Renfro, Dade County’s unofficial military historian, wrote "after the war while making his way back home, [Clarkson] was murdered at Dead Man’s Lake near the Mississippi River. Robbery was supposed to be the motive." Renfro also diplomatically, but inaccurately, promoted Clarkson to brigadier general and offered the opinion that "General Clarkson was a veteran of the Mexican War and perhaps the greatest military man that ever went out from Dade County."78

The same story was repeated by a reporter for the Dade County newspaper, the Greenfield Vedette, as late as 1947. In a short article commemorating the centennial of the founding of Washington Lodge No. 87, A. F. & A. M., James J. Clarkson was properly credited with the lodge’s founding. "On October 16, 1845...[the Lodge] was organized at Greenfield under dispensation from the [Missouri] Grand Lodge with James J. Clarkson as Worshipful Master."79 Clarkson’s Mexican War service was duly noted, but then the reporter wove together fact and inaccuracies, probably because he used the 1917 Dade County History for background research. "At the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, Captain Clarkson entered the Confederate army, rose to the rank of brigadier general under Gen. Robert E. Lee, and while returning to his home here at the close of the war was killed in southeastern Missouri, supposedly by robbers." 80

Connecting Lee and Clarkson in print, even in error, must have added great luster to Greenfield’s Confederate past. Col. James Clarkson’s nineteenth century reputation--however tarnished--survived well into the twentieth century, polished on occasion by his family,81 his returning fellow Confederates, and even by his enemies.

Perhaps James Clarkson’s greatest contribution to history is his ambiguity, his capability to mirror--within context of the period and its sensibilities--the character of the men and women who settled the near frontier in the early years of the nineteenth century. The wars he fought were national, but the fights he picked were often extraordinarily personal.

A son of a Revolutionary War soldier, Clarkson eventually found himself indicted for treason against the very government his father fought to establish. A notorious proslavery advocate, James Clarkson himself never owned slaves. A Kentuckian by birth and a Virginian by heritage, Clarkson spent his Civil War years in support of the Confederate cause in Missouri.

Finally, castigated for his own ruthless bushwhacking tactics, Clarkson himself died at the hands of bushwhackers in a remote corner of his adopted state. Some would say it was an appropriately uncivil death for an uncivil soldier in a most uncivil war.

Nancy B Bowen is a direct descendant of Col Clarkson and can be reached by e-mail at

References - Notes
1. Louise Barry, The Beginning of the West: Annals of the Kansas Gateway to the American West, 1540-1854 (Topeka: Kansas State Historical Society, 1972), 696; A. J. Young, ed., History of Dade County and Her People (Greenfield, Mo.: The Pioneer Historical Co., 1917), 101-102.
2. Shalor Winchell Eldridge, ARecollections of Early Days in Kansas,@ Publications of the Kansas State Historical Society 2 (1920): 24-25.
3. Edgar Langsdorf and R. W. Richmond, ALetters of Daniel R. Anthony, 1857-1862,@ Kansas Historical Quarterly (Spring 1958): 27-28.
4. D. [Davy M.] Clarkson to Sister [Mildred Ann Clarkson], April 1859 (unpublished letter in the possession of Mrs. Mildred H. Crumpley, Morrillton, Arkansas).
5. Sceva Bright Laughlin, Missouri Politics During the Civil War (Salem, Or.: S. B. Laughlin, 1930), 108.
6. Born in Kentucky in 1811, James Jones Clarkson was one of seven surviving children born to Virginian David Clarkson, a Revolutionary War veteran, and his wife, Phoebe Smith, the daughter of Bourbon County (Ky.) Justice of the Peace Charles Smith and his wife, Patsy Jones. The Clarkson family was typical of many others in the region: they cultivated tobacco with the help of slaves on family farms and provided their children a rudimentary education and solid religious grounding.
