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Trans-Mississippi Musings

The Campaign in Missouri in September and October, 1864 by Brevet Maj. Gen. John B. Sanborn: Part 2

Posted by The Muse (themuse) on Aug 02 2018
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[Continued from Part 1]

By order of General Pleasonton I this day moved my First Brigade northward to Brownsville, in the southern portion of Saline County, my Second Brigade was sent to the southwest, to Kirkpatrick’s Mills, in the direction of Warrensburg, while with the Third Brigade I moved in a northwesterly course, in the direction of the enemy, to Cook’s store, and halted to await the arrival of General Pleasonton, who had informed me of the reorganization of our cavalry and of his resumption of its immediate command. At midnight I ordered Colonel John E. Phelps, with the Second Arkansas Cavalry, to move forward to the north on the road to Dover, a small village east of Lexington, and to proceed till he should strike the main body of the enemy or reach the Missouri River. At three o’clock in the morning I received a dispatch from Colonel Phelps, announcing that the Confederates had been moving westward through Dover during the afternoon and evening of the 19th, and that late in the evening of that day cannonading was heard in the direction of Lexington. Colonel Phelps also notified me that there was still a Rebel force in Dover which he would at once move forward and attack. I communicated all this information to General Pleasonton, started couriers for General Blunt, and though it lacked three hours of daybreak, I immediately moved with my command in the direction of the enemy.

On the 20th General Rosecrans, fully informed of the situation, directed General Pleasonton to push the center of the cavalry division to Lexington, leaving a force to the left or southwest to watch the movements of the enemy in that direction. General Smith, with the infantry, was ordered to follow Pleasonton and the cavalry to Lexington. There has been some criticism of this part of General Rosecrans’ order directing Smith to support Pleasonton’s movement on Lexington, instead of sending him directly westward via Sedalia, south of Lexington, to cut off the enemy’s passage to the southward through the State. Had this been done and the movements of the enemy been made as they subsequently were, Smith would have cut off the enemy, and probably the entire force would have been either captured or destroyed. But Rosecrans knew that the enemy very largely outnumbered any one of our divisions, and there was good reason to apprehend that if Pleasonton advanced on Lexington single-handed the Confederates would turn upon him and overwhelm him, then fall on Smith, and then on Blunt, defeating us in detail There were indications, moreover, that Price meditated a decisive battle at either Lexington or Independence, and it was the part of wisdom to be fully prepared for this contingency. His army was so organized that General Price could fix the time and place of battle when advancing, and could avoid fighting infantry when and where he would. And to force him into action, even with mounted troops, was found to be no easy task.

It was on the 20th also, and near Waverly, when General Pleasonton, coming up in person, took command of the Cavalry Division, and I resumed the command of my old brigade, with which I moved forward in support of General McNeil’s Brigade, which held the .advance. At seven o’clock in the morning McNeil and I entered Lexington, the enemy having left an hour before in the direction of Independence, driving Blunt’s troops steadily, but slowly.

The following day, October 21, we advanced to Fire Creek Prairie, west of Lexington about a dozen miles. The same day, at 2 p.m., General Brown’s Mounted State Militia, from Jefferson City, and Winslow’s veteran cavalry brigade reached Lexington, and at 9 p.m. Smith’s infantry came into town. But, with a brief halt at Lexington, Winslow and Brown passed on to the front. On this day the enemy, under Marmaduke and Shelby, attacked Blunt at the Little Blue River, east of Independence, the fight lasting from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Reporting the result of this engagement, General Curtis telegraphed Rosecrans that he should retire to the Big Blue, six miles west of Independence, and the same distance east of Kansas City, where the Kansas militia and the artillery were in a strong position.

Rosecrans now ordered Smith to the southwest, towards the hamlet of Chapel Hill, in order to eventually intercept the enemy when he should attempt to move south. He also dispatched Pleasonton his belief that the Confederates, seeing that they were in the toils of our concentrating forces, would move southward at the very first opportunity, and that, while General McNeil’s Brigade should press their rear, Pleasonton, with the other three cavalry brigades, should move to the southwest towards the village of Lone Jack, so as to cooperate with General Smith’s infantry, now moving from Lexington to Chapel Hill. Of course these orders were to be obeyed at General Pleasonton’s discretion, conformably to the situation, and at ten o’clock that night General Pleasonton replied to Rosecrans that the enemy exhibited no intention of moving southward, but was moving far to the west in full force, and that therefore for the present he should follow directly in pursuit, and not turn to the southwest until the proper time.

On the following day, the 22d, we advanced early, reached the Little Blue at 10 a.m., and found the bridge over that stream destroyed, and the enemy in position on the other side. A temporary bridge was soon constructed for the trains, the command crossed by a ford, the enemy’s skirmishers were driven, and soon his rear-guard, Fagan’s Division, encountered—with both cavalry and artillery—and pushed into Independence. The fighting which we had so long looked for, and which I may say without boasting we had so long desired, now commenced. The leading brigade moved forward to the enemy’s position on the outskirts of the town, and soon became quite heavily engaged.

