Friday, June 3, 2011
Topeka Battery Starts Off Ahead
It was early afternoon when Colonel Veale returned to his division, who were just west of Russell's Ford on the Big Blue River. He had brought Brigadier General M.S.Grant with him and they were attempting to discern the whereabouts of the rebel army, which they knew was not very far. The decision was made to re-cross the river at Russell's Ford and look for the enemy among the rolling hills to the east. They were not aware that the bulk of Pap Price's army had already begun to cross the River downstream and move south, directly toward the area they had just vacated.
Earlier in the day, General Price sent a part of the Rebel Army towards Westport in an attempt to give the impression of an invasion. This seems to have been a feint however, as the huge train of wagons that comprised the supplies and spoils of his army were heading southwest. Two commands of the Union Army under Colonels Jennison and Moonlight were now confronting the Confederates crossing the river at Byram's Ford and still believing that Westport was in danger, fled north to defend the city. This left nothing but a few small divisions of Kansas Militia to keep the Rebel Army from either crossing into Kansas or heading south and escaping.
The Topeka Battery waited at Russell's Ford while the rest of the 2nd. Division crossed over in their effort to locate the enemy. In their search, some of the men came across a farmhouse that was declared to be "sesech" and decided to search it for rations. This place also provided forage for their horses, who fed on corn in the field next to the house. Although they were not able to gain much in the way of rations, some of them did empty an apple cellar and were pleased that the Confederates would find nothing of use to them here.
After finding nothing of the enemy, the men from the 2nd. returned to the bluff overlooking the Big Blue River and found Colonel Veale and General Grant conferring with some other Militia commanders. The call was given to re-form and cross back over the river; it was almost 3:00 in the afternoon.
Shortly before 3 o'clock, a Union messenger arrived at Russell's Ford and spoke with Captain Ross Burns, the Commander of the Topeka Battery, and informed him that he was to return with his unit to Westport immediately, as the enemy was crossing the Big Blue behind the retreating Union forces. Captain Burns ordered his unit to march north up the lane that led toward the Westport Road and would also take them by the Mockbee Farm which was about one mile ahead. As the Battery Unit neared this place (with the rest of their Division somewhere behind), they were suddenly fired upon by a group of Confederate skirmishers who were crouching amongst the trees of a locust grove to the left side of the lane. Without delay the Battery's 24 pounder Howitzer was un-limbered and fired two charges of canister into the grove, forcing the rebels to fall back over the rise and out of sight. What kind of wisdom was this to fire on the Rebel Army without knowing if the rest of their Division was close at hand? If nothing else it bought them some time; the Confederates would now have this gun to deal with before continuing their advance.