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Trans-Mississippi Musings

Capt. Henry E. Palmer's Account of Price's 1864 Missouri Raid

Posted by The Muse (themuse) on Aug 23 2018
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Capt. Henry E. PalmerHenry E. Palmer was born in Lake County. Ohio. July 31, 1841. When he was twelve years old his parents moved to Wisconsin. He was educated in the common schools of that state. At the age of nineteen he moved further west, and when the war broke out he was in Colorado. He arrived at Fort Leavenworth July 30, 1861. The next day he was mustered in, and October 7 following he was made a second lieutenant of artillery, for gallantry in the battle of Dry wood. He went to Wisconsin to get recruits for Lane’s brigade, but the governor of that state refused to permit the men to leave, and assigned them to the First Wisconsin cavalry, in which Palmer was made a first lieutenant. This he resigned to become a captain on the staff of James H. Lane, and, by a consolidation of the Third and Fourth Kansas regiments, he found himself, in April, 1862, again a civilian. Securing another recruiting commission, he raised company A, Eleventh Kansas infantry. He was made second lieutenant, and as such com¬manded the company in the battles of Marysville. Cane Hill. Boston Mountains, Prairie Grove, and Van Buren. December 31, 1862, he was advanced to first lieutenant, and March 24, 1863, was made captain of the company. The Eleventh regiment was mounted, and for over a year Captain Palmer fought Quantrill and the notorious guerrillas of Missouri. In August. 1864, he was sent out on the plains, and on the Little Blue, in Nebraska, he had a “brush” with Cheyenne Indians. After his experience in the Price raid he was ordered to Fort Riley, and in February, 1865, from thence to Fort Kearney, Nebraska. He was active in Indian affairs in the Powder River country until muster-out, September 26, 1865. He declined a commission in the regular army. He was a pioneer and miner in Montana. In 1868 he settled at Plattsmouth, Neb., and in 1889 removed to Omaha. He is one of the leading insurance men of the West, and has led a very strenuous life in Masonry, politics, and Grand Army affairs. He was department commander in Nebraska of the G. A. R. for 1884 and 1885, commander of the Loyal Legion in 1895 and 1896, grand high priest of Royal Arch Masons in that state for 1884 and 1885. Captain Palmer is at present postmaster of the city of Omaha.

In all accounts of personal connection with war events, the commanding officer who writes of his own command must necessarily use, to an immodest extent, possibly, the personal pronoun “I”—”I did this”; “I did that.” I beg to disclaim that I did more than any other company commander should or possibly would have done under like circumstances. I was not a “Samson with a jaw-bone” during the war. I fail to remember that I ever did anything that entitled me to a medal from Congress. Participating, during my four and one-half years’ service in twenty-four general engagements with the enemy, in only two of these battles am I credited with the death of a foeman. In more than twenty battles I never fired a shot; always had enough to do to see that my men were doing their duty. I ask that all credit implied and indicated in this article by the pronoun “I” be credited to company A, Eleventh Kansas volunteer cavalry, and not to myself, and tagged excusable as necessary for the completion of the story.

October, 1864, was a strenuous month for Missouri and Kansas. Sterling Price1, major-general in the Confederate army, ex-governor of Missouri, and ex-brigadier-general of the Mexican war, started north from Arkansas about the 1st of September to free Missouri from federal rule and punish Kansas, the hotbed of abolition sentiment, the home of Lane, Montgomery, Anthony, and Jennison. Price had a splendid veteran army—the trans-Mississippi division of the Confederacy—made up of Texans, Arkansans, and Missourians. The Missouri contingent were the best sons of that state, who had followed the rebel governor, Claib. Jackson, to the southland in 1861. Generals Marmaduke, Cockrell, Cabell, Rains, Fagan, and the famous Joe Shelby (the Phil Sheridan of the South), with his brigade of daredevil riders, led the advance. It was the finest army for an invasion or raid that could be gathered for that purpose2. The 20,000 Missourians in this division were going home, many of them for the first visit in over three years3. They knew every road, by-path, and trail; no commander was better equipped for such a raid, and Price should have accomplished all he was expected to do, namely: Capture St. Louis, destroy the many million dollars’ worth of stores there and at Camp Jackson, burn the steamboats at the wharf, destroy East St. Louis and the railroad shops in both cities, capture Jefferson City, the capital of the state, and take every town en route to Kansas City; capture Leavenworth City and Fort Leavenworth, with more than five million dollars’ worth of stores, burn the fort and city, destroy all that Quantrill had left of Lawrence, burn Topeka, and all the towns in southern Kansas, including Emporia and Fort Scott, and then safely return to the south side of the Arkansas river within the rebel lines; and he should have gathered at least 10,000 good recruits and equipped all with captured arms. He crossed the Arkansas line with over 20,000 men; he should have returned 200 miles west with at least 40,000 men. St. Louis was practically unprotected. There were not 10,000 Union soldiers in the state of Missouri that could meet him in battle-line. In all Kansas there were less than 7000 soldiers. The army of the Tennessee was so far away that this flank movement of the trans-Mississippi army against our right wing, if vigorously and actively pushed, would have resulted in a disastrous defeat for the Union forces in Missouri and Kansas.

