Arthur C. McCoy
by D. H. Rule
© D. H. Rule
Arthur C. McCoy, who became known as the “Wild Irishman” under Jo. Shelby, was born in Ireland about 1825. After coming to America he went to California where, according to a family history, he was a Forty-Niner in the goldfields. In 1850 he was in Centerville (now called Pilot Hill) in El Dorado County, California. Not far away, in Placerville, was Drury James, uncle of Frank and Jesse James. Their father, Robert James, had died shortly before in California. Whether Arthur McCoy met any of Missouri James family members in 1850 is unknown. It may have been coincidence that he came so near to crossing paths in 1850 with the family with whom his fate would be tied in the 1870s.
Before the Civil War McCoy lived in St. Louis, Missouri where he worked for a time as a coppersmith in “Blackman & McCoy,” a stove and tinware business he shared with William L. Blackman. Shortly before the outbreak of the war he had changed occupations, going into business as a painter, painting steamboats as well as houses. This line of work gave him the working knowledge of steamboats that made him an able boat-burner later.
McCoy was a member of the Liberty Fire Company, one of the volunteer fire departments in the St. Louis until paid fire fighting companies were established in 1858. The Liberty Fire Company was known for its rowdiness and combativeness, fighting with other volunteer fire companies. Being in the fire company gave McCoy connections to both the business and political side of St. Louis, with John M. Wimer, a mayor of St. Louis, being one of its prominent members. Many of the early secessionists were connected to the fire company. McCoy had made the connections for his painting business, called “Farmer and McCoy” with Thomas Farmer, by way of the fire department as his partner’s father-in-law, a hardware store owner, had been a member.
McCoy seems to have met his wife through the fire department as well. In December of 1855 he married Louisa Gibson (baptised Heloise), youngest daughter of a well-to-do St. Louis family. His brother-in-law, Robert Louden, who also became a notorious Civil War spy, mail runner, and saboteur, met his wife Mary Gibson, Louisa’s sister, through the fire department connection he shared with Arthur McCoy. Family history says that McCoy spent some time living and operating a business in Alton, Illinois before returning to St. Louis. By 1859 he was again in St. Louis.
By 1860, Arthur and Louisa had two sons, Joseph, born in October 1856, and Arthur Willam, born in May 1858. Their first daughter, Elizabeth, was born in July of 1861.
According to Basil Duke, Arthur McCoy was one of the founding members of the Minute Men, the secessionist organization formed in response to the Unionist Wide Awakes. McCoy’s brother-in-law Robert Louden was also known as a strong Minute Man. It was Arthur McCoy’s wife, Louisa, who is said to have sewed the secessionist flag that flew tauntingly over the Berthold mansion. McCoy was one of those who helped raise the Missouri state flag over the courthouse.
The passages below by John N. Edwards describe McCoy’s military service under Shelby during the Civil War. McCoy’s capture by the Federals took place just days after his son, Arthur William died in St. Louis. It’s possible the two events were connected as McCoy was known to pass in and out of St. Louis several times during the war, often carrying mail with him.
After the war, McCoy’s life and career are necessarily hazy. He was said to have been a member of the James-Younger gang of bank and train robbers. McCoy is believed to have been one of those involved in the killing of a Pinkerton agent investigating the James. Arthur McCoy is identified as one of those who participated in the robbery of the Russellville, Kentucky bank in 1868, the Adair, Iowa train robbery, as well as the Gad’s Hill train robbery, and numerous others through the first half of the 1870s. The one with the highest likelihood of attribution to McCoy is the Ste. Genevieve, Missouri robbery.
McCoy, though a city-boy from the eastern border of Missouri, would have made his connection to the western border train and bank robbers (most of whom were former Quantrill guerrillas) by way of John Jarrette. Jarrette was also a captain under Shelby in the last part of the war and was married to Cole Younger’s sister, Mary Josephine. More on this part of McCoy’s life.
For a time after the war, Arthur and Louisa McCoy lived in Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. In the 1870s they had a farm in Montgomery County, Missouri. Two more sons, Lee and Eugene, were born to them. Family history tells it that Arthur did not particularly enjoy farming and so went to Texas to see about getting into cattle and living there. Other (published but unconfirmed) history says he was arrested for a stage robbery near Austin, Texas in 1874 for which one of the robbers confessed and named McCoy. By late 1874 or 1875 McCoy effectively vanished.
There is no confirmed death date for Arthur C. McCoy. The family believed he had died in Texas in the early 1880s. Other sources place his death in early 1874, several weeks before the Gad’s Hill train robbery in which he is often named (source: “Jesse James: The Man and the Myth” by Marley Brant–footnote unsourced). A reliable St. Louis source places his death as having been by 1880. Louisa McCoy also lists herself as a widow at this point.
