by Patrick Niles
It was cloudy and a bit cool. Not more than a couple football fields away, interstate traffic blew right by the little town of Emma, Mo. Those travelers of Interstate 70 were unaware of the gathering that was taking place. Many from this community of 300, as well as those from neighboring towns, gathered for a dedication that was 150 years in the making. On the grounds of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, a monument was dedicated on Oct. 12, 2014. The monument commemorates 26 German immigrants who fought to defend their homes and farms from the Southern-sympathizing guerillas. The memorial at the Emma Massacre site recounts the details from that day:
On Monday morning, October 10, 1864, a band of William G. Quantrill’s guerrillas, led by Dave Poole and George M. Todd, started west from Brownsville (now Sweet Springs). An alarm system was activated by the blowing of a series of cow horns alerting neighboring farmers and the local Germans of serious threat. A Home Guard unit gathered near this spot and the battle became a massacre. The Home Guard was poorly armed and greatly outnumbered by the guerillas. Eleven year-old Louis A. Meyer observed the battle from behind a corn shock in an adjacent field. In 1888, Meyer named this community Emma and was appointed its first postmaster.
Many in attendance had distant family relations amongst the 26 that were massacred that day. They have an attachment to those now memorialized in this quaint little town between Kansas City and Columbia. However, the committee for the monument felt strongly that it was important to remember those who boldly died protecting their community. The Home Guard Unit was comprised of men over the age of 40 and teenage boys. They numbered approximately 50 against the more numerous (and better armed) guerrillas. They gave no concern for the odds or their lives. They cared only for their families and neighbors. The chairman of the committee that was instrumental in accomplishing the monument, David Hemme, had the following remark, “Each and every year we celebrate Veteran’s Day and there are articles written in the local newspapers recounting the bravery of those who died in battle. We have cemetery services. The names are read. Finally, these men are finally being recognized for their bravery and commitment to freedom. They were older men and boys. And they died. They died so their families would be kept safe.”
The ceremony lasted about an hour. As the overcast sky began to rain on the site, those in attendance continued sharing stories and undocumented historical accounts handed down from one generation to another. Throughout the conversations, a story was told of Pastor Biltz, the pastor of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Concordia, Mo (about 3 miles from Emma). Chaplain Craig Muehler, who has roots in the area, was present and recounted the story of Pastor Biltz. “It is rumored that Pastor Biltz was encountered by one of the German settlers involved in the skirmish and asked to borrow Biltz’s horse to get back into the action. Pastor Biltz obliged and walked the rest of the way home that day.” Chaplain Muehler, former deputy chaplain of the United States Marine Corps, now serves as director of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces. He was also quick to point out that Biltz, effectively, became a military chaplain on the spot to those that were involved in the massacre. He provided care for those that lived, and the families of those who gave their lives. Even back in the Civil War, the Lutheran Church had active chaplains amongst the militias and guard units.
Just as the stories of many who fight for the freedoms of our country go untold, the stories of chaplains and their ongoing care for soldiers often go untold. Day in and day out, chaplains work to provide spiritual care to those who protect our nation. Many of these stories are never told. Just as many answered the call on that day in 1864, the call has not ended. The Church continues to provide care for those who defend our nation. This is a work that never ceases. As soldiers come back from war, they bear wounds and scars that remain long after any physical injury has healed. The LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces helps to provide assistance for those who suffer these injuries. The latest statistics state that every day a veteran commits suicide. This is a statistic that should wake up the church-at-large to the ministry that is before it. The work of these men of remarkable valor and the chaplains that seek to serve them does not need to go unnoticed. There are ways to be involved right now. Contact the LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces for more details on how you can be involved in these ministries.
If you ever come across Exit 62 on Interstate 70 in Missouri, take the exit. Go south about 1,000 feet. See the quiet memorial to an unknown skirmish. Remember the countless men who have and continue to serve in an unfortunately quiet tradition. Spend some time in prayer and thanksgiving for those who provide care to those who keep our freedoms secure.