If Joe Shelby, Marmaduke, Cockrell, Cabell or Fagan had been in command, rather than “Old Pap Price,” the raid would have been a success in- stead of a failure, and Kansas would have been devastated and set back at least ten years. Price made a mistake soon after crossing the line. He stopped, September 26 and 27, to fight Ewing, at Pilot Knob. He could have flanked Ewing; should have left him undisturbed, and pushed on rapidly with his cavalry and light batteries straight for St. Louis. Nothing could have prevented his taking that city. His infantry need not have approached within fifty miles of St. Louis, but should have obliqued to the left and first touched the Missouri river at Jefferson City; then a rapid march to Lexington, Kansas City, and into Kansas. By the 10th of October he could have been at Kansas City. He loitered by the wayside; gave his 20,000 Missourians two weeks’ leave of absence to scatter all over the state, visiting their homes. In the meantime, with some cavalry, he kept up a semblance of an army—enough to let the Union forces understand that Price was in Missouri.

Gen. W. S. Rosecrans was in command of St. Louis. Our right wing was dangerously threatened. Kansas was sure of destruction. Price’s halting gave us a chance. Troops were gathered from every available source. Gen. A. J. Smith and Gen. Joseph A. Mower, with 10,000 infantry and three or four batteries of artillery, and Gen. Alfred Pleasanton, with 12,000 cavalry from the army in Kentucky and Tennessee, were sent to St. Louis as fast as steam-trains and steamboats could haul them. Every man in Kansas capable of bearing arms was enrolled to help defend their homes. October 10, 1864, Rosecrans telegraphed Maj.-gen. S. R. Curtis, at Leavenworth, Kan., as follows:
Price’s movements are not known, but he has avowed his intention to go to Leavenworth. If he will try this it will enable our columns under Mower and Smith and our cavalry to get between them and the Osage, and they will suffer. They spread and stretch out for subsistence; therefore, your cavalry can boldly strike the head of their columns, and hurt and retard their march. The telegraph lines are so interrupted it will be difficult to communicate with you. W. S. Rosecrans, Major-general.

For sixteen months prior to this date I had been kept busy chasing bushwhackers, scouting the country—over every road and by-path in Jackson, Lafayette, Johnson, Cass and Bates counties, and down the Kansas border as far as Fort Scott. My company, A, Eleventh Kansas volunteer cavalry, had been kept recruited to its maximum, or nearly so, and all were well-trained veterans, good hunters and trailers for the most formidable foe that ever harassed an army—the Missouri bushwhackers or guerrillas, commanded by Quantrill, and ably assisted by such desperadoes as Bill Anderson, Arch Clements, Bill Todd, Jesse and Frank James, Cy Porter, Coon Thornton, Thrailkill, Upton Hayes, Cole Younger, Si Gordon, and Dick Yeager. Before the war these guerrillas were, many of them, plainsmen, Indian fighters, border toughs—others wayward sons of good families in Missouri—reckless daredevils all. The service and drill necessary to successfully meet such a foe had made my company A fairly known along the border, especially to military commanders.

October 10, 1864, found me in camp at Aubrey, Johnson County, Kansas, with fully ninety-five good and true men, soldiers of company A, ready for duty. During the afternoon of that day I received an order, direct from Maj.-gen S. R. Curtis’s headquarters at Leavenworth, instructing me to take twenty of my best men, disguise them as bushwhackers, make a long march to Warrensburg, Mo., and beyond, if possible, and do my best to locate Price’s army. If I should find it, I was to do my best to learn how large a force of infantry, cavalry and artillery he had; how many wagons were in his train; then I was to stay on the enemy’s front until further orders, and to keep him. General Curtis, posted, by message over wire when I could reach a telegraph line or by special courier. At this time the Missouri Pacific’s western terminus was near Tipton. The telegraph line was through to Kansas City. I had two civilian telegraph operators with my command, both brave boys. I was advised by this dispatch that Major would follow me closely as supporting column, with seventy-five men of my company, and with companies B, F and D of the Eleventh Kansas cavalry—in all nearly 300 men.

Nothing interesting occurred until we were within about six miles of Warrensburg, when we met a country carryall about ten p.m., in which were two apparently very intelligent ladies, an old darky driving. They said they were just from Warrensburg; that a portion of Price’s army had reached the town and were foraging for food. Major _____ being only half a mile in my rear, I detained the ladies, and waited with my twenty men until he came up that he might question them and understand fully the situation. This was a mistake on my part, for when Major _____ learned that a portion of the rebel army was only six miles away, he said he would go no farther, but would retreat in good order. No amount of persuasion would induce him to advance and feel of the enemy, not even when I told him that I must and would go on to Warrensburg alone if he failed to support me, as Major-general Curtis had ordered. Major _____ “about-faced” and marched back toward the Kansas line and I stubbornly continued on toward Warrensburg.

