Area History
The Civil War in Newton County - The fight for Mines and Mills

Newton County saw much activity during the Civil War. Although there were a few significant battles, many of the conflicts were small skirmishes or revenge, one-on-one, killings that could hardly be considered military actions. These small engagements occurred in every section of the county.

But in the bigger picture, mines and mills were the catalysts for much of the fighting in the county. Armies have a tremendous appetite for ammunition and food. Newton County had both. The lead mines around Granby provided the material for ammunition. Rich crop lands and gristmills on Oliver's Prairie in the Newtonia -Jollification region provided the food. Neosho , being the county seat, was coveted primarily as a place to "run up the flag" to show which side was in control.

Along with numerous small skirmishes at Granby, a significant battle was waged there on October 4, 1862. This battle was for control of the lead mines.

Many of the Confederate units in this area were members of the state militia. Much of the state militia was allied with a former governor, Sterling Price, who tried to raise a great army to win Missouri for the South. Union forces included some local home guard units as well as several regular army units from Kansas, Wisconsin, and Texas .

A highly unusual element of the fighting in Newton County was the presence of Native American soldiers, serving on both sides. The most famous Indian soldier in the Civil War, General Stand Watie, spent much time in Newton County. It is believed that he personally led his Second Cherokee Mounted Rifles in what is known as the Battle of Shoal Creek near Neosho. Colonel Watie (he had not yet been made a general) fought against Union forces, which included Creek and Seminole Indians.

Throughout the war, Native American soldiers moved in and out of Newton County on a somewhat regular basis. Their movements sent them back and forth from Missouri to Arkansas and back to "the Nation" (now Oklahoma). General Stand Watie, the great Cherokee soldier, has the distinction of being the last Confederate general to surrender.

The two most significant Civil War battles in Newton County occurred in Newtonia. Both battles were fought in the fall of the year - when the crops had been gathered and food was abundant in the region. The first battle was on September 30, 1862, and the Second Battle of Newtonia was fought October 28, 1864. The first battle pitted General James Blunt against Colonel Jo Shelby and his famous "Iron Brigade". Accounts of the battle vary greatly, depending on the author of the report. However, it is widely accepted that the Confederates fielded at least 4,000 men and the Union at least 6,500. Some accounts suggest far greater numbers. One account reports 16,000 Confederates and 13,500 Union troopers. The Second Battle of Newtonia was the final gasp of the Confederacy in Missouri. At this time, General Price was being run out of the state after his famous, but unsuccessful, raid. General James Blunt led the Union forces that were chasing General Price. At Newtonia, now-General Jo Shelby protected General Price's flank in a delaying action at Newtonia. This engagement, which gave Price cover to escape into Arkansas, was the last major Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River.

Both of the battles in Newtonia saw action in and around the home and barn owned by Matthew H. Ritchey, a Union officer. The Ritchey home, which was built in 1852, and a few acres of the Ritchey farm are owned by the Newtonia Battlefields Protection Association.

Fighting in and around Neosho was often for control of the old brick courthouse. On several occasions, the building was occupied by Native American troops loyal to the Confederacy. Occupancy of the courthouse was shuffled back and forth, often given up by one side after major shelling blasted the building. In May of 1863, part of the business section of Neosho was burned in the fighting. Following the Civil War, citizens of the town, with no support from county government officials, removed the courthouse ruins. A new courthouse was not constructed for another twenty years.