Louisa Gibson McCoy remarried, lived briefly in the Oklahoma Territory where her second husband died, before returning to the St. Louis area. Around the turn of the century she and most of her children moved to Oregon and Idaho, where she remained until her death at age 81.
The Boat-Burners (McCoy’s brother-in-law, Robert Louden)
Rock Champion(a fellow Minute Man)
Minute Men(describing the St. Louis secessionist organization)
The James-Younger gang pages
Arthur McCoy: Confederate “Wild Irishman” of St. Louis
John N. Edwards
Introduction to author John N. Edwards
with notes by G. E. Rule
All legs, and eagerness, and animal spirit McCoy reported to [William H.] Gregg [for duty in hunting down a group of bandits behind Confederate lines] as a schoolboy might report to his master for a holiday. McCoy laughed a great deal, Gregg scarcely at all; McCoy sang a song now and then that was next of kin to a bird’s song, Gregg was a taciturn, unmusical man; McCoy’s face was always mirthful, Gregg’s always in repose and as strong as Cromwell’s. As steadfast, heroic, and unconquerable fighters, neither could be surpassed.
Shelby’s advance [during Sterling Price’s raid into Missouri in 1864
] had been led valiantly by Captain Arthur McCoy, and he associated [famous Confederate guerilla George] Todd with him and bade them fight together. McCoy had never been a Guerrilla. He had nothing in common with the Guerrillas except their desperation. He was a tinner [Actually, McCoy was a painter before the war but had worked as a coppersmith at a tin/metal working business before that
] working in St. Louis when the war commenced. At the first tap of the recruiting drum, impetuous as a boy and as eager, he espoused the cause of the South and joined the 1st
Missouri Confederate Infantry, Bowen’s immortal yet decimated regiment –that regiment with Beauregard lifted his hat to as it was marching past—or, rather, to what was left of it—after Shiloh, and exclaimed: “I salute the 1st
Missouri. I uncover to courage that has never yet been surpassed.”
In the infantry, however, McCoy would have dwindled into a consumptive—for his chest was weak, and had that hectic flush, and that dry, short, rasping cough that were ominous. He needed the air and the exercise of a Comanche. He had to breath where there were no canvas house, no shelter, no covering save a blanket, and no habitation save the leaves on the trees.
After Shiloh, the name and fame of Shelby were beginning to fill the West, and there came to him, attracted by the unexampled enterprise and heroism of the man, quite a large number of daring spirits who asked only esprit de corps and a leader that would fight every hour in every day for a year and a day. Among them was Arthur McCoy, six feet and over, a little stooped about the shoulders, very long in the arms, having a stride like a racehorse, and a nervous energy that was expending itself even while he slept. All the lower face was massive—the lower jaw especially square cut and huge. The eyes were of that cold, glittering, penetrating blue that might be cruel as a serpent’s, soft and tender as the eyes of confidence or trust. When the battle was dubious or desperate, or when the wreck was darkest and thickest, and the dead lay rank and plentiful, the eyes seemed to transform themselves and become absolutely scintillant. About the man’s whole nature, too, there was an element of grotesqueness impossible to analyze. He sang little snatches of song in battle; he rode out in advance of his own skirmish line and challenged Federal skirmishers to single combat; he would get down on his knees under fire the most pitiless, uncover himself, and pray fervently beside some comrade mortally wounded; he seemed never to have known what the meaning of fear was; he begged incessantly to be sent upon forlorn and desperate service; he was a spy without a peer in either army; he was a scout that seemed to have leagued with the devil and received from his majesty invaluable protection papers; he charged pickets for pastime, and rode yelling and shooting through Federal outposts, at the head of fifty or sixty followers, at all hours and in any weather. Shelby’s division gave him the soubriquet of the “Wild Irishman”, and yet for cold calm, penetrating soldier-sense—for acuteness, military logic and undoubted strategy, McCoy had the head of Vidocq and the nerve of d’Artagnan. Seven times during the war—through the Federal lines, and past scouts, patrols, cantonments, and militia and predatory bands—McCoy came into St. Louis with a thousand letters at a time, and departed hence with as many more.
