In 1863 the United States government put Benjamin M. Ely on trial for crimes of war. His statement in his defense is a fascinating window into the time. The United States vs. BM Ely
In 1860 Missouri, the ousted Governor Claiborn Fox Jackson refused to step down and attempted to use the Missouri Militia for the southern cause. Governor Gamble who backed the Union sympathizing idea of military districts and a State Guard finally replaced Fox. The State Guard and military districts were established in response to the May 10, 1861 incident in which Confederate sympathizing Missouri Militiamen were taken prisoner. Rioting ensued and soldiers, prisoners and citizens were killed.
Using local anger over the trouble, Confederate Colonel Joseph C. Porter began recruiting a reported 1,500 to 2,000 confederate sympathizers in the area of Missouri known as “Little Dixie.” The name came from the large settlement of farmers, many of them slave owners, who came from Kentucky and Virginia. This included Rall, Chariton, and Adair Counties, all counties where the Ely, Morris, and Utterback families resided in the 1860’s. Based on Civil War records, the Morriss family somehow managed to evade any commitment to either side of the war. They represented a popular stance in Missouri supporting neutrality in a state that voted overwhelmingly for Douglas who had supported the Missouri Compromise. The Ely families, according to records, were divided in their sympathies but mostly supported the Confederate cause so when Porter came recruiting, Isaac Ely watch many of his grandsons march into the center of the maelstrom.
On August 8, 1862 the Battle of Kirksville, Missouri in Adair county commenced at 11 AM and ended by 2 PM. The confederates occupied homes and the courthouse in Kirksville where they used sniper fire to hold off the Union troops. Meanwhile, Union Colonel John McNeil who led the 2nd Missouri Cavalry advanced on two flanks making use of artillery fire that overwhelmed Porter’s ill trained recruits. Many retreated to behind a rail fence where, after a brief rally, they were overwhelmed. Reports varied, stating that from 150 to 200 of the Confederate Missouri farm boys were killed with double that number wounded. Union casualties were minimal. Fifteen Confederates were captured and eventually executed for treason. The reputation of Colonel John McNeil spread as a notorious and cruel Union villain through his actions at Kirksville and at Palmyra two months later. Many of these bitter and marginalized men went on to become the “bushwhackers” of Missouri, such as Quadrille’s Rangers and the James Gang. Many Missourians had been pressured into signing a pledge to not bear arms against the Union. This document became evidence of treason in future trials of captured Confederates in Missouri. Confederate sympathizers often lost their lands and lives.
Two sons of William Scott Ely, great-grandfather of Gillie V. Morriss Ison, died in the time of these conflicts. The first was Issac Ely who died in 1862 at 18 years of age, and the second was Benjamin Ely who died in 1865 at 15 years of age. Colonel Porter recruited Benjamin M. Ely, the nephew of William Scott Ely. Benjamin brought his brothers Stephen, David, James, and William into the conflict. After becoming a Captain in July of 1862, he was captured and brought to trial. His brother Isaac died in the battle, and his brother James K. P. was taken prisoner and removed to Alton, Illinois. Benjamin may have been trying to connect with this brother by going into Illinois where he was taken prisoner. The results of the trial are not known, but Benjamin worked at blacksmithing to raise his family after the conflict, and eventually headed to California after 1880. He died in Santa Cruz, California on January 1, 1912.