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  • Writer's pictureDennis McCaslin

Stone Gardens: Texas Confederate soldier made Sebastian County home after War Between the States

Two miles east of US Highway 71on Dayton Road, the Dayton Cemetery is the final resting place of generations of area pioneers and residents, but one marker denotes the location of a Civil war soldier who was born in Illinois, grew up in Texas and made Sebastian County, Arkansas his home by choice.

Jehu Condra was born October 27,1831 in Illinois and enlisted into the Confederate Calvary in Texas on July 10, 1862, under commander M.W. Davenport.

A successful Tarrant County, Texas farmer, and landowner, Condra was listed as the owner of 320 acres of prime Texas real estate the year before he entered the War Between the States.

CSA Cpl. Jehu Condra

Assigned to Company A of the 34th Texas Calvary (also known as the Texas Partisan Rangers), Condra fought in seven major battles and skirmishes before being mustered out of the Rebel army in early 1865.

Condra first saw action In Newton County, Missouri. Following the Battle of Pea Ridge, in March 1862, most Confederate and Union troops left northwestern Arkansas and southwestern Missouri.

By late summer, Confederates returned to the area, which caused much apprehension in nearby Federally-occupied Springfield, Missouri, and Fort Scott, Kansas. Confederate Colonel Douglas Cooper reached the area on the 27th and assigned two of his units to Newtonia where there was a mill for making breadstuffs.

In mid-September, two brigades of Brigadier General James G. Blunt's Union Army of Kansas left Fort Scott for Southwest Missouri.

On the 29th, Union scouts approached Newtonia, where the Rebels were headquartered at the home of Matthew B. Ritchey, but were chased away. Other Union troops appeared in nearby Granby where there were lead mines, and Cooper sent some reinforcements there.

The next morning, Union troops appeared before Newtonia and fighting ensued by 7:00 am. The Federals began driving back the enemy, but Confederate reinforcements arrived, swelling the numbers on the Union side.

[The Federals gave way and retreated in haste. As they did, some of their reinforcements appeared and helped to stem their retreat. The Union forces then renewed the attack, threatening the enemy right flank. But the newly arrived Confederates stopped that attack and eventually forced the Federals to retire again.

The pursuit of the Federals continued after dark. Union gunners posted artillery in the roadway to halt the pursuit. As Confederate gunners observed the Union artillery fire for location, they fired back, creating panic. The Union retreat turned into a rout as some ran all the way to Sarcoxie, more than ten miles away.

Although the Confederates won the battle, they were unable to maintain themselves in the area given the great numbers of Union troops. Most Confederates retreated into northwest Arkansas, which was Condra's first contact with the state having traveled through Indian Territory and Kansas to join the fighting in Missouri.

A mere six weeks later, Condra was among the soldiers that participated in the Battle of Pea Ridge in northwest Arkansas.

Confederate Maj. Gen. Earl Van Dorn had been appointed the commander of the Trans-Mississippi District to quell a simmering conflict between competing generals Sterling Price of Missouri and Benjamin McCulloch of Texas. Van Dorn's Army of the West totaled approximately 16,000 men, including 800 Cherokee Indian troops, contingents from Missouri State Guard and other Missouri units transferring to Confederate service,

As Confederate cavalry, infantry, and artillery from Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Missouri gathered, Van Dorn was aware of the Union movements into Arkansas and was intent on destroying Curtis's Army of the Southwest and reopening the gateway into Missouri.

He intended to march around Curtis' flank and attack the Union army from the rear; this would result either in Curtis retreating back north or in the encirclement and destruction of the Union army.

On the second day of fighting, the Confederate troops were routed and sent retreating south into Arkansas. Records indicate those remnants of the Confederate Calvary then spent the better part of the following year working their way through the war theater in Arkansas into Louisiana, where the next recorded battle for the Texas 34th is recorded the following September at Stirling Plantation in Morganza, Louisiana.

It was probably sometime during this period that Condra discovered the fertile and plentiful land in the south Sebastian area and after participating in war efforts at the Red River campaign, Atchafalaya. Bayou Ala and Morgan's Ferry -- all in Louisiana -- Condra is thought to have joined his brother Herod who had found his way to Arkansas during the war between the north and south.

Condra mustered out of the Rebel army sometime in early 1865 as a corporal.

Jehu was definitely living in Sebastian County somewhere in the Dayton, Washburn or Witcherville area by the summer of 1965 after having returned to Texas and mustering out of the Confederate service on April 25, 1865. at Hempstead, Texas.

Although the Condra's are nowhere to be found on the 1880 census in Arkansas, they reappear in 1900 still in the Dayton Township, indicated they were probably just missed in the previous census count.

The facts suggest that Condra decided to make Arkansas his permanent home during his travels in the state during the war. Jehu himself apparently lived out the remainder of his life in Arkansas until he died in 1904 and his widow remained in the area until her death on July 12,1912 at the age of 74.

An Illinois native and Texas land owner who chose to make Arkansas his home until his dying day, is remembered for an amazing journey that brought him in the end to a small plot of ground in a quiet Sebastian County cemetery.

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