[Shelby and His Men]
Shelby broke ground first with unceasing activity. The second day after the arrival at Cane Hill, Lieutenant Arthur McCoy, with fifty picked men, was sent to look up one hundred Pins [Indians], reported to be encamped near a little town twenty miles in the Cherokees Nation. This Arthur McCoy was a gay, dashing, devil-may-care St. Louisan who joined the old 1st Missouri Infantry, Bowen’s immortal regiment, Duffee’s company, in St. Louis, and had won red laurels at Shiloh, but being attracted by the rising star of Shelby’s genius, came over to join his galaxy of knights. Like some of the cuirassiers of Napoleon’s Old Guard, he always doffed his plumed hat to this adversary just as he murmured through his moustache, “En Garde.” McCoy, above all others, suited exactly for the enterprise, and ferreting out, by good luck, and excellent guide, he succeeded in completely surprising the Indian encampment. The sleepy pickets were cut off and sabered silently. The doomed warriors lay rolled up in their blankets alongside of a heavy rail fence, which had been fired in a hundred corners to give heat during the night, when the silent horsemen rode upon them without the ringing of a musket. The work, short and bloody, lasted on a few moments. McCoy sabered seven with his own hand, and but ten of the whole number escaped. The next morning he rode quietly into camp with not a rose on his fresh, blooming face withered or fled.
Captain Blackwell, in command of Marmaduke’s escort, entered Marshfield suddenly, picked up a dozen of or rusticating Federals, and took possession of five large stores filled with everything needed by soldiers. Finding their proprietors unwilling to take Confederate money at par—although the notes were worth something as containing correct photographic likenesses of President Davis—and possessing a very conservative disposition with his many other good qualities, Captain Blackwell detailed five accurate salesman, Peter Turley, James Walton, Arthur McCoy, James Herndon, and Joel Whitehurst, to wait upon those customers having the “six months after a treaty of peace” bills. Business, previously quite dull, expanded visibly under this new commercial arrangement, and soon every store became crowded with anxious buyers. At night a large auction followed, the Southern ladies attending in crowds and having heavy amounts of the proscribed money in their possession. The uses made afterward of these funds by the bona fide merchants were never ascertained, yet it is highly probably they were put carefully away until a day of redemption came, which every one among them believed was near at hand, if their vociferant assertions of loyalty to the Confederacy could be relied upon.
[Edwards reminiscing about sitting around a campfire in Arkansas listening to various men tell their stories . . .
. . .McCoy telling some galloping story of border foray, and how he went snugly into St. Louis and brought out seven hundred thousand musket-caps.
The restless and insatiate Arthur McCoy—whose energy and battle-intellect were Titanic—hovered around Clayton for three days, cut off two picket posts, captured seven wagons, killed a notorious Union bushwhacker living near Pine Bluff, and returned loaded with arms and accoutrements.
After the capture of the Queen City, and after the battle with the Tyler and her consorts, a man presented himself to Shelby’s picket line, weak, emaciated—but wary and defiant—his clothes dripping with moisture and covered by the mire and the sand of the swamps. Not recognized by the officer on duty, he was sent into camp. When the dirt was washed from his face, and his long lank hair combed out, he proved to be Captain Arthur McCoy, before spoken of as one of the most daring, debonair, heroic scouters and fighters in the whole brigade. His escape had been romantic, and in every way characteristic of the indomitable Confederate. Captured several months before, on an expedition toward the Arkansas river, because his horse had been shot dead under him, after his five men had fought seventy-eight Federals for eleven miles, he had been carried first to Pine Bluff, where Clayton, although a Kansan, treated him soldierly; thence to Little Rock, where the penitentiary was too good for him, had finally arrived at Duvall’s Bluff, on his way to Alton, and maybe that dark, mysterious death suffered by so many.
The roar of Collin’s guns, which had shattered the life out of the Queen City and the fight out of the Tyler, told to McCoy’s quick ears the tale of Shelby’s attack, and the rumors about the town, and the hasty mustering of the garrison, told equally well that the attack had been successful. He determined at every hazard to escape, and was greatly favored by some friends on board the boat upon which he had been confined, and the mention of whose names here can do no good. [McCoy and his brother-in-law –Confederate spy, courier, and saboteur Robert Louden– had worked at painting steamboats on the St. Louis levee before the war, and both of them would have had many friends on the boats working the rivers. In addition, Louden’s partner, Ab Grimes, was a steamboat pilot and had even more river friends–these would certainly be available to Louden, and probably by extension to McCoy. The Federals had noted many times that the majority of the river men were Southern-leaning.] The time for action came. He stood on the hurricane roof of the boat in earnest conversation with an engineer—his friend and accomplice. Suddenly the engineer exclaimed to McCoy, who had dressed himself in the working suit of one of the hands of the boat:
“I tell you we can not move from the wharf unless the thing is fixed,” mentioning the name of some part of the machinery.
“And I tell you,” answered McCoy, “that the d—-d thing can’t be fixed until you send to the Little Rock foundry.”