Eight years after the death of family patriarch David Clarkson in Boone County, Kentucky in 1833, the extended Clarkson family migrated to southwest Missouri from Pendleton County, Kentucky. Settling just north of the present-day village of Everton by 1841, the Clarkson brothers David, Isaac, Anselm, and James and brother-in-law Griffin Eastin reportedly invested in farming and the raising of the then locally-famous AClarkson horses and mules.@ (National Archives Trust Fund Board, Revolutionary War Widow=s Pension Record #W9794, Phoebe Clarkson; National Archives Trust Fund Board, Revolutionary War Bounty Land Records, #BLWt28519-160-55, Phoebe Clarkson; 1830, 1840 United States Census, Pendleton County, Kentucky; U.S. Bureau of Land Management, Land Warrant Entries/Missouri, David S. Clarkson, Isaac Clarkson, Griffin Eastin et al.)
7. Clifton C. Edom, ed., Missouri Sketch Book: A Collection of Words and Pictures of the Civil War (Columbia, Mo.: Lucas Brothers, Publishers, 1963), 24.
8. J. J. Clarkson, 2 December 1862; Capt. James F. Dwight, 2 December 1862; reference card, J. J. Clarkson; National Archives Trust Fund Board, Military Service Records (Confederate), Col. James J. Clarkson.
9. A. J. Young, ed., History of Dade County and Her People (Greenfield, Mo.: The Pioneer Historical Co., 1917), 98; Clement A. Evans, ed., Confederate Military History, Extended Edition, Vol. 12 (Macon, Ga.: Confederate Publishing Co., 1890; reprinted, Wilmington, N.C.: Broadfoot Publishing Co., 1988), 450-51.
10. Edwin C. Bearss, The Battle of Wilson=s Creek (Springfield, Mo.: Wilson=s Creek National Battlefield Foundation, 1988), 23.
11. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies (hereinafter cited as O.R.), Series I, Vol. 3, Washington, D.C., 1880, p. 745.
12. Bearss, Wilson=s Creek, 107.
13. There were two 5th regiments at Wilson=s Creek that day--the 5th Missouri Infantry in Col. Franz Siegel=s Second Brigade, U.S.A., and Clarkson=s 5th Missouri in Col. Richard Weightman=s First Brigade, M.S.G. (Ibid., 108, 154, 162-63).
14. Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 1, Part 1 (New York: The Century Co., 1884-1887), 306.
15. Mary Whitney Phelps, Maine-born wife of the Springfield lawyer and Congressman, arranged to have the body of the general buried at her home, pending its removal to Connecticut. She also converted her home into a field hospital and later received a $20,000 grant from the U.S. Congress in appreciation for her care of General Lyons=s body. Mrs. Phelps used the grant to establish an orphanage for the unfortunate children of both sides in divided Missouri. (Stewart Sifakis, Who Was Who in the Civil War (New York: Facts on File Publishers, 1988), 503.)
Virginia-born Mary Asbury Clarkson eventually received a reassuring note from a family friend that her husband David S. Clarkson had Anot been taken prisoner that we know of,@ but cautioning her Ado not believe one half of what you hear as the truth cannot be got at. We all think the Federal troops is badly whipped.@ (Shirley to Mrs. Clarkson, n.d., unpublished letter in possession of Mrs. Mildred H. Crumpley, Morrillton, Arkansas).
16. Edom ed., Missouri Sketch Book, 49.
17. O.R., I, 3, p. 129.
18. Bearss, Wilson=s Creek, 136; Young, ed., History of Dade County, 98.
19. O.R., I, 53, p. 732.
20. O.R., I, 3, p. 453.
21. Young, ed., History of Dade County, 99.
22. He waited until November 25, 1861, when he was exchanged and returned to Chicago as commandant of Camp Douglas, the Union prison camp there. (Edward A. Pollard, Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1977), 154.)
23. O.R., I, 3, p. 189.
24. O.R., I, 3, p. 188.
25. Although the original indictment document does not survive, it is referred to in numerous contemporary records including, John S. Phelps to Edward Bates, 31 July 1862, Records of the Adjutant General=s Office, Turner-Baker Papers, Record Group 94, File 568, National Archives. Two other Missouri State Guard officers, Maj. John F. Rucker and Col. John A. Poindexter were also indicted for treason and conspiracy in 1861, a result of their recruitment activities around Lexington. (Evans, ed., Confederate Military History, Vol. 12, 397.) See also footnote 67.
26. O.R.,I, 8, p. 393.
27. Albert Castel, General Sterling Price and the Civil War in the West (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1968), 61.
