Although vicious fighting had occurred along the Kansas-Missouri border during the 1850s, the Civil War did not begin until 1861.
Following Abraham Lincoln’s election as president, seven southern states seceded from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America. In April 1861, Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, a federal post in South Carolina. President Abraham Lincoln called for troops to retake the fort. His call for troops prompted four more states to join the Confederacy.
Missouri was divided during the war. Stars representing Missouri appeared on both the United States flag and the Confederate flag. Men represented Missouri in both the U. S. Congress and the Confederate Congress. Many Missourians fought for the Union; others fought for the Confederacy.
Pettis County was divided as well. Many residents believed in the solidarity of the United States and supported the Union. The county’s German immigrant population generally supported the Union. Other residents had come from the Southern states, and while they may not have owned slaves, they felt allegiance to their home states.
One group of Pettis Countians who supported the South had come from Kentucky in the 1850s and settled in the northeastern part of the county near Heath Creek. Derisively called the “Heath Creek aristocrats” by their less affluent neighbors, they had large plantations worked by their slaves.
One of the Heath Creek aristocrats played an important role in the first skirmish of the war in Pettis County. Ebenezer Magoffin, according to local historian William Claycomb, was one of the richest men in Pettis County. He lived with his wife, Margaret Ann Hutchinson Magoffin, and six children on a 2,160 acre estate called Prairie Lea, which was near what is now Hughesville.
In May 1861, shortly after the war had begun, Magoffin offered his services to Missouri’s then Gov. Claiborne F. Jackson, a Confederate supporter. Magoffin agreed to recruit men in west-central Missouri to fight for the Confederacy. The men stayed at Magoffin’s plantation while waiting to join Gen. Sterling Price’s army.
By August 1861, most of the recruits had joined the Confederate forces led by Gen. Sterling Price’s son Col. Edwin Price The 12 men who remained at the Magoffin plantation found themselves involved in the first skirmish in Pettis County.
On Aug. 29, Magoffin took these men to the county seat of Georgetown to buy them shoes and clothing. There they were surprised by Union Lt. Col. Henry M. Day of the First Illinois Cavalry. Day had been sent by Brig. Gen. U.S. Grant from Jefferson City to Lexington with a list of Rebels and secessionists he was to arrest. Magoffin’s name, Claycomb notes, was not on the list, probably because he was such a well-known Southern sympathizer that it was not necessary to list him. Day had divided his 95 regular troops and 125 Home Guards, and took nine regular soldiers and 60 Home Guards into Georgetown with him.
Magoffin and his men attempted to flee, but Day and his men blocked their escape. According to Claycomb, witnesses said the federal troops fired first. In the skirmish, Day’s orderly, Sgt. George W. Glasgow, was killed by a man identified as Col. Magoffin. Day’s troops later found him hiding in the attic of the Kidd Hotel, armed with a pistol and shot gun.
Magoffin was arrested and charged with the murder of Glasgow, the first Union fatality in Pettis County. Day took Magoffin prisoner, first to jail in Sedalia and later to Lexington. On Sept. 20, after Price won the battle there, Magoffin was released in an exchange of prisoners.
The charge of murdering Glasgow did not disappear. Next week’s column continues the saga of Ebenezer Magoffin.