Northern partisans strove hard, and largely succeeded, in blackening the names of their opponents. Most journalism of the period would have us conclude that Benjamin Stringfellow (Missouri's ex-attorney general) was an ignorant, demagogic nobody. Northern publicists portrayed David R. Atchison (admired veteran president pro-tern of the U.S. Senate) as an unprincipled boor. And Major Thomas R. Livingston, the subject of a 2004 biography, emerges from most accounts as an outlaw. Usually dismissed as mere "Tom Livingston," never accorded his rank, he's portrayed as just another dastardly Bushwhacker.
Born in Montgomery County in 1820, Livingston settled in Jasper County in 1851, just west of Carthage. With his half-brother William Parkinson he became involved in lead mining, which was just beginning to boom in southwest Missouri. He found lead ore near the surface while excavating for a cellar, and "being a man of great energy," soon erected a smelter. When war came in 1861, the 41-year-old Livingston was a wealthy community leader. Though owning only one slave, he was devoted to defending the states' rights of the South.
Already in the 1850s, Livingston had become captain of a "Border Guards" unit raised to defend western Missouri against marauding Kansas Jayhawkers, "thieves, murderers, and men bent on punishing the residents of the Missouri border counties." As Civil War came to Missouri in the summer of 1861, Livingston was elected a captain in the 11th Cavalry Regiment of the Missouri State Guard. His importance reflected that of his and other lead mines in southwest Missouri. At one point the majority of the Confederacy's lead came from Missouri mines, as thousands of pounds were shipped east.
On September 8, 1861, Livingston joined John Mathews in a 150-man cavalry raid into Kansas. In retaliation for the burning of Missouri towns, they sacked and burned the small town of Humboldt. Many Indians were with them, and Humboldt was targeted because it had become a refuge for abolitionists who had tried to settle illegally on Indian land.
After the defeat at Pea Ridge, the virtual disbanding of the Missouri State Guard, and the transfer of many men to the east, Livingston and others came back to "deplorable and unsettled" conditions at home. The temporary power vacuum was soon filled by an inferior grade of Federal troops, more interested in pillaging and settling old scores than in restoring order. Under martial law, declared a year earlier, they "simply took what they needed by force," from crops in the fields to the mills in which to grind them into flour. "The Kansas troops ignored the civil rights of the citizens of Jasper County. Constitutional rights, even for men who had not opposed the Federal government, were suspended." "When Tom Livingston returned home and was confronted with this tragic and unsettled state of affairs, he was immediately compelled to act. He gathered up the remainder of those who had returned from the 11th Cavalry Regiment, recruited more, and further organized his cavalry force. Livingston was already a captain in the Confederate Army." His battalion, which became known as "Livingston's Rangers," was authorized under the Partisan Ranger Act of the Confederate Congress. Confederate leaders knew they had no hope of reconquering Missouri. The alternative was guerrilla warfare.
Livingston's patrolling along the Border brought him often into Vernon County, though most of his campaigning took place farther south, centering on Jasper County and lapping over into Arkansas and Indian Territory. He effectively controlled most of Jasper County throughout much of the war. His Union opponents came to respect him, engaging him in correspondence over prisoner exchanges, and acknowledging that he had a legitimate commission from the Confederate government, and never killed his prisoners or engaged in other barbarities such as were routinely attributed to most so-called "outlaw" Bushwhackers.
Livingston's undoing resulted from his venturing outside his home territory. On July 11th, 1863, he led his Rangers northeast to Stockton, Mo., in hopes of capturing supplies from the small Union garrison headquartered in the courthouse. Accompanying him was Vernon County's Captain William Henry Taylor, the former and future sheriff.
The townsfolk and the garrison were preoccupied with speeches by political candidates. The attackers, 250-strong, managed to surprise the town. About 20 of the militiamen holed up in the courthouse. Livingston rather rashly "rode at the front, yelling and urging his men forward to the fight. Above his head he waved a short-barreled carbine." "Most of the guerrillas dismounted and began firing at the courthouse from all sides. As the Union men tried to shut the doors and barricade themselves inside, the leader charged the courthouse, 'as if to ride right through the door,' as one combatant wrote after the fight." He remained on his horse, close to the building, yelling to his men. By this time the militiamen had become aware of his identity. Almost inevitably, a bullet found its mark, knocking Livingston out of the saddle. Three others, including Vernon County's Bud Elder, fell nearby. "The rest of the Rangers, shocked and overwhelmed that their longtime leader was killed, began a confused retreat." Then a strange thing happened. As the militiamen emerged from the courthouse and approached the bodies, "Livingston grabbed for his carbine and tried to regain his feet. He was stopped in his attempt to rise by six shots fired into his body." The story went around that Livingston had been wearing a steel breastplate and thus survived the first shot.
Livingston and three other Rangers were buried in a mass grave in the Stockton Cemetery. (Recent efforts to place a memorial in the cemetery have been unsuccessful.) Three months later the Stockton courthouse was burned by General Jo Shelby and his men.
Livingston's death spelled the death also of Livingston's Battalion. The men split up into different groups following different leaders. "It was the hardest blow the guerrillas of that section have received during the war," wrote a Union participant.
The Federals were ungracious victors. Livingston's extensive property was confiscated and dissipated in paying off scores of lawsuits against him for his wartime deeds, which he was not present to contest. "Tom Livingston's mine boasted the richest lead strike ever made in southwest Missouri, or the entire western country. Thirty million dollars worth of lead and zinc was mined there. The largest chunk of pure lead ever found in the district came from there. It was taken to the World's Fair at Chicago in 1893. Two flatcars were used to support the giant piece, which was exhibited to millions of people. The mine, in its heyday, was believed to be the richest piece of lead and zinc mining land in the world."
John C. Livingston, Jr., spent ten years researching his biography of his distant kinsman. "Such A Foe as Livingston," a 147-page illustrated hardbound volume, is a thorough and well written account of a little-known corner of the Civil War in Missouri.