Under General Pleasonton’s orders I now moved up with my brigade to the right of the Second Brigade, under a severe artillery fire, dismounted the men, formed the command in two lines, and advanced rapidly on the left of the enemy’s position. Colonel Phelps, with his Second Arkansas Cavalry, held the advance and charged through gardens, door-yards, streets, and alleys into the town so rapidly that all of the force before him had not time to get out of his way. He captured one of General Cabell’s staff-officers, the General’s sword, and a number of prisoners, and forced the enemy in his front to give way. Simultaneously the Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry (formerly the Sixth M. S. M.) charged into the town at another part of the enemy’s line, carrying everything before them, sabering and pistoling those who resisted, capturing two guns of Hughey’s Arkansas Battery, with caissons and horses complete, and making at least two hundred prisoners. Colonel Merritt Young, of a Rebel Missouri regiment, was killed in this charge.

Driven out of the town, Fagan re-formed his division, which was composed of three brigades, on the west bank of Stony Creek, and renewed the fight. As our forces were somewhat in disorder by reason of the charge we had made, and as it was now after dark, he was enabled to get his command in tolerable order, and moved against our right, with the view of turning our position in that quarter. But Winslow’s Brigade struck his advancing line with the rush and force of an express train, and drove it broken and bleeding from the field towards the Big Blue. I was on the way with my brigade to meet the Rebel advance, but before we could get to the desired position the main fight was over and the enemy in full retreat.

In the meantime, while we had been successful at Independence, Generals Curtis and Blunt had been worsted at the Big Blue by the Confederate divisions of Marmaduke and Shelby. Our forces here, as I have stated, were composed very largely of Kansas militia, never before under fire. They fought well and lost heavily. One regiment from Topeka had thirty-four men killed and a proportionate number wounded. Holding their ground bravely, they were nearly surrounded by the enemy, who crossed the Blue above and below their position and attacked them on three sides. Generals Curtis and Blunt withdrew to near Westport, three miles from Kansas City, and the next morning were again in a good position, full of fight and determination.

It was unfortunate, however, that we heard nothing definite from Curtis and Blunt of their operations on this day until too late to make our plans accordingly. As it was, Pleasonton was of the opinion that the enemy was in an entrenched position, that the decisive action of the campaign was imminent, and he prepared for it. At 8 p.m. he telegraphed Rosecrans as follows:

All my brigades have been engaged. The enemy hare left forty killed and many sick and wounded in my hands. Heard nothing from Curtis. If Smith can come up, in case we get a fight, it will be well. Hare sent McNeil’s Brigade to Little Santa FA Price is reported entrenched this side of the Big Blue. Fighting still going on with an obstinate rear-guard. Let Smith come to this place.

General Rosecrans—as he says, very reluctantly and against his judgment, but promptly—dispatched General Smith to move to Independence, as Pleasonton had requested; and again was our infantry deviated from the best course. But the Rebels could not have been brought into action with this infantry against the will of their generals. Rosecrans’ message reached Smith at Chapel Hill as he was putting his column in motion for Independence, in response to a direct message from Pleasonton. Smith’s command did not reach Independence until 5 p.m. of the following day, though every nerve was strained to shorten the time. Immediately on its arrival it was not allowed to rest, being ordered to move that night by a forced march in a southwesterly direction to Hickman’s Mills, in the hope that it would strike the enemy in flank while passing that point. There are ifs and huts in military matters, as well as in all human affairs. Had General Smith been ordered to move from Chapel Hill directly westward to Hickman’s Mills, instead of northwestward to Independence, he would have arrived at the Mills in time to strike the enemy’s columns and train with nine thousand veteran infantry and five batteries—provided, of course, that the enemy had moved on that route, which he certainly would not have done had the presence of our infantry at the Mills been known. It made no seeming difference how or where we placed our infantry division, the Rebels always avoided it and gave it the go-by. As it turned out, General Smith did not reach the Mills until long after both the enemy’s columns and our own had passed.

At five o’clock on the morning of October 23, the day succeeding the engagements at Independence, my brigade was in the saddle, and we moved forward to the support of Philips’s First Brigade, holding the advance. About daylight Shelby’s Division of the enemy attacked Curtis and Blunt near Westport, four miles south of Kansas City. A line of entrenchments had been thrown around that city and occupied by about two thousand militia, citizens, and volunteers. Fagan and Marmaduke confronted us at the Big Blue with both of their divisions.
During his progress through the State General Price had secured by almost universal and indiscriminate impressments a long train of several hundred wagons, chiefly common farm-wagons of good quality, into which had been loaded the spoil of the campaign —clothing, provisions, forage, the contents of drugstores, etc. He had also collected from the country large herds of cattle and flocks of sheep, which were being driven along. Realizing now that he was in a “fix,” Price reluctantly abandoned his meditated project against Leavenworth, and passing his train and supplies to the southward, sought to escape into Arkansas with the plunder he had secured. His fighting this day was chiefly to cover the movements of his trains, which were guarded by Cabell’s Arkansas Brigade.

