The Arrest of J. Posey Woodside
Wed, 04/05/2023 - 4:42pm admin
Due process is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as “a fundamental principle of fairness in all legal matters, both civil and criminal, especially in the courts.” The idea has been the topic of national discussion lately. A diary recently made available to the public tells the story of J. Posey Woodside of Oregon County, and in his own words, details his 1867 arrest and long detention by William Monks of Howell County, which in peacetime would be quite illegal.
Howell County was not at peace in 1867, despite the fact the war had been over for two years. Guerrilla bands roamed the county freely. Both sides committed reprisals for events during the war, and horse thievery was rampant. It would be several more years before all citizens could feel safe and under the protection of the United States Constitution.
James Posey Woodside was born in Thomasville in 1847, the son of a prominent surveyor, farmer, attorney and civic leader, John Rowlett Woodside. He was eighteen when the war broke out. In Howell County, all due process ceased. Judge James H. McBride, the Circuit Court Judge for this part of Missouri including Howell County, shut the court down, declared martial law and assumed command of the Seventh Division of the Missouri State Guard, and soon left the area. The law of the gun governed the county for the full five years of the war, resulting in the evacuation of the Howell County populace. The things young Woodside would see in battle after battle must have affected him the remainder of his life.
With the help of his father, also an officer in the Missouri State Guard (MSG), Woodside raised a company of men and Posey was elected a Lieutenant to oppose Union troops now pouring into Missouri. The object of both Woodside men was to protect their homes and oppose the invasion of their county. J. Posey fought at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek with his father, August 1861, where he was wounded in the left arm. He was so severely injured in the next fight on the Missouri/Arkansas border he was reported dead.
In 1862, the MSG was disbanded, and most Howell and Oregon County men went into the Confederate Army. J. Posey joined February 8, 1862. Battles in the south followed, Farmington, Iuka and Corinth, Mississippi, where he was shot through the right hip and captured. He was so shot up he was declared disabled for field service, but when his company was consolidated with others, he fought on as a Captain in the Fourth Missouri Infantry. He surrendered at the fall of Vicksburg, Mississippi, July 4, 1863, sort of. Following his release he continued serving as a dispatch bearer in the Blue Mountains, and in January 1865 was placed in the Retired Invalid Corps. At war’s end, on May 11, 1865 he surrendered to the Union troops at Meridian, Mississippi.
J. Posey Woodside returned home, got married, began studying law, and took up farming. There is no indication he was ever involved in any of the nefarious organizations he was accused of. In fact, I was told by historian Lewis Simpson that when he returned home shot up, and on crutches, he was mobbed by a group of citizens of Thomasville upset with the loss of their sons under his command and nearly lynched. He returned to civilian life.
On September 12 and 13, 1867, according to his diary, J. Posey was arrested at home and immediately released by a group under the command of William Monks. The next day he was re-arrested by Monks and taken on a long and arduous journey, most of the time under the threat of immediate execution. In a little three-by-five-inch diary that could be tucked into clothing or a shoe, Woodside chronicled the events unfolding.
We are fortunate to be able to look at this story from both sides, though Woodside provides more details. William Monks tells the story from his perspective in his book, “A History of Southern Missouri and Northern Arkansas.” Posey’s diary is contemporary, while Monks’ is written thirty-seven years later. We also have state records that indicate Monks was called into armed service by the Missouri adjutant general in the Eleventh Battalion of the Missouri Militia. He was given fifty men with guns and plenty of ammunition. His orders were to go after the bands of marauders and horse thieves infesting Oregon, Shannon, Carter, Texas, and Dent counties. Oregon County appears to have been especially infested along the Eleven Point River.
The other matter at hand was the registration of all men of all races over the age of eighteen into the state militia. The guerrillas, bushwhackers, and desperadoes of all types weren’t anxious to sign up, and perhaps while there, be charged with crimes during the war. Monks was to help there too. In his book he wrote, “The author at once organized a company in Howell County composed of men who had been in the Confederate and Federal service. On Jamison (guerrilla) and others learning that the author had been appointed Major and that he was organizing and the state was arming the men with orders to enter the counties of Oregon, Shannon, and Dent to drive out the murdering bands and aid Captain Alley in organizing a posse comitatus (sic) to aid the sheriff in enforcing the civil law, they publicly declared that ‘Old Monks’ might get into Oregon County but that he would never get out alive.”
