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Historical Marker: Iron Furnace

Tour Stop

Welcome To Pilot Knob Sign Battle of Pilot Knob Historical Marker: Iron Furnace
Directions: The Iron Furnace Historical Marker [ Waypoint = N37 37.316 W90 38.126 ] is located near the corner of Oak Street and State Highway 221 in Pilot Knob, Missouri 63663.

  • From the Knob Creek marker, turn right onto Main Street (Old Highway 21).
  • After about 0.3 miles, turn right at the stop sign onto State Highway 221.
  • After about 0.3 miles, turn left onto Oak Street.
  • The marker is located near the Welcome to Pilot Knob sign.

Description: The text on the historical marker:

Battle of Pilot Knob

Iron Furnace

September 27, 1864

2:00 P.M. – 2:30 P.M.

The iron furnace is the most visible remains of what was once a thriving iron mining industry in the Arcadia Valley. The first iron furnace was constructed in 1848 but was destroyed by the rebel army after the battle of Pilot Knob. It was rebuilt a year later and mining operations resumed. It was near here prior to the frontal assaults on Fort Davidson by the Rebel Army, that Major Wilson, Captain Dinger and five men were taken prisoner.

Federal Major James Wilson (Peterson, 1906) Lieutenant W. C. Shattuck, Company I, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry, spent most of the day with his company outside of Fort Davidson trying to delay the Confederate advance. [83]

"Tuesday, September 27, we held our first line just as long as it was possible, and when our flank could no longer be protected, fell back and formed a new line. Thus the line was formed and reformed, how many times I do not know, until about 2 o'clock p. m., when we began to get within range of the heavy guns in the fort. Of course the shells and balls from these guns passed over our heads, but in many cases they were aimed so low that they made the men uneasy and it required the greatest efforts to maintain the line. As we mounted the side of Pilot Knob we could see the enemy in the valley, coming from the south and east, their movements plainly indicating the massing of men for a charge. About four p. m. we fell back across the railroad … After crossing the railroad with my company and a few men of Co. K, Major Wilson came to us and gave me what were perhaps the last orders he ever uttered. These were his words: 'Lieutenant, form your company down on the Ironton road to resist attack on the fort.'"

After a day of heavy skirmishing with the Confederates, Lieutenant W. C. Shattuck, Company I, Third Missouri State Militia Cavalry, eventually was able to get his men into Fort Davidson. [84]

"Company I was formed in the road facing toward Pilot Knob. In a very few minutes a heavy discharge of musketry was fired at it from the sides of Pilot Knob,—the balls fairly plowing the ground by reason of the elevation of the line of fire. We replied with our carbines, but in a moment, apparently, the mountain-side was covered with charging masses. We fell back before them into the riflepits. It was, I think, past 4 p. m. and this was the first time that Co. I had been inside the works."

The detachments of Federals that were deployed south of the fort were in danger of the artillery fire from Fort Davidson. Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. ordered Major Wilson to pull back to the town of Pilot Knob just east of the fort. During this redeployment some of the detachments were overwhelmed and captured by the advancing Confederates. First Lieutenant W. H. Smith, Company L, Second Missouri State Militia Cavalry wrote about this. [85]

"We had orders to fall back up the side of Pilot Knob Mountain to get out of range of the fort. As the Confederates advanced up the valley between Pilot Knob and Shepherd's Mountain the heavy artillery in the fort opened fire, causing them to fall back. About this time I was detailed as aide-de-camp and was ordered by Major Wilson to report to General Ewing at the fort that the cavalry was hard pressed and would have to fall back. I met General Ewing at the entrance to the fort. … He instructed me to tell Major Wilson to fall back into the town and hold it. The town was situated east of the fort. When I started back to deliver this order … I had not proceeded far when I met Major Wilson's command entirely routed and learned that the major was a prisoner."