Colonel Philips advanced with his brigade—supported by Winslow’s—at seven o’clock, and in a short time both brigades were hotly engaged at the Big Blue, advancing against and driving the first line of the enemy with admirable spirit and gallantry. Fagan and Marmaduke brought up their entire force, and soon we were all engaged. Immediately after my brigade had reached the front line I dismounted the Second Arkansas Cavalry and sent it on foot against the enemy’s right. The regiment moved forward and the enemy fell back. Thereupon, pursuant to an order from General Pleasonton, I charged with the rest of my brigade in line, and after a series of spirited and deadly encounters, wherein the issues were decided by close combats with the revolver, carbine, and sabre, and by physical courage and individual prowess, succeeded in driving the enemy in my front to the road from Kansas City to Harrisonville, a distance of about three miles. Our other brigades had done as well, and Winslow’s had performed especially good service. In leading a charge General Winslow was severely wounded and compelled to leave the field, the command of his brigade devolving during the remainder of the campaign upon Lieutenant-Colonel F. W. Benteen, of the Tenth Missouri Cavalry, a very brave and accomplished officer, now a brevet-colonel of the regular army.

During the time he was being pushed back by us General Marmaduke had repeatedly asked for reinforcements, and at last Shelby’s Division, which had failed to drive the Kansans beyond Westport, was sent to his assistance, and joined him at the Harrisonville road before mentioned. The Confederate lines were now re-formed, and Shelby’s veterans—than whom there were no harder fighters in either army—confronted us from behind a steep and almost impassable bank-wall, barring the further progress of my brigade for a time. We soon “dressed up,” however, and Thurber’s Battery, which kept pretty well up with us during the charge, opened briskly. Some of the shots —in the hurry, and before accurate range could be obtained—fell among us and created some damage and no little confusion. Just then came another order to “charge at once.” There was no time for deliberation or much speaking. I gave the order in two or three instances to the regimental commanders without designating the points of attack. Indeed, I did not know these points, and I had no time to ascertain them. My orders were something of the Donnybrook Fair style, “Charge! and wherever you see a Rebel, go for him.” It thus happened that my charge was made too far to our right, against a strong position well defended, and before we could carry it the greater part of the enemy, with the artillery, had escaped southward, down the Harrisonville road.

My men moved forward with their usual dash and gallantry, but on reaching the bank-wall before mentioned, they were brought to a halt by the impassable nature of the ground and the stubbornness of Shelby’s troopers, who refused to retreat, and pluckily gave back blow for blow. I surveyed the scene with some anxiety, well knowing the military axiom that cavalry will not stand passive under fire, and fearing that when the pistols of my men were empty, and they saw no prospect of overcoming the obstacle before them, they would give way, and perhaps fall into disorder. I must admit that I was uneasy and apprehensive. In the reports of this particular encounter, it has been stated by General Rosecrans and others, that when Shelby “turned on Pleasonton, he for a moment shook Sanborn’s Brigade,” etc. This statement needs a slight emendation. The word “brigade ” should be stricken out. It was Sanborn himself and alone that was shaken! The brigade bore itself very handsomely under the trying circumstances. It had ceased to advance, however, and its revolvers were fast being emptied. If the enemy should come out of his position and assault in turn, we might be driven. But just at the proper moment Thurber’s Battery, which had hurt us a little at the outset, came into position on the enemy’s flank, and opened a rapid and well-delivered fire of double-shotted grape and canister down his lines. This gave us a chance to straighten up our crooked squadrons, and in a few minutes the Confederates fell back in considerable haste, though fighting back spitefully when they could. Left to our choice, we soon found points of passage over the ravine and wall, and were on the enemy’s rear-guard before it had left the field. Almost simultaneously the Second Colorado and other cavalry under Blunt and Curtis came charging down in line from the north and the direction of Westport, and the entire Rebel army had abandoned the battle-ground of the day, and was hurrying southward on both sides of the line between Missouri and Kansas, having burned a number of wagons, and left in our hands not only the wounded, but a quantity of ammunition and other military stores. The Second Arkansas Cavalry, of my brigade, pursued the enemy some distance, killing eight of them in a sharp little fight at a creek south of the battle-field. A great deal of the fighting this day was from behind stone-walls, with which a number of the fields were enclosed, and the conflict on the whole was quite severe. General Shelby’s assistant adjutant-general, in his published report, states that in this day’s engagement Shelby’s Division alone “lost more than eight hundred of its bravest and best men.” The supplies at Kansas City, Leavenworth, and Lawrence were safe, and the invasion of Kansas prevented.

That night we went into camp in and about Little Santa F6, on the Missouri side of the boundary line between that State and Kansas, and about fifteen miles south of Kansas City. We here enjoyed a fairly good rest, of which both men and horses were badly in need. The enemy, however, continued his retreat nearly all the night, seeming now to thoroughly comprehend his peril and danger.

The next morning (October 24) we were up very early and again on the chase, the Kansas forces demanding and securing the advance. That day we made a long and hard march of some sixty miles—my brigade bringing up the rear—reaching the vicinity of the Marais des Cygnes River after nightfall. Generals Curtis and Blunt, with the Kansas troops, had the advance in this day’s march, which was without notable incident, save for the distance compassed and the fact that we did not halt to eat.

