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 29, 2011

October 28 & 29th; Newtonia Missouri

   In the early morning hours of October 28th, the army of General Price began it's march toward the Federal Garrison at Newtonia, some twenty miles to the east.  The garrison would not only provide arms and ammunition, but General Price knew that there was a flouring mill at Newtonia that would provide much needed corn-meal for his troops and forage for his horses.
   The prisoners from the 2nd Kansas Militia still clung to the hope that their parole was imminent, and it was this hope that willed them to continue marching that day.  Something else that buoyed the hopes of the men was the desertions of a large number of Rebel troops: new recruits, border guerrillas and other irregulars were leaving Price's Army for their homes to the north and east, as they knew the Raid was over. Captain Huntoon and even General Shelby told them to keep their spirits up as the time of release was near.
    Just after noon Price's Army passed through the town of Granby Missouri and then turned to the southeast where it came to the brow of a bluff from which the Town of Newtonia could be seen, in the eastern end of a small valley.  The prisoners of the 2nd were marched through town and halted about four miles east of it, where the bulk of the Rebel Army prepared to make camp for the night.  The camp was situated in a border of timber near a spring which gave the prisoners relief from their thirst.  Soon after the camp was prepared an announcement was given to the prisoners that they were all to be formally paroled.  Whether this news had any outward affect on the men from the 2nd is unknown but it is unlikely.  They had all been driven like cattle for six days and over 200 miles and what emotion any of them had left was likely stifled to preserve energy.
   The parole proceedings were to be officiated by General Shelby, with his adjutant and clerks also present. The ceremony had hardly begun when a messenger arrived with the news that the Federal Army was already aligned for battle at Newtonia.   The General left immediately and was hardly gone a few minutes when the screech of shells was heard overhead. (These were the guns of The Colorado Battery, under the command of General Blunt.)   The parole proceedings were then moved to a point about two miles farther, where they would be in comparative safety from the 2nd Battle of Newtonia as it would later be called.  Captain Huntoon recalled that the prisoners were drawn up in a line and, holding out their right hands, swore not to bear arms against the Southern Confederacy or in any way contend against the government until duly exchanged.
   The Rebel guard was withdrawn and the men from the 2nd found themselves alone and unguarded.  They were too tired to rejoice.  Captain Huntoon decided that they should remain where they were and seek help in the morning.  They were weak, hungry, sore and without food or blankets. It was about nine o'clock at night and the Captain was afraid that if they wandered back toward Newtonia now, they might be fired upon. There was a thin frosting of snow upon the ground as the men lay down huddled close to one another in an attempt to stay warm.  This was the way in which the prisoners from the 2nd Kansas Militia spent their first hours of freedom as Friday,October 28th, 1864 came to a close.
   The Battle of Newtonia would prove to be the last true battle of the War fought on Missouri soil. The main result of the Battle was that the Army of Missouri under General Price was forced to leave the vicinity of Newtonia before they had restocked and rested, leaving them in a position to be destroyed or forced to surrender if pursued by a cohesive Federal force.  This was not to be its fate however as the squabbling Union hierarchy decided to halt its pursuit of the Price's Army, allowing the Rebels to leave Missouri forever.
   The morning dawned cold on the now free men of the 2nd as they prepared to take their leave and head toward civilization.  What would they find?  Which side had won the Battle? When would they be able to see their loved ones? These were the thoughts of the men as they walked to the northwest that gray morning of Saturday, October 29th 1864.

Friday, September 23, 2011

October 26th & 27th 1864; Carthage Missouri

" It must needs be that offences come ; but woe unto him by whom offences cometh."
    Luke 17:1   

