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Reading 3: The Memoir of Nancy Morton Staples

Nancy Morton Staples was 31 years old and living on the southwest side of the Prairie Grove Battlefield at the time of the conflict. This is her account:

On the 7th day of December, 1862, the advance guard met south of the grove, killing one man. Early in the day the battle commenced on the Borden farm east of the grove, lasting until sunset, winding up on the Morton farm one mile west. The families were ordered west to the first cellar, which was Morton's. Those in the cellar during the battle were N. J. and J. M. Morton, William Morton, William D. Rogers, wife and three children, A. Borden, wife and five children, Eliza Borden, Dr. Rogers, wife and two children. We all remained in the cellar till dark, but I went into the house several times to get victuals [food supplies] and some bedclothes and wraps for the children. They fought through and around the house, the shots flying like hail in every direction, only a few cannon balls striking close. Mrs. Borden's pony stood hitched close to the cookroom, saddled, and was not hurt, and after the firing ceased, she with her...children mounted the pony, passed the guards and rode to Mrs. Mock's in safety.

...the day after the battle we did all we could to relieve the wounded and dying. Such pitiful wails and cries that came from those poor men. We made them tea from herbs and did all we could for their comfort.... After the battle Will[iam] Rogers went south, leaving his wife and...children with us. The oldest and youngest were taken sick, the oldest dying one day after the battle, the other the next day....

Another shocking affair was my helping to bury Mr. Borden, a brother of A[rchibald] Borden, who was brutally killed in the Pittman lane. He had lain there all night when Eliza and Mary Borden, Martha Butler and myself got there. Two old men who had previously dug the grave helped us carry him to it and being afraid of scouts they left us to fill the grave. All the implements we had were an old hoe and pieces of boards. We blistered our hands and were worn out when we got home, as we had to walk.

...Another trying hour on us was the robbers [who] came and burned my father's feet to make him give up his money. At first they pretended to be friends and mother and I went to the cellar and got them apples. They talked, enjoyed the apples and were great southern men, of course. My father had gone to bed. After a while one of them went up to the bed and said, "Old man, it's not your politics I care for, it's your money, and we're going to have it."

I cannot express my feelings when they pulled him out and tied him, taking four of them to do it. They heated two shovels, for the night was cold and we had a big fire, and they began burning the bottoms of his feet. I threw water on the shovels with one of them pointing a pistol in my face and striking me over the back and arms until I was black and blue. I then threw water on the fire putting it out. One of them threw a shovel of hot coals on his body, but having on heavy all-wool underwear he was not burned. Then they took him out to hang him, as they had not succeeded in getting him to tell where he had money. They choked my mother for screaming and abused us for looking out of the window. After compelling him to tell them what they wanted to know, they brought him back into the house and ransacked everything in the house, carrying off what paper money he had and destroying some notes. We all then went to bed shivering with cold, afraid to make a fire or light.... There was nothing but sorrow, trouble, and worry till peace was declared....

Questions for Reading 3

For some of the questions you may need to refer back to Readings 1 and 2.

1. What events were particularly vivid in Nancy's memory?

2. What evidence do you have about how and why the Morton and West families cared for the wounded soldiers, as well as for the sick and dying of their own community?

3. How old was Nancy when these events occurred? How many years later were her recollections written down?

4. How would you compare the tone of the three accounts? In particular, how did each react to what happened, and who did each blame?

5. Which of the three accounts you read seems the most reliable? Why? (You might consider each woman's age during the war, when their accounts were written, the level of detail, and the degree to which the speaker seems to take a particular side.)

Reading 3 was excerpted from an oral history of Nancy Morton Staples, quoted from a manuscript written by Mrs. Staples at Prairie Grove about 1896. Courtesy of the Arkansas History Commission.

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