It was some time after dark when I came up with my brigade to the point where Curtis and Blunt had gone into camp. These generals and Generals Pleasonton and Jim Lane were all seated in a large carriage when I came up to them, and General Pleasonton was quite sick and well-nigh exhausted. I stated to General Pleasonton that, though my men had marched hard and far, yet they were in fine condition as far as spirits and grit could make them, and I asked permission to continue the pursuit until the enemy should be overtaken and brought to a stand; adding my belief that unless this was done the enemy would probably escape from us without another fight. General Pleasonton assented and ordered me to move at once, and to take with me not only my own brigade, but the entire division, which I had led earlier in the campaign, and of which, together with Benteen’s Brigade (formerly Winslow’s), I was again placed in command.

Accordingly, leaving the Kansas troops in bivouac, we set out at once, my own brigade in advance, and the First, Second, and Fourth Brigades following. The first distinctive point on the road we were following was Chouteau’s old trading-post, on the Marais des Cygnes, a few miles west of the Missouri line, in Kansas, where had sprung up a little hamlet called Trading Post. The road, as it neared that point, passed through a gap between two large natural mounds on the prairie, situated about half a mile from the Marais des Cygnes. Each of these mounds was more than half a mile in length, and upon them and behind them was stationed the enemy’s rear-guard, Dobbins’s and Slemmons’s Brigades of Arkansans.

My advance was led by Colonel J. J. Gravelly, of the Eighth M. S. M., and was composed of his own regiment and a battalion of the Sixth M. S. ML, commanded by Major William Plumb. The advance reached the first line of the enemy a little after midnight, and at once began skirmishing. I ordered Colonel Gravelly to push forward until the position of the enemy should be fully developed. The night was very dark. My men had been in the saddle since daybreak, had marched more than sixty miles, had eaten but a few mouthfuls and were of course very tired and hungry and sleepy. On the night march many of them had slept in their saddles as they rode along. But when we reached the enemy they all roused up. The fatigue and privation they had undergone, instead of dispiriting them, seemed to render them wolfish and desperate, and they were in full fighting mood. A battalion of the Colorado cavalry that had been sent forward by General Curtis was formed immediately in front of the picket line of the enemy, and intersected the point at which we should draw their fire. Colonel Gravelly advanced gallantly with his command, and the troops of the enemy, many of whom were practically mounted infantry, being armed with Enfield rifles, opened a brisk fire of musketry from the gap. Our line was deployed as skirmishers and steadily advanced towards the bases of the mounds, until the enemy opened a line of fire from the bases, sides, and summits, and from the gap; and it was soon apparent that we were upon the main force. Cabell’s Brigade of Arkansans, and a brigade of Marmaduke’s Division of Missourians were ordered up to the reinforcement of the Confederates, and we were soon hard at work. The night fight was a peculiar spectacle. At first the flashes of musketry from the skirmishers resembled swarms of lightning-bugs. There was a noise on our left resembling that of ten thousand voices speaking at once. The darkness was so great that the topography of the country and position of the enemy could not be determined, and I concluded to defer the general attack until the dawn of day.

At dawn, dimly in the murky sky rose the huge shapes of the mounds, like monster thunder-clouds, from which innumerable flashes of lightning darted towards us. I realized that these must be carried, and. determined to attempt their capture at all hazards, and at once gave the necessary orders. The Missouri batteries of Captains Thurber and Montgomery, belonging to our division, which had come forward and been placed in position about midnight, were ready to open fire on the enemy at a moment’s notice. By my order Lieutenant-Colonel Benteen, commanding the Fourth Brigade, sent one regiment along a road leading west to a ford over the Marais des Cygnes, about three miles above Trading Post, where it appeared the reserve force of the enemy was camped; and he also-sent forward the Fourth Iowa Cavalry to report to Colonel Gravelly and assist him in carrying the mounds.

Colonel Gravelly was ordered to advance and occupy the summits of the two mounds and the intervening gap, immediately upon Thurber’s Battery becoming engaged. Captains Thurber and Montgomery were now ordered to open fire with all of the guns of their batteries at an elevation of sixteen degrees, bearing across the right end of the mound on our left through the gap. Under all the circumstances—the darkness still considerable, the steep and almost precipitous nature of the ground to be ascended, the lack of knowledge of the strength of the enemy before us, etc.—the undertaking seemed very perilous. Some of the officers in command of battalions came to me for confirmation of the orders they had received. “Is it a fact, General,” they asked, “that we are to charge up those mounds and try to take them?” “It is,” I replied. “Well, all right then,” they rejoined, “but—good-by, General!” Some of them even shook hands with me, with a significance that I well understood, but trusted to be illy founded.

The charge was eminently successful. The Fourth Iowa Cavalry gained the mound on our right without serious opposition. Colonel Gravelly, however, in his attack on the mound to the left, met with strong resistance. Here the enemy’s line extended the entire length of this mound, and as our men advanced the Confederates opened a rapid but poorly directed fire, nearly all of their shots passing over the heads of our men. The Sixth and Eighth Missouri State Militia regiments, almost crawling on the ground by reason of the abrupt ascent, moved steadily forward, loading and firing as they advanced, until within a few yards of the crest, when, with ringing cheers and a rattling volley of musketry, they dashed forward, driving back the enemy and gaining the position. Perilous as had been the ascent and assault, our loss was comparatively slight, and this fact rounded up the measure of our success, and added greatly to the general exultation. During the assault Captains Thurber and Montgomery kept up a steady fire from their batteries, and did good work. Many of their shells passed over the mounds and fell and exploded in the enemy’s camp, creating great confusion, and contributing to the precipitancy of a retreat which had already been determined on and was in progress.

