Greene County, Missouri

Greene County, Missouri

  • Formed: 1833
  • County Population 1860: 11,470
  • Slave Population 1860: 1,668
  • Civil War Engagements
    -Battle of Wilson Creek, August 10, 1861
    -First Battle of Springfield, October 25, 1861
    -Second Battle of Springfield, January 8, 1863
Campbell’s New Atlas of Missouri, 1874
Image courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Greene County, Missouri has a wealth of natural resources including building stone, copper deposits, fertile soil, a large supply of fresh water from the James River and Wilson’s Creek, and prairie grass for grazing and hay. These natural resources, especially the fresh water, were a natural draw for settlers. Before the War of 1812, this area of Missouri was called “Osage Country” in reference to its Native American inhabitants. It was not until 1818 that the first non-Native American settlements were established by John P. Pettijohn and his sons who traveled from Virginia. Pettijohn was a veteran of the American Revolution. Accompanying Pettijohn were Joseph Price and Augustine (Augustus) Friend. In 1830, John Polk Campbell, who would become a prominent citizen, settled in the area. Shortly after Campbell’s arrival, in 1833 an official act of legislation declared the settlement’s name to be Greene County, after Revolutionary War General Nathaniel Greene. John P. Campbell became the first county clerk, and designed the layout of Springfield. He modeled it after Columbia, Tennessee, the town where he grew up. By 1834, a county newspaper was established. The area continued to grow steadily due to the promise of successful agriculture, and by 1849, wheat, corn, rye, tobacco, oats, potatoes, and hay were the principal crops, pork the principal meat animal, and mules the principal pack animal. Since Missouri was a slave state it was not unexpected then, that as Greene County’s population expanded so did the number of slaves living within county boundaries. According to the 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules there was approximately 1,668 slaves in Greene County. This was a high concentration of slaves in one area considering that the Ozarks in general had relatively few slaves. White farmers settled the region, working the land and building communities without chattel labor. While tobacco and cotton was grown in the Ozarks, the region’s lack of railroads or navigable rivers made it difficult to transport any mass produced traditional cash crops. Instead, farmers grew corn and other cereal grains for consumption. The significant slave population in Greene County would effect the tension between slave supporters and the growing number of abolitionists moving into the area in the 1850s.

In 1846, the First Missouri Mounted Volunteers left for Chihuahua, Mexico to join the Mexican Revolution, and returned in 1848. For the years immediately following their return, the question of prohibition, or temperance, dominated the political, moral, and social debates, and prohibition was enacted for a time. The question of slavery came to the forefront in 1854, and Kansas status as a free or a slave state dominated local and national debates. A group of armed Missouri men left for Kansas to assure its entrance as a slave state, but returned to Greene County quickly after arriving.

When the question of secession began to be uttered throughout the southern states, there was a county meeting in 1858 to decide Greene County’s stance on the issue. It was decided that Greene County was “neither secessionists nor abolitionists,” and that they would remain a part of the Union with the rest of Missouri. After the start of the Civil War in 1861, Springfield became a supply depot for both sides of the battle. Local men became scouts for General Sterling Price and Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon.

On August 5, 1861, Lyon arrived in Springfield and prepared to engage Confederate Troops in the region. On August 10, 1861, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek ensued ten miles outside of Springfield. The Battle waged for approximately six and a half hours and ended with the retreat of Union soldiers to Rolla and Confederate soldiers taking charge of the Greene County area. Over 15,000 men were engaged in the Conflict at Wilson’s Creek, with losses exceeding 1,200 casualties on each side, giving this battle the infamous title of “Battle of Bloody Hill.” One of the casualties of the Battle was General Lyon, who became the first general to be killed in the Civil War. Green County, like many other parts of Southwestern Missouri was plagued with constant guerrilla warfare. Court cases and letters from 1861-1865 reveal the destructive impact the fighting had on citizens in the area. On October 25, 1861, the Union sent Major Charles Zagonyi to overtake the Confederates stationed in Springfield. Zagonyi’s charge, or the First Battle of Springfield, ended with a Union victory. Springfield remained a supply center for both sides the following year. On January 8, 1863, the Second Battle of Springfield occurred when John S. Marmaduke led an attack on the Union controlled town. Marmaduke’s attempted to destroy or capture the supplies stationed in Springfield and make a retreat back to Arkansas. Union troops, however, successfully defended the town.

Following the end of the Civil War, a census of county population revealed that there had actually been an increase in population (up 713 people from 1860) but this is probably due to a large number of refugees from surrounding counties. Mary Phelps, a prominent local woman, opened a home for orphans of Civil War soldiers, and the county began to rebuild itself. In 1868, there was a crime spree in the county, with everyday thefts very common. A group of vigilantes who called themselves “the Regulators” went after those behind the crime spree and eventually the thefts stopped. On July 4 of the same year, the Pacific Railroad broke ground in Greene County. The Railroad was completed in 1870, and caused a significant increase in population. The population in 1870 was 21,549, up from 13,899 in 1865. Greene County continued to rebuild and grow the years following the Civil War, yet the conflict and its consequences would not soon be forgotten by the citizens of Greene County.

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  • Consulted:
  • R.M. Shep, History of Greene County, Missouri, Parts 1 and 2 (St. Louis, MO: Western Historical Company, 1883).
  • Jonathon Fairbanks, Past and Present of Greene County, Missouri: Early and Recent History and Genealogical Sketches of Many of the Representative Citizen (Indianapolis, IN: A.W. Bowen Publishing, 1915).
  • Greene County, Missouri, 1860 U.S. Federal Census – Slave Schedules [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2004. Original data: United States of America, Bureau of the Census. Eighth Census of the United States, 1860. Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, 1860. M653, 1,438 rolls.
  • Edwin C. Bearss, The Battle of Wilson Creek, (Bozeman, Montana: Artcraft Printers, 1975).
  • Edwin C. Bearss, The Battle of Wilson Creek, (Bozeman, Montana: Artcraft Printers, 1975).