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Trans-Mississippi Musings

Big Blue Battlefield Tour

Posted by The Muse (themuse) on May 26 2014
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Over the next several weeks, theMuse will be clearing walking trails at the Big Blue Battlefield in Kansas City, Missouri. Then we will publish an updated Big Blue Battlefield Walking Tour on the Battle of Westport and theCivilWarMuse websites. 

Brigadier General Jo ShelbyOn October 22, 1864 this battlefield was the scene of fighting between Kansas Volunteer units from Major General James G. Blunt’s Provisional Cavalry Division and Confederate Missouri Volunteer units from Brigadier General Jo Shelby’s Cavalry Division.

On October 23, 1864 this battlefield was the scene of fighting between Confederate Missouri Volunteer units from Major General John S. Marmaduke’s Division and Missouri and Iowa Volunteer units from Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s Provisional Cavalry Division.

As Major General Sterling Price made plans to get his wagon train safely from Independence to New Santa Fe, he had to deal with two threats. To the west was Major General Samuel R. Curtis with the Army of the Border, made up of about 4,000 veterans in Blunt’s Provisional Cavalry Division and about 17,000 Kansas State Militia called into service just a few days ago. Trailing his army to the east were about 7,000 veterans in Pleasonton’s Provisional Cavalry Division and about 9,000 infantry veterans under Major General Andrew J. Smith.

Colonel Charles R. JennisonPrice decided to force a crossing of the Big Blue River at Byram’s Ford and Russell’s Ford, gain control of the fords, and move his wagon train down to New Santa Fe. On the morning of October 22, 1864, Jo Shelby attacked the Federal defenses at Byram’s Ford. Defending the ford was Doc Jennison’s First Brigade in Blunt’s Division. Colonel Charles R. Jennison commanded a brigade of Kansas, Missouri, and Wisconsin volunteers and was supported by some Kansas State Militia troops. Shelby’s men were able to get across the river and flank Jennison’s position. Jennison withdrew from his defense works and led a fighting retreat back to the Kansas State line. At this point, Colonel Thomas Moonlight arrived with his Second Brigade and they counterattacked, pushing the Confederates a couple of miles east. Darkness brought an end to the fighting on October 22, but the Confederates now controlled Byram’s Ford. The Confederates got the wagons across to the west side of the Big Blue River and on its way to New Santa Fe.

Major General John S. MarmadukePrice ordered Major General John S. Marmaduke to deploy his division to defend Byram’s Ford against the Federals coming from Independence. In the morning (October 23), Price was going to use Shelby’s Division and Major General James F. Fagan’s Division to attack Curtis in Westport.

Having hit the Confederate rear guard in Independence hard on October 22, Major General Alfred Pleasonton was eager to continue attacking on October 23. He ordered Brigadier General Egbert Brown’s First Brigade to move down the road to Byram’s Ford and attack at dawn. After getting a few hours’ sleep, Pleasonton woke early on October 23 and heard no sounds of battle at Byram’s Ford. He waited a bit, but then rode down the road to see why the attack had not occurred. What he found was chaos, the First Brigade was all jumbled up with the Fourth Brigade in a 19th Century traffic jam. Furious, Pleasonton arrested Brown and place Colonel John F. Philips in command of the First Brigade and told him to attack.

Colonel John F. PhilipsPhilips led the First Brigade in the attack on the Federal left while Captain Edward Dee led the Third Battalion from the Fourth Iowa Cavalry across the River on the Federal right. Colonel Edward F. Winslow soon joined them in the attack with the Fourth Brigade in the middle of the Federal line. The Federals tried advancing against the Confederate defenses, but became bogged down by heavy artillery and small arms fire. Finally, when the Confederates ran low on ammunition, The Federals were able to bust through the Confederate defenses. Marmaduke’s men pulled out of the defense and quickly retreated down the Harrisonville Road towards New Santa Fe.

Federal troops attacking a fortified Confederate position.

Last changed: May 26 2014 at 8:20 AM