It was now after five o’clock in the morning. We had gained an important advantage, and it was followed up with all the energy that I could command. The brigades that had carried the mounds were thrown forward at once, and captured one gun, the breakfast of the enemy, and a great number of cattle, sheep, horses, etc. The loss of this material, especially of the cattle and sheep, proved one of the most serious to the enemy of the campaign.

General Pleasonton was brought to the field by the sound of the battle, and as he rode up he called out cheerily to me, “Well, Sanborn, what have you got here?” I replied, “I have a few thousand Rebels just across the river, in my front, and I can’t tell what else until I go over and see.” After a few minutes of conversation, during which General Pleasonton was pleased to compliment me somewhat extravagantly on what had been accomplished, he ordered me to again advance my line, and to cross the Marais des Cygnes as soon as possible.

As we now know, when General Cabell, who commanded the Confederate rear at the mounds, had sent word to General Price at daylight that he had been driven back across the river with a loss of part of the train and supplies, Price sent General Marmaduke to command the rear with his own division and that of Fagan. Shelby’s Division was on the way to Fort Scott, on a mission of pure deviltry and maliciousness, intending to destroy the town and as much of the property of the people of Kansas living en route as he could. The train containing what was left of the loot and spoil of the raid was placed between Shelby and Marmaduke. Thus the greater portion of the enemy’s force was rear-guard. General Price himself claimed to be unwell, and it is certain that he was considerably demoralized. He did not attempt to command his forces in person, and in this he acted wisely. General Marmaduke was a very good officer, a West-Pointer, and he had seen a great deal of active service. General Cabell was also a West-Pointer, and General Fagan was a very efficient officer of large experience. Both Marmaduke and Fagan were major-generals.

We scarcely drew bridle in the enemy’s abandoned camp. Operations were steadily continued. Colonel Phelps, of the Second Arkansas Cavalry, was ordered to take the advance, and move forward with all possible rapidity. He soon reached the Marais des Cygnes, and found the enemy busily engaged in felling trees across the road on the opposite side. The Seventh Provisional Militia was at once dismounted and thrown across the river about four hundred yards above the ford, and ordered to advance down the river as skirmishers until it reached the ford. At the same time Colonel Phelps advanced, and the enemy was driven from his position at the ford when he had felled but two moderately sized trees across the road.

The Second Arkansas continued to advance, followed by the Sixth and Eighth M. S. M.; the other two regiments of my brigade were deployed as skirmishers. All kept up well, though the men were nearly exhausted from their incessant and arduous labors during the previous twenty-four hours. About half a mile from the ford we came to an open prairie, and again saw the enemy in position, with a long line of battle, strengthened by artillery. The force seemed rather formidable, and I ordered Colonel Phelps not to attack by a charge (unless he was certain that he could break it and capture the artillery) until reinforcements came up. I then returned to the ford to hurry up some artillery and other troops. The enemy had already opened on us with his artillery. I found General Pleasonton at the ford throwing forward troops and artillery with all possible expedition. After a very brief consultation, the General directed me to continue in charge of the advance, and push the enemy vigorously, with the aid of the First and Fourth Brigades— Benteen’s and Philips’s. These, the General said, were in the saddle, and would at once come forward “on the trot,” and pass to the front of my brigade, so as to allow my men a few minutes for their much needed refreshment.

But in the meantime Colonel Phelps, whom it was hardly possible to keep quiet in the presence of an enemy, had charged with the Second Arkansas, and, aided by the Sixth and Eighth M. S. M., dismounted, had again driven the Confederates, and forced them back to another position. Being now at the front, I assumed personal direction of affairs on our side. A section of our artillery came up, swiftly went into position on the left, within good range of the enemy’s guns, and rapidly opened fire.

Colonel Philips now came forward with his entire brigade on the gallop, and by my direction advanced upon the right, towards the enemy’s left Colonel Ben-teen brought up his brigade with similar spirit—though two of his regiments had been on duty nearly the entire night—and advanced against what was then the Confederate center. My own brigade, the Third, was bearing strongly to the left at this time. The force of the enemy then immediately in our front at once gave way without a fight, and retreated with such precipitancy that it seemed impossible for it to form soon again, though in reality it was only falling back to the main Confederate position, which had been taken up along a small stream called Mine Creek, and by some Turkey Creek. Philips and Ben teen followed the enemy, while by direction of General Pleasonton, and according to the understanding previously referred to, I with my own brigade remained in the rear to feed and refresh the horses and men for a few minutes.