“I know better,” replied the engineer. “Come with me and I will prove it.”
The guard, calmly pacing his beat during the time of the conversation, had heard every word, and naturally enough supposing they were two engineers disputing about some machinery needing repair, scarcely noticed them as they went below. Quick as lightning McCoy descended through the wheelhouse and into the water with a noiseless motion. Floating quietly along, his head barely enough above the waves for respiration, he passed the lowest boat, the lookouts on the batteries, around a bend in the river, and at last beyond sight, without his escape being noticed. At length, wearied from incessant exertion, he drew upon the nearest shore for rest and observation, when, horror of horrors, a grim ironclad lay quietly at anchor about three hundred yards below. To go back was simply impossible, to take to the woods seemed madness, as White river spread out ten miles wide at this point, and the bottoms on either shore were a wilderness of water—so McCoy gathered a large bundle of dry canes, launched them very quietly, and boldly floated past the gunboat in safety, and for eight miles further, until he reached the shelter of his old ark, worn out, haggard, and exhausted.
Three days in camp furnished all the rest he required, and after this time had been spent lazily, it was ascertained that tin the Mississippi River about thirty miles above Helena, a large steamboat, the Mariner, loaded with coal for the fleet, stood hard and fast aground, and that by a little wading she might be captured. Taking seventy-five picked men, he made a forced march, surprised the guard of five men on the bank watching the steamer, waded waist deep two hundred yards to her, and finally gave the boat and cargo to the flames—sending the officers and crew on board to the commanding general at Helena.
Arthur McCoy returned with his spoils in the shape of two or more dozen fine carbines and revolvers. . .
Marmaduke was resting after Springfield and Hartville, preparing for Cape Girardeau. Musket caps were fearfully scarce in the department and none anywhere in reach nearer than St. Louis. The detail came originally to Shelby for a lieutenant and ten men, and he sent McCoy, who had been twice before into St. Louis. McCoy reported to Marmaduke and suggested that two men where sufficient, as the chances would be better for getting through and accomplishing the object of the mission. A young St. Louisan, brave, cool, wary and accomplished, Captain John W. Howard, was selected by McCoy to accompany him, and about the 13th
of January [1864?] these two devoted officers started northward through the snow and the ice, with no passport save their wonderful assurance, and no diplomatic documents in addition to several hundred letters from Confederate soldiers to their friends in the loyal
Slowly and painfully they toiled through the drifted snow and the barren wastes along the dreary road until after three days’ hard traveling the State line was reached. Davidson’s cavalry division was scattered and roaming about in squads promiscuously over the country, and caution became not only necessary but so extreme as to be absolutely painful. At Current river a scout of fifty were encountered, but they were avoided by taking to the woods. Near Pilot Knob an old man was seen who mistook the two Confederates for Federal, as they were dressed in complete Federal clothing, except the pants of Howard, which were gray. The old man was very glad to see the “boys in blue”; had two precious cut-throats in the militia, and wanted McCoy to take some letters for him into Pilot Knob. “Money in them?”, asked Howard. “Oh! No, only on business.” “All right,” said McCoy, “the d—-d Secesh might rob us if it were supposed we had valuables.” They further imposed upon him by making inquiries about some sick Federals they had accidentally heard of as being in the neighborhood, and he gave them ample directions for a day’s journey. In Washington county they were hard put to it. The militia were swarming, and for information they called upon Mr. Pleas. Johnson. Mr. Johnson had gone to a funeral somewhere, and nothing could be found out there. All one night was spent in riding around Potosi—they were four miles south of it at dark and were four miles north of it at daylight. After daylight came broad and good they called upon another Mr. Johnson, and he sent them to a Mrs. Smith who had two sons in the militia, but was a true Southern lady. The tired, hungry men asked for food and sleep. In a short time her militia sons returned, but only to stand picket over the sleeping Confederates, and after three hours of sleep, they were awakened, fed, and sent on their toilsome way. The next house visited belonged to a Mr. Stovall.