28. John N. Edwards, Shelby and His Men: The War in the West (Cincinnati: Miami Printing and Publishing Co., 1867), 47; Castel, General Sterling Price, 61.
29. O.R., I, 8, p. 478-79.
30. The judge=s son Davy, who had lost an arm during the battle for Bloody Hill at Wilson=s Creek, had come home, too. He died June 15, 1862, from complications of his wound. (Clarkson family gravestone, Sinking Creek Cemetery, Dade County, Missouri; Card file entry, AMissouri Soldiers, War Between the States,@ Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Mo., n.d.
31. Robert E. Stalhope, Sterling Price: Portrait of a Southerner (Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1971), 199.
32. O.R., I, 53, pp. 790-91.
33. Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn, Special Order No. 27, in letter, James J. Clarkson to Confederate Commissioner for Exchange of Prisoners, 27 December 1862, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.
34. O.R., I, 8, p. 813.
35. AThe boys are bushwhacking,@ wrote Confederate D. W. Vowles to Gen. Thomas A. Harris, May 20, 1862. AThey take no prisoners. No quarter is shown by either side....General Rains, General McBride, Governor Jackson, Colonel Coffee, Colonel Clarkson, Colonel O=Kane have gone back to bushwhack@ (O.R., II, 3, p. 897). Several weeks later Union informants warned AClaiborne Jackson, Rains, Clarkson, Coffee, Stand Watie, and Schnable...are reported in northwest Arkansas..look out for rebels from the east, from the west, from the south@ (O.R., I, 13, p. 412).
36. Pike, commander of the Confederate Department of Indian Territory since its organization in November 1861, considered the Oklahoma Indian territories a personal fiefdom and was convinced it was he, and not Van Dorn or Hindman, who knew best how to manage the military affairs of the Creeks, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Cherokees, and Seminoles he had earlier won over to the Confederate side with large subsidies and gifts
37. O.R., I, 13, p. 952; Annie H. Abel, The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War (Cleveland: The Arthur H. Clark Co., 1919), 131.
38. O.R., I, 13, pp. 845-46.
39. Ibid., p. 846.
40. O.R., I, 13, pp. 841-45, 850.
41. Clarkson=s debacle at Locust Grove is covered in detail in many recent narratives, including Alvin M. Josephy, The Civil War in the American West (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 356; and W. Craig Gaines, The Confederate Cherokees: John Drew=s Regiment of Mounted Rifles (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989), pp. 100-103.
42. O.R., I, 13, pp. 963-64; Kenny A. Franks, Stand Watie and the Agony of the Cherokee Nation (Memphis: Memphis State University Press, 1979), 129.
43. O.R., I, 13, pp. 137-38.
44. Abel, The American Indian as Participant in the Civil War, 142.
45. O.R., I, 13, pp. 844-45, 850-51, 857-58, 860-69.
46. O.R., I, 13, 963-64.
47. Clarkson's defeated battalion was instead divided from within: many of Clarkson's Missourians were merged into Col. John B. Clark, Jr.'s 9th Missouri Infantry, while others followed the faithful--and newly promoted--Lt. Col. Buster to form a new cavalry battalion in Arkansas. (Gaines, The Confederate Cherokees, 106; List of Field Officers, Regiments, and Battalions in the Confederate States Army, 1861-1865 (Macon, Ga.: The J. W. Burke Co., 1912), 39-40.
48. O.R., I, 53, pp. 823-84.
49. O.R., II, 4, p. 335; John S. Phelps to Edward Bates, 31 July 1862, Records of the Adjutant General=s Office, Turner-Baker Papers, Record Group 94, File 568, National Archives.
50. Ibid., L.C. Turner to John S. Phelps, 18 August 1862.
51. Ibid., L.C. Turner to Commandant at Fort Leavenworth, 18 August 1862.
52. James J. Clarkson to ,
53. Francis Trevelyan Miller, ed., The Photographic History of the Civil War, 10 vols. (New York, 1911; New York: Thomas Yoseloff, reprinted ed., 1957), VII, 62.
54. Capt. James F. Dwight, 2 December 1862, National Archives Trust Fund Board, Military Service Records (Confederate), Col. James J. Clarkson.
