Thursday, August 04, 2011

A History of Izard County: The Civil War

While perusing Karr Shannon's book, A History of Izard County, last week for his writings about Lunenburg and the people who lived there, I was side-tracked by the author's avoidance of details about the American Civil War. As I looked for items about the skirmish that occurred along Rocky Bayou in January of 1864, I noticed that little information about any part of the conflict was offered to the reader. The most significant item I found about the Civil War and Lunenburg throughout the 1947 book was Karr's depiction of the "stranger" who was accidentally hung and then "buried in a grave from which a northerner had been exhumed a short time before." (Karr Shannon)

Mr. Shannon actually begins his comments in the chapter, "Izard County and Wars" with a description of the area as serene and peaceful having little conflict throughout it's history:

"We appreciate the fact that the history of Izard County does not have to deal with downfalls and uprisings of any vaunted civilization. This has never been a section of conflicts. The people have been intelligent, kind, and hospitable. Scarcely any murders have been committed throughout the entire history of the county. It is enough for us to know that our forefathers were human beings - they lived and acted their parts, and all they did contributed to everything that now prevails. They were here first and did their work as human beings unmanacled by prejudice and disagreement."
After his apology for Izard County's citiizens throughout its history, Karr goes on to write an apology for an Izard County that embraced slavery:

"It would be useless to go into detail here and tell about the cause of the Civil War. Nothing needs to be said about the conventions held in the South for the purpose of discussing the question of secession. Arkansas happened to be located in the Southland, and Izard County happened to be located in Arkansas. Negro Slaves were needed in the hot fields, and, like other sections of the South, Izard County used its share of these people. There is no room here for discussing the question of slavery. As environment must have its course, the people of Izard County gave very little thought to the question of whether it was right or wrong to use negro slaves. The rest of the South used slaves, and Izard County used slaves."
Shannon's reasoning here was sound, if not a little blunt. However, this is truly an apology for the actions of the earlier pioneers of the county. His remarks on the Civil War coninue:

"Several companies of soldiers were raised within the county for service in the Confederate Army. One, gathered by Captain Deason, served in the Seventh Arkansas Regiment. Four, commanded respectively by Capts. C. C. Elkins, T. N. Smith, Hugh A. Barnett and T. A. Mason, became a part of the Ninth Arkansas Regiment. Two, commanded respectively by Capts. C.Cook and Richard Powell, served in Colonel Freeman's regiment of cavalry. Three, commanded respectively by capts. T. M. Gibson, R. C. Matthews and Samuel Taylor, formed a part of Shaler's regiment. Also a portion of the company was raised in Independence County. A part of another was raised by Capt. James Huddleston, the other part being recruited in what is now Sharp County. Some individuals went out and joined other companies being established for the Southern Army.

"At the beginning of the war there were several Union men in the county. They left the county and went to Rolla, Missouri, where they were organized into a company by Capt. L. D. Toney and served in the Federal army. Izard was very faithful to the cause. All the able-bodied men in the county and many boys under twenty years of age enlisted in the armies. Only the old, the feeble, and the invalids were left at home with the women and children.

"There was no fighting or bushwhacking among the citizens on Izard County soil, but the county was frequently overrun by scouting parties from the opposing forces and all stock and provisions carried away. This caused suffering among the citizens for food. It is said that parties of women, each accompanied by an old man, frequently hauled cotton inside the Union lines and exchanged it for salt and other necessities.

"Conditions became so severe that meat had to be concealed from the scouting parties by hiding it in straw beds, under brush heaps, and in piles of rocks. Some saved their corn by shelling it and hiding it in the hollow walls of houses between the weatherboarding and the inside-boarding. A hole at the bottom served the convenience of drawing out the grain as it was needed. Salt became a luxury. Many dug up the dirt in their smokehouses and boiled out the salt. Bed clothes and other garments were sometimes carried off by the scouting parties and burned in the woods.

