One of our party was a telegraph operator as well as a journalist. He did not wish to appear in the former character, as the Missouri Rebels were then declaring they would show no quarter to telegraphers. Accordingly, he took special care to divest himself of all that pertained to the transmission of intelligence over the wires. A pocket “instrument,” which he had hitherto carried, he concealed in Springfield, after carefully disabling the office, and leaving the establishment unfit for immediate use.
We passed the dangerous point five miles from town, just as day was breaking. No Rebel cavalry confronted us in the highway, nor shouted an unwelcome “halt!” from a roadside thicket. All was still, though we fancied we could hear a sound of troops in motion far in the distance toward Wilson Creek. The Rebels were doubtless astir, though they did not choose to interfere with the retreat of our army.
As day broke and the sun rose, we found the people of both complexions thronging to the road, and seeking, anxiously, the latest intelligence. At first we bore their questions patiently, and briefly told them what had occurred. Finding that we lost much time, we began, early in the day, to give the shortest answers possible. As fast as we proceeded the people became more earnest, and would insist upon delaying us. Soon after mid-day we commenced denying we had been at the battle, or even in Springfield. This was our only course if we would avoid detention. Several residents of Springfield, and with them a runaway captain from a Kansas regiment, had preceded us a few hours and told much more than the truth. Some of them had advised the people to abandon their homes and go to Rolla or St. Louis, assuring them they would all be murdered if they remained at home.
In pursuance of this advice many were loading a portion of their household goods upon wagons and preparing to precede or follow the army in its retreat. We quieted their alarm as much as possible, advising them to stay at home and trust to fortune. We could not imagine that the Rebels would deal severely with the inhabitants, except in cases where they had been conspicuous in the Union cause. Some of the people took our advice, unloaded their wagons, and waited for further developments. Others persisted in their determination to leave. They knew the Rebels better than we, and hesitated to trust their tender mercies. A year later we learned more of “the barbarism of Slavery.”
Southwest Missouri is a region of magnificent distances. A mile in that locality is like two miles in the New England or Middle States. The people have an easy way of computing distance by the survey lines. Thus, if it is the width of a township from one point to another, they call the distance six miles, even though the road may follow the tortuosities of a creek or of the crest of a ridge, and be ten or twelve miles by actual measurement.
From Springfield to Lebanon it is called fifty miles, as indicated by the survey lines. A large part of the way the route is quite direct, but there are places where it winds considerably among the hills, and adds several miles to the length of the road. No account is taken of this, but all is thrown into the general reckoning.