Thursday, September 1, 2011
October 25th. 1864; The Union Cavalry Strikes a Blow
As the Rebel Provost guard pushed their prisoners from the 2nd. KSM southward in the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 25th., the Union Cavalry under General Pleasonton attacked the Rebel campsite on the Marais de Cygnes River and forced the Confederates to again flee towards the south. Using their artillery to great advantage, Union forces pursued and attacked two Divisions of General Price's Army forcing it to halt and make a stand at Mine Creek, Kansas - a tributary of the Little Osage River.
While the two exhausted Armies battled each other, the men from the 2nd. Kansas Militia were hurrying southward in a surreal march that didn't seem to have an end. Although the rainfall from the previous night provided a brief respite of their thirst, their fatigue now played upon them. Though dispirited, the men did their best to keep hope alive. John Kemp, a private from Company D, told Sam Reader, "Sam, we'll never see home again." Sam encouraged John (even though he was hopeless as well) with the old story they told each other about the inevitability of parole. A little while later J.S. Stansfield of Company B remarked to Sam, "Mr. Reader! This is a little harder than running for office, isn't it?" while laughing aloud. Nearby, a young Missourian who had been captured two weeks previous said that he gotten used to the hard marching and had neglected several good chances at escape, preferring to be paroled. As the prisoners marched, they came across a few eatables that had been cast-off alongside of the road; these turnip pairings and cabbage leaves would suffice as breakfast and a short time later one of the rebel guards distributed pieces of sugar-cane to the men. The guards had gotten used to conversing with their prisoners and one asked a question that seemed to offer a hope of life after the war: "Say, any of you boys ever been across the plains?" After some discussion he was heard to say, "When this war is over I'm going to make the trip myself." The end of the war seemed a long way off though as the prisoners climbed a steep bank at the end of a wood where the Rebels had positioned several large guns and were forming a line of battle. Not long afterward the booms of the cannons and the sounds of battle could be heard as the Union Cavalry again charged the Rebels. Sometime later, heading south and then east, several parties of Rebels hurried past the Provost Guard towards the sounds of battle - this was the command of General Shelby as it had aborted its attempt to attack Fort Scott, Kansas and was now again trying to save General Price's expedition from destruction. The sounds of the battle seemed to follow the Provost Guard and their prisoners as they fled eastward and at one point the Federal pursuit came quite close to them. Said John Majors of Company D, " I wish the Federal line would wash right over us; I'd die right here to see it done."
The excitement of the battle aroused fresh excitement among some of the guards and the verbal abuse was heaped upon the prisoners anew. Sam Reader happened to be walking near the negro prisoner as the Rebels nearby discussed the various ways to dispose of him: "Don't shoot him, kill him with a white oak club!", shouted one foul mouthed Ruffian as he rode by. The provost guard however still stood between the men of the 2nd. and these tormentors, fulfilling the orders of their commander, General Shelby. At one point during the march Captain Huntoon, as the highest ranking prisoner and the nominal leader of the prisoners, asked General Shelby for mercy on the men as they were dying of thirst and fatigue. The General replied that he truly wished he could parole them but was worried for their safety as he feared they would be massacred by the Border Ruffians embedded within the regular Confederate Army.
As the men of the 2nd. KSM were doggedly pushed on to the southeast, they didn't know that the largest battle of the War fought on Kansas soil was now occurring - a battle that would all but seal the fate of the Confederacy in the Trans-Mississippi theater. The Battle of Mine Creek would turn out to be an utter disaster for the Rebel Army - in addition to severe casualties they would suffer the loss of 600 men taken prisoner along with one Brigadier General, one Major General and their remaining artillery. This was of little matter to the prisoners from the 2nd. though as the only thing they knew was that they couldn't keep running much further. The afternoon had grown unseasonably warm and thirst was compounded by exhaustion as the prisoners and their captors became like shells of men, existing only to flee the oncoming force. The Rebel Army was being stretched to it's breaking point from innumerable battles and miles of travel and through it all General Jo Shelby's Division had always been it's saving grace, as it had been at Mine Creek. Now as General Price's Army headed toward the day's last river crossing at the Marmiton his force had dwindled to just a few thousand men and were being forced to leave a streak of burning wagons in their wake. If the Federal Cavalry continued it's pursuit, it would be up to General Shelby to save them again.