Battle of Mingo Swamp

Greenbrier / Zephyr Cemetery 09-23-2014The 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

Greenbrier / Zephyr Cemetery 09-23-2014Mother 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

Greenbrier / Zephyr Cemetery 09-23-2014The 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.

Other references

Greenbrier / Zephyr Cemetery 09-23-2014Depending 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.

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.


8 Replies to “Battle of Mingo Swamp”

  1. Oh, dear–I recognize this cemetery! Paul Corbin and I have been out here, taking pictures, years ago. I had forgotten. Unlike you, Ken, I do NOT have a “steel-trap” mind. Mine is more like a leaky metal box. Worse, I don’t even know where those photos are.
    I’m glad you set all this history down in written form. If I did, I’ve long forgotten, and the paper I wrote it on is crumbled to dust…

  2. Mr. Steinhoff, I enjoyed read in your article. I am an author in the process of writing a story with a portion of the events taking place in the Mingo Swamp area. I am having such a difficult time researching the area just prior to the drainage. Am trying to get a grasp on the area, life in the swamp, and anything I can find. Can you make some suggestions for resources? Thank you

  3. Thank you for this fascinating history.
    I was reading about this because I believe somehow, maybe, I might be related to William & John Cato.

    Now I will have to check out these books and read the history.
    One day I might try to get out there to the cemetery.

  4. My Grandmother brought me the Banner Press, some time in between the year 2005 or 2006, reading that the Granddaughter or Daughter of Mr. Cato, revealing this story.
    I cannot find this Paper i had saved, for at the time i was very ill, though knowing how much it meant, i kept it and brought it back home in Texas.
    The feeling while reading that story is still with me, only wondering and having more interest as the day’s pass.
    Thanks to all who have worked on this story and shared.

  5. I am a history buff. I just so happen to be the grounds keeper here at the Greenbriar Cemetery. So this interested me greatly.

Leave a Reply to Madeline DeJournett Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *