Separating fact from fiction: Civil War battle fought on family farm

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Finding the history in the mystery.

A Heartland college student is working to separate the facts from the fiction in a sparsely documented Civil War battle.

His inspiration? The battle may have been in his backyard, a home his family has lived on for eight generations.

Jordan Dunn is a senior at Truman State University, majoring in history.

“My ancestors have been on the land for eight-generations, we came from Ohio and settled in this area,” said Dunn.

He didn’t have to travel far to find a piece of history that could have taken place in his backyard near Bible Grove, Missouri.

“In this area, in the whole northeast area of Missouri, there were people who were pro-slavery, and pro-Confederate, and those who were still sticking with the Union,” Dunn explained.

The Battle of Vassar Hill is reported as only taking about two hours.

“It was between about 280 Union members, and about 150 Confederate soldiers,” Dunn explained from his research on the battle. “They had been in Memphis, Missouri just north of here, and the Confederate soldiers had gone and raided the Union armory there, and had a bunch of their weapons, and so the Union soldiers had decided to take after them. They were headed from Memphis to Kirksville, so when they got to this area, the Confederate soldiers had basically set up an ambush on a hill like this overlooking the river, which is the Fabius River, behind me, and they just waited for the Union soldiers to cross the river, and once they did they went through with their ambush.”

While the history of what happened is mostly agreed on, it’s where it took place that remains a mystery.

Dunn interned this summer at the Missouri Civil War Museum in St. Louis.

The Gateway Metal Detecting Club of St. Louis searched the area of Dunn’s family farm in August.

“When the detecting club came up we were trying to pinpoint, trying to figure out exactly where the battle was,” said Dunn. “All we know is that they followed the road that was there at the time and crossed the river and the Vassar Hill was in this area, either this hill, the hill next to us.”

150 years after the battle, there’s little left to show it ever happened.

“In the past there’s been a couple people with metal detectors that come and usually they find a handful of bullets or the straps that would have been on the horses or stuff like that, but we haven’t found a huge conglomerate of artifacts so we’re not sure,” Dunn said. “We’ve only found stuff on the fringes.”

Dunn said while his ancestors didn’t fight for a side, one relative was still a part of the war.

“They had taken their casualties but there was a bunch of horses that had been shot and so he was actually responsible for burying them,” Dunn said. “It made it pretty interesting that one of my ancestors was involved, even though he wasn’t directly involved in it, he still was there at the time.”

The Confederates won the Battle of Vassar Hill, but lost the war.

For Dunn – he’s still trying to find the pieces of the battle…as we all look to the future.

“I think that the Civil War has influenced our American lives even though we’re 150 years since then,” Dunn said. “It’s still one of the big influential events that has happened in the past for Americans.”

Dunn told KTVO that stories of local knowledge of the Battle of Vassar Hill can sometimes raise more questions than provide answers about where it happened, but he’s enjoying working to maybe one-day figure it all out.

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