Mr. Stovall gave them food and fire-water. Howard watched the horses and McCoy did the talking. “Are you a good Union man, Mr. Stovall?” “As good as the best, Captain.” “Well,” said McCoy, “have you seen pass here lately a red-headed man riding a little shave-tailed mule?” (He had heard of this fellow two houses back from Stovall’s). “Yes,” said the host. “Well, he is a deserter from General Davidson’s forces. I am after him hot, and must have a guide on the most direct road leading to St. Louis.” “I can’t go myself, captain, but my neighbor, Captain —–, has a good horse and is long in these parts.” “Go for him,” said McCoy sternly. The captain soon came, splendidly mounted, armed, and equipped. He was a vicious militia man, too, and McCoy’s eyes had a bad look when resting upon him. “You are a good guide, I hear”, said McCoy, “and I desire you to accompany me.” “I can not,” replied the Federal. McCoy straightened up, towered over the militiaman and drew out a huge paper in an official envelope and said ominously: “General Davidson has given me this document for my authority; it empowers me to impress and to kill; I shall do one or the other, or my name is not Captain McKeever.” This threat had its effect. A little before dark they started in a terrible rainstorm, which penetrated to the skin, although opposed by heavy and excellent overcoats. The Federal captain did his duty well, and took them to within eight miles of the Merrimac bivouacking was encountered. The rain which had been cursed and blasphemed, save the two spy heroes. God does not always destroy those who violate the seventh commandment, or from an army of fifty thousand there would scarcely survive ninety and nine. This rain had driven the cavalry from the road to the shelter of the timber, some thirty rods away, yet they halted loudly when the party came in sight. “Trot fast,” were the low, calm words of Howard, his right hand toying with the heavy dragoon under his coat. “No, no”, replied the Federal, “we must halt; they will fire else.” “Let them fire and be d—-d”, sneered McCoy, “do you suppose I would halt in such an infernal rain as this? Close up, Howard.”
Howard struck the Federal officer’s horse fiercely with the long reins of his bridle, and altogether, the three steeds bounded off at a sharp canter.
Carondolet was reached about three o’clock the next day, and the town was full of soldiers. The two daredevils dismounted leisurely, got shaved, and then went sauntering into a public barroom. Twenty Federals were drinking—they were infantry bear in mind. “Hallo, infantry”, shouted McCoy, “come and take a drink with some of the crack fellows of Davidson’s cavalry”. This bluff frankness told well with the soldiers, and the infantry came crowding around with five hundred questions about the Rebels in Arkansas—about Price, Marmaduke, Shelby, Kitchen, the bushwhackers, and what not. A brawny, burly fellow, with rough cheekbones and a bright, bad eye, peered long at Captain Howard, with some straggling instincts of recognition. “Who are you?”, he asked at length; “I have seen you in St. Louis”. Howard knew the fellow well, yet his composure was wonderful, and his voice clear and distinct as the ring of a silver anvil: “Likely, comrade; I have been there often. I am Captain Beard, of Hubbard’s 1st Missouri Cavalry Battalion”. The rank imposed upon the crowd—they had never been to the front and were privates—so they became reticent instantly. After another drink at Howard’s expense—the two improvised Federals rode boldly for St. Louis, which they entered without remark or comment, passing within two feet of the sentinel at the arsenal mechanically walking his beat. [Gee, I wonder what happened to their scout? They seem to have misplaced him somewhere.]
Once inside and these gay gallants threw away almost the simplest precautions. Both of them had fine Confederate cavalry uniforms mad, which, consistent with regulations, were gaudy and attractive. “I’ll get the caps,” said McCoy, “but I must have some fun.” One night the two were enjoying an hour’s tête-à-tête with five or six Rebel ladies, when in came two Federal majors. McCoy felt invigorated by some rare old Krug, and the devil danced about his cold gray eyes till they sparkled and glittered. Excusing himself a moment, he stepped into an adjoining room, unpinned the skirts of his uniform coat, threw off the great blue overcoat, and burst back upon the astonished Federals in all the glory and horror of buff and gold lace. “This farce of being Yankee is about played out”, said McCoy; “please give us Dixie, Miss —–“. The beautiful girl, catching inspiration from the sight of the “darling gray”, sprang like a with upon the piano, and tangled her white fingers in among the keys until the air gave out Rebel infection and the whole house joined in the chorus. The [Federal] officers started simultaneously for the door. “Not this night”, said McCoy; “we have no desire to hang for an useless frolic. Be quiet, gentlemen, and let’s make a night of it,” and his pistol and Howard’s were out in a twinkling. The Federals, who were really sensible fellows, remained quietly, drank deeply, and were finally carried to bed in a state of blissful ignorance.
Long before day the Confederates were moving. Two splendid horses had been procured, forty thousand musket caps were stowed away in saddlebags. Howard carried from the city an elegant saddle and bridle for General Shelby, and, after seeing McCoy well on his way Southward, returned quietly to organize and take out to Arkansas a company of recruits.
[Noted Guerillas –same trip into St. Louis as above. Note that in the above telling, Howard had accompanied McCoy “well on his way Southward”, but there is no mention of him as McCoy passes Benton Barracks and baits the sentinel. Noted Guerillas also has a shorter but more flamboyant telling of the encounter with the Federal officers given above, with McCoy forcing one of the Federals to wear a Confederate uniform and dance to Dixie.]