When I reached a point within one-half mile of a tributary of the Blackwater, where I knew there was a covered bridge about one-half mile from town, I halted and told my trusty Sergeant Baker that I would go ahead on foot to reconnoiter; that he should wait about five minutes, and then move on at a slow walk until the sentry, that I knew must be posted on the bridge, should halt him; then to obey his orders, and wait my modest whistle for the action he knew was necessary. I left my horse to be led by a trooper, and skipped along lightly on foot over the country road ahead of the command, and when I could see the dark line of the timber—it was a dark night, no moon—I left the road, climbed the fence, and skulked through a pasture to a point only a few yards from the mouth of the bridge; then over the fence and up the bank as quietly as a cat. Only a few feet from me stood a sentinel, with gun and fixed bayonet in hand. Just at this moment he heard the tramp of horses’ feet and had sung out the challenge, “Who goes there?” The noise of his own voice caused him to be oblivious to my footsteps just behind him. With my left hand grasping his shirt collar, and my right over his mouth, I said in a low but firm voice: “Drop that gun if you wish to live. Say nothing. You are my prisoner.” The gun fell from his hands, and the poor fellow dropped to his knees badly scared. I picked up his gun and whistled, one soft whistle, and Baker and the squad rode up. We found that there were no rebels in Warrensburg—only Union militia, who were trying to protect themselves, and preparing to march out of the country. They knew nothing of the enemy. I pushed on about five miles, and camped for rest and breakfast. Sometime after breakfast we marched on to Knob Noster, about ten miles east of Warrensburg, and by sundown of the 11th we reached Sedalia, and the next day continued the march towards Tipton. On the 13th I met the advance-guard of Joe Shelby’s army moving towards Sedalia. My men were all drilled by signs and signals—a code of my own—so that I could communicate with them even in the presence of the enemy, or wherever we might be, when it was best to give orders by signs, rather than by word of command.

Crossing a stream and riding through the bordering stretch of timber to the prairie edge, I saw ahead of us, coming over the hill on the same road, a column of rebel cavalry. A signal from me caused my men to quickly check their horses. Riding back some distance, we turned our horses over to four men to hold them. The balance of my command advanced about 100 yards under cover of the brush and “waited a time with patience” for the enemy to appear. They came on unconscious of danger. After receiving the contents of eighteen carbines, they hastily retreated. Again they advanced more cautiously, and again received our fire. Their charge on the third attack found us on the opposite side of the creek, and again they got the worst of it. We delayed the march at least an hour and made them throw a few shells to get us out of the timber.

From that time, October 14 to October 18, we were constantly on Joe Shelby’s front or flank, constantly annoying him night and day, and he was keeping at least 500 men quite busy trying to catch us. During all that time, night and day, we had to keep awake. We managed to tap a telegraph line quite often to wire General Curtis of the enemy’s movements. We had to ride around on the right and left flanks at intervals, and once quite in the rear, to ascertain the number of troops and strength of the artillery. Shelby was moving towards Lexington, but very slowly, in order, apparently, for Price to get his furloughed men together, and line them up against Curtis and Blunt, as he did on October 19 at Lexington.

Capt. William H. GreeneWhen I reached Lexington, and reported to General Blunt on the evening of October 18, I was so sleepy and tired that I felt utterly unable to do anything; but Blunt told me where my company was camped, and said to me: “Take your company, together with your twenty-two scouts, and company F of your regiment, J. F. Lindsey, commanding; Capt. Wm. Green[e], with company E of the Second Colorado cavalry, and sixty-five men of a Missouri cavalry regiment—in all, about 250 men—and go out on the road to Dover, say three miles, and hold that position as long as you can. Don’t mind the fight anywhere else. You are to hold the Dover town road until ordered to retreat. I shall depend upon you, Palmer.4

The command was in light marching order, every man loaded down with ammunition, two days’ rations—crackers and raw bacon in our saddle-bags—all other storage room, even in the inside of our ponchos and the one blanket fastened to the saddle—full of cartridges. The three-mile march was completed by one a.m., October 19. We then waited patiently by the roadside until daybreak, and then had our breakfast of hardtack and bacon, with coffee made in individual tin cups. After this bountiful repast I put the men at work leveling fences over about 600 acres of territory, so that we could have a clear field to fight in. About ten a.m. we heard firing to our right, near the fair-grounds, and soon after the boom of artillery, and about this time the enemy appeared in our front. We met their column with a charge that developed the fact that the force opposed to us was stronger numerically than we, yet we were able to drive them back to the timber three times before five p.m. Until then we had been constantly skirmishing or fighting. During our first impetuous charge we captured seventeen prisoners, and learned from them that we had before us a regiment of about 500 cavalry who were ordered to keep us engaged and drive us back, if possible.

