Why Gen. M. Jeff Thompson Changed His Mind About Chalk Bluff

The Thursday May 25, 1865 edition of the Weekly Ottumwa Courier contains information on Gen. M. Jeff Thompson’s surrender.

The Thursday May 25, 1865 edition of The Weekly Ottumwa [Iowa] Courier reported the news of General M. Jeff Thompson’s surrender and it contains information of a particular location to surrender his command.

According to the paper it appears that originally General Thompson had chosen Chalk Bluff , Arkansas to surrender his command but something occurred to change his mind. The paper reported:

“At Cape Girardeau Lt. Colonel Hines was found with 200 of the 17th Illinois Cavalry to escort the flag of truce and messengers to Chalk Bluffs. The Day after the party left the Cape 200 more men of the same regiment with a section of artillery followed the escort party. With the exception messengers and escorts were nearly eaten up by mosquitos nothing occurred worthy of note until the banks of the St. Francois River were reached and Lt. Col. Davis and Captain Bennett and the escort of cavalry encamped at Chalks Bluffs, Mo.

Another detachment of cavalry, the 7th Kansas numbering three hundred men , under command of Col. Beveridge, had gone off toward Doniphan , so as to be prepared for emergencies. They encountered no opposition but arrived in Doniphan, Ripley County, Missouri about the time messenger or flag of truce arrived at Chalk Bluffs.

Upon reaching the Bluff it was ascertained that General Thompson had gone south to meet another flag of truce from General Reynolds, commanding the Department of Arkansas.”

The paper goes on to report that the final surrender and settlement was to be made on May 25th at Wittsburg, Missouri, on the St. Francis River and at Jacksonport, Arkansas on the White River, on the 5th of June.”

It is purely speculation on this writer’s part , but I feel perhaps General Thompson’s reluctance to travel to Chalk Bluff had something to do with the 7th Kansas Cavalry waiting in Doniphan.

The 7th Kansas had plundered their way from Missouri’s western border at the beginning of the war, all the way down to southeast Missouri at war’s end and as I wrote in a “Speak Out” forum on June 14, 2011:

“When the 7th Kansas Cavalry is mentioned most people think of the depredations it committed in Western Missouri; however, the 7th Kansas was very active in Southeast Missouri as well, and every bit as vicious. Thanks to the Reynolds County Genealogy a previously unknown newspaper clip has surfaced that sheds light on how the 7th Kansas viewed Missourians (even from the eastern side of the state).

“DAILY TIMES [LEAVENWORTH, KS], March 4, 1865, p. 3, c. 1

Through the kindness of Mr. A. G. Fraker, of the 7th cavalry, we have been permitted to copy the following items from a letter written by one of the boys of the 7th, now at Patterson, Missouri. It is dated Feb. 24th. Patterson is below Pilot Knob:

“We are getting this country pretty well cleaned out. We have killed several of the most desperate characters within the past two weeks. Have had a few unsuccessful chases after rebels. Most all of the rebel families have been ordered South. We met two families on their road to Dixie on foot. Captain Bostwick is in command of the post. A big scout went out this morning. The citizens are making maple sugar.”

General Thompson might very well have felt the 7th Kansas’ presence in Doniphan, Missouri was a trap and that they were “lying in wait”. One thing is for sure, Thompson was worried for not only his men but for their family members as well.

At 8:00 am on Thursday May 11, 1865 from Liddle’s (an area near Chalk Bluff, Arkansas, Thompson penned a dispatch to Lt. Colonel C.W. Davis , U.S. Army which stated:

“Colonel: Can you inform me whether the officers and men who were surrendered by General Robert E. Lee were permitted to pass within the Confederate lines or not? My reason for making this inquiry is that many of those I am called upon to surrender will prefer to go to Texas and Louisiana to remaining in neighborhoods where private animosities will keep the community in tumult, after the military authorities are withdrawn. Some will desire to take their families. Others think that their families will be safe will be absent themselves after being paroled. This is a very important matter to many on the border of Missouri and Arkansas, and you, will therefore , please let me know your understanding of this case.

M. Jeff Thompson

Brigadier General, Commanding North Sub-District of Arkansas.”

Clint Lacy is the author of Blood in the Ozarks: Expanded Second Edition available in paperback for $15 & Kindle format eBook for $2.99