Joplin, Mo. “I’ve been by here hundreds of times, and I never knew about this.”
That sentence, or some variation, was repeated Wednesday by many of those who gathered at a Civil War battle site a few miles north of Joplin.
A ceremony was held at the location — near the intersection of Peace Church and Fountain roads — as the first step in an effort to make sure those who died there are recognized and remembered.
Joplin and Jasper County officials, local historians and others gathered to announce that the five-acre tract had been purchased and would be developed as a historic site to commemorate the battle at the Rader Farm, where on May 18, 1863, a regiment of black soldiers was ambushed and killed by Confederate guerrillas.
Organizers chose Veterans Day to announce the purchase, made possible through a $25,000 donation by Joplin attorneys Ed and Alison Hershewe.
Joplin Mayor Gary Shaw credited the couple for the gift, saying “they agreed, without hesitation” when he asked for their help.
The mayor’s help in lining up a public-private partnership to acquire the site came at the urging of Vince Lindstrom, executive director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau. Lindstrom said he learned about the site soon after he arrived in Joplin from Brad Belk, director of the Joplin Museum Complex.
“I felt like it was something we should recognize, and that we should do it before 2011,” Lindstrom said, noting the sesquicentennial anniversary of the start of the Civil War.
The site will mark Jasper County’s “first venture into the parks system, and we hope it’s just the start,” added Darieus Adams, an associate county commissioner who worked with the group on the purchase.
The crowd listened intently as Steve Cottrell, a Carthage resident and Civil War researcher and writer, told the story of the detachment of 40 members of the 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry who had come to the area foraging for food. They began gathering corn at the Rader Farm near the village of Sherwood when they were ambushed by a guerrilla band of about 70 Southern sympathizers.
Fifteen black soldiers were shot and killed. Most of the regiment’s white escorts escaped on horseback, though three were chased down and also killed.
The next day, Union reinforcements arrived and found the soldiers’ bodies, which had been mutilated.
On orders from the regiment’s white commander, the bodies were placed inside the Rader house and burned, along with the body of a Southern sympathizer who was shot after he was found nearby. The commander also ordered nearby communities, including Sherwood, burned to the ground.
With a population of about 250, Sherwood in 1863 was Jasper County’s third largest community. After it was burned to the ground, it was never rebuilt.
The 54th, immortalized in the 1989 movie “Glory,” is often thought of as the first black fighting regiment during the Civil War.
The 1st Kansas regiment was comprised of slaves turned soldiers, recruited the previous summer from Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas and Indian Territory. Though the unit had been officially mustered into the Army earlier that year at Fort Scott, Kan, it already had seen action in 1862 north of Fort Scott and in Bates County, Mo.
Cottrell concluded his remarks Wednesday by reading the names of the soldiers killed in the ambush.
Belk said plans call for the property to be secured.
“Then we’ll learn more about its history by an archaeological dig of the site,” he said. “Then, the site will be nominated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We plan to landscape it and erect a memorial for future generations. So when they drive by, they’ll know what happened here.”