Andrew Jackson Henderson, a member of the Stone Prairie Home Guard, pictured later in the war after he joined Company G of the Fifteenth Missouri Cavalry Volunteers. He also served in Company L of the Seventy-Sixth Enrolled Missouri Militia. [Courtesy of Jeremiah Buntin and Kimberly Harper]
A detail from John Casto’s Declaration for an Original Invalid Pension, February 17, 1898. [National Archives, Records of the Veterans Administration, Record Group 15]
A plat map of Barry County, Missouri, circa 1909. Most of the men in the Stone Prairie Home Guard were from the northwest part of the county. [Standard Atlas of Barry County, 1909]
A postwar image of SPHG member George Goodnight, who joined the unit at age fifteen. He also served with the Greene-Christian County Home Guard and Company F of the Twenty-Fourth Missouri Infantry. Goodnight was later sheriff of Barry County. [Courtesy of the Barry County Museum]
Michael Horine, an SPHG member who also served with the Greene-Christian County Home Guard and Company F of the Twenty-fourth Missouri Infantry. Horine was appointed sheriff of Barry County in 1865. [Courtesy of the Barry County Museum]

The Stone Prairie Home Guard (SPHG) was the first Union military organization active in Barry County, Missouri, during the Civil War. It was organized informally in late April or early May 1861, but existed officially only from July 6 to August 20. Its formal roster included forty-three officers and men, largely from the Capps Creek and Gadfly areas in the northwest part of the county. Many of them went on to serve in other Civil War units and as civic leaders in the county after the war. In its organization and character, the SPHG was typical of many similar Missouri units early in the war.

As the war began in the spring of 1861, there were widespread reports of depredations against Union supporters in Missouri. Sempronious H. Boyd, a Union leader and future congressman from Springfield, wrote to Oliver D. Filley, chairman of the Committee of Public Safety in St. Louis and the city’s recent mayor, “I have messengers and letters from all parts of the Southwest, inquiring of me what the government will do for their safety. The people are overwhelmed with terror and fright.” 

Although the state had not seceded, its government and militia were in the hands of men who leaned toward the South and failed to respond to these attacks. Rather than wait for protection from the federal government, Missouri Unionists invoked the long frontier tradition of self-help and formed home guard units to protect themselves. Eventually, these extra-legal organizations were given formal legal sanction. 

Only one firsthand account of life in the SPHG is known. In the years 1898 to 1902, John Casto sought a Civil War pension and described his time with the unit as part of his pension application. According to his affidavits, the unit existed no later than the first week of May 1861 and was a rough-hewn affair that slept on the ground without camp equipage or even bedding. Organized for the purpose of self-protection, it evolved into a scouting unit for the larger Union army. The first regularly constituted federal troops in southwest Missouri were largely from St. Louis and badly needed local eyes and ears. The SPHG performed this function in the crucial interval between the Battle of Carthage on July 5, 1861, and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, scouting and reporting daily to the Union command.

In mid-June, Missouri’s Union commander General Nathaniel Lyon forced the Southern-leaning state government to flee Jefferson City and move to southwest Missouri. There the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard led by Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and General Sterling Price planned to link up with General Ben McCulloch’s Confederate forces in northwest Arkansas. Any opposition encountered by the SPHG up to this time was presumably local and no better equipped or trained than it was, but suddenly the unit faced the prospect of encountering a real Confederate army. It was time to join the federal army, which was also moving into southwest Missouri.

            The opportunity came in early July after Union troops from St. Louis led by Franz Sigel and Captain Thomas Sweeny clashed at Carthage with State Guard units led by Jackson and Price. Outnumbered, Sigel retreated to Mount Vernon during the night. There, on July 6, the SPHG was formally mustered into federal service. The official history of the unit consists of one sentence in the Unit Register at the Missouri State Archives. It says the SPHG “was organized in Barry County June 1861 by authority of Col. Phelps and approved by Genl Sigel; and the duty performed consisted in scouting and watching the movements of the enemy until August 1861 when the same was disbanded.”

Captain Sexton’s Independent Company

The SPHG was sometimes referred to as Sexton’s Independent Company after its leader, Captain John Sexton Jr. He was born in Kentucky or Indiana in about 1832 and settled on Capps Creek in Barry County with his parents in the late 1840s. On July 11, 1855, the twenty-three-year-old Sexton enlisted in Company K of the First Regiment of US Cavalry and spent five years patrolling the Great Plains between long winters on garrison duty at places like Fort Leavenworth, Fort Riley, and Fort Larned, Kansas Territory. He was enlisted at Capps Creek by John T. Coffee, who became an important leader of Confederate cavalry in southwest Missouri during the Civil War.

The Casto affidavits say that the SPHG followed the common Civil War practice of electing its officers. Captain Sexton’s regular army service no doubt qualified him for leadership of the group in the eyes of its men, but it is also true that he had the largest family voting bloc, being related by blood or marriage to eight other men in the unit. Such family relationships were common. Of its forty-three officers and men, at least twenty-six were related by blood or marriage to at least one other member of the group. If all the relationships were known, the number would probably be higher.

Based on incomplete information, the average age of the group was about thirty-one years, with the youngest member fifteen and the oldest fifty-six. Only two men in the group were over fifty, but seven were in their teens. The two older men both had sons in the group, and all of the teenagers had fathers or older brothers. Geographically, eleven of the men under age twenty-five were born in Missouri. The older men were born mainly in the upper South, with a few others from Indiana and Illinois. Occupationally, the group consisted overwhelmingly of farmers, but there were also a blacksmith, a carpenter, a doctor, and a preacher.

Of the forty-three men who served in the SPHG, at least twenty-five later served in other Civil War units. Although no one is known to have died while serving with the unit, at least eight of its members were later killed in action, bushwhacked, died of disease contracted in service, or disappeared without a trace during the war. Many members of the unit also provided civic leadership to the county both before and after the war. Two men served as sheriff of Barry County and two as justices of the peace. Two became newspaper publishers, others held office as circuit clerk and township constable, and one ran for the state legislature.

Dissolution of the SPHG

According to the Unit Register at the Missouri State Archives, on August 6, 1861, Captain Sexton and eight other men left the unit in an “irregular and disorderly manner.” Nothing in the surviving records explains these departures, leaving historians to speculate on the sort of tensions that may have existed in the unit just prior to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Although there is no record that the SPHG was actually engaged there, it was apparently with the federal army in the Springfield area at the time. On August 11, 1861, the day after the battle, twelve members of the SPHG were discharged and presumably returned home. The remaining twenty-two men retreated with the Union army to Rolla, where all were discharged on August 20, 1861, and where many then joined the Twenty-Fourth Missouri Infantry, which later fought at places such as Pea Ridge, Vicksburg, Missionary Ridge, and in the Red River campaign before the regiment was disbanded in February 1865.

Further Reading

Banks, Robert O., Jr. “The Stone Prairie Home Guard.” Historical Items from Southwest Missouri website.

Blevins, Brooks. A History of the Ozarks: Volume 2, The Conflicted Ozarks. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2019.

Gerteis, Louis S. The Civil War in Missouri: A Military History. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2012.

Holcombe, R. I., ed. History of Greene County, chaps. 6 and 7. St. Louis: Western Historical Co., 1883.

Parrish, William E. A History of Missouri, Volume III: 1860 to 1875. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1973.

Published April 26, 2024; Last updated April 29, 2024

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