"But the destructive effects of the war in Izard County were far short of what they were in a number of other sections of the South where actual battles were fought and hundreds in their youthful prime were shot down."
The war in Izard County probably was not quite as bloody as other places but it seems that Karr sugar-coated his remarks about the conflict in this area of the country in general. It wasn't likely to be because of ignorance on Karr Shannon's part, though, because his own writings tell us that as a youngster in Lunenburg, he frequently hung around the stores and blacksmith shops listening to the old-timers swapping stories. As he was born only 37 years after the end of the Civil-War, it's highly probable that some of those conversations, at l;east, were about Civil-War experiences. Karr Shannon was an avid reader and observer all of his life. If there were stories told, he probably remembered them. He was a newsman...a teacher...a historian. One would think he would have gone into more detail about how the war affected the lives of family and family friends.

For instance - Surely Karr knew about the Byler family.  Surely he knew about the plight of Judge William L. Byler and his family.

In the October 1982 edition of The Izard County Historian, (Volume 13 Number 4, Edgar D. Byler III writes:

"Between 1850 and 1861, William L. Byler amassed a large amount of land in the Sage area of Izard. During the War of Rebellion, he elected to remain loyal to the Union. He was warned that he should leave the county or be imprisoned. He and his brother-in-law, Shadrach H. Wren, packed up all their belongings and moved to Rolla, Missouri for the duration of the War. William’s lands were confiscated by the Con-federate government and never recovered. When he returned to Izard in 1865, he was able to buy back his original homestead south of Sage.

"From 1868 to 1874, William L. Byler served as County Judge of Izard County and also as Probate Judge. It is not known whether he was appointed by the military governor of Arkansas or was elected. Further research is needed in this area."
If this did not deserve mention on its own, perhaps combined with the biographies of Williams only two brothers living at the time, it would have.

Edgar D. Byler says further of the family:

"John Adkinson Byler was born 26 February 1828 in Bedford County, Tennessee. He married on 17 April 1855 in Izard County to Mahala Rose, who was born in Tennessee in 1836. John A. Byler served in Company F, of Colonel Freeman’s Regiment, Confederate Army from 1 September 1861 until the close of the war. He is buried in the Lunenburg Cemetery. John and Mahala Rose Byler were the parents of eight children:..."
It is entirely possible that John A. Byler was a participant in the action in Cooper Valley near Lunenburg!

Edgar Byler goes on:

"Joseph Love Byler was born 1 October 1834 in Bedford County, Tennessee. He married in 1854 to Rachel R. Gray, the daughter of John and Elizabeth Chism Gray."
*      *      *      *      *      *
"According to Goodspeed’s History of Northeast Arkansas, Joseph L. Byler “served in the Confederate Army under Captain Gibson and Col. Shaler from 1861 to 1865, being in the infantry and was a participant in a number of battles.” He owned a mill and cotton gin at Lunenberg and also ran a “mercantile establishment.” In 1888, Joseph L. Byler became postmaster at Adler, and in 1903 was appointed postmaster at Guion."
William L. Byler, future County Judge, was run out of the county and had his land stolen from him. His brothers were his enemy. That is worthy of mention.

As is the story of the Dixon brothers.

Owen and Ruth Dixon along with Frances Thompson write in their excellent work on the Matthew Dixon Family:

John "Brushy" Dixon

"John B. Dixon, better known as “Brushy”, was a farmer, wagon and cabinet maker, in all of which occupations - as well as with the fiddle and bow - he ranked in a class by himself. It mattered not what “Uncle Brushy” undertook to do; he accomplished it highly satisfactorily to all concerned.
"Soon after coming to Arkansas, he built a wagon shop at his home and began to build the wood work of wagons, while Jim Cooper, a black-smith, did the iron work for him. And so well finished and substantially constructed was his product that he was depended upon to make wagons for the people of the entire community. He would go to the woods and personally select his timber, cut and split it, haul it to the shop and let it season at least one year before using it in his wagon work. He entered 240 acres of land at $1.25 an acre, and he and his children opened up a nice little farm. Most all his children, both boys and girls, played the violin - some very efficiently. His home was 3 miles west from where Melbourne now is. He was one of the fiddlers supplying music for dances at the Centennial celebration held at Newburg, July 4, 1876.