When General Marmaduke took charge of the Rebel rear that morning he first addressed himself to the work of bringing his forces into something like compact organization, sending the Confederate wagon train as rapidly as possible to the rear. He meant to form and throw his whole force upon our advance and overwhelm it before it could be reinforced. Freeman’s Brigade of his division relieved the Arkansans after the affair of the mounds, but this, as I have related, was easily pushed back, and it finally retired in great disorder. The Arkansans under Fagan were at last got into line on Mine Creek, and to this point General Marmaduke withdrew his own immediate command. For the better protection of the train—that is, to enable it to cross the creek, which was without bridges— the line was formed on the north side of the stream. General Marmaduke has since written an unofficial report of the campaign, wherein, in describing his operations of the morning of October 25, he says: “The advance of the enemy had been so persistent and strong during the morning, and the progress of our train so slow, that I was compelled to go into position and deliver battle without waiting for the return of the division of General Shelby.” Marmaduke had seven pieces of artillery, and, according to his own estimate, about eight thousand men in line at Mine Creek.
Philips and Benteen soon came upon the enemy, drawn up in battle array on the prairie, a fine field for a cavalry fight. Philips came on the ground first and deployed his brigade to the right against the enemy’s left, advancing until within good carbine shot, when he opened fire, some of his men being dismounted. Benteen came next and turned to the left of the road against the enemy’s right. The enemy at once opened with his artillery (Pratt’s Missouri battery of five guns) and the remaining section of the Arkansas battery. Both brigade commanders were now on the field, close up to the enemy, and there was no superior authority immediately present to direct them what to do. But acting on their own discretion, and according to the general directions I had given, each well knew what to do. So hurriedly had our preparations been made that Colonel Benteen did not know who commanded the brigade with which he was cooperating. Philips was waiting for the arrival of reinforcements before charging, but was already fighting.

Benteen immediately prepared to charge, and sent an aide galloping off to the commander of the force he saw plainly to his right, half a mile away, with a message stating his intention, and earnestly soliciting cooperation. Benteen soon formed his brigade in close column by regiments—his own regiment, the Tenth Missouri Cavalry, in advance—and moved forward at a stiff gallop. He had placed all his trumpeters on the right of the leading regiment, and presently ordered them to sound the “charge.” The bugles rang bravely out, their stirring notes were responded to by the ringing cheers of the men, and in an instant almost the brigade leaped upon the already wavering ranks of the Rebels, sabering, pistoling, and riding them down. The fighting was almost altogether hand to hand, and became in a short time a desperate and deadly melee. The squadrons were broken into whirling and struggling groups of fighting horsemen, and issues were decided by dexterity and personal prowess. The best men of both armies were engaged. The Tenth Missouri Federal Cavalry fought the Tenth Missouri Confederate, and other loyal Missourians strove against their Rebel fellow-citizens. The Confederates were outfought at every point, pushed steadily back from the onset, and at last were driven in disorder from the field. Their seven pieces of artillery were all captured, and about eight hundred prisoners fell into our hands. Among the prisoners were General Marmaduke (who was captured and his pistols taken from him by Private James Dunlavy, of the Third Iowa Cavalry), General Cabell, Colonel Slemmons, commanding an Arkansas brigade, Colonel McGhee, Colonel Jeffers, and several other field-officers. A lot of wagons and other materials were also taken.
This engagement, commonly called the battle of Mine Creek, took place in Linn County, Kan., about six miles from the Missouri line, and near where the town of Pleasonton, Kan., now stands. The country was very sparsely settled at that time. In the hurry incident to our operations the Rebel dead were not counted, and, indeed, many of them were never buried.

Hardly had the men of my brigade unbridled their horses to allow them to eat a few mouthfuls, when the fighting of Benteen and Philips was heard beyond the ridge in our front. In a few seconds the thunder of the Rebel artillery resounded, and we knew that the contest was close and in earnest I instantly ordered the men into column, the bugles blew u to horse,” and in a few minutes the brigade was galloping to the scene of the conflict. Before we could reach the field, however, the enemy had been driven from it, as I have described, by the men of Benteen’s and Philips’s Brigades, now engaged in securing the fruits of the victory.

I continued to move forward rapidly, and about three miles from the battle-field again took the advance. After their defeat at Mine Creek the Confederates turned to the southwest, and soon were back into Missouri, hurrying to the southward over a stretch of prairie country broken by timbered streams running eastward athwart their route. Shelby’s Division had been recalled to the rescue. With this division were four pieces of artillery, all that were left to Price’s army. When I assumed the advance I moved forward in a walk, practically in battle line, until near a stream called the Little Osage. Here I found the enemy again in position tinder cover of the thick timber and brush along the stream. We charged, and easily drove him out of his covert, across the Little Osage, through the timber, and out upon the open prairie, where we halted and re-formed our line.

Three full lines of the enemy were now visible within long rifle range. The Confederates claim that one of these lines was composed of their unarmed conscripts and new recruits, who had been drawn up merely for a menacing show. They also claim that the putting in position of these unfortunate men—many of whom were good Unionists, and nearly all of whom had been forced from their homes at the muzzle of the revolver— had a salutary effect, for that it caused us to go slow, and enabled a large portion of their demoralized forces to re-form and resist us with something like good results. I know nothing of the composition of any of the enemy’s lines, but I do know that none of his displays and maneuvers delayed us a moment on this occasion. When the ranks of the enemy came into full and immediate view the men of my command became so eager for the fray that it seemed impossible to restrain them, and I made no attempt to do it. The brigade charged again and again without orders, driving the Confederates for fully four miles, killing and wounding many, capturing a considerable number of prisoners with their arms and horses, and compelling the burning and destruction of a great number of wagons and other property.

