The Battle of The Blue

The Battle of The Blue
Rebel forces charge the Topeka Battery at Mockbee farm, original painting by Benjamin Mileham

Saturday, January 7, 2012

"It Seems That Those the Rebels Don’t Shoot, They Manage to Kill in Some Other Way."

  As James and Augusta Griffing continued to correspond over the long distance between Kansas and New York in the fall of 1864, they grew increasingly worried about their friends from Shawnee County.  It was near the end of November, and still James had no news of the fate of many of these people who had only recently shared many happy times with the Griffings.  The newspapers from which James gleaned any pertinent information concerning the 2nd Kansas Militia were frustratingly short on such facts and despite the cold weather, James decided to make the long ride from Nemeha County to Topeka and find out the situation first-hand.

  Lincoln [Kansas]
Saturday, November 26, 1864
My Dear Cutie [Augusta],
  It has been over a week since I sent you a letter. I did not intend to be so long and fully intended to write to you from Topeka but my time was so entirely taken up that I did not find time. I started from here on Friday at two o’clock and reached the timber this side of Topeka at pitch dusk and managed to get through after going co-whop against one stump. Then [I] forded the river when I could not see a little before my horse [due to the darkness] but came out all right. ‘But what did you go down for?’ say you. Well I got a little lonesome and out of variety and I wanted to hear and know about the prisoners and was right glad as it turned out that I went.
  I reached home about two hours after dark, found Bro. Hannum had gone down to Bro.[Osborn] Naylor’s who was very low. Sister Hannum got me a good supper and, after chatting awhile, I went to bed. The next morning after breakfast, [I] went with Bro.[Joshua] Hannum down to Bro. Naylor’s and found him worse. His disease was lung fever brought on by the exposure whilst a prisoner. Like most of the prisoners, he was robbed of his overcoat & boots, and kept on a forced march sometimes 40 miles a day with no food most of the time but roast corn. He was obliged to ford the streams, some of them waist deep, and lie down in their wet clothes nights without even blankets to cover them. They continued in this way for six long weary days before they were paroled and as would be expected, many of them came home entirely broken down. 
  He seemed quite glad to see me and conversed quite freely. He seemed to feel as though he was not long for this world which premonition was alas too true, although he was very careful not to let his angel wife who bent over him with such continued anxiety know but what he was all the time getting better.  I stayed with him through the day and saw that he was a great sufferer and gradually failing. He expressed him as entirely resigned to the will of God [and] seemed to regret that he had not been more useful in the church. About four or a little before sundown he called all the children about his bed and addressed them very prettily beginning with Rolla and talked as calmly as I ever knew him. It did seem as if the little one’s hearts would break. And when he came to bid them all a final farewell, their feelings were uncontrollable. But he seemed as good and pleasant as ever. He spoke and said, “What a beautiful evening it is.” After a little, he seemed drowsy and I thought I would go up to Bro. Hannum’s and get my supper and get Bro. Hannum who had gone home during the day and come down and set up with him. We reached there about six, just fifteen minutes before he died. He was past speaking but had his senses enough to give his companion a last parting kiss and soon sweetly fall asleep in Jesus, dying very easy. It was too much difficult to speak. I thought a more befitting place for me was among the mourners.
Dr. Vaughn buried his little boy the same day Bro. Naylor died. Also Bro.[Robert]Hoback, a fellow prisoner with Bro. Naylor, died the same evening of the same disease brought on in the same way. Bro.[Elias] Williams of Topeka was past speaking when I left there yesterday, dying in the same way. Hib Gale died also Sunday of the same disease. So it seems that those the rebels don’t shoot, they manage to kill in some other way.
 Jesse Stevenson & his wife did not reach there until after [Osborn Naylor] died. Father Jordan had been there most of the day and had left to go & stay with Selah at Tecumseh, who is now left a widow – her husband dying some two weeks ago near Ft. Gibson. A messenger was sent after him but neither he nor William Jordan reached there until after his death. Oh it was a sad night and a house of mourning indeed. Truly a good neighbor and worthy citizen has gone. How often did his sickness recall his great kindness to me [when I was sick in the winter of 1855-1856]. I tried to preach a funeral discourse on Tuesday to a large yet sad audience. Several of his fellow prisoners were in attendance, but my heart was so full at times I found it [very difficult. I feel badly] for his poor wife who, part of the time after he was taken prisoner, was almost distracted. She now went into spasms and for some three hours in spite of rubbing and talking to her. She came very near dying [and] she was unable to be out of bed the day of the funeral.
 Please kiss the children for Papa. Don’t let Johnny go down by the railroad. Keep a little eye on him. He has many things to learn yet. Give my love to all and ever believe me your own true husband. – J. S. Griffing
The following article appeared in the Thursday, December 1, 1864 edition of the Nemaha Courier, published in Seneca:
"Mr. Griffing, of Lincoln, who has just returned from Topeka, tells us that the Shawnee county militia, who were taken prisoners by Price at Westport, and paroled and sent back at the Arkansas State line, suffered considerably in the campaign, and some of them have died from the hardships and disease contracted while huddled in with Price's retreating rag a-muffins. They were robbed of their blankets, overcoats, and kept in advance of the rebel column when in motion, and whenever any rest was allowed, were obliged to lie down thus exposed to the open air." 

 Owego [New York]
December 11, 1864
My dear husband [James],
Your letter of November 29th I received the past week – just two weeks since receiving the one before it. I had begun to be very anxious about you, but your letter written after your return from Topeka explained it all. I am so glad you went down, but was so sorry to hear the dreadful news it contained. It does not seem possible that poor Mrs. Naylor is left alone. Can it be possible that we shall never more see him or visit him as a neighbor? I have written to her and shall feel very anxious to hear how she gets along & hope Mrs. Hannum will write. It seems Mrs. Naylor is not the only bereaved one – poor women. I feel truly sorry for them.
Did you see Henry Winans? Of course he is all right else you would have written. Did you see Nancy or Jacob [Orcutt], or hear anything about [my brother] James Goodrich? We have not heard from him in a long time and Ma feels quite anxious. How did Mr. Hannum & the rest escape being taken prisoners? Have you heard whether Mr. Williams lived or not? Please write me all you hear about them….Give my love to all who inquire. I often think of them all. Take good care of yourself & not get cold if possible. I hope you will keep well. Write often. Ever your – Augusta
   James and Augusta Griffing continued to write frequently to each other until April of 1865, when it became safe for Augusta and their three children to return to Kansas.  The Griffing family returned to Shawnee County and James resumed his career as a circuit-riding minister until he died in 1882.   He was a prolific writer and kept nearly everything he ever wrote: letters, speeches, receipts, journals, ledgers and also photos.  It is rare to find such an extensive collection and most of it can be found at
    As the letters relate to the history of Kansas and 2nd Kansas Militia, they are an invaluble insight into the hopes and fears of nearly every Kansan in the fall of 1864.  In their own way, James and Augusta Griffing have paid a fine and lasting tribute to the men of the 2nd KSM and their families who suffered with them.

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