At about three p.m. the din of battle grew so loud on our right, only about two miles away, that we could easily understand that the contending forces were closely engaged. I sent a messenger to General Blunt advising that I was holding the road, but could see no use in staying where I was. Could I not do better service elsewhere? No answer was received by me in reply to this message, and two other messengers sent by me failed to return. At about four p.m. I could hear the firing from the rebel side more than double its volume. The rattle of the musketry was, as the Arkansas woman said, after listening to the Pea Ridge fight, “like pouring beans into a tin pan.” About five p.m. the cannonading had ceased; the battle was over. From the desultory firing I knew that our force had been driven back, and quite rapidly, too. The sound of the retreating shots came from miles away. I was left in the rear. I knew, too, that men from the army of Price and Shelby were certainly between us and the federal command, and had by this time entered the city of Lexington. On my left was the Missouri river, only a short distance away, impassable; in front was the rebel cavalry that I had been fighting all day; and to my right was Price’s army, only a portion of which had participated in the battle. I was surrounded. It was time to about-face and march toward Blunt’s retreating army, without orders even.

I called the seventeen prisoners into line, made them swear that they would not serve against us until exchanged, then paroled them, and moved toward Lexington in column by fours, marching at a walk. The rebel force that we had been fighting all day drew out of the timber, which had helped to protect them against our repeated charges, and followed us in column fours, and also at a walk. I afterward learned that the commander of this force thought that we were going to Lexington, which city we both knew was in the hands of the rebels, to surrender. I thought I would feel the enemy before surrendering. To surrender meant a long, weary walk—a terrible task for a cavalryman—to Texas as a prisoner of war, and mighty little grub, and that of the poorest quality, to sustain life on the march. For my part, death was preferable, and I knew from the serious faces of my men (glancing at them as I was riding to the rear and back to the front of my column) that more than half of them felt as I did. I said to the boys as I rode along beside the line: “Load your revolvers and carbines, if they are not loaded, and shoot only when you hear me fire the first shot at the head of the column.” Captain Green[e], of the Second Colorado, rode out from the head of his company to chat with me. He was much worried as to what I was going to do. He said: “You must know that full half of Price’s army are between us and Blunt’s command.” He admitted that we could not go east, as the command following us was certainly only the advance-guard of a strong infantry force; that we could not go south, as Price’s main army was within a mile of our column; that the Missouri river north of us cut off our retreat in that direction, and that Lexington, only a short distance away, must certainly be full of rebels. “Must we surrender?” said Captain Green[e]. He was a brave officer, and had seen much service; was perfectly cool and self-possessed. I answered: “No, captain, not until we are invited to hand over our shooting-irons. If you hear us fire in front (the first twenty men in front were my bushwhackers, all in half butternut federal dress), tell your men to shoot to the right and to the left, and keep ‘closed up.’“ Lieutenant Lindsey, company F, Eleventh Kansas volunteer cavalry, rode up to me and asked what we were going to do. I said: “Lindsey, I cannot tell you just now, until I see what is before us. We will do something. Keep cool, old boy, and don’t do anything to excite the men. We may fight and we may not. We will see.” Lindsey turned and galloped back to his company, about the center of the column, and shouted out to his men as he rode down the line: “Keep cool boys; for God’s sake, keep cool.” He was so excited that all of his men noticed his condition and were smiling at his actions. He really quieted the men, reflecting, as they did, on his showing of fear.

When we reached the outskirts of the city of Lexington, some women saw our guidons and recognized the federal colors. They shouted: “That’s right, you old Lincolnites, come in and surrender; we welcome you.” When I reached the head of Main Street, I saw a row of stacked infantry arms along the whole street. It was no place for cavalry to ride, over that fence of guns with bayonets attached. So I turned through an alley to Market Street, and saw that the street was clear except for hundreds of rebels crossing and recrossing the street. I comprehended at a glance that the rebel division or brigade (it was Fagan’s division) had entered the city after the last federal had retreated, and that, as it was late in the day, the men had stacked their arms and had been dismissed, to enable them to get something to eat. The men were foraging for grub, and there was no organized force to stop me from going through the city by breaking through their lines. I ordered Edward A. Slane, my bugler, who was riding by my side, to first sound the trot; this kicked up a dust that fairly covered my column and hid our flags from view. We commenced passing men, who naturally took us to be a rear cavalry force going forward to help drive the fleeing federals. They shouted to us: “Give them hell, boys.” I believe I could have trotted through the town. My twenty men in front, dressed in half rebel attire, were about the only men who could be seen. I was riding on the left of the front file. The man on the right of this leading file was private Geo. W. Edwards, of my company. A rebel major, mounted on a horse, rode up, calling on us to halt. He was a staff officer, and probably General Fagan had instructed him to ascertain what command this was. He shouted “Halt!” waved his hand to me, and attempted to ride across our front to my side of the column. Ed wards ran into him. He could have swept the major from his saddle, but the temptation to kill a rebel officer became so strong that Edwards forgot his orders and good discipline, and, poking his revolver into the major’s side, shot him dead. This was the signal. I could not stop the rain of bullets that came from my column to the right and left. I shouted to Bugler Slane: “Sound the charge,” and our horses, fairly fresh and in good condition, sprang into a run. We were going through the heart of the city, over a stone macadam. Rebel soldiers and officers were dodging in every direction, tumbling over stone fences, behind buildings, getting out of the way, the only sensible thing for them to do, and we were out of the city galloping on the river road to the Sni bridge, about three or four miles away.

