Rhea’s Mill Ledger-1871

Rhea's Mill

Rhea’s Mill
Images courtesy of The Shiloh Museum of Ozark History / Washington County Histoical Society Collection (P-1005)

William H. Rhea was the eldest son of Pleasant V. Rhea, a native of Tennessee. The Rhea family moved to Washington County, Arkansas in 1830, where Pleasant (sometimes called Vincent P. Rhea) worked as a blacksmith and a school teacher. Pleasant became the first mayor of Fayetteville. He and his wife, Fannie B., had seven children, three sons and four daughters. William H. Rhea was born in Lincoln County, Tennessee in 1825. He learned the blacksmith trade from his father, and when he was 24 years old he opened a small grocery store in Benton County, Arkansas. He eventually owned three stores, a mill and several farms. His estimated property value was $75,000 at the time of his death in 1884.1

Rhea kept detailed records of the good purchased and sold through his mill and merchant store. Most of his supplies were purchased from commission agents in Van Buren, Arkansas. He also purchased goods from St. Louis, New York and Philadelphia. Rhea imported shoes, glassware, household items, drugs, clothing, hardware, jewelry, dry goods, paints, oils, and other items from across the country.2 Due to the lack of major rivers and railheads in the Ozarks these good needed to travel by wagon across the hilly terrain. During the war the military experienced the same difficulties with supply distribution as merchants did pre-war. Goods were transported by wagons to supply soldiers with food, clothing and arms. As soldiers progressed further into the countryside the goods supply trains had a difficult time keeping pace. Soldiers often needed to forage the countryside for food. Farms and gristmills were prime targets for soldiers and bushwhackers as they often stored large quantities of food.

Gristmills were buildings in which grain was ground into flour, in some areas they are also known as corn or flour mills. The mills swerved as a valuable resource for both armies as they could produce flour and then other food locally instead of transporting the supplies by wagon. Their ability to produce food locally also made them a prime target for both armies and bushwhackers passing through the area. The destruction of the mill would prevent its use by enemy soldiers.

In the fall of 1862, several federal regiments foraged goods from Rhea’s property. He recorded the amount of material taken by the men, including goods taken after the Battle of Prairie Grove, December 7, 1862.

Detachment 1st and 2d Indian Regiment — 200 men — under command of Lieut. Robb — camped on my premises, used the following:
5000 lb Flour @ 5 250.00
Corn meal, 2000 lb @ 2 40.00
Pork Killed, 200 lb @ 5 100.00
Rails for fuel, 2 cords 7.00
2 Turkeys 2.00
1 Man’s Saddle 25.00
Burning house 250.00


Team to haul to Cincinnati and driver 7.50


Teturned next day under command of Col. W.A. Phillips detachment of Indians and Howitzers. Run the mill day and half night. Took away
8000 lbs Flour @ 5 400.00
Killed 30 head Hogs, 4000 lbs @ 5 200.00


On the morning of the 28 November the Army of the Frontier under Gen. J.G. Blunt come by my place, killed
40 head hogs, 2000 lbs @ 5 100.00


They returned the next day, one Brigade under Gen. Salomon, took up quarters on my premises, killed Hogs and Chickens, used Forgage.
100 Head hogs, 5000 lbs @ 5 250.00
200 Bu. Corn @ 1$ 200.00
1000 Bu. Bran @ 20c 200.00
10 Cord Rails @ 3 30.00


After December 7, 1862 Genl. James G. Blunt with his whole Division fell back to my (premises and used):
100 Bu. Wheat @ 1.50 150.00
25 Bu. Shelled Corn 25.00
Used Mill 30 days 600.00
Occupied store house as Commissary 30 days 30.00


Exposed stock of goods and caused to be stolen and damaged to amt of 2400.00
Killed 50 head Hogs, 2000 lbs 125.00
Used for the Battery horse trough 3000 ft of Lumber @ 2 60.00
Burned Lumber, 2000 @ 2 40.00
Burned 200 cord Rails and Wood 600.00
One Work Ox killed 30.00
Turned Orchards and destroyed Trees 200.00


Left on premises dead Horse, some 100, which stagnated the air and caused or exposed my family to an epidemic 500.00
Used 200 Bu. Corn 200.00
Used 1000 Bu. Bran @ 20 200.00
Took 2 Log Chains 15.00
Took 2 pr. G–ans 10.00
Walnut lumber 200 ft 6.00


In the fall of ’63 detachment of 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry took
3 head Horses worth 150 each 450.00
20 Bu. Corn 20.00


Foraging civilian property was common for soldiers during the War. Food taken to sustain one soldier or a company, once, may not appear to be much; however, when an entire regiment forages a single farm, and that farm is foraged multiple times by various different regiments it has a dramatic impact on the civilian’s ability to survive. Rhea noted that in a period of less than two months the Federal Army had taken $7,152.50 worth of property from him. He sued the government for damages and was awarded the full amount of $7,622.50.  After the war, Rhea’s mill and store played an important role in the revitalization of Washington County, as the community became a major commercial center. After Rhea’s death in 1884, his wife Elizabeth and their son Robert J. continued to run the mill, stores and farms.

Contributed by the Shiloh Museum of Ozarks History

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  1. Dorothy Johnston, Ph.D, “History of Rhea Community”, in Flashback, Vol. 37, No. 3, 1987, pg 18.
  2. Willard Gatewood, “The Prairie Grove Valley and its Communities part 1” in Flashback, Winter 2003, http://www.historicwashingtoncounty.org/rheasmill.html
  3. W.H. Rhea, “Rhea’s Mill merchant, totals his losses before and after the Battle of Prairie Grove,” in Flashback, Vol. 6, No. 3, pgs 17-18.