The 7-foot white obelisk in the northeast sector of Woodlawn Cemetery isn’t grand. Nor is it imposing. But, nonetheless, it’s a little-known Independence gem with historical significance. Mike Calvert, president of the Civil War Round Table of Western Missouri, believes the Vermont marble monument is the oldest Civil War memorial west of the Mississippi River, and perhaps the third oldest Civil War monument in the United States. Known as both the Second Colorado Monument and the Grinter Farm Massacre Monument Federal, it was erected July 16, 1864, in the middle of the Civil War, to honor fallen Union soldiers at the Grinter Farm Fight on July 6, 1864, near Independence. What amazes Calvert, a Civil War re-enactor and researcher, is how quickly the memorial was erected following the bloody battle that left eight members of Company C, Second Colorado Volunteer Calvary dead and another severely wounded. Among the fatalities was Capt. S.D. Wagoner, the company’s commanding officer. Wanting to erect a monument to honor their fallen comrades, the men of the Second Colorado company – stationed in Independence – “got together very quickly, and 10 days later they erected this monument,” Calvert says during a recent visit to the monument site. Expecting to leave Independence any day and return to Colorado to help squelch Indian uprisings there, “They decided quickly to erect this monument, not knowing when they would be back.” Calvert doesn’t know how many members of Company C were in Independence, but he does knows a fundraising efforts netted $300, which he calls “a pretty good chunk of cash.” Says Calvert: “They took up a collection among the men of the Second Colorado and they paid for (the monument) themselves; and yet they had it in 10 days.” Mother Nature has been cruel to the monument, which rests on a concrete pedestal that Calvert believes was added later for stability. As for the brick wall that once surrounded the monument and burial site of the fallen Federals, it’s no longer there. When and why it disappeared is anyone’s guess. “We don’t know,” he admits, noting that a 1908 photograph doesn’t show any signs of a wall there. Inscriptions etched onto all four sides of the monument nearly 150 years ago have been worn away by the elements. “The inscriptions are gone; you can hardly read them,” he says. Nor can one read the names of those killed at the Grinter Farm Massacre on July 6, 1864. Their markers are lined up in a single row behind the monument – with two exceptions: Captain Wagoner and Theodore Lamminger, who died two days later, were buried up front. Wagoner, just north of the monument; Lamminger, just south of the obelisk. Today, visitors to the cemetery see only a weathered monument. Its significance and why it was erected is a mystery to them. However, this site might become informative with the approach of the monument’s 150th anniversary. And that’s good news. “People don’t realize (the monument) is here. If you look at it, it’s not imposing,” Calvert says, noting that up the hill to the west is the Confederate monument, and “it’s a huge thing.” In conjunction with the 150th anniversary, the Civil War Round Table of Western Missouri plans to commemorate the erection of the monument and to honor the soldiers of the Second Colorado, who were stationed in Independence for almost a year. Calvert would like the Round Table to place a marker at the site that “tells what is here, why it is here and gives a reading of the tombstones so you can read them again.” Giving significance to the monument, he says, is that “All kinds of (Civil War) monuments were erected after the war. But this (one) was erected during the middle of the war.” What is significant about the Independence monument is not its size nor its grandeur, but “why it is here.” The monument, just north of the intersection of Central and Evergreen Way, would never have been erected if Captain Wagoner and 23 of his men hadn’t gone searching for nearby bushwhackers. From his camp – said to be 3 miles southwest of Independence near present-day Westport Road and Blue Ridge Boulevard – Wagoner and his troops rode across country until he came to the Independence-Pleasant Hill Road, known today as Lee’s Summit Road. As the Colordans came riding out of the valley on that July day, they saw four bushwhackers in the road and went after them. They didn’t know that guerrilla Capt. George Todd lay in ambush with 100 men near the Grinter Farm, which Calvert says was just north of the present-day Truman Medical Center-Lakewood. “Accounts kind of vary,” Calvert says, “but the most common (one) is that Captain Todd and 100 of his men attacked Captain Wagoner and his 23 (men) in the middle of the road. The bloody confrontation, which involved hand-to-hand and pistol-to-pistol combat, was brief. The Federals were outnumbered four to one “The Federals claimed to have killed nine and wounded 15,” Calvert says, noting that years later, some of Todd’s guerrillas claimed there were no guerrilla fatalities, but three suffered wounds. According to accounts, Captain Wagoner’s dying words were: “Give ‘em death, boys; give ‘em death.” The dead and wounded Federals were left in the road after the fight until a strong force from Independence came to recover them. The next day – July 7 – Captain Wagoner and seven of his men were buried in Woodlawn; two days later, the eighth was buried alongside his comrades. As for the wounded guerrilla? Calvert says Todd commandeered a passing mail coach, put a wounded bushwhacker in it and took off. He was shot about three months later and buried near the monument. As for the Federals who survived the battle, they fled back to Independence thankful to be alive.
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.