“At that time there was a secret order in the counties of Oregon and Shannon known as The Sons of Liberty. The author was informed that on a certain night they would hold a meeting on Warm Fork of Spring River. The author made a forced march and on reaching the place where they had assembled, surrounded the house and took all the inmates prisoners, among them the sheriff of the county and a few other prominent men.”
I think in this case or one similar that Monks hunted down and arrested Woodside but refused to charge him with a specific crime. Woodside was dumbfounded as to what he had done to be arrested, writing, “(I) was arrested for being a Son of Liberty-something I never heard of before & of which I am as innocent as a babe.”
A couple days later he was informed he was accused of getting a portion of stolen money. “I am innocent & God is my witness.” That day he was taken on horseback from Thomasville to Alton and told if they were fired on, he would be shot. His wife was allowed to come see him but two days later no private conversation with anyone was allowed.
On September 19, he was returned to Thomasville and was allowed to see his wife and girls and to go to church, but always with two armed guards. The same when taking meals at home. When J. Posey tried to get a trial, he failed. On March 23, 1867, Colonel Jeff Seay arrived from Rolla with a writ of habeas corpus to try to get Woodside and others arrested but not charged free. Instead one prisoner was tried and freed but Woodside was given a night home on parole before he was put in a guard house. Next he was allowed to visit home under guard. Woodside wrote in separate entries, “The civil law is put under foot,” and “If there is any hell on earth I am seeing it. I still have the liberty of going home to my meals.”
He wrote on Saturday, September 28, “I bid Mattie adieu. Probably never to meet her again.” That day the group moved to Peggy Huddleston’s, the site of the killing of Devil Dick Boze on the Eleven Point river two years earlier.
From there the line of march continued to Pike Creek and the Jacks Fork and Current rivers, passing the copper mines. Woodside remarked they had passed through the roughest country he had seen. After camping on the Jacks Fork a couple days they resumed their journey north including a crossing on the Current River. It is now October and the group encountered a thunderstorm. One prisoner escaped, and finally on October 5, 1867 they were put in the Dent County Courthouse. The next seven days were spent idly around town with no prospect of a trial for any of the prisoners.
On October 12, the group were treated to a speech from Major Monks. Woodside developed a severe headache and was so sick he “went to the grocery for the first time in several years, & took a drink of whiskey,” presumably not as a result of listening to Monks.
A scout was sent to Jefferson City for orders. The wait continued until October 21, 1867 when Monks left the command and ordered the group to remain in the Spring Valley, camped on Big Creek, The next day orders on to West Plains were received. Harlow’s Mill north of Mountain View was next and a hard day’s march the next day put them in West Plains.
On Friday, the 25th of October after an eight hour ride from West Plains to Thomasville J. Posey Woodside returned home at nine o’clock at night. His entry for that day said “found Mattie well and happy to see me. I have been a prisoner 43 days without a single charge against me.”
It sounds like a happy ending, but Woodside wasn’t technically free. He had never been charged and was in the custody of Captain John Rice, a former Federal officer treated him well.
J. Posey Woodside died in May 1912, and was buried with full Masonic and Confederate honors. His obituary stated among his honors, “three times Captain Woodside has been elected Treasurer of Oregon County, and he was serving the third term when he died. The West Plains Gazette reported it was one of the largest to date and many from West Plains attended.
Among Woodside’s other accomplishments we find newspaper publishing, and three terms in the Missouri House of Representatives in 1875,1895. and 1896.
There is much more to this diary. It’s just the story of J. Posey’s arrest I found most interesting. I’m intrigued that two years after the Civil War was over, due process could be so flagrantly disregarded over such a long period. But J. Posey got a bit of family revenge when in a race for Circuit Judge a few years later his father John R. Woodside trounced William Monks by a large margin in his own county.
The entire diary and additional details is online and can be read by running a search for the J. Posey Woodside diary.