Federal Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. (National Archives) Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. mentioned the execution in his official report on the Battle of Pilot Knob. [86]

"Maj. James Wilson, Third Cavalry Missouri State Militia, after being wounded was captured on Pilot Knob, and subsequently with six of his gallant men was brutally murdered by order of a rebel field officer of the day … I owe it to the cherished memory of Major Wilson, to add in conclusion an honorable mention of his name, not only because of the nerve and skill with which for two days preceding the assault he embarrassed and delayed the overwhelming forces of the enemy, but also because of his long and useful service in this district unblemished by a fault."

Captain T. J. Mackey, the Chief Engineer of the Confederate Army of Missouri, later wrote about the execution of Major James Wilson. [87]

"I was assigned to duty as its (the army's) Chief Engineer, a most unwelcome service to me, as the war in that section had degenerated into a fierce vendetta and for three years bands of armed marauders marching under the flag of the Confederacy had committed atrocities which stamped the State as the sink of American civilization … In resisting our advance through the pass, Major Wilson was captured with six of his men and they were all barbarously murdered a few days later by soldiers of Marmaduke's Division led by one of their field officers."

Confederate Major John N Edwards, Adjutant to Jo Shelby Throughout the war, Missouri had been the scene of bitter fighting. During the guerrilla war, men from both sides would commit atrocities against their enemies, whether in uniform or not. Major John Edwards, Brigadier-General Jo Shelby's adjutant during Price's Missouri Raid, later wrote about the execution of Major James Wilson. [88]

"The execution of Major Wilson at Pilot Knob was an act of eminent justice, for he was a common murderer, and entirely destitute of manly and soldierly feelings. It is by no means certain that his death was authorized by General Price, although, as the commander-in-chief, he was, to a limited degree, responsible for it. Colonel Reeves, at whose door the sin lies, had a heavy score to settle with all those southeast commanders, and Wilson was hung first, or shot first, because he was captured first. General Shelby camped his command one night, on the upward march, around the house of Captain Leper [William T. Leeper], and, after taking charge of his forage and supplies, looked also to his papers and his official correspondence, among which was an order signed by this Major Wilson, directing Leper to take eighty men, dress them in 'butternut' clothing, march with them to White river, find out the intention of the 'rebels' under Shelby, and on his return burn every mill, building, grain stack, and hay rick on the road, closing mysteriously with the following words underscored: 'And you know I do not like to be troubled with prisoners.'"

Federal Major James Wilson (Peterson, 1906) The pro-Southern men in southeastern Missouri firmly believed that Wilson had also killed sixty civilians during this raid. But there is no firm evidence of this. Major James Wilson did refer to this attack in his official report filed on December 30, 1863. [89]

"I left Pilot Knob, in command of 200 men, about 10 a.m. December 23, 1863 … [on December 25th] eight miles from Doniphan, I captured … [a picket] … and compelling him to lead us to the camp of Reves [near Pulliam]. Arriving at the camp, I divided my men into two columns, and charged upon them with my whole force. The enemy fired, turned, and threw down their arms and fled, with the exception of 30 or 35, and they were riddled with bullets or pierced through with the saber almost instantly. The enemy lost in killed about 30; wounded mortally, 3; slightly, 2; total killed and wounded, 35. Prisoners captured, 112."

Federal Brigadier-General Clinton B. Fisk (Wikimedia Commons) In Missouri, violence was the order of the day. Troops from both sides did not always distinguish between military and civilians. Brigadier-General Clinton B. Fisk had issued the following orders to Major James Wilson and Captain William T. Leeper. [90]

"The mission of each detachment will be the extermination of bushwhackers, guerrillas, thieves, and murderers, and the restoration of good order and quiet in the regions through which they operate. Straggling, plundering, pillaging, and burning must be prohibited. Let swift and summary punishment be inflicted upon offenders against this order. Let the people among whom these detachments move be made to understand that the United States troops are sent among them to put down disorder, and not to create it."

"Each expedition will remain along the border for such time as may by them be deemed best. Much will be expected from them. Vigilance, determination, and perseverance will put an end to the reign of terror, jayhawking, and murder which has been supreme in the border counties."

