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Ozarks Public TV to Air Documentary on Civil War "Battle of Newtonia"

Few events have impacted the Ozarks as greatly as the Civil War. With the sesquicentennial upon us, there is a renewed interest in what makes this region’s participation in the war unique. For our ongoing local history series, Sense of Place, KSMU’s Emma Wilson explores the battles of Newtonia and the upcoming documentary about one of them that premiers Thursday.

In America, there is an enduring interest in Civil War history and in this region, where brother fought brother and neighbors took up arms against one another, there are constant reminders of its impact on the community. A documentary that will air on Ozarks Public Television profiles the first of two battles that took place in Newtonia, Missouri.

“The unique aspect of the Battle of Newtonia is the participation of Native Americans.”

That’s Tom Carter, the director of programming at OPT. He says that they chose to produce this documentary not only because the battle was unique for this area but distinctive from all battles in the Civil War.

“It is the only Civil War battle outside of Indian Territory where regimented Native Americans fought on both sides of the conflict. We are familiar with brother fighting against brother and family against family and things in our Civil War. But you don’t really often think of Native Americans doing the same thing.”

The site of that battle is around the Ritchey Mansion near the center of the tiny town of Newtonia. It is a two story brick colonial house that is seemingly unchanged from the time it was used as Confederate headquarters and a hospital during the battle of 1862. A porch made of massive stones leads to tall double doors.

[Sound: knocking on door, hellos]

I met with Tom Higden, a local historian and charter member of the Newtonia Battlefield Protection Association. He showed me around the house and grounds, telling stories about the battles and the folks involved in them as we went.

[Sound: creaking of stairs, Higden’s voice in the background]

First, he showed me up a flight of stairs to a room where the wide, old floorboards are painted black.

“This is the ‘Black Room.’ The ‘Black Room’ got its name because they used this [building] for a hospital and a surgery room was upstairs. The battle was being fought across the street and around the house so they brought the soldiers up here and did surgery. The bloodstains were so bad that they couldn’t get them out of the floor, so they painted the floor black.”

From the window of the “Black Room” we looked across the street to where most of the First Battle of Newtonia took place. In that battle, Indian regiments clashed in the Union attempts to get control of the area. The Federals were repelled by the Confederates and fled back to Carthage.

“But they didn’t chase after them. They came back here and celebrated. And three days later a larger force of Union troops came down out of Springfield, set up some 30 cannons on the ridge, fired into town and the confederates thought ‘Naw, this is not our day’ so they left. So they wasted that victory and never got back up into the state,” Higden says.

The Second Battle of Newtonia was in 1864 during the retreat of General Price’s cavalry from their defeat at Westport. That battle also pushed onto the grounds of the Richey Mansion. It ended with the Confederates continuing their retreat, although they held off the Union pursuers for the most part. That battle is largely considered a draw.

For KSMU’s Sense of Place, I’m Emma Wilson.

TAG: The documentary about the First Battle of Newtonia will premier Thursday night at 8:00 on Ozarks Public Television.