The State Historical Society of Missouri has released a new book with a vivid account of the tense Missouri-Arkansas border region during the Civil War. “My Own Commander”: The Civil War Journal of J. J. Sitton, 1863–1865 recounts the experiences of a young Confederate soldier from Washington County, Missouri, who traveled the Ozarks as a military recruiter and then rode with General Sterling Price on a last-ditch effort to capture Missouri for the South.
Sitton was 18 years old when the war began in the spring of 1861. Joining the pro-Southern Missouri State Guard, he fought at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington before mustering out to enlist in the Confederate army in early 1862. Sent east with thousands of other Missourians, he saw action in Mississippi before receiving orders to return home and recruit more men for the Confederacy.
Arriving at the Missouri-Arkansas border in January 1863, he discovered he had no commanding officer nearby and was on his own. He boarded with a mill owner in Fulton County, Arkansas, while working a recruiting circuit that covered much of northern Arkansas and southern Missouri. With neither side in firm control of the region, Sitton hid in the woods to escape Union patrols and dealt with dangerous Southern guerrilla bands he viewed with disdain. He also courted women—the area was teeming with young widows—although a dalliance with a teenager almost led to a duel with the girl’s father.
Unshakable in his loyalty to the South, Sitton’s Ozark adventures led him only to misfortune with Price’s doomed Missouri expedition in the fall of 1864. Badly wounded at the Battle of Westport near Kansas City, he was captured and held in Union prisons for the rest of the war. His story is a mirror to the fate of those caught in the Confederacy’s downfall.
Sitton’s journal entries have been organized and edited by the late John F. Bradbury, a Civil War author and former director of the State Historical Society’s Rolla Research Center. Bradbury adds his own expert commentary on Sitton, his journal, and the war in Missouri and Arkansas. A copy of the original journal, donated by Sitton’s descendants, is now preserved in the Society’s archives. The new book, a 354-page paperback, may be purchased for $30 through the Society’s Richard Bookstore at its headquarters in Columbia or online at SHOP.SHSMO.ORG.