Today marks 140th anniversary of Round Pond massacre

Friday, August 1, 2003

Back in the early 1920s, W.W. Davault was a country doctor living in Allenville. Sometimes he would take his little boy, Hughes, in the buggy when making a call to Rum Branch or another tiny community. One day his father turned in at Round Pond and pointed into the water.

"Do you see those iron pieces sticking up there?" he asked.

Five-year-old Hughes did see something that could have been physical remains of the Round Pond Massacre, one of the most brutal events of the Civil War fighting in Southeast Missouri.

It occurred 140 years ago today, at the pond where many travelers on the Bloomfield Road stopped to camp and refresh themselves. Round Pond, which no longer exists, was south and west of the present town of Allenville in Cape Girardeau County, along the current County Road 254.

A rest stop

Union wagon trains from Cape Girardeau carrying supplies to Brig. Gen. John Davidson's troops in Arkansas regularly pulled over at Round Pond going and coming home. That Saturday afternoon, a train of 30 wagons with 20 guards and 40 teamsters and camp workers stopped to spend the night.

In the night, the camp was set upon by guerrillas. Union commanders reported 10 men were killed in the attack, two more were mortally wounded and two were slightly wounded. Some were shot in their sleep by "bushwhackers" who emerged from the nearby swamp. The wagons were burned.

The late Edison Shrum, a Scott City man who wrote many local histories, also collected reports from a Confederate commander. Lt. Col. J. Ellison claimed 65 wagons were set afire and at least 30 men in the camps were killed and wounded.

Shrum published anecdotal stories about cannons and wagons being thrown into the pond.

'Swarming with guerrillas'

By 1863, there were no organized Confederate troops in Southeast Missouri. The Swamp Fox Brigade under Jeff Thompson had been transferred out into the regular Confederate army. It was left to partisans, locals who fought hit-and-run battles with Union troops, to carry on the war here.

In a report about the attack to Major Gen. John M. Schofield in St. Louis, Brig. Gen. Clinton B. Fisk wrote: "The entire country along the border is swarming with guerrillas... It requires more than half of the force in the district to guard General Davidson's line of communication and garrison the posts of Bloomfield and Chalk Bluff."

Chalk Bluff is in Arkansas.

A blow to beliefs

The attack was a blow to the Union belief that control of the area had been established. The loss of life and property tightened Union control over the region, says Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University.

Nickell said the attack probably did the most damage to the relations between Union troops and the civilian populace, many of whom had Confederate sympathies.

"The fact that these men were attacked while sleeping, and they were bayoneted and some of their horses obviously were bayoneted, created more harsh feelings toward the other side," he said.

Union soldiers would have harassed civilians even more after the attack, Nickell said.

"There was very little patience one side against the other," he said.

A man named John Burton Chasteen was arrested and charged with aiding and abetting the enemy in connection with the Round Pond Massacre. He was found not guilty but was shot to death on his way home after the trial.

Nature of fighting

Harsh treatment, hit-and-run raids and revenge killings were the nature of the fighting in Southeast Missouri. Military strategists thought something entirely different would happen in the region.

Nickell theorizes that for a short while during the summer of 1861, Cape Girardeau may have been one of the most heavily fortified cities in the United States.

Well fortified

Forts A, B, C and D were built in Cape Girardeau the summer of 1861 because control of the Mississippi River was viewed as paramount, Nickell said. Cape Girardeau was the first high ground south of St. Louis and a significant military post where troops could be unloaded. Control of Southeast Missouri meant control of the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers at Cairo, Ill.

"Everybody assumed when the Civil War began that something big would happen in Missouri, that the big battle of the Civil War might happen here," Nickell said.

It didn't because Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant moved the war south down the river faster than anyone anticipated.

Pictures of Round Pond date to the 1950s, but the pond has since been filled in. It is now just a low area along a fence line where a sign reads "Round Pond Road."

335-6611, extension 182

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