Federal Major-General William Rosecrans (Library of Congress) In response to the rumors that Major James Wilson had been executed by the Confederates, Major-General William Rosecrans issued Special Orders, No. 277 on October 6, 1864. [91]

"From testimony which cannot be doubted, the commanding general learns that Maj. James Wilson, Third Cavalry Missouri State Militia, and six enlisted men of his command, prisoners of war, were given up by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price to the guerrilla Tim Reves [Colonel Timothy Reeves] for execution. The provost-marshal-general of the department will send a major and six enlisted men of the rebel army in irons to the military prison at Alton, Ill., to be kept in solitary confinement until the fate of Major Wilson and his men is known. These men will receive the same treatment Major Wilson and his men received. The provost-marshal is held responsible for the execution of this order."

Federal Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. (National Archives) Brigadier-General Thomas Ewing, Jr. received confirmation of Wilson's and the other Federal's execution when their bodies were found. He issued General Orders, No. 51 on October 26, 1864. [92]

"With profound sorrow the general commanding announces the mournful intelligence of the murder of Maj. James Wilson, Third Cavalry Missouri State Militia, and six of his command. On the 27th day of September they were taken in fair fight at Pilot Knob by Brigadier-General Fagan's command and were subjected to every indignity which malignant cowardice could invent until the 5th [3d] instant, when they were delivered ten miles west of Union, Mo., by order of the rebel field officer of the day, to the guerrilla Tim Reves [Colonel Timothy Reeves] for execution. Their bodies were found yesterday, and that of Major Wilson, though riddled by bullets and mutilated from long exposure, was identified by the uniform and private and official papers found upon it, as well as by the personal recognition of his associates in service. He was an officer of rare intelligence, zeal, courage, and judgment, and his soldierly virtues were adorned by a purity, unselfishness, and integrity of character which won the love, respect, and trust alike of his subordinates and superiors. When the war broke out he entered the service a private, and by that act of devotion to the Government severed almost all ties that bound him to family and home. Comrades! cherish the memory of his resplendent virtues, follow his patriotic example, and justly avenge his fiendish murder. Col. J. H. Baker, commanding the post of Saint Louis, will cause the body of Major Wilson to be received at the depot with a proper escort and will arrange for its burial here with military honors."

On October 28, 1864 a number of members of Major James Wilson's regiment wanted revenge for his death and sent the following message to Colonel J. V DuBois, Chief-of-Staff to Major-General William Rosecrans. [93]

"We learn by the Saint Louis Republican of October 25 that the bodies of Maj. James Wilson and six men, who were turned over by General Sterling Price to the guerrilla Tim Reves, have been found near Washington, Mo., and identified. We therefore respectfully request that the conditions of Special Orders, No. 27, relating to their case be immediately fulfilled. We further respectfully suggest that as Major Wilson belonged to our regiment, and as we have a number of officers and men hot and fresh from Price's ranks, that a major and six men be shot, to be selected from the prisoners; shooting to be done under directions of the commanding officer of this regiment."

Confederate Major John N Edwards, Adjutant to Jo Shelby In Missouri it was common for both sides to avenge what they considered atrocities by the enemy. Major John Edwards, Brigadier-General Jo Shelby's adjutant later wrote about the Federal retaliation after the execution of Major James Wilson. [94]

"Six brave and innocent soldiers, privates Jas. W. Gates, Geo. T. Bunch, H. H. Blackburn, John Nichols, Chas. W. Minnikin, and Asa V. Ladd, were taken from the prison in St. Louis and executed in retaliation for the death of Wilson … They all died as they had lived—manly, courageous, and steadfast. Rosecrans may have made Wilson's sleep sweeter in eternity by his wanton and barbarous cruelty, but how about the slumbers of those Federals executed for the six men murdered in St. Louis? They sleep in unknown graves from Jefferson City to Newtonia, clinching with an argument stronger than life the trite philosophy which makes a rule a poor rule unless it works both ways."

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