John H. Griffin: Civil War Soldier Extraordinaré
Compiled from various sources previously appearing in the Macon Chronicle-Herald
Sometimes the search for stories of historical interest leads to a dead end; at other times pure coincidence acts as a catalyst to revive colorful tales of the past. The powers of coincidence were at full force when John Hamilton of Macon, who collects prints by Currier and Ives, found in the backing of a picture frame encasing a Currier and Ives he had purchased at an antique shop, a black and white poster of a turn-of-the-century lady out for "The Morning Drive" in her buggy. The poster was inscribed "Compliments of John H. Griffin, Real Estate and Loan Agent, Macon, Mo."
Hamilton framed the antique-looking poster and a couple of years later ran across a newspaper letter to the editor from Minnie Mohr which included an article from Capper's Weekly entitled 'Johnny Griffin, Amazing Soldier From Missouri'. Hamilton has provided the Chronicle-Herald with the poster and article for the C-H historical series. Additional information on Griffin's life, garnered from the 1884 and 1910 editions of the History of Macon County, are added to Hamilton's information to give a more complete life history of one of Macon County's most unusual and courageous early citizens of the Civil War period.
FROM CAPPER'S WEEKLY
Most remarkable of all the soldiers in the Great Rebellion probably is unknown to 99 per cent of readers of the hundreds of different books that have been poured out about the conflict.
He was John Henry Griffin of Macon, MO - a man who never walked a step after early childhood. His legs became withered, misshapen and useless to him when he was only a few years old, as a result of infantile paralysis. To get about, the boy had to learn to swing his body along on his hands, dragging his legs behind him.
Young Griffin refused to act like a cripple, to pity himself. He exercised to develop a powerful physique above the thighs. He learned to ride a horse, and used it in getting the best available education. He had qualified as a teacher and was conducting a school when the Civil War broke out.
To enjoy sports and also to protect himself, he had learned to shoot expertly. So Johnny Griffin, aged 21, insisted on going to join a Confederate regiment raised in Missouri, equipped with a carbine, brace of pistols, and the horse he had trained to lie down so Johnny could mount him. Johnny proved an efficient sharpshooter, and he served effectively in skirmishes and battles in Missouri, which was fought over for four years by Confederates, Union defenders and guerrillas.
Griffin survived the war and returned to schoolteaching. He took over and managed a farm actively and also conducted a real estate, insurance and loan business on the side. His neighbors elected him county recorder.
Is it any wonder that one of his students in school, a Miss Mary A. Coiner, fell in love with such a courageous, determined man and married him?
Many men served in the Civil War lacking one leg or one arm. There is no record of any man except John Griffin being a soldier in the United States without the use of his legs.
FROM MACON COUNTY HISTORY 1910
There are a few discrepancies between the article on John Griffin in the 1910 history and the 1884 history. The 1910 article elaborates on Griffin's war career and his death on March 29, 1910.
John H. Griffin was said to be one of the most accurate shots with a rifle and the pistol in Ten Mile township and was a great squirrel hunter.
His first teaching job, at age 15, was at the Moody School House.
Griffin brought his fine black horse, Ceilim, with him when he entered the Civil War on the Confederate side. He joined Price's army in time for the fight at Lexington. He took part in that engagement then went on to Lone Jack, fought and was slightly wounded there and continued with the army to Wilson's Creek. He took part in that battle also, proving himself as good a soldier as any in the command. But after Wilson's Creek, Price's army was reorganized and the officer refused to accept Griffin as a soldier because of his handicap. Griffin took sick at Springfield and was laid up in an old mill which served as a hospital. Reports came in that the Jayhawkers were coming from Kansas to raise trouble, and Griffin got out of bed and took to the woods. Jack Richardson accompanied him to his home. Hardly had his parents greeted him when militiamen arrested him as a rebel.
Griffin was held 3-4 weeks while his father worked to get him released. He was not released until he took an oath that he would not take up arms against the federal government, and his father had to post a $10,000 bond that he would keep the oath.
Griffin went back to teaching until 1862. He had married in 1862. In addition to teaching Griffin learned to be a first class farmer. In 1880 he and his wife moved to Macon. For two years they operated a farm near town. In 1882 Griffin was elected county recorder and served in this capacity for four years. After this he went into the real estate, loan and insurance business. (This would date John Hamilton's poster between 1886 and 1910.)
It was said (says the historical account) that there was no better judge of land and property values than John H. Griffin. However, he sometimes erred in his judgment of people, and twice paid debts without complaint for persons he backed who failed his trust.
The story of Griffin's death in the 1910 history also contains an unusual element. Griffin at some time later in his life was befriended by a large black shepherd dog named Robert. Robert seemed to sense Griffin's handicap and would stand watch over the horse whenever the dog was around and Griffin was being assisted into his buggy. Robert would not let the horse make a move until Griffin was seated and had the reins firmly in his hands. He also protected Griffin from any person who appeared menacing.
On the day of his death Griffin had typewritten a number of letters and wished to go to town to mail them. Robert stood guard as Griffin was helped into the buggy. As Griffin took hold of the reins, he fell over dead. Mrs. Griffin was called and she asked the men to take Griffin's body into the house. When they tried to remove him from the buggy Robert attacked them. Then they attempted to lead the horse to the stable, but Robert would not allow the horse to move. The problem was finally solved by unhitching the horse and leading it away, signaling Robert that the journey had been abandoned. Robert then left and the men were able to take John Griffin inside his home.
FROM MACON COUNTY HISTORY 1884
This article on Griffin's life tells a bit more about his teaching career and provides a slightly different story of his Civil War adventures. It ends while he is serving as county recorder.
John H. Griffin was born in Ten Mile township October 31, 1840 the son of William G. and Anna Griffin. At 18 months of age he was stricken with paralysis. He overcame his physical limitations by courage and resolution and at the age of 15 he began teaching school. He was soon one of the most popular and successful teachers in the county. He was engaged in school teaching in Macon County almost continuously for a period of 20 years, the whole time within three school districts.
When the war broke out Griffin desired to make himself useful to the cause of the South and traveled to Boonville and joined the Missouri State Guard. Taking part in the battle at there, he became a member of General Dark's command. Coming home on a visit, he subsequently - in company with Captain M.B. Griffin - rejoined Price and took part in the siege of Lexington.
After the Battle of Lone Jack he became separated from his command and was cut off from rejoining it by the Kansas Jayhawkers. He was captured by Major Foster's troop and confined at Macon City for a short time. Then he was released on a $5,000 bond not to leave the county. He remained at home for the balance of the war and continued his teaching career. In February 1862 he married Mary A. Coiner. They had no children.
In 1874 Griffin moved to Cairo and engaged in the general merchandising business with his brother, James G. Four years later he came back to Macon County, and bought and shipped stock for several years. In 1882 Griffin was elected county recorder. Judging by results, says the historical article, he seems to have gotten around a good deal more lively than the average man. The article adds that he makes an efficient recorder and throughout the county everybody knows and votes for John Griffin.