As McCoy rode out from St. Louis, in the cold gray of the following morning, the devil still seemed to have possession of him. As he passed Benton Barracks a sentinel stood by the roadside with his gun at a right, shoulder shift. McCoy rode up to him and halted: “I am a Confederate officer. I represent the Confederate President—if you should present arms to me I should consider that you had presented them to Mr. Jefferson Davis. Present arms!” The sentinel thought the man was evidently mad. It was still early morning. No soldiers were astir anywhere about the barracks. McCoy’s revolver was at the soldier’s breast before he could take his musket from his shoulder. “You will not present arms to me?” “Not to save your life.” “But you see I have the drop on you! Do you want me to kill you?” Still thinking McCoy was one of his own uniform, and being drunk or mischievous, was trying to play a prank on him, the sentinel replied, “shoot and be d—-d!”
McCoy’s face darkened instantly, and he cocked his pistol, “I will not shoot you so,” he said, “nor will I shoot you at all without giving you a chance for your life. Listen, I shall ride back fifty paces, turn my horse, and charge you. As I come by I shall fire at you once. You have but one shot and I who have eighteen will take but one also. Get ready.”
The sentinel, as he saw McCoy deliberately countermarch and wheel about to charge, began, at last, to have his suspicions aroused. He took his musket from his shoulder and cocked it and waited. McCoy dashed furiously down upon the sentinel, and the sentinel, when he was with about ten paces of him, fired at point blank range and missed. As McCoy passed him, he put out his pistol suddenly and shot him down where he stood, the garrison turning out in force, and hurriedly saddled, cavalry coming on in rapid pursuit. The sentinel, however, although badly wounded, finally recovered and McCoy, scarcely quickening his pace, rode on southward unmolested.
[Shelby and His Men –after McCoy left St. Louis on this trip]
At a bridge some twenty miles from St. Louis, McCoy met trouble—one company of Federals held it. He was on the bridge before he discovered the guard, an almost right on him. “Halt!”, was the challenge. “Well”, says the unabashed adventurer, “what do you want?” “I want you to get down and show your pass”, says the “boy in blue”. “What, Sir?”, says McCoy in a voice of thunder, “do you dare to insult an officer of the day, with his saber by his side, by such a piece of insolence as this? Can’t you see my rank, sir?” “Well”, says the abashed Federal in an exculpatory tone, “I was only trying to obey the order of my captain.” “Your captain, eh! Where is your captain, sir? Had he did his duty this thing would not have happened to you. He should have taught you to say, ‘Halt! Who comes there?’ and let me answer the challenge in that shape. Instead of that you halt me improperly, and show at once that you have not been well instructed. Where is your captain, sir?” “He has just passed the bridge with the rest of the company to put them on picket”. “Very well, sir”, said McCoy, somewhat mollified, “I can excuse you, but I can not overlook such negligence in your captain. I will go and see after him.” And thereupon he put spurs to his trusty steed, and rode off past the guard at a brisk canter. As soon as he came to a turn in the road he darted out into the woods and fields, every foot of which he knew too well to venture upon giving “that captain” the lecture he had promised, and made his way safely to Shelby’s headquarters in Batesville.
Of course there must have been staunch Southern sympathizers in St. Louis, or McCoy and Howard would have gone to the wall; and to two men these officers went for material aid—Mr. John King and Captain William D. Bartle. It would be difficult to make an accurate estimate of the assistance furnished by these two devoted “Rebels”. McCoy was in St. Louis three times during his connection with Shelby, and John King upon every occasion gave him money, pistols, horses, and better than all, information, for is a keen, observant man, and a shrewd tactician. So also did Captain Bartle. St. Louis is filled with generous people who aided the Confederate in every possible manner, and who, many of them, endured exile for their sympathies; but there are none who excelled these gentlemen in the secrecy of their operation, the munificence of their gifts, and in the indefatigable manner by which they equipped and hurried to the army young men unable to purchase the necessary accouterments.
