Jasper vs. Chenault – 1865

Plagued by guerrilla warfare, Jasper County faced extreme hardships during the Civil War. Having a recorded population of 6,883 in 1860, the county population at the end of the War was said to have been less then one hundred. Carthage, the county seat, was depopulated and destroyed, as well as most of the other principle areas in the county. The county filed a $77,000 suit against John R. Chenault and his co-defendants for the destruction of the courthouse in Carthage, circuit court records, the Carthage jail, and the Seminary building. The damages in the lawsuit are equivalent to over a million dollars in today’s market.1

Only ten of the original 38 defendants were located and deposed within a year of the filing. Several of the defendants were local business owners, and nearly all had family history in Carthage and Jasper County. The lead defendant, John C. Chenault, was the son of John R. Chenault, a judge in Jasper County before the War. Judge Chenault was a “conditional Union man,” in that he opposed secession unless the North armed itself to keep the South from seceding.2

Though Jasper County claimed the court records and books were destroyed, they reemerged after the War. In the fall of 1861, Judge Chenault and Stanfield Ross, the Jasper County Clerk, conspired to move the records from Jasper County and transfer them to the Newton county jail in Neosho. A team of Union cavalrymen, lead by a former Jasper County Sheriff, learned of their fate and recaptured the records. The records were moved to Fort Scott, Kansas where they remained until after the War.3

Contributed by the Jasper County Records Center

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  1. Measuringworth. http://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/resultwithad.php, last visited 1 June 2009.
  2. Marvin L VanGilder. Jasper County: The First Two Hundred Years. (Carthage: Marvin L. VanGilder and the Jasper County Commission, 1995), 68.
  3. VanGilder, 81-82.