Area 8: North of Harrisonville

This area just to the north of Harrisonville featured one of the largest farms in Cass County, that of Robert Allison Brown, who owned 2,000 acres and about 50 slaves. The brick home built in 1850 still stands and is owned and lived in by direct Brown descendants. Roads to Kansas City and Independence ran through this area, bringing troops to forage and fight.

Brown and his wife Mary Roddye Gillenwaters left Tennessee in 1842 to settle in Van Buren (now Cass) County, Missouri. In 1847 Brown built the first steam saw and gristmill in the county. Seven children grew up in the house which sat amidst 14 buildings such as a smoke house, apple house, woodshed and workshop, slave quarters, and barns. Travelers along the road often mistook it for a village and called it “Wayside Rest.”

Brown was elected to attend the Secession Convention called in early 1861 to determine whether Missouri would indeed attempt to secede from the Union. Brown voted not to leave the Union, and for this was provided protection papers which did prevent it from being burned.

However, authorities and outlaws often disregarded such papers, and the home was looted and food and crops confiscated some 11 times during the War. Brown had to personally defend the property more than once. Early in the war he sent most of the slaves to Texas for protection, but some of the women and children stayed behind. Jennison’s 7th Kansas Cavalry took them on a January 1862 raid.

One of the Brown’s sons, Tom Brown, was wounded at the Battle of Pea Ridge, captured and later died in a Federal military prison in Alton, Illinois. R. A. Brown traveled there to claim the body, and brought it back to be buried in the family cemetery. Another son, Will, served with the Confederates from 1862 to the end of the war. The family was good friends with the Henry W. Younger family. As the children were the same age, they visited often. Younger recalls the good times he had listening to Lizzie Brown play the piano which still sits in the parlor.

One of the more dramatic events at the home came on Christmas 1861 when Col. Jennison’s troops, quartered in Morristown, came to the home. This comes from a letter written by the Brown’s daughter Lizzie:

Every day some of the men came to the house to take whatever they pleased from the outbuildings. On Christmas day, just about mealtime, three men rode up and father gave them, as usual, a cordial invite to dine. They raved over the dinner and wondered why there was so much silver. The Lieutenant said some of the boys were hard and might take it, but father said, “no, the boys are in and out all the time and are well behaved.” They left late and headed toward town.

At about midnight, there was a heavy knock on the door. Mother answered while father dressed and got his pistol, for he had begun to smell a mouse. The caller said through the door that he was a friend and asked to see Mr. Brown. Father turned to mother and said, “go ring the bell” and that frightened them so the men turned to go. Father watched through the sidelight then one of the men fired hitting the right side of the door.

The bullet hole remains today beside the front door. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places but is a private residence and not open to the public.

July 17, 1861Skirmish North of Harrisonville (The area today would be just east of Hwy 291 and E. 327th street where the creek has been dammed into North Lake)

Major Robert Van Horn and his Battalion Reserve Corp left Camp Union in Kansas City. Most were raw recruits, many without weapons and many were Germans who spoke little or no English.

On his first night out he traveled about 20 miles and camped at the Little Blue about 20 miles from Camp Union (KC) on his route to Austin to relieve Major Deane. His command consisted of a little band of about 150 men without tents or proper clothing, and 10 citizens who were all mounted and armed. Trailing along behind was a hospital wagon and 10 days of rations. By Thursday about midday he halted at a spring about five miles north of Harrisonville for the men to eat and rest.

The citizens of Harrisonville had rallied about 350 men to protect their town from further plundering by Union troops. Benjamin F. Hays approached the camp and identified himself as the local sheriff. After explaining that no citizens would be harmed, etc., the sheriff left and promised to return. He did not. However, the good Major was warned they were not welcome

About 2:00 in the afternoon, the soldiers were approached by about 350 to 400 horsemen on the prairie who proceeded to surround their little camp. Although most were mounted, among them was a company of foot soldiers. The firing then commenced. The command of Van Horn took cover in the log cabins around the spring and in a cornfield. Finally, at sundown, after a heated skirmish, the house of Mr. James Smith became the stopping place. Van Horn had the corn surrounding the small cabin cut to deter any sneak attack through it.

The enemy about this time was reinforced by about 100 more men, all armed. Van Horn decided to fell some trees and make a stand, thinking they had about 2,000 rounds of ammunition. This proved very incorrect. Van Horn found the ammunition turned out to be for muskets, not rifles. Then very heavy rains started.

About 2:00 a.m. the next morning the command broke camp and headed back for the Kansas State Line. The rain, not cooperating, began falling in sheets and forced a dead halt. With no shelter and no fires, the men stood in the rain until it was light enough to proceed. Upon reaching the Grand River, they found it swollen and in crossing lost the wagons and all the clothing and supplies. The march continued all day through flooded bottom lands until they reached Camp Prince about 18 miles southwest of Harrisonville. There they halted for three days near present-day Drexel.

The only known civilian eye witness is Lizzie Brown, the 14-year-old daughter of Robert A. Brown who lived on the family plantation, Wayside Rest, one mile due west of the skirmish. She writes that standing on the second floor balcony which faced east, she could hear the shots and see the smoke from the battle. Early the next morning her brothers discovered two Union men who got lost in the downpour as their troops moved west toward Camp Prince. They were given a warm breakfast and sent on their way.

On July 20, 1861 Harrisonville was taken by the Missouri State Militia under Col. Nugent and Capt. Irwin Walley. Skirmishing was reported on July 25 with the Kansas 5th Cavalry and July 27 with the Cass County Home Guard Cavalry. From then to the end of the war, Harrisonville was occupied by Union troops and under martial law.

Edgar V. Hurst (Caught Between Three Fires.) lived in this area. Early in the war in May and June 1861 he organized the southern 3rd Missouri Infantry Volunteers for the Missouri State Guard as its Colonel. Hurst was an 1855 graduate of the Kentucky Military Institute.

On July 19, 1861 Hurst rode into Harrisonville to visit the General Store of Frank and Jesse Chilton. He bought these materials for his Confederate uniform:

7 yards gray casimere $17.50
2 yards silk alpaca $2.50
1 ½ yards canvas $.37
1 yard drilling $.15
¼ yard black cloth $.94
1 spool floss
3 sheets wadding $.35
Total bill $22.01

In less than a month, Col. Hurst would wear his new uniform in battle at Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, MO. There wounded, he would return to Cass County to recuperate.

In January 1862, soldiers of the 7th Kansas Cavalry were marching from Independence to West Point, burning over 30 homes and murdering a dozen people. A squad of Daniel Anthony’s soldiers cornered Hurst on a neighbor’s farm. “they surrounded the house of Mr. Ed Moore in Cass County and taking therefore Mr. Hurst who was an officer in the same army, killed him without pretense of a trial.” (Daily Missouri Republican, Jan. 16, 1862, p. 2, col. 3)