We had passed through General Fagan’s division of 7000 men without the loss of a single man and no one wounded. I halted the column, and, slowing down into a walk, ordered the men to again load their revolvers and carbines. They were all feeling tip-top, full of jokes and kind greetings to me. I jollied the boys to keep them in good humor. It was after sundown, growing dark. The Sni bridge, two and a half miles away, was our only gateway of escape. It was a covered bridge. The Sni at this point was impassable on account of mud and quicksand. We must get across it on the bridge. I could hear the artillery and musketry firing very hot in the direction of the bridge. I rightfully guessed that Blunt’s army had crossed over on their retreat, and were now trying to prevent the rebels from crossing. How could we get through this rebel line; and if we could, how would we let our friends, Blunt’s army, know who we were, and thus prevent their batteries and riflemen strung along the river-bank above and below the bridge from mowing us down? That was the question. After dark, when we could see the flashes of rifles and artillery only one-half mile away, I halted my command and rode along the company’s front and said to the men: “Boys, we are going through that crowd ahead, going to Blunt’s army, and will take breakfast with our boys. When the head of this column reaches the rebel lines, we will yell like hell, and don’t you forget to follow suit. Shoot and shout; don’t stop to catch your breath, even. The boys will hear us; the rebel fire will slacken when we are going through their lines. We will be doing the shooting and they the dodging. Our artillerymen and the boys across the creek will hear the racket; they will recognize the Kansas yell, and they will open the gates; so don’t fret.”

We then resumed our march, first a trot, then a gallop, and, as we came upon the rebels, we rode much faster; and oh, how we yelled and shot; it was confusion upon confusion with the rebels. In less than three minutes we were on the bridge and passed the two Parrott guns in the opposite end of the bridge. Our cannoneers had to hustle to get out of the way. “What command is this?” was shouted from all sides. “Palmer’s com- mand,” said one of my riders, and the word was shouted ahead by the thousand men or more who were holding the rear of Blunt’s army. A few moments later the bridge was on fire, and our force fell back, keeping enough riflemen in the timber to prevent the enemy putting out the fire. I had to ride to the left of the shouting column of Blunt’s men, who were ringing out their welcome to the 250 boys, “my rough riders,” who had been reported captured more than four hours previously.

General Blunt headed me off, shouting my name; I responded. He rode up and shook my hand warmly, and could not believe I had lost no men. He was very complimentary, and ordered me to take the head of the column, which meant an all-night ride to the Little Blue before I could halt for rest and food for my men and beasts. There we got a ration of shelled corn for our horses from a train, some hardtack and ammunition for the men, and a short sleep5.

October 20 was spent by our command in abatis work, felling trees to block the road, by this means hoping to delay the enemy as long as possible at the Little Blue.

About nine a.m., October 21, the enemy appeared. I had been awake but a few minutes and was trying to sew up a big rent in my pants, made in riding through the brush. I had to jump for my horse and see that my men were promptly in line of battle, and, having no time to put on my pants, threw them across my saddle and went into the fight. It was a sorry fight. They kept us busy for an hour or two, trying to prevent their crossing the Little Blue River. Under a sharp fire we ran a wagon-load of hay into the bridge and set it on fire. But it was all to no particular effect, so far as stopping the enemy, for the stream was not a bad one to cross, there being fords near the bridge, above and below, and we soon felt the sting of the enemy’s bullets on our right and left flanks. We had to hustle to the rear, which we did in good order.

About two and a half miles from where the first attack was made, we saw the Second Colorado battery of six fine Parrott guns crossing a field on our right as we were retreating. The guns were too heavy for the plowed land and the teams stalled. The rebel advance was within 400 or 500 yards of the battery. Quick work must be done to save the guns, worth a thousand men to us. Colonel Moonlight, commanding our brigade, came galloping down the line to my company. We were the rear-guard. He ordered me to countermarch and charge the enemy with my eighty-eight men in a column of eight front6. We charged down the road, passing the Little Blue church, straight for the enemy. I saw ahead of me a brick house, just where the road turned from a northerly course straight east, a stone fence dead ahead of us, and a brick house and stone fence to the right. The rebel cavalry fell back, but a line of infantry occupied the house and were down behind the fence. About 150 yards south of the house, between us and the enemy, was a hollow that for a moment or two kept us out of sight and range of their guns.

