Friday, June 24, 2011

War on Civilians in the Ozarks - The Depopulation of the Mountains

The Ozarks
While many stories are told of Sherman's March to the Sea and other campaigns, nowhere in the South did attrocities against civilians approach what happened in the Ozarks of Arkansas and southern Missouri during the Civil War.

Many of the mountain people had no interest at all in the war and most just wanted to be left alone. They had moved west to the Ozarks in search of country that they liked and the isolation and freedom that life in the mountains offered them.

When war came, however, the very isolation of the mountain communities and homes made them easy prey for a reign of terror waged by soldiers and guerrillas from both sides and outlaws who came only to raid, rob and destroy. By the winter of 1864-1865, in fact, so many of the mountain people had been killed, burned out or driven away that the Ozarks presented a scene of desolation unparalleled in American history.

Elkhorn Tavern
Built on Ruins of Tavern burned by Guerrillas
The following account of a report by a postal official appeared in a South Carolina newspaper:

In the resumption of mail service in the South, continued evidence of the despoliation of the land is brought out. An employee of the Post Office Department, now superintending mail matters in Arkansas, writes that “on the mail route from Fort Smith, in that State, to Caswell, in Missouri, there is not a house nor habitation where a mail carrier could refresh himself or beast, in a distance of nearly two hundred miles. From Fayetteville to Caswell, by the old mail road, the distance is seventy-five miles, and there is not a house or garden fence left standing, nor a field under cultivation. - Keowee Courier, November 11, 1864.

The terrorism inflicted on the people of the Ozarks would continue for many years after the war, with guerrilla bands and outlaws roaming almost at will through the region.

Some places to learn about some of the destruction in the region include War Eagle Mill and Blue Spring Heritage Center in Northwest Arkansas. Both were the locations of important water mills destroyed during the war. The famed Elkhorn Tavern at Pea Ridge battlefield in Benton County was also destroyed by guerrillas the year after the battle. The present structure was rebuilt on the ruins after the war ended. To learn more, please follow these links:

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