Our small farm has a steep limestone bluff on its north border. I like standing there about sunrise, pondering Big Cedar Creek, its bluff and its history. I hear the thud of a wild turkey coming off his sleeping perch to begin another day, courting turkey hens. I hear woods noises, the faint chirping of birds, and take note of the refreshing fragrance of damp bark and wild mushrooms. I breathe deeply, smelling and seeing only natural, God-made things: birds, nests, cedar and pine trees, water trickling. That’s Big Cedar Creek. It divides Boone and Callaway counties. Family histories tell us that both Union and Confederate soldiers hid safely in forests that outline the north-south creek. Fifteen miles upstream were the happy, law-abiding, religious folks of Centralia, a young railroad town. No one could have imagined the tragedies, brutalities, tears, screams and blood that Centralians would witness this day.
Sept. 27, 1864. It was a wild, merciless, cruel, destructive day of human and animal life. Grandpa Henry had enlisted and was away fighting some of the 13 major battles he survived. Young soldiers - some not old enough to shave - were going home on furlough, unarmed, in "civvies" and were forced off their train, to be brutally shot to death. Civic leaders, professionals and their fine horses were killed for no reason; many years ago their blood found its way down to this Blue Hole in Big Cedar Creek, miles from the battlefield southeast of Centralia.
Later, on that tragic day, all Federal soldiers in that area and their horses were dead, shot or stabbed to death on Col. M.G. Singleton’s farm in only two minutes! A man was killed, then a horse; a man, another horse; another man - till all were apparently dead. Bayonets flashed in the hands of intoxicated soldiers in bloody gray uniforms as they "went crazy" back and forth on the battlefield. One soldier, almost dead, crawled, crying, not aware of the dying and the dead around him. Treated by the residents of a small town nearby, he miraculously survived.
Locals near Stephens Store and Millersburg advised a short cut: to go to the "southeast corner of Boone County’s Columbia Township," which is the next farm to our Whip-Poor Will. They also were told to cross the unpaved dirt road to the "northeast corner of Cedar Township," which is in view through our picture widow!
This mob of men then decided to go west in Cedar Township, toward Rock Bridge, ending their devastation in our area. Some Federals died with loaded guns, begging for mercy, in that battle on the Singleton farm southeast of Centralia.
The 428 men in gray demanded food from the Singletons and their neighbors. Several families lost money, watches, jewelry, whiskey - and they lost their winter supplies of food from smoke houses and food cellars in exactly two minutes.
Groups of 30 to 50 men had no official leaders. George Todd seemed to "know what he was about," and he and John Thrailkill became spokesmen for that gang of hungry men. The blood of both North and South must have changed the color of Blue Hole that September day.
Historians say that in some respects, this Centralia fight has no parallel in the annals of the Civil War.