More than 150 years ago the sounds of gunfire rang out across the hills and valleys of southern Scotland County as America’s Civil War found its way to rural northeast Missouri in the form of the Battle of Vassar Hill.
While the struggle isn’t found in most Civil War history books as the 28 confirmed casualties didn’t likely have much impact on the war’s outcome, it remains an interesting part of local history.
In an effort to help confirm some of the lore surrounding the fighting, members of the St. Louis Metal Detecting Club recently visited the Bible Grove area in search of artifacts that might help determine the actual battle sites.
Bible Grove resident Jordan Dunn, who took part in the search process, shared some of the history surrounding the county’s Civil War conflict.
“Fifteen miles south of Memphis, near the town of Bible Grove, there was a skirmish fought between Confederate and Union troops on July 18, 1862,” he said. “Confederate riders had set out from Memphis and rode south, where they would set up an ambush on the old Memphis-Kirksville road.”
Dunn, who is a history major at Truman State University in Kirksville, spent this summer doing an internship at the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis.
Dunn said the battle began as the 125-man Confederate force dug into Vassar Hill, waiting for the 280 Union soldiers to cross the North Fabius River and fall into their attack.
History tells that with each series of volleys, the Confederate men would fall back to a new defensive position and wait for the Union commander to order another advance. For two hours this went on, the valley filling with smoke, men and horses being killed or wounded.
“Finally the Union commander ordered his men back, believing the Confederate force that he faced to be far superior in number than the reality,” said Dunn.
Union casualties numbered 23 in total with an additional 60 being wounded, compared to the five killed or wounded for the Confederate army.
But inconsistent reports and stories have left the actual location of the Battle of Vassar Hill up for debate.
“Because of the conflicting records there is a chance that the main location of the fighting has yet to be detected,” said Dunn.
Matt Brewer helped facilitate the operation, granting permission for the searchers to access the Brewer farm, while also sharing some of the many different versions of the history, which highlighted no fewer than three possible locations to focus the efforts upon.
Dunn and his family members, including his grandfather Keith, joined the club members, scouring over approximately 20 acres of land. They discovered two Union bullets and four other mini-balls, leading them to believe that more searching could lead to the discovery of where this battle took place over 150 years ago.