55. O.R., II, 5, pp. 21-22, 53-54, 74.
56. James F. Dwight, December 1862, National Archives Trust Fund Board, Military Service Records (Confederate), Col. James J. Clarkson.
57. James J. Clarkson to Commissioner, 27 December 1862, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.57.
58. Ibid. The "brother" Clarkson referred to was either David, the former Dade County judge, or Isaac, a Dade County farmer.
59. Ibid.
60. James J. Clarkson to Sterling S. Price, 4 February 1863, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.
61. Most records of proceedings of the Western District of Missouri U.S. District Court from the period were destroyed by a courthouse fire in St. Louis prior to 1879. No surviving records, later transferred to Kansas City, refer to Clarkson. (R. F. Conner, clerk of court, U.S. District Court, Western District of Missouri to the author, 29 July 1993, unpublished.)
62. William Weer to Lt. Col. Broadhead, 8 July 1863, War Department Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.
Weer did not serve long in the Inspector General's Office; he was soon transferred to an even more loathsome desk job, commandant of the military prison at Alton, Illinois, a position for which he and his habits were particularly ill-suited. Weer was relieved of duty at Alton in April 1864, after Col. William Hoffman, still Commissary General of Prisoners, complained that Weer, Ain addition to grossly neglecting his duty and disobeying all my orders...was a drunkard and had much abused his authority.@ (William Hoffman to Gen. H. W. Halleck, O.R., II, 7, p. 176.)
63. W. Hoffman to Lt. Col. C. W. Marsh, 18 January 1864, War Department, Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.
64. John McHowe to Lt. Col. C. W. Marsh, 30 January 1864, War Department, Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.
65. J. J. Clarkson to C. W. Marsh, 4 February 1864, War Department, Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives.
The personally enigmatic Clarkson does not appear to have been a family man. Although no documentation has been found, family tradition suggests he married a AMiss Glaves@ in Kentucky and came out to Missouri a widower. (Pendleton County, Kentucky, marriage records, however, do reflect his sister Patsy Clarkson married Thomas Glaves there in December 1817.) The Dade County History reports both James and his brother David Smith Clarkson had sons in Confederate service, but reference only to Davy M. Clarkson, the judge=s son, has been documented.
66. Union and Confederate agents had a regular table of equivalents, in which a private was one unit, by which they worked out their exchanges. For example, a non-commissioned officer was equivalent to two privates while a major-general was equivalent to forty privates. Clarkson, holding a Confederate colonel's rank, would have been equivalent to approximately fifteen Union privates. (Miller, ed., Photographic History, VII, 345.)
67. Two of Clarkson=s former Missouri State Guard comrades-in-arms, Maj. John Fleming Rucker and Col. John A. Poindexter, also indicted in 1861 on charges of Atreason and conspiracy,@ fought their own battles with the U.S. court system with varying degrees of success. Rucker, from Arkansas, was captured soon after the Lexington fight and was imprisoned for a time in St. Louis on the civil treason charge until influential friends interceded on his behalf and secured Rucker a banishment to Montana Territory for the duration of the war, rather than continued incarceration in St. Louis. (Evans, ed., Confederate Military History, Vol. 12, 397.)
Poindexter, like Clarkson a native of Kentucky, managed to remain at large until the fall of 1862 when he was captured near Warrenton, Missouri. In September, Union Brig. Gen. J. M. Schofield requested Poindexter=s transfer to his custody in St. Louis for use in a test case Ato see whether a bushwhacker can be shot in a proper manner,@ presumably without benefit of a civil trial. Poindexter was saved from the firing squad only after his former Confederate commander, Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, vehemently protested to the Union command this proposed violation of military protocol. Poindexter was finally released on $10,000 bond from the St. Louis county jail in October 1863 and was later admitted to parole by the Provost Marshal General and permitted to remain in his home area of Randolph County, Missouri.
At war=s end, Poindexter, still under civil indictment, sought his own peace. In May 1865, he requested--but was denied--amnesty. Two months later, he applied for a pardon from President Johnson. Again, he was denied. In 1867, a Randolph County Grand Jury once again indicted him for Aconspiracy against the United States, and for recruiting soldiers for the purpose of armed hostility against the same.@ Broken in health and spirit, John A. Poindexter died at his home in Randolph County on April 14, 1869 at the age of 43. (O.R., II. 4, p. 500-503, 524-25; II, 5, p. 941.)
68. A contemporary Richmond witticism was that AYou take your money to market in the market basket, and bring home what you buy in your pocketbook.@ Wilfred Buck Yearns, The Confederate Congress (Athens: The University of Georgia Press, 1960), 19.
69. Special Orders No. 81, Adjutant and Inspector General=s Office, Richmond, 6 April 1864 (National Archives Trust Fund Board, Military Service Records, Confederate, Col. James J. Clarkson).
70. The same year, for example, Confederate Rep. Francis B. Sexton took just thirty-three days to travel from Richmond to his home in Texas although he did complain it was a Atedious journey.@ (Yearns, Confederate Congress, 19.)
71. National Archives Trust Fund Board, Military Service Records (Confederate), Pvt. David S. Clarkson; ibid., Pvt. George W. Gambill; Stephen B. Oates, Confederate Cavalry West of the River (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1969), 171.
The 6th Missouri regiment was variously known on the field as the 3rd Regiment, Shelby=s Brigade; the Southwest Regiment; Smith=s, Thompson=s, or Hooper=s Regiment, Missouri Cavalry, but it was officially designated by the Confederate War Department as the 6th Regiment, Missouri Cavalry. Colonel Coffee resigned his commission--and his command of the 6th Missouri--in a fit of temper in December 1863 when Jo Shelby, fresh from his daring raid into Missouri, was promoted to the rank of brigadier general ahead of him. Gideon Thompson of Greenfield was then elected to succeed the petulant Coffee.
Pvt. David S. Clarkson was listed on the company muster roll for January and February, 1864, but records indicate he was last paid on August 31, 1863.
72. Edwards, Shelby and His Men, 204.
73. O.R., I, 41, pt. I, p. 113; Oates, Confederate Cavalry, 141.
74. O. R., I, 41, pt. II, p. 1040.
75. W. H. Taylor to Louis Conger, 25 October 1864 (National Archives Trust Fund Board, Military Service Records, Confederate, Col. James J. Clarkson).
76. Signed receipt, J. J. Clarkson, 23 August 1864, War Department, Collection of Confederate Records, unfiled papers and slips, Record Group 109, National Archives;
It was not until June 9, 1864, when a Confederate private=s pay dropped to the equivalent of fifty cents in gold, that the Confederate Congress raised the base pay to $18 for a private and $41 for a sergeant. Even so, inflation did not keep pace with the cost of living. A barrel of flour, which cost $150 in Richmond on New Year=s Day 1864, cost $300 by March. (Yearns, Confederate Congress, 113; Robert P. Jordan, The Civil War (Washington, D.C.: The National Geographic Society, 1969), 147.)
77. Jordan, The Civil War, 172.
78. Young, ed., Dade County History, 101.
79. Clarkson was instrumental in the establishment of Freemasonry in southwest Missouri. In addition to his organization of the Washington Masonic lodge in Greenfield in 1845, James Clarkson was a charter member and officer of Royal Arch Chapter Lodge No. 15, organized in Springfield, Missouri, in 1851 (R. I. Holcombe, ed., History of Greene County, Missouri, 1883).
80. "Washington Lodge Celebrates Centennial,@ 16 October 1947, the Greenfield (Mo.)Vedette.
81. David S. Clarkson, familiarly known as AUncle Davey,@ returned to his Rock Prairie, Dade County, farm late in the war, perhaps at the end of 1864. He died in 1871 and is buried in the old Everton City Cemetery next to his son who died in 1862 of wounds received at Wilson=s Creek. (Young, ed., Dade County History, pp.101-102; cemetery inscription, Sinking Creek Cemetery, Dade County, Missouri.)
George Washington Gambill was among men of the 6th Missouri Cavalry surrendered by Kirby Smith to Maj. Gen. R. S. Canby at New Orleans on May 25, 1865. Gambill made his way back to Dade County and married the judge=s youngest daughter Mildred Ann in 1867.

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