As we reached the brow of the hill, a thought flashed through my mind that the first line, in which I was riding, with seven soldiers to my left, would be shot as soon as we came in sight. I clutched the pommel of my saddle and threw myself almost flat on the horse. The volley of bullets came, as I expected. I felt my horse going down, swung my feet clear of the stirrups, and fell on my horse’s neck, unhurt. Geo. W. Edwards, who fired the first shot when we were charging through Lexington the day before, fell on my back, dead. My men saw me fall and thought I was killed. They retreated back into the hollow. I jumped up and ran after them, a perfect hail-storm of bullets buzzing past me. I ordered the men to dismount. Every man left his horse in the road. We then jumped the fence into an orchard and charged the brick house, and took it, driving the enemy out; then charged the stone fence and took that. Of course, there was no hope of saving my men without aid from our army. At this moment I heard the yells of 400 or 500 men. Maj. J. Nelson Smith7, with the first and third battalions of the Second Colorado cavalry, was charging the enemy to save us, and right before us this gallant officer fell dead at the head of his command. I had a chance now to fall back, and found my horses in the hollow where I had left them. The animals showed “horse sense” enough to remain where they were safe from the bullets. This little diversion, costly to my company, saved the Colorado battery. The Second Colorado cavalry fell back in good order, and our army continued their retreat on a walk, passed through In dependence, eight miles west of Little Blue, and camped on the Big Blue for the night.

When my horse was shot, on the charge just described, one of my men, riding in the rear file, turned his horse and rode rapidly to the rear, and did not stop until he reached Westport, nearly twenty miles away. He went to my house in Westport and told my wife I was killed—he saw me fall. Lieut.-col. William Rosenthall and Lieut.-col. Andrew S. Hughes8, both personal friends of mine, serving on the staff of Governor Carney, of Kansas, who was making his headquarters at my house, were ordered by the governor to ride to the front, full fifteen miles, to learn the facts, and, if I was killed, to recover the body. They met me just east of Independence, at the head of my company. Learning from them that my wife was nearly prostrated, and wild with grief, I secured permission from Colonel Plumb, commanding my regiment, to ride on to Westport, on the promise that I would report for duty before daylight next day.

During the afternoon of October 22 our command was employed cutting timber and constructing abatis work, blocking the roads and trails and all the crossings of the Big Blue from its mouth to Byram’s ford, and south of that point a mile or more. In the afternoon the enemy appeared at several points and made a determined attack, and forced a crossing at Byram’s ford, killing many of our men, and capturing a few home-guard troops from Topeka. This flanking movement forced us to abandon the fortifications we had hastily made between Kansas City and Independence and fall back to Westport and to Shawnee Mission, on the Kansas line.

My company held the rear of Moonlight’s brigade, and reached Westport about two p.m., the rebel cavalry following us closely, we firing and falling back. I rode up to the gate of my home, a large two story brick house which belonged to my father-in-law. In the yard and on the porch were at least twenty women and children. My wife, her mother and two sisters were in the party, some screaming with fright. I sprang from my horse, caught up my wife in my arms, ordered all into the spacious cellar under the house, and took my wife to the empty ice-house, down the ladder, and set her down on a pile of sawdust, some ten feet below the surface of the ground. She was so badly frightened and excited that she could scarcely speak. I kissed her good-by, climbed the ladder and pulled it up, so that she could not come out until after the battle was over, when she could make herself heard. I found my men had made a stand in front of my home, holding the enemy in check until I could resume my duties. We retreated through the town. The rebels did not shell Westport, as I had feared they would.

Near Shawnee Mission, on the prairie south and east, we made a grand final stand, and there 3000 cavalry charged the rebels. It was a grand charge and I had the pleasure of participating in command of my company. The result was only the delay we caused the enemy in concentrating their forces to drive us back. They were trying to flank us on our right; to pocket us at the mouth of the Kansas and then capture our entire force. We could not have escaped, as there was no bridge at Kansas City across the Kaw or Kansas River—only a ferry; no bridge across the Missouri.

We bivouacked near Shawnee Mission, and, after the command was asleep, I stole out of the camp through the brush, past our double line of pickets, into Westport, which town was occupied by the enemy, visited my wife, sitting in the parlor in the dark. About two a.m. a squad of rebels attacked the front door, and a party started around to the rear of the house. I jumped out of a back window and lay down behind some currant bushes. Two rebels passed within three feet of me. They searched the house, while I was crawling and creeping back to camp to get a little sleep and dream of the morrow. We were resting and waiting for the battle that was sure to come the next day, October 23, and which all knew would be decisive. I felt that there was no hope; and without relief there was no hope; and I knew of no promised relief. The battle of October 23, 1864, ought to be a memorial day for Kansas City. If it had not been for the gallant and desperate fighting of all our 7000 men, who had harassed the enemy and held them in check to that extent that in five days they had marched less than fifty miles—7000 men against 35,000—Kansas City would have been destroyed October 23, 1864. The day opened bright and clear. From sunrise until afternoon our entire line was engaged at one point about half a mile south of Westport, in what was known as “bloody lane.”

