Col. Ebenezer Magoffin, a wealthy Pettis County plantation owner, was captured by Federal troops led by Lt. Col. Henry Day in Georgetown on Aug. 29, 1861, and charged with the murder of Sgt. Glasgow, who died in a skirmish there.
That a charge of murder would be levied against a combatant during a declared war seems odd, but much about the Magoffin case defied military and legal comprehension. It seems likely the murder charge was the result of the intense emotions roused by the Civil War, as well as an attempt of the Federal forces to punish all those who dared rebel against the Union.
Day took Magoffin to Sedalia and then to Lexington, where Federal forces were encamped. In September, Confederate forces attacked Lexington. Following the Confederate victory, according to local historian William B. Claycomb, Magoffin was freed in an exchange of prisoners between the Confederate forces and the defeated Union forces.
At this point, the narrative becomes confusing. D. M. Kelsey, writing in 1903, claims Magoffin was paroled from his incarceration in Lexington to attend to some personal business, and that after the battle was over, should have turned himself in to the Union forces, even though they had been defeated in the battle. His refusal to return to Federal prisoner of war status was considered a violation of his parole, and he was sentenced to be executed.
After the battle of Lexington, Confederate forces moved to southwest Missouri to attempt to recruit more men for the Confederate forces. Col. Franklin Robertson, Col. J. J. Clarkson, and Magoffin assisted in recruiting men.
In December, Robertson’s recruits were in Grand Pass, Mo., planning to meet Clarkson’s recruits. They were not able to meet, but were joined by Magoffin’s men. Union Gen. John Pope, stationed at Sedalia with 4,000 men, heard the large number of recruits were to meet at Osceloa in St. Clair County. He dispatched men under the command of Col. Davis and Col. Steele to march southwest to engage the Confederate forces.
Pope reported the men marched 11 miles south toward Warsaw, then 23 miles miles west to a point on Post Oak Creek. When Pope heard that 1,500 Confederate troops were in Chilhowee, the men were ordered there.
Maj. Torrance sent to Pope for reinforcements; Pope sent 500 men. The Union Forces followed the Confederates and captured a number of them at Osceola. Pope, believing southwest Missouri was free of Confederate troops, then ordered the men to Warrensburg.
According to Adjutant D. A. Kerr, the Union forces were marching toward Knob Noster when an African American man reported a large Confederate force camped at Milford, a small town on the Blackwater River north of Knob Noster. Pope didn’t believe the man, but allowed Torrance to take a scouting party of 425 men to the bridge at Milford. There, they discovered that the report was true.
Davis arrived at Milford and decided to attack the Confederate forces. He charged, and the Confederate pickets scattered to the main camp. His men formed a battle line and advanced. After an exchange of fire, the Confederates fled south but soon realized their line of retreat was cut off and they were surrounded by Union troops. The Confederates surrendered, having lost five men and having many wounded. The Federal s lost one or two men (again the sources differ), and had eight wounded.
The Federal forces took 73 to 75 wagons, 500 horses and mules, 1,100 rifles and shotguns, 100 pistols, commissary stores, and ammunition. They captured between 600 and 1,300 men, depending on which report one believes. Historian Joanne Eakin has confirmed the identity of 736 captured men in sources at the National Archives. Only 684 Confederate soldiers and some civilians actually reached the prison. Pope reported capturing 1,300 men, including several officers.
The results of the skirmish at Milford are interesting. Major Torrance, who insisted on acting on the report of Confederate troops there, remained a major. Union Colonel Davis, who led the forces in battle, was promoted to Brigadier. Pope, the leader of Federal forces who didn’t really believe the report of Confederate troops given by a black man but who was the designated leader of Federal forces in the area, was praised and promoted to Major General.
One of the three Confederate colonels captured at Milford was Ebenezer Magoffin, still considered to be guilty of murdering Sgt. Glasgow at Georgetown and of violating his parole at Lexington. He was taken to St. Louis to the infamous Gratiot Street Prison, then sent to Alton Penitentiary in Illinois.
Next week’s column details Magoffin’s escape from Alton Penitentiary.