Nor would our pursuit have ended where it did had not the powers of nature of both men and horses failed them, and they were unable to proceed farther. A halt was ordered and rest obtained. Many of the poor horses sank upon the ground before the saddles could be stripped from their backs, and the men, from their long service on horseback, staggered about and walked with difficulty when they alighted. The Second Brigade, Colonel Beveridge’s, and General McNeil’s Brigade took the advance and continued the pursuit over the prairie until after nightfall and until the woody bottom of the Marmaton River was reached, at a point ten miles east of Fort Scott. Skirmishing continued all day and until late at night. Shelby held the Confederate rear, and though he formed half a dozen times as if for fight, he invariably fell back without a serious encounter, and at last was glad to take shelter in the good black bottoms of the Marmaton. During the afternoon the prairies were set on fire by the cannon, and the smoke and fire indicated the route the pursued and pursuers were following as well by night as by day. At the crossing of the Marmaton—which was at the exact point where now stands a village and railroad station called Deerfield—the enemy destroyed nearly all of his artillery ammunition, and all but about twenty of his wagons, and turned loose into the country some six hundred horses and mules. He obstructed the ford across the stream by overturning wagons in it and cutting some trees from the banks. He also abandoned about one hundred and twenty-five of his sick and wounded.

After an hour’s rest my brigade again marched, but we were unable to reach the enemy again that day, and at last, under orders, we turned to the southwest and rode into Fort Scott, followed by Benteen’s Brigade, and preceded by Generals Pleasonton, Curtis, Blunt, Lane, and the Kansas troops. One brigade of Kansas troops, Colonel Moonlight’s, had swept down the border and had managed to get into the town just as the advance of Shelby’s Rebel Division had reached the outskirts. There would have been a hard fight for the town if Shelby had not been withdrawn to serve against us after the affair at Mine Creek. General Pleasonton went no farther than Fort Scott, and from here the prisoners were sent back to St. Louis, escorted by the First M. S. M., of Philips’s Brigade.

The Kansas troops had not been immediately engaged on the 25th, and it being determined to keep up the pursuit of the fleeing enemy, they were sent out on the morning of the 26th to continue the chase. Generals Curtis and Blunt commanded them, and both seemed eager to have at least one good fight before the campaign should end. General McNeil, with his Missouri Brigade, was following directly in the rear of the Rebels, and with his usual zeal and energy was pressing them hard. McNeil and Curtis united their forces at Shanghai, Mo., a post-office twenty miles southeast of Fort Scott, and from thence General Blunt took the advance with the two Kansas brigades of Jennison and Ford and two batteries.

My brigade rested at Fort Scott the night of the 25th and the day of the 26th. The horses were shod and the men were supplied with rations and clothing. On the morning of the 27th, pursuant to the orders of the general in command, I left Fort Scott with my brigade and one section of Montgomery’s Battery, to overtake General Blunt, and hoping to come up with the enemy, believing that he would halt somewhere in southwestern Missouri to obtain supplies before entering the barren region of northern Arkansas and the Indian Territory. That day I marched sixty-two miles. Ben-teen’s Brigade followed me. On the 28th, at about 4 P.M., I came up with General Blunt’s Division, near the town of Newtonia, in the southern part of Newton County, Mo., about twenty miles from the Arkansas line, having marched one hundred and four miles, with artillery and a train, in thirty-six hours.

During the last few miles of our march our course had been directed by the noise of battle, and on coming up we found General Blunt heavily engaged and in a precarious situation. He had found the enemy in camp and pretty well rested, being in a strong position, and with a rear-guard well out. Blunt was a brave officer, and he at once made an impetuous attack. The Confederates knew the situation and threw their whole force upon him, with their remaining battery of artillery belonging to Shelby’s Division. When we came up Blunt’s line was falling back, and the Confederates had extended their lines beyond both his flanks and were advancing upon him from the right and left.

Reporting to him for service, General Blunt directed me to form my brigade upon his left, and if possible to first check and then turn the somewhat formidable advance of the enemy’s right. I hastily brought up the advance of my command, and as our horses were well-nigh exhausted, and as the battle-field was intersected with stone walls and other obstacles, I realized that we must fight on foot in order to accomplish anything. Accordingly I gave the order to dismount, and directed the regiments to come into action as fast as they could dismount and form. The Sixth M. S. M. was the first to meet the advancing enemy. This regiment went forward right gallantly and had fired but a few volleys from their carbines, when a triumphant cheer from the line announced that the enemy had turned and was falling back. The other regiments of the brigade went in with equal spirit, and soon we had rolled the Confederate advance back upon the reserve, and keeping steadily on we pushed their entire line back some three miles, when, owing to the darkness, the flight of the enemy, and the exhaustion of the troops, the fighting and the pursuit ceased. We were well enough satisfied with our day’s work, at all events, for we had come upon the field in time to save a gallant division and commander from disaster, and to achieve a complete victory when defeat seemed imminent.