About four p.m. our brigade, the last to fall back, was passing through an orchard into a lane. Colonel Moonlight rode up and ordered me to place my company in line of battle and hold the enemy in check until he could draw off his brigade. While performing this duty under a heavy fire, I became possessed of an idea that we would all be killed or captured, and that those captured would be taken to a Texas prison. I felt that I wanted to see my wife before going South—only a severe wound would keep me in the country probably—so I held my left arm as high as I could comfortably hold the reins and expected to get a bullet through my arm. My men were wavering. I had to ride back and forth along the rear of the firing-line and call on the men to “Quit your dodging! Keep on firing! Fire low! We will whip them yet!” While doing this I ran across the member of my company who had fled two days before at Little Blue and rode to my home to tell my wife that I was shot. I felt very bitter towards this fellow, who had deserted the fight and without authority absented himself for nearly twenty-four hours. He was in line now. I rode up to him and called him to account. Why had he run away? He tried to explain, when a bullet struck him in the chest and he fell from his horse dead. A moment afterwards Leander R. Hull, one of my good soldiers, dropped his gun. A bullet had passed through his right arm. I got off my horse, picked up his carbine, placed it on his saddle in front of him, and told him to go to the rear. About five minutes later, as I was returning from the left of the line, I saw this same man, Hull, trying to fire off his carbine with his left hand. I rode toward him to repeat my order to go to the rear, when the boy (he was only eighteen years old) was shot through the left arm, and again I had to pick up his carbine from the ground and strap it to his saddle, and again order this brave soldier to the rear. He stubbornly stayed with his comrades until we all fell back, and to-day, forty years later, is living at Winchester, Jefferson County, Kansas.

At five p.m., when our whole line had fallen back and there seemed to be no hope, we heard cannonading at Byram’s ford, four miles east. The rebel army was being vigorously attacked in the rear. What could it mean? “Who has come to our relief?” was the cry from the men and from the officers, for only a few of the generals and colonels on our side knew that troops were marching to our relief. A staff officer rode up and called for me, saying that General Curtis was near the mission, and that I must take my twenty scouts, who had been with me for thirteen days’ constant work, and go to Byram’s ford to take a message to Gen. Alfred Pleasanton. I had to go via Westport, down Brush creek. There I found Pleasanton at the head of an army of 12,000 cavalry, and learned that Gen. A. J. Smith was then at Hickman’s Mills, about fourteen miles from Westport, with 10,000 infantry. There were several batteries of artillery in each command.

Price was forced to make a sudden change in his plans. Instead of pushing Blunt and Curtis, he suddenly started on a trot, which soon increased to a run, down the line between Kansas and Missouri, for the Arkansas River. We followed in hot pursuit. Colonel Moonlight, with his brigade, in which were all the men of my regiment save the twenty men with me, pushed out on our right flank, to head off any rebel movement into Kansas. I was ordered by General Pleasanton to keep with his command.

That night late, about eleven o’clock p.m., we reached a point near Trading Post, on the Kansas line, and I was ordered to let the main column of our cavalry pass. For hours, until daylight, an unbroken line of cavalry a column of fours closed up, was passing without a halt. It was raining from eleven p.m. until nearly daylight; a cold, nasty rain. We could not unsaddle and rest our horses or ourselves, but had to sit down on the roadside in the mud, keep awake, and take our medicine. It was an awful night; wet to the skin, teeth chattering horribly.

October 24 we passed Trading Post, following the enemy into Kansas, and found they had burned every house and barn in reach of their command, after robbing and plundering the same, taking clothing from the women, even to the dresses they had on, and wraps from the helpless infants, and that they had shot old men and boys. The Apaches or any band of Western Indians could not have made any plainer trail of desolation and murder than this retreating rebel army made while they were marching only a few miles in Kansas. They made us understand by the wrecks and ruins left behind what they had intended to do if they had got as far north as Leavenworth, and could have swept down through Kansas as they had planned. But they found to their sorrow that the old war phrase that they had learned from Kansas men at Springfield and at Prairie Grove, “Kansas is pizen to the hull on ‘em,” was no joke. We bivouacked another night on their trail.

Next day, October 25, about noon, we overtook a large force of rebels trying to cross Mine creek. They were in Kansas, some three or four miles west of the line. Our advance saw the situation at a glance and charged, every man following. About 3000 men made a wild run for the rebels. It was a grand, inspiring sight. I shall never forget it. We captured over a thousand men, nine pieces of artillery, and many officers, General Cabell and General Marmaduke. I saw General Marmaduke get off his horse, for he was surrounded, and give up his sword. One of my men said: “General, are you hungry? If so, I have some hardtack.” The general accepted the proffered food and ate heartily.