"At the outbreak of the Civil War, his sympathies being with the Union, he and his family were treated somewhat of contempt by most of the people in that country. They stole his stock, and even threatened his life. His father let him have his horse one year to make a crop. To keep it from being stolen, they kept it hidden of nights in a pine thicket. One evening, Amanda went out to feed the horse and came upon two men just ready to take it away. She grabbed the reins and was in the act of mounting the horse when they overpowered her and took it. Threats against Brushy’s life forced him to stay hidden every night. One night however, he slipped in home to spend an hour or two with his family, when two men entered to take him away. A general fight ensued - most of the girls being well grown and strong, they succeeded in driving the intruders off. They then decided, for their protection, to refugee to Missouri, near Rolla, where was stationed a Union fort. Uncle Brushy went on ahead to make preparations for the family, they following in ox-drawn wagons. The wagons being filled with household goods, the family had to walk. Within a few miles of their destination, the oxen gave out. Driving them off the road a short way, they stopped. The oxen lay down and died. Two of the girls walked on to the Fort to secure aid to take them on. A detachment was sent after them - their father going with them when they were taken to their destination. The next year the war closed and they returned to their home.
"A year or so later, Uncle Brushy was elected Justice of the Peace, his Court being held in his home. Thus, this house - now standing, was the first house where law and order were meted out since some time before, and during the war. Wm. C. Dixon kept the records for him."
 There was conflict among the citizens of Izard County. That cannot be erased away. People were treated brutally for their loyalty to the nation of their birth. Even among families, loyalties cut deep.

The group also writes in the Matthew Dixon Family article about "Uncle Brushy's" brother, Hilliard:

"Hilliard Dixon - farmer and country school teacher - was a plain, unassuming, inoffensive man of rather reserved and passive disposition, small in stature - approaching the effeminate - yet with all strong and determined in favor of the right as he saw it. Against secession from principle, he believed and advocated the perpetuation of the Union. Yet, when his adopted state declared in favor of secession five of his sons, with his hearty approval went forth to battle for the cause of the South."

While avoiding the conflicts among Izard County's families Karr also fails to mention the Mill Creek Peace Oraganization Society, an affiliate of the Arkansas Peace Organization Society , an organization of people against the war and not willing to fight for either side. These were families that worked together for self-preservation in the midst of the conflict. They just wanted to live their lives in peace without having to choose sides against their neighbor.

However, there were men in Izard County at the time who complied and even enforced Governor Rector's order to round these people up. They were forced via threats of execution to join the Confederacy.

This certainly deserved to have been mentioned by Karr Shannon in his A History of Izard County. The subject deserved more than his  suggestion that a few men were opposed to the war early on but eventually joined the confederacy on their own.

There were some men actually executed!

Why would Karr Shannon, journalist, historian, faithful lover of Izard County, have left these things out? I believe it was because of the very same thing historians have to deal with every day. It's certainly something I have had to deal with concerning the way I approach writing about some of the events that have occurred in Izard County. There are still piercing sensitivities about certain events in our county's history.Those sensitivities are ignored at the peril of the writer.

Ironically, one event I have not had the freedom to write about is the very event I believe motivated Karr Shannon to write his 1947 work on the history of his beloved Izard, the Murder of Sheriff James Lawrence Harber and the trial of Rubert Byler that followed. The Izard County community was sharply divided about the event surrounding the tragedy back when it happened and those divisions and perceptions still exist today! The slightest indication of taking sides one way or another can and do result in rebukes from those who still have those sensitivities.

This is why I think Karr's coverage of the Civil-War in Izard County was so obscure and even sugar-coated a bit. The children who were affected by the War Between the States were the leaders during the time Karr grew up in Lunenburg. Likely, many of the resentments among family members and between citizens still existed. Perhaps it was not a lack of knowledge about the events that occurred only a few short decades before. Perhaps it was his writer sensitivity.


Anonymous said...

The dark blue is hard to read.... lol

Al-Ozarka said...

Sorry, sometimes the editor is a pain in the you-know-what.

Al-Ozarka said...

Now it's fixed.