The Battle of The Blue

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

Monday, July 30, 2012

Robert McNown, Co. D: "His Body Was Found Well to the Front"

   During the course of creating this blog I have come across descendants of soldiers of the 2nd Kansas Militia, including those of Robert McNown from Company D.  Robert was an early homesteader in Kansas, arriving at the pro-slavery town of Indianola in 1854.  Although nothing is left of the town these days, Robert left his mark on the area by way of his stubborn conviction that Kansas should be a free-state, a conviction that eventually cost him his life. Among Robert McNown's descendants are the McNown and Zwickel families, who provided most of the information for this biography.

  Robert McNown was born on the Isle of Man in 1814 and moved with his family to Rawdon, Quebec, Canada when he was still a child.  Robert left home about age 18 and found work on a British whaler; due to the severity of discipline aboard that vessel he left for a French whaler where he learned his trade well and soon became first mate.  Deciding to settle down, Robert came to Racine, Wisconsin where he met Sarah Drought and married her on 9 March, 1845.  Weary of the harsh winters in Wisconsin, Robert travelled to Kansas in 1854 and selected his claim, which grew to be 320 acres just east of the Indianola town site.  The main structure on the property was a rectangular two room log cabin – a holdover from the Delaware Indian Reservation and the dwelling which would serve the McNown family for many years. 
   By 1858 the entire McNown family had arrived in Kansas and soon realized they lived amongst many who believed Kansas should be admitted to the Union as a slave state.  Robert had very strong anti-slavery sentiments and was jailed briefly in 1860 for his stance on this subject.  With Kansas' admission to the Union as a free state in 1861, it seemed that Robert and his family could now get down to the business of working and growing their farm.  By October 1864 however, the Civil War was still raging and the Confederate Army, led by General Sterling Price, had invaded Missouri and was heading directly towards Kansas.  Robert joined Company D of the 2nd Kansas Militia and left with about 300 of his Shawnee County neighbors for Jackson County Missouri, where they were placed to defend the border.  As with his brother John at Shiloh two years earlier, Robert was killed on the field of battle at the Battle of the Big Blue River near the Mockbee farmhouse on 22 October, 1864.  Late in the afternoon of 23 October, burial parties moved through the battlefield and reported that they found the body of Robert McNown well to the front, which did not surprise those who knew him.  Robert and fourteen other men from the 2nd killed in battle that day eventually were returned to Topeka and buried in a special section at the Topeka Cemetery, reserved for those who paid the price of freedom that long ago day.  He left behind his wife Sarah and nine children, a tenth child born after his passing.  info.courtesy of the McNown/Zwickel families 

                                          photo courtesy Kansas State Historical Society 
Photo taken on the property of Sam Reader in 1904 includes the son of Robert McNown: From left, John McNown (14 years old at the time of his fathers death), John Armstrong (Topeka Battery), Sam Reader (Company Quartermaster), Henry Winans (2nd Lt. Co. H), and Jacob Orcutt, 5th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry

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