Later, in 1864, a deed was done by McCoy which attracted the attention and won the admiration of two opposing forces. General John B. Clark was attacking Glasgow from one side of the river, in 1864, and General Shelby from the other. Between the two lines drawn about the doomed town were the Federal forts and garrison commanded by General Chester Harding. A large steamboat lay at the wharf and Shelby desired to know if it were serviceable; if it were, he intended to man it and ferry over his command, and to attack from the north side. He did not want to sacrifice over one man in the perilous undertaking, and he did not desire to order any soldier to perform the desperate duty. Volunteers were called for, and while fifty came to the front, McCoy was chosen because he knew more than any of them about steamboats and their machinery, and because he pleaded so hard to be permitted to take the risk. He started in a skiff as slight as a pasteboard. Having to pull himself, his back was necessarily to the town, thus depriving him of whatever advantage he might have attained by watching the operations of the enemy. Glasgow is built upon a hill, and from the foot of the bluff to the river there is probably a stretch of bottom land a dozen paces across. Closely engaged from the south, the Federal skirmishers did not descend from the hill tops, where, half hidden and partially entrenched, they fired closely and vigorously upon McCoy. He kept right onward. As he left the shelter of his own lines, the bullets thickened in the water about him and fairly plowed up the surface of the river with lead. Collins, with two guns of his memorable battery, succored him all that was possible and threw canister rapidly into the skirmishers. Once when the fire was desperately hot, McCoy turned around upon his seat, ceased rowing, and lifted his hat to the Federal skirmishers. Both sides cheered spontaneously. How he escaped is a matter yet unexplained. Probably two hundred men fired at him, each man firing five shots, or one thousand shots in all. Blood was not drawn once from his body, miraculous to relate. One bullet cut off a lock of his hair, another knocked his cap into he river, which he deliberately stopped to pick up, seven balls struck the skiff in various parts, four more went through is clothes, and one cut almost in two at the oarlock the left hand oar. In despite of everything, however, McCoy gained the northern bank, landed the boat, obtained what information he desired, and actually returned as he had crossed under a tremendous volley of small arms.
Once he fought a duel—a duel to the death—but not one of his own seeking. In the Western army there were many Confederate Indians, and in a Choctaw regiment there was a young half-breed captain who had a pony sensible enough to have been a circus pony. It would dance, talked with its head, fire off a pistol, and do other and numerous tricks at the bidding of its master. McCoy owned a savage stallion, a favorite, however, because of its fleetness and strength. The pony and the stallion got together one night, and the next morning the Choctaw had no pony—McCoy’s horse having literally devoured him. The Indian was furious. He would have revenge. He would kill the horse that killed his horse. He would have revenge. He started to execute his threat. McCoy stood across his path with a drawn, saber in his hand, and said to the Choctaw: “Arm yourself. Shall it be sword or pistol? You want satisfaction and shall have it. My horse’s hide is more precious than my own, therefore not one hair upon it shall be ruffled.” The Indian chose a saber also, a ring was formed, seconds appointed, and probably half a brigade gathered to see the desperate work. McCoy fenced warily; the Indian, quick and savage. Both were wounded. McCoy had an ugly cut on his right temple and another on his left hip. The Indian had been slashed twice severely, and once across the saber arm. Each was getting weak. Finally McCoy made a feint as if he would deliver the right cut, shortened his sword arm, and ran the Indian squarely through the body. Thus ended the fight and the life of the Choctaw as well. He died before midnight.
Curtis heavy division, retreating before General Price [in the 1864 raid] all the way from Lexington to Independence, held the western bank of the Little Blue, and some heavy stonewalls and fences beyond. Marmaduke and Shelby broke his hold loose from these, and pressed him rapidly back to and through Independence, the two Colorado regiments covering his rear stubbornly and well. Side by side McCoy and [George] Todd had made several brilliant charges during the morning, and had driven before them with great spirit and dash every Colorado squadron halted to resist the continual marching forward of the Confederate cavalry. Ere the pursuit ended for the day, half of the 2nd Colorado regiment drew upon the crest of a bold hill and made a gallant fight. Their Major, Smith, a brave and dashing officer, was killed here, and here Todd fell. General Shelby, as was his wont, was well up with the advance, and leading recklessly the two companies of Todd and McCoy. Next to Shelby’s right rode Todd, and upon his left was McCoy. Close to these and near to the front files where Colonel Nichols, [John] Thrailkill, Ben Morrow, Ike Flannery and Jesse James. The trot had deepened into a gallop, and all the cloud of skirmishers covering the head of the rushing column were at it, fierce and hot, when the 2nd Colorado swept the road with a furious volley, broke away from the strong position held by them, and hurried on through the streets of Independence followed by the untiring McCoy, as lank as a foxhound and as eager.
That volley killed Todd.
[Shelby and His Men –on the retreat from Missouri, thru Kansas, after the 1864 raid]
Shelby moved this day with his division in advance, making desolate a broad track through the fertile fields of Kansa, and leaving behind him long trails of fire and smoldering ruins. Scattered militia were captured at nearly every house, and McCoy, with one hundred and fifty men, stormed Fort Lincoln, took its garrison of one hundred prisoners, burned it and all its surrounding houses, and returned to the column loaded with horses and supplies. [The accounts of McCoy do seem to have a consistent thread of booty. . .uh, acquired. . . to them.]