   After marching nearly sixty miles that day, General Price's Army along with its prisoners finally reached the town of Carthage, Missouri and camped on the Spring River on the afternoon of Wednesday,October 26th.   The horses that had carried the Rebel Army so faithfully as it made its way through Missouri were in as poor a condition as the soldiers and this location offered good forage for the animals.  The countryside during the march was one of desolation and ruin; the prisoners noticed several examples of "Jennison's Tombstones", the charred remains of farmhouses with only the chimneys left standing.  The town of Carthage was also now a ghost town, as most of its inhabitants had left the previous month when it was burnt by pro-slavery guerrillas.   The citizens who had fled Carthage left behind a ghastly landscape; the burned shell of a town surrounded by once-fine farms reduced to rubble.
   The long march to Carthage had rendered it impossible for some of the prisoners from the 2nd Kansas Militia to go on any further.   Captain A.J.Huntoon recalled the scene many years later:  "Seven of the prisoners were so exhausted when we reached Carthage that it was manifestly impossible for them to go any farther.  So they were left at a vacant house two miles south of town at about six o'clock that afternoon. (October 26th)  I saw General Shelby and protested to him against their being left there, knowing there was a danger of them falling into the hands of Jackman's men and being killed.  However, they were so left.  I remember the names of four of them; E.B.Williams, William Flanders, a young man named Mozier, (William Moeser) and James Greer.  The house was the only one left standing in the neighborhood of Carthage, when I had seen it last it was a beautiful place.  That same night about midnight some of (Col.) Jennison's men, members of a Kansas Volunteer Regiment, came by there.  There was a Rebel soldier there also; they took him out and hung him on an apple-tree in the yard." 
    The Rebel Army had succeeded in refreshing its horses at Carthage but now realized the Federal pursuit had resumed.   New recruits and conscripts continued to desert General Price's Army and many of his sick and wounded were left by the roadside as they were unable to travel further.   By noon on October 27th the shrinking "Army of Missouri" had left Carthage and was headed to the south, towards Shoal Creek near present day Joplin, Missouri.   The Federal Army under the command of Major General James G. Blunt continued to follow the trail of the Rebel Army, and found ghastly evidence of their passage south: "After leaving Carthage, among the first objects that met the eye, was the form of a negro, with his skull half blown off, evidently by a gun placed so near as to singe the hair in the discharge. It was acts such as these, as well as charges of murdering their comrades after being wounded, that induced the hanging of a couple of wounded rebels found in a house a few miles from Carthage, where the advanced brigade (Colonel Jennison's) had halted for camp. The act was cowardly and dastardly, whoever was guilty thereof. Yet with rude men, whose passions were aroused by such sights and acts, some palliation may be offered. For the officers who encouraged it, none can be given. This act, and others, were afterwards made the subject of investigation. As we proceeded, the poverty and even destitution of the inhabitants became daily more evident." * 
   Although the Rebels were were again being pursued by the Union Army, they managed to keep their distance from them as they left Carthage.   The Union Force was weakened, disjointed and not following at a particularly brisk pace.  After a march of only 20 miles, the Confederates slowly passed over the mill-race at Redings Mill on Shoal Creek and camped for the night.  The Rebels had managed to gather in a few cattle, enough so that a quarter was brought to the prisoners and they were able to roast pieces over their campfires with their guards even giving them a little salt.        
   General Price was aware that his Army would need more supplies in order to complete their escape, supplies which could be found at the small Federal garrison near Newtonia, Missouri, about 25 miles to the east.  It was decided that this garrison would be their destination the next day, October 28th, 1864. 
* "Rebel Invasion of Missouri and Kansas, and the campaign against the Army of the Border against General Sterling Price in October and November, 1864" by Richard Josiah Hinton

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.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Sacrifice and Redemption

“And let’s not be dainty of leavetaking,
But shift away.  There’s warrant in that theft
Which steals itself, when there’s no mercy left.”
(Macbeth.   Act 2.  Scene 3.)

