The Battle of The Blue

The Battle of The Blue
Rebel forces charge the Topeka Battery at Mockbee farm, original painting by Benjamin Mileham

Thursday, September 15, 2011

October 26th, 1864; Fleeing Towards the Ozark Hills

   Early on the morning of Wednesday, October 26th the weary and demoralized Confederate Army broke camp and headed toward the southeast and the Ozark Hills of Missouri.  It was here that General Price hoped to elude the pursuing Union Cavalry and continue his escape on to Arkansas and regroup his shattered force, which had shrunk to just a few thousand men.  Most of the dismounted Rebels were given permission to scatter and save themselves as General Price now devoted his full attention to retreat - he destroyed nearly all of his wagons and artillery ammunition and abandoned or killed his unserviceable animals. Unencumbered by the weight of the wagon train, Price's Army was now making very quick time in the pre-dawn hours as it headed for the town of Carthage, Missouri.
  Unfortunately for the prisoners from the 2nd Kansas Militia this "double-quick" march was straining many of them to the breaking point.  The Rebel Provost Guard that had protected them from the depredations of Border Guerrillas during their imprisonment was now running them to death.  Not only was it the prisoners who suffered but many of their captors were in extremely poor condition themselves. (The difference being that the Rebels were on horseback.)  During the march General Shelby rode back beside the prisoners at intervals and attempted to encourage them: "Gentlemen, you will be paroled just as soon as I can possibly attend to it." On other occasions he was heard to say, "Gentlemen, I am doing the best I can, you are getting just as good fare as my men are."  For the many prisoners who were near the end of their endurance though, such demonstrations were just another false hope, a mirage in the desert of their nightmare.
   As the morning became noon, the rapid pace of the retreat continued and the only relief for the prisoners were the infrequent rest stops where the men would lay and hug the earth as if trying to escape into it.  At one of these stops a small incident occurred near a dry creek bed that illustrates man's natural tendency toward humanity, even in the most dire of circumstances.  The men were dying from the lack of water and food but Levi Williams of Topeka Battery found the shinbone of a cow to which there was a small amount of sinew still attached.  Levi was in a wretched state but he realized that he was in far better condition than most of his fellow unfortunates.  Knowing that they will be soon forced to march again, he quickly stripped as much of the sinew as he could from the bone and placed it in his mouth, where he used what little saliva he had to soften the tissue and render it eatable.  Looking to his neighbor next to him on the stream bank, he removed the bit of gristle from his mouth and placed it into the dying mans', who mechanically swallowed it.  Rather than eliciting a barbaric reaction when confronting death, the prisoners were softened in the face of it, in spite of their suffering.  They had accepted their impending deaths and now only hoped to comfort their brothers until the end came.  They had lived in Shawnee County with their neighbors during better times and now were prepared to die with them.  But first they would have to endure another night sleeping out in the open wasteland of the Ozark Prairie.

No comments:

Post a Comment