During that night I received an order from General Pleasonton to proceed with my command across the country to Springfield, distant from Newtonia to the northeast about fifty miles, and to resume the command of my district. I did so, marching the following morning, and when we reached Springfield the citizens and soldiery there met us in formal procession and gave us a grand ovation and a most hearty welcome.

General Blunt, with his division, and General McNeil and Colonel Benteen, with their brigades, followed the Rebels into Arkansas, but could not overtake them, and accomplished nothing of value, and soon Benteen was ordered back and sent to Tennessee. General A. J. Smith’s infantry division, after marching across the State of Missouri nearly to the Kansas line, was halted at Harrisonville, and then marched back again to St. Louis, from whence it was sent to Thomas, at Nashville. A few days after it reached Nashville, Thomas, now having everything ready, put his machinery in motion, seized upon Hood, and ground him to powder.

After the defeat at Newtonia, the Confederates entered the Indian Territory, and set out for Texas, over a long and toilsome route, hundreds of miles in length, destitute of inhabitants and supplies save the wild game of the country and a few Indians living in squalor and wretchedness. The result was that on the march, according to their own statements, they lost fully one thousand men by disease, exposure, and starvation. They killed horses and ponies for food, and ate their flesh without salt or bread. They even ate skunks and other vermin. They found a few wild cattle, but the meat was poor and only made them sick. The weather was very inclement. Small-pox and diarrhea broke out among them, and as they had no medicines, scores were left to die on the prairies and be devoured by wolves. For eighteen days, or from October 30 to November 18, they were without supplies. Finally about six thousand of them reached northern Texas, but thereafter, until its surrender in the following June, Price’s army was heard of no more.

I ought to state, however, that a day or two after entering the Indian Territory the Arkansans, under Fagan, left Price and entered their own State. On the 2d of November—on which day there was a heavy fall of snow—Fagan, with a regiment of Shelby’s, attacked Fort Smith, where we had a small force under General John M. Thayer; but I had sent General Thayer word of the condition of affairs and the probable intentions of the enemy regarding him, and so he was prepared and easily beat off the attack, but unfortunately had no force at his disposal to follow up his success.

It was of most vital importance that the troops that had been diverted from General Thomas by the movement of this Rebel army in Missouri should reach him at the earliest time possible. His army was besieged in Nashville, and how long it could hold out no one knew—but everyone knew that it would be just as long as military skill and human endurance would permit. Hence, immediately after the battle of Newtonia, I recommended to General Pleasonton and General Rosecrans that all further pursuits of Price’s forces should be abandoned, and all our available troops sent to Nashville, and the Rebel army left to go to pieces for want of supplies and under its general demoralization in the deserted and barren region between southwestern Missouri and the Red River. This recommendation was approved by General Pleasonton and General Rosecrans, but was disapproved by General Curtis and ultimately by General Halleck. The end was that the enemy was followed by the forces under Generals Curtis and Blunt afar off (at least so far that no engagement was brought on) to the Arkansas River, with the result of entirely dismounting Benteen’s Brigade and destroying all the horses in the command, and keeping the Rebel army together, so that instead of several thousand prisoners, who would have voluntarily surrendered and come in rather than cross this river, we had several hundred only. My own brigade, under these orders from Washington, was moved southwest again and reached a point about sixty miles from Springfield at the time that the Rebels crossed the Arkansas River. All the results of our pursuit after the battle of Newtonia were adverse to the government of the United States and an aid to the Confederate States, in my judgment, then deliberately formed, and confirmed by the results that followed.

More than a quarter of a century has elapsed since the events transpired which I have narrated so imperfectly. The war has long been over. “The Rebel rides on his raid no more.” Many—ah, very many— of the gallant troopers, brave as any Murat or Cardigan ever led, have long been dead.

“The knights are dust;
Their swords are rust;
Their souls are with the saints, we trust.”

Curtis, Blunt, Lane, Gravelly, and other commanders on our side during the “Price Raid” are in their graves, as are Price, Marmaduke, Jeff Thompson, and others of the Confederate leaders. Rosecrans, Pleasonton, Benteen, McNeil, Philips, and Phelps, as well as Shelby, Fagan, McCray, and Cabell, are yet living. The country in Missouri over which the raid was made is now peaceful and very prosperous, with all the adjuncts of modem civilization. Boonville, Lexington, Independence, Kansas City, and Fort Scott are now considerable cities. Where then was naught to break the expanse of wide prairies, now stand thriving towns and villages, in view of former battlefields. Rich farms and fruitful fields are to be seen on every hand, and lands once ploughed by shot and shell are now disturbed only by the implements of the farmer. Scenes where once were heard the horrid noise of battle, the hiss of bullets, the shriek of shells, and the fierce cries of combatants in deadly grapple, now resound only with the murmuring calls of lowing herds, and the mirth and songs of contented and happy homes. The people of western Missouri and Kansas won a grand victory for the Union and humanity when they overcame the hosts of rebellion in their midst; but in bringing their fair lands under the dominion of progress and enterprise, and the organization of comfortable homes and happy families, they have achieved a triumph equally great, for

“Peace hath her victories no lees renowned than war.”


Last changed: Aug 02 2018 at 1:50 PM