 The afternoon of Tuesday, October 25th was dwindling down toward evening as the Rebel Army of General Price continued it's running battle with the Union Cavalry, fleeing southeast and back into Missouri.  The ground was strewn with castoff supplies and equipment that the Rebels considered expendable as they tried to lighten the loads of their wagon train: books, hardware, whiskey barrels and in one case a dozen or so new axes.  The misery of the prisoners from the 2nd Kansas Militia continued to grow as they were forced onward and in some cases the prisoners that were too weak to stumble any further were allowed to ride one of the spare horses to speed things along.  In spite of the welcome rest this provided, as soon as they noticed one of their group in poor condition they would give up their spot and to the unfortunate fellow and on it went.  Elias Williams was especially fatigued; he had been thrown from his horse during the Battle and being over fifty years of age also worked against him. Elias and the others gamely held on though to the hope that redemption would somehow deliver them.  
   As Price's wagon train slowed to cross the Marmiton River late that afternoon, 2 Divisions of Union Cavalry appeared on a ridge in the distance.  The horses and riders on both sides were jaded to their core but the Federal Cavalry charged anyway, forcing General Shelby to once again form a battle line to protect what was left of the expedition. (this line included many men without weapons).   The weakened Federal charge met just enough resistance to convince their Commander, General John McNeil, to discontinue his pursuit after about two hours of skirmishing.  His troops were too exhausted to ride further and most of them slept next to their horses on the open prairie that night, before returning to Fort Scott, Kansas the next morning.
   The demoralized Confederate Army made camp that night in the timbered area near the Marmiton River.*  The prisoners from the 2nd were still under the guard of Lt. Sentille and Shelby's Provost Guard but as night fell, the weary guards became disconcerted and were desperate for sleep.  As the Provost Guard  moved through the confusion of men and horses seeking the proper place to bed their prisoners for the night, Sam Reader noticed how very dark it had become under the cover of the trees.  A faint hope stirred within him that the time to escape might be nearing.  He had been given the rope attached to one of the horses the prisoners had taken turns riding when a Confederate rode up to him and asked, "Where are Colonel Ellis's men?"  Sam replied that he didn't know and then the man noticed the mass of prisoners laying on the ground.  "What have you got there?"  the Rebel asked.  "Yankee prisoners." was Sam's reply. Sam continued his conversation with this man for as long as he could and eventually asked the question, "How did the battle go today?"  The man lowered his head and responded, "It went against us." The soldier went on to say that a good many men and guns had been lost and began to reign up to go on, at which point Sam kicked up the horse and left the guard line, with the excuse that he wanted a drink from the Rebel soldier's canteen.  There was no move from the Rebel guard directly behind him and Sam wondered if the man was deceived or willfully blind.  Sam continued to speak with the man and mentioned that he would go to the creek and get some water, at the same time slipping from the back of the horse and retrieving his boots.  "I see you've lost your saddle" remarked the soldier as Sam's heart lept up to his throat. "Yes I have, then I used a wagon cover and lost that too."  "Yes sir."  were the last words of this conversation as both men melted into the night.  Re-invigorated with hope, Sam was able to escape that night, keeping his wits about him as he would eventually come into contact with many more men from Price's Army before finally finding the dark creek bed and following it towards Fort Scott and freedom.
   With the Rebel Provost Guard ineffective due to exhaustion, another small group prepared to make their intended escape.  Guilford Gage, J.A.Polley and Nelson young had been hatching a plot to escape as a group for some time and tried to convince Captain A.J.Huntoon to accompany them, if possible.  Captain Huntoon knew in his heart that if he did so, he would never stop thinking of the suffering men who served under him and who relied on him as the one positive hope that they might eventually live through this ordeal.
"No boys, I can't go with you - but I'll gladly help you do it."  As Captain Huntoon was allowed more freedom to move about than the other prisoners, he was in a good position to let this group know when the right time to make their break would be.  At about  2:00 a.m. on Wednesday the 26th. the Captain noticed a great confusion as the Army prepared to move and that in this confusion the guards were still alternately laying down and trying to rest again.  Huntoon knew that this was "the moment" as the Army would be marching again soon and so he gave a signal to Gage, Polley and Young, having already told them where to find the creek bed which led to Kansas. As Captain Huntoon engaged the guard duty in conversation, he saw three shapes disappear into the darkness, and that would be the last he saw of his friends until he reached Topeka. After a few minutes had passed, the Provost Guard signaled that it was time to move again and the remaining prisoners wandered dazedly to the south.
 * This was the Drywood River, about six miles south of the battlefield at Marmiton River.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

October 25th. 1864; The Union Cavalry Strikes a Blow

                                          The Charge at Mine Creek by Andy Thomas

 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.