Friday, August 12, 2011
The Battle of Westport and Beyond
original painting by Andy Thomas
Although General Price's Confederates had successfully crossed the Big Blue River on 22 October and smashed the 2nd. Kansas Militia, what had once seemed a promising victory was beginning to unravel. While General Shelby's Army was busy grappling with the 2nd. KSM, a division of Union Cavalry under Gen. Alfred Pleasonton had savagely attacked the rear guard of the Rebel Army and was pressing forward.
Now on the morning of October 23rd., Price found the Union Armies of Generals Curtis and Blunt aligned in front of him to the north at Westport, Missouri and Pleasonton still coming strong from the east. The stage was now set for the largest battle of the war fought west of the Mississippi; nearly 30,000 men on the field in what would become known as the Battle of Westport.
Colonel Veale of the 2nd. KSM stated in his official report that the actions of his unit were instrumental in General Price's defeat at Westport, thus saving Kansas:
"While my loss is very severe, I have to thank God that the bold stand taken by my brave men gave the enemy an afternoon job which detained them from marching into Kansas; and the next morning they were confronted by an army that neither yielded them ground nor spared their ammunition, but put them on a hasty retreat southward; and thus Kansas was saved."
This report goes on to list all of the killed, wounded and captured of the 2nd. KSM and although Colonel Veale performed his rightful duty in the submission of his report, whether the 2nd KSM saved Kansas from the advance of General Price's Army is still a matter of conjecture. It is interesting to wonder though "what if" the 2nd KSM had not stood their ground that afternoon.
The army of General Price was now in full retreat mode, heading south as fast as possible and catching up with the Rebel Provost guard and their prisoners from the 2nd. KSM. ( Among the prisoners taken on October 22nd were twenty men of the Fourth Regiment, KSM and some belonging to the Nineteenth and Twenty-third. No official list is given of the names. Portions of the trains of the Nineteenth and Twenty-third were captured, and the Brigade Quartermaster, Lieut. Marsh, of Leavenworth, was taken prisoner.) The march of the Provost Guard had been unhurried the morning of the Westport Conflict but once the Battle had swayed to the favor of the Union, the pace picked up to a frantic one. The fleeing Rebels lit the prairie on fire hoping the smokescreen would hinder the Union pursuit and also began to jettison supplies in an attempt to quicken the pace of their wagon train. These actions seemed to have their desired effect; at first it didn't seem the Union Army would attempt to follow them. The men of the 2nd. were driven hard however and it soon became apparent to them that they wouldn't be stopping soon. Their hopes that Kansas would be saved were now replaced by a multitude of fears: thirst, fatigue, hunger, prison, death.