The Battle of The Blue

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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

J.S.Griffing:"It Is Said The Topeka Boys Fought Like Tigers"

James Griffing and the rest of the 23rd. Kansas Militia returned home to Nemeha County shortly after the Battle of Westport and the retreat of General Price's Army.  He immediately began to search the newspapers for details of the fate of his friends and neighbors of the 2nd Kansas Militia from Shawnee County where he and his wife Augusta had so recently resided.  The sad results are contained in James next letter to Augusta.

Lincoln [Kansas]
October 30, 1864
My Dear Cutie [Augusta],
You will be glad to hear that your husband is at home again safe and sound. My last letter was written to you whilst we were in the trenches at Kansas City amidst the greatest confusion & excitement in sight of the smoke of a  most tremendous battle and if it reaches you, I want you to be sure & keep it, that I may know what I wrote, when I may see you again. The night before it was written, I thought it not improbable that I might never see you again and as my place in the ranks was next to Brother [John] Hodgins of Centralia, we had agreed with each other – as we lay sleeping upon our arms in the city of Wyandotte – if we should be spared to see about the other’s family. The Good Being averted the battle, which threatened to take place at Kansas City, and caused it to take place at another point. And the consequence is that instead of the citizens of Nemaha being thrown into the deepest mourning, our acquaintances and friends in Shawnee County suffered as much as any one county in the great conflict. I have not as yet received the full particulars but enough to convince me that it is dreadful. Not only as the Topeka Battery taken, but a great