After this disaster General Price burned most of his wagons and fled as fast as he could for the Arkansas border, finally crossing the Arkansas River with about 25,000 men.

October 25 was my fifteenth day of activity, fighting every day, and actually having no sleep for five days of this time.
The story of these fifteen days’ work is certainly enough to prove that these were “strenuous times” for Missouri and Kansas.


  1. For a history of General Price’s earlier effort to save Missouri to the Confederacy up to and including the battle of Wilson Creek, read Thos. L. Snead’s “The Fight for Missouri,” Scribner, 1886. The author, though one of Price’s men, treats General Lyon’s work for the Union in that state and his success with kindness and impartiality.
  2. Claiborne Fox Jackson, merchant, banker, politician, and governor. John Sappington Marmaduke, son of Gov. Meredith M. Marmaduke, of Missouri: graduate of Yale. Harvard. and West Point; second lieutenant in Seventh United States infantry in Utah expedition of 1857; resigned his commission in 1861, and organized the Missouri state guard ; general in the Confederate service; railroad commissioner and governor of Missouri. Francis Marion Cockrell, lawyer, soldier, and United States Senator. Edward Carrington Cabell, lawyer; graduate of Washington College and University of Virginia; congressman for Florida, 1846-’53; removed to St. Louis in 1860; in staffs of Generals Price and Kirby Smith in civil war. Gen. James F. Rains. Joseph Orville Shelby, soldier, brigadier-general in Confederate army; after close of war he marched his 1000 men to Mexico to enlist in service of Maximilian, but was forced to disband them by Maximilian, who was suspicious: was then a freight contractor in Mexico until 1867, when he returned to Missouri; appointed United States marshal of the western district of Missouri in 1893. James F. Fagan, major-general of Arkansas troops.
  3.  General Price, in his report of this expedition, dated Washington, Ark., December 28, 1864, says: “On the 19th of September … I entered Missouri with nearly 12,000 men, of whom 8000 were armed, and fourteen pieces of artillery.”—Official Record of the War of the Rebellion, serial No. 83, p. 623.
  4. Reprint, page 216, Military History of Kansas Regiments, Adjutant-general’s Report. 1861-’65, states: “Captain Palmer, company A, Eleventh Kansas cavalry, commanded the picket on the Dover road, composed of his own company and company F, of the Eleventh. I am particular in mentioning these facts, because much credit is due these companies for maintaining their position and holding the rebel advance in check as long as they did.” See, also. Official Records. War of the Rebellion, serial No. 83, p. 594. (Moonlight, when he made the above report, did not know that I had four companies, as above stated. — H. E. P.)
  5. Page 336, Military History of Kansas Regiments, Moonlight's report, says: “Companies A, B and F occupied advanced positions on the line of rebel approach to the city, and held them until surrounded, and then fought their way out and rejoined the command after they had been given up as entirely lost.” (Memo, by the author—Moonlight was my bitter enemy during the entire term of our service in the same regiment. He was anxious to be colonel instead of lieutenant-colonel. The majority of the officers, upon the organization of the regiment, favored Thomas Ewing, then chief justice of the state of Kansas. I had served with Moonlight in the artillery service a year previous, enlisting with him in July, 1861, and had learned to dislike him; and. as second lieutenant, company A, dating from August 20. 1862, regularly mustered August 27, 1862, I was the first officer in the regiment and in command of the camp. During this time I circulated a petition asking Governor Robinson to appoint Ewing colonel. I took this petition to Governor Robinson, at Lawrence, Kan., making a night ride, delivering it to him before breakfast. He promptly issued the commission to Ewing, and I had the pleasure of handing it to him. This act on my part was never forgotten or forgiven by Moonlight, and because of this, undoubtedly, he never mentioned my company or myself for any service rendered unless forced to do so. As acting assistant adjutant-general of the district of the plains, in 1865, it became my duty, by command of Gen. P. E. Connor, to issue an order directing Moonlight to turn over his command at Fort Laramie and report to Fort Kearney for muster out of the service, July 17. 1865.)
  6. Page 207 (reprint), Military History of Kansas Regiments. Adjutant-general’s Report: “Company A made a brilliant charge unmounted, down a narrow lane, early in action, clearing it of rebels.” (Note mistake; we charged mounted, and dismounted ourselves, as stated in my article.)
  7. Williams’s History of the Second Colorado, p. 97.
  8. “Lieut-col. ‘Andy’ S. Hughes was the son of Gen. Bela M. Hughes, general counsel of Ben Holladay’s Overland Mail Line. Colonel Hughes lives at Denver. Colo., and is the general traffic manager of the Denver & Rio Grande railroad.”—H. E. P.


Palmer, Henry E. “The Soldiers of Kansas. Company A, Eleventh Kansas Regiment, in the Price Raid.” In Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1905-1906, edited by George W. Martin, IX:431–43. Topeka, KS: State Printing Office, 1906.

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