The advance, composed of two hundred volunteers from all the regiments in the brigade, and superb body of soldiers they were, lost one hundred and twenty in killed and wounded. It was led by McCoy. At Newtonia, Slayback from three hundred and twenty men lose in killed forty-nine, besides a large number wounded. These statements may show to a small extent the sacrifices Shelby was called upon to make.
General Magruder commenced about this time [early 1865] the organization of a secret corps for operations within the enemy’s lines, and, as usual, Shelby was called upon for some of his best and truest of men—those he had trained, hardened, and schooled in every species of desperate and reckless warfare. McCoy plead so earnestly for the mission that General Shelby—whose own ambitious heart was ever soft and yielding to the daring wishes of his men—gave it to him. McCoy took fourteen men—Jim Kirtley, Sam Redd, James Cather, Dan Franklin, Jim McGraw, At Persinger, Nick Coil, Bob Allen, Sam Downing, Asa Tracey, John Manion, Sid Martin, Ed Ward, and a little boy scarcely fifteen year old—Lem Stevenson—but acute and intelligent to a most wonderful degree. His fresh, guileless face and soft, amiable manners made him invaluable as a spy, and McCoy used him constantly to great advantage. A record of the adventures of these daring Confederates would be marvelous, indeed, and almost beyond belief. McGraw spent most of his time at the Federal naval station, near the mouth of White River, and managed always to keep McCoy posted regarding the movement of all detachments sent out for his capture. Sid Martin, another boy, about eighteen years of age, but cool and wary as a grenadier of Napoleon’s old guard, went twice into Memphis and once into St. Louis, and brought back to his captain, in addition to valuable information, twenty-three revolvers and a large sack filled with Ely’s pistol caps—more precious than greenbacks. He was captured twice, but on both occasions eluded his guards and returned to camp riding the best horse in the squad having charge of him. Lem Stevenson visited St. Louis twice, was lionized, petted, spoiled, and concealed by the Southern ladies there and returned each time with a great budge of news for Magruder. Ed Ward, James Cather, At Persinger, Jim Kirtley and Sam Redd did the scouting from Napoleon to Pine Bluff; Coil, Sam Downing, and Asa Tracey, were the river detail—especially commissioned to burn transports and trading-boats. Two fine steamers and tree little Yankee coasters—loaded with jews-harps, gew-gaws, and, maybe a few wooden nutmegs—were given to the flames, the crews were give to the sword, and the supplies that were valuable distributed to the suffering and heroic Southern women in the neighborhood of the captures. [There’s McCoy and his booty again
Such was the terror and annoyance inspired by the reckless and unceasing efforts of McCoy’s partisans that General McGinnis, the Federal commander in that portion of the country, sent daily detachments in quest of them. Major Davis, of the 15th Illinois cavalry, leading a squadron one day in this kind of pursuit, was ambushed by War, Cather, Coil, Persinger, Redd, Downing and Tracey, at the mouth of a long lane and completely routed. It happened just at dark, and five men falling at the first close, deadly fire, the Illinoisans were seized with a panic, thinking they were outnumbered and enfiladed, and fled franticly back followed by the seven back followed by the seven Confederates shooting everything they could overtake. Superbly mounted, they overtook many, too. Captain Norris, of the same regiment—the 15th Illinois—came out the next day and fared even worse. He had twenty-two men killed, five wounded, and lost ten horse and fourteen prisoners. This time McCoy had his whole force concentrated and on the alert.
Mrs. Douglass, an estimable and hospitable Southern matron, living in the heart of the “dark and bloody ground,” had her house used as a hospital for both parties—and often wounded Confederated and Federals would be lying side by side in the same room, receiving alike from her hands nourishment and sympathy. Her young and beautiful daughters emulated the example of their mother, and tried to outdo her in acts of mercy and benevolence. They often deprived themselves of their scanty supplies of provisions for the soldiers, and were in every particular angels of good deeds.
Cotton speculators, Yankee agents, itinerant preachers, and psalm-singing schoolmasters fled from McCoy’s scene of operations in ludicrous hast, spreading the most frightful repots of guerrillas, demons, giants, and what not. McCoy once suggest to a Federal Colonel, under flag of truce, that, as the vocabulary of epithets had been exhausted upon him men and himself, he would ask thereafter, as an especial favor, that they might be called gorillas.
Until the downfall of the Confederacy, McCoy’s little band kept watch and ward upon the river, keeping General Smith advised of every military movement upon the Mississippi.