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1864 Battle of Plattsburg

The Battle of Plattsburg was not in any sense a great battle and in comparison with many subsequent engagements, it may have been deemed insignificant.  It was however a bona fide Civil War battle, among the few actual fights between Union and Confederate soldiers upon the soil of Northwest Missouri.

Thanks to James Crofutt of St. Joseph, Missouri for the following information:


We have been unable to find in the various published histories of Clinton County any real account of this engagement, and this fact among others has led to the preparation and preservation of these accounts.

The fact that at this battle the blood of Missouri boys was shed is of itself enough to make it our duty to preserve from oblivion the story of struggle and victory. 
 But this is not all.  The engagement viewed in the light of the moral effect and of the more substantial results achieved was by no means unimportant or insignificant. Where as we do not have the room here to publish the entire story, we will however make an attempt to briefly cover the basic history of the original battle of Plattsburg.
What we do know is that the Plattsburg fight was fought on the morning of July 21st, 1864. It was fought just outside of town, between elements of the 89th Enrolled Missouri Militia and provisional Confederate forces of Major John Thrailkill.
These Confederate’s under Thrailkill were a part of the recruiting efforts of Colonel John “Coon” Thornton who had arrived in northwest Missouri earlier that year for the purpose of recruiting a Confederate force. The goal was to rally a sizable force of recruits and then to join up with Confederate General Sterling Price when he arrived in the area at the head of his army.
In early July, Colonel Thornton rode into Parkville and then Platte City. Both of these towns had garrisons occupied by elements of the 82nd Enrolled Missouri Militia, who’s ranks were known to be filled with ex Confederate soldiers and southern sympathizers. They were commonly known to many as the Paw Paw militia. In Platte City, the Paw Paw’s formed up and cheered as Thornton rode into town. They stacked arms, took off their blue coats and opened up a secret stash of gray Confederate Jackets, put them on and eagerly joined Thornton.
A few days later, Thornton had moved north to Camden Point and was attacked by Union Cavalry and Militia forces in a surprise attack. Thornton was soundly defeated and his forces put to the route. But he was able to regroup and then headed east towards Caldwell County towards Kingston. By this time, federal authorities were quickly mobilizing what few active units were in the area and also activating those units of the Enrolled Missouri Militia that were known to be reliable. The chase was on and Thornton had to divide his force into smaller elements to avoid capture and in order to continue to operate.
In early June, a part of two companies of the 89th Enrolled Missouri Militia had been activated and assigned to duty in Plattsburg and Ridgley.

The Enrolled Missouri Militia or EMM for short, was the Civil War version of the Army National Guard
These men were enlisted into units, but allowed to stay home and tend to their farms. In the event of an emergency or other needed duties, they could be called to duty and then would serve as soldiers in the field.  By 1864, the majority of EMM troops were issued standard blue uniforms and muskets when called up for duty.
By early July, the Company of the 89th EMM at Ridgley had been ordered to Plattsburg and the garrison now consisted of Company B (50 men) under the command of Captain Poe and Company E (50 men) under the command of Captain Turney. The entire garrison was under the command of Captain Poe.
They were receiving reports almost daily on the movements of Thornton and Thrailkill and on the evening of July 20, 1864 Captain Poe received word that a part of Thorntons men was heading towards Plattsburg and the garrison should stay alert.
That next morning, Poe received word that Thorntons advance had been sighted a few miles from Plattsburg and possibly heading towards the town. Learning of their approach, Poe ordered a patrol and Captain John W. Turney, with his company of fifty men, started out to reconnoiter. Just outside of town, Captain Turney discovered a column of Thornton’s guerrillas, numbering about 400 men, under Major Thrailkill. They had approached Plattsburg from the east and contact had been made at 9:00 a.m. on July the 21st. Placing his men in position and forming a line of battle, Captain Turney discovered a flag of truce approaching.
Major Thrailkill by the following written communication, demanded the surrender of the town:
I hereby demand an immediate surrender of the town. We are not bushwhackers, but Confederate soldiers. Your men will be treated as prisoners of War.

John Thrailkill Major,
commanding Confederate forces.

The message was received by Captain Turney and he immediately sent a runner back to Captain Poe with the note. The following reply was returned by Captain Poe:
Maj. John Thrailkill: July 21, 1864
Sir: We are not here for the purpose of surrendering, but to defend the flag of our Country. –

B.F. Poe Captain,
Commanding Post.

Thrailkill did not appreciate the response and immediately ordered his men to dismount and began to deploy them for battle. Captain Turney, with his men opened a vigorous attack upon the enemy and for a short period of time checked his approach to the town. But Captain Turney was killed by the first fire from the enemy.

Thrailkill pressed the attack with his main battalion and deployed his other Battalion, the Paw Paw’s to the flank of Turneys company. Lieut. McCullough who was now in command of Turneys company saw the threat and faced being cut off. He immediately fell back to the town with the body of Captain Turney, and joined Captain Poe who had heard the heavy fighting and had assumed Captain Turneys company had been cut off and captured.

Captain Poe had already ordered a retreat and many of his men had already departed. But seeing the arrival of McCullough and realizing that they had not been captured, but rather put up a vigorous defense, Captain Poe issued orders cancelling the retreat and prepared to defend the town, with those men he had left. 
In addition, a provisional company of citizen’s had been quickly organized when the fighting was heard and were ready to serve as a home guard. Captain Poe deployed his men in and around the town courthouse and was preparing to defend it. But Thrailkill did not see fit to attack, as he had received word that a pursuing force of Missouri State Militia Cavalry from Cameron were pressing his rear and only a short distance away. 
Thrailkill called off the attack and thus history officially records the battle of Plattsburg as a Union victory. Captain Poe and Captain Turney’s vigorous resistance repulsed Thrailkill, compelling him to withdraw his force in the direction of Haynesville.
Union Casualties were light, with only Captain Turney being killed and 1 man being mortally wounded and dying several days after the fight. 3 other men were slightly wounded making for a total of 2 killed and 3 wounded. Confederate Casualties have never been able to be determined because it was reported that they carried off their dead and wounded.
However, subsequent reports from the pursuing MSM Cavalry and prisoners who were captured in the pursuit seem to point towards a Confederate loss of almost the same. At least 1 killed and 2 or 3 wounded.

Sesquicentennial Information
(still to come)



Web sponsored by:   

Plattsburg Chamber of Commerce
PO Box 134
Plattsburg, MO 64477


Special thanks to The Clinton County Leader and RT Photography
for donating many of the pictures for use on this site and
to Marti Spease-Riddle for the picture of the Christian Church used in the header for this website.