Refugee Life in the Ozarks

The threat of physical violence was all too common throughout the Ozarks during the Civil War. Guerrilla warfare, characterized by late night ambushes, theft, depredation and generalized fear, challenged the character of people who lived in the Ozarks.

Bushwhackers raided homes, stealing food, horses, clothing, and other supplies. Guerrilla warfare became widespread after the Union victory at Pea Ridge in March 1862. Confederate forces moved east of the Mississippi River, thus, leaving the area to guerrillas and their irregular tactics. Regardless of loyalty, all civilians were in danger of attack. Missouri Governor Hamilton Gamble established the Enrolled Missouri Militia to help protect civilians, but the amount of guerrilla activity and the amount of territory to protect, allowed for continued violence. Faced with continual fear, lack of supplies, and death threats, many civilians considered leaving their homes.

While the EMM and other military units protected civilians, they were also a drain on available resources. Massive numbers of soldiers and horses took to the countryside seeking forage. The lack of manpower at home to cultivate crops and replenish the supplies had a devastating effect on the civilian population.

All the different Armies who have been and are now in this District were and are now largely composed of Cavalry, which as a consequence, taking into consideration the reduced quantity of land in cultivation, incident to war, the forage and bread stuffs of the country are well nigh consumed.
…Can we subsist our selves and families for the coming year? I am daily and almost hourly importuned for advice in regard to the course to be pursued by the farming community…I would respectfully suggest that the Maj Gen Comdg Dept of Mo be informed of the destitution of the country & that…it would be good policy to order the removal of all the cavalry force now in the vicinity…not required for escort duty. It is believed that forage can be obtained for them to the West and North of this point.
Brig Gen Colley B. Holland letter to Governor Hamilton R. Gamble, Springfield, Missouri, February 19, 1863

After the destruction of Lawrence, Kansas, Union General Thomas Ewing issued General Order Number 11, on August 25, 1863. Aimed at those who supported the guerrillas, it ordered all residents living in the border counties of Bates, Jackson, Cass and the northern half of Vernon to leave their homes. Those families were required to give oaths of loyalty to the Union, and their evacuation was demanded within two weeks. In Cass County, where over 10,000 Missourians resided in 1860, only 600 remained in early autumn 1863. Overall, only 10 percent of the regions population endured.1

While Order Number 11 only affected counties on the western border of the Ozarks, civilians throughout the region fled for safety. Many Union civilians traveled to Rolla and then Illinois. Confederate civilians, fearing retribution from Union soldiers and bushwhackers, went to Texas. Families eagerly anticipated the end of the war, so they could return home. The Hunter family left Missouri in late 1864 for the safety of central Illinois. Mrs. Hunter disliked the climate and the people from the onset of their displacement, and her daughter shared her resentment.

Pappy and Mother & the children at home are very much disatisfied with this country they want to go back to Mo. Pappy says he wont stay here ary other winter after the comming one. he says this country is just calculated to make a dog out of any body Dicks wife is looking to be confined. she wants to go to Mo. two. I am very tired of this country. it is a hard place for poor people.
Priscilla Hunter Hagler, Springfield, Illinois, November 2, 1866

The reemergence of violence in the post war years caused many refugees to question the safety of Missouri and the Ozarks. Once civilians returned home they faced the new challenge of rebuilding their lives. While many were able to reconstruct their homes and farms, their lives and the Ozarks were never the same.

Browse all collections in Refugees

  1., last visited 23 March 2009.