The Civil War that was fought in our region wasn’t one of epic battles involving tens of thousands of massed troops. It was more like guerrilla warfare, bushwhackings and massacres, labels that differed depending on which side you were on.
One of our rambles took us to the Greenbrier/Zephyr Cemetery in southern Bollinger County. It’s not particularly easy to find, and the road leading to it isn’t all that easy to hit. You pretty much have to drive past it, turn around the first opportunity and head back in order to get the right angle. It’s one-way in, so be prepared to back up.
Mass grave for Confederate dead
Mother and I went looking for it because I had read about the Battle of Mingo Swamp and the mass grave in the cemetery. Here’s a version of what happened from Cletis R. Ellinghouse’s book, Mingo: Southeast Missouri’s Ancient Swamp and the Countryside Surrounding It:
The Battle of Mingo Swamp was fought February 4, 1863, on the south Bollinger County plantation of Simeon “Slim” Cato, a 58-year-old South Carolina native who died in the bloodbath with 28 others, all Confederate soldiers. It was the bloodiest single incident in the war in Southeast Missouri. Among the other slain were Confederate Capt. Daniel McGee and his first sergeant James A. Logan, who at the time resided at what later became Puxico. McGee was Cato’s nephew.
Confederates caught unawares
The Confederates, surrounded by Union soldiers, were completely unaware of what was about to happen to them. They were not within reach of their weapons when soldiers from the Twelfth Missouri State Militia Cavalry pounced on them in a vicious assault that left all of them dead or mortally wounded. “All but four too seriously wounded to be removed,” according to an account published in a St. Louis newspaper, which referred to McGee as “the notorious guerrilla chief.” In fact, all of them were killed outright or died of wounds without a single casualty on the Union side, which has prompted some to call the operation “a massacre.”
The remains of the Confederates, routinely called outlaws and guerrillas by Union officers, were carried by wagons and buried by kinsmen and neighbors at what is known today as the Greenbrier/Zephyr Cemetery, a few miles from where they were slain. Their mass grave was discovered many years ago. Uniforms, coats and button were found along with the remains of several bodies.
Depending on whose account you read, Sam Hildebrand was just a guy who wanted to be left alone and stay out of “the rich man’s war being fought by poor men,” or he was “The Big River Bushwhacker, Southeast Missouri’s notorious outlaw.” Others put him in the camp of those men who used the war as an excuse to settle personal affronts. His exploits rival any movie you’ve seen.
- The Sam Hildebrand Story by Pitter Seabaugh
- Hildebrand’s rifle, “Kill-Devil” was notched for every kill.
- Sam Hildebrand’s autobiography written two years before he was gunned down
- The Civil War in Cape Girardeau
Most of us grew up hearing about Forts A, B C and D, but I was never taught about the major battle that was fought in the town. This is an account worth reading.
As always, you can click on the photos to make them larger.