Sunday, October 27, 1861
The small, but surprising, Union victory in Springfield, Missouri on the 25th had paved the way for General John C. Fremont and his Army of the West to enter the town on this date.
Fremont arrived towards evening, accompanied by an infantry division commanded by General Franz Sigel. For a month, they had been chasing the Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price, who had retreated south after the siege of Lexington.
Fremont established his headquarters in the same red brick building used by General Nathaniel Lyon prior to Wilson’s Creek. Feeling victorious, he sent a dispatch to Washington, bragging that the recapture of Springfield was “an atonement for Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek and Lexington.”1
Price was now at Neosho, in the southwest corner of the state, eighty miles away. Fremont was aware of Price’s position and believed that Confederate General Ben McCulloch was still in Arkansas. To Washington, Fremont promised “to clear the state entirely of the enemy.”2
Rebel Ships Burned Near Chincoteague
Though Chincoteague Island on Virginia’s shore was said to be completely Unionist in sentiment, the surrounding mainland area was decidedly pro-Confederacy.
According to rumor, a sawmill at the mouth of beautifully-named Swans Gut Creek, near Sinnickson, just on the other side of Chincoteague Bay, was producing lumber for two Confederate batteries that would challenge the USS Louisiana, protecting the shipping interests of the loyal Chincoteague citizenry.
Lt. Alexander Murray sent a small force of thirty men to see if the rumors were true. If the mill in question was producing lumber for the Rebel battery, it was to be burned to the ground. On the other hand, if there was no evidence that it was working for the enemy, the party was to move up the creek and destroy any ships the Confederates had squirreled away.
At 10pm, the special force left the Louisiana in three small boats. In short order, they reached the mouth of Swans Gut Creek and the sawmill. They looked over the mill, closely inspecting its work, but could see nothing that would indicate that it was building a battery.
Undaunted, they reboarded their boats and moved upstream. There, after a mile or so, they discovered a schooner and two sloops. All were set ablaze and destroyed without the 300 Rebel soldiers, stationed a couple miles away at Horntown, being any the wiser.
Five of the raiding party were actually Chincoteague residents. In his report, Lt. Murray stated that he was “fully persuaded of the fidelity of these islanders, and would recommend their being armed and organized to assist in suppressing the insurrection on this peninsula.”3
- Borderland Rebellion by Elmo Ingenthron – this dispatch does not appear in the Official Records, however, at least three sources cite it. Civil War on the Western Border by Jay Monaghan, as well as Missouri; A History of the Crossroads State by Edwin McReynolds. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3. p249. [↩]
- Official Naval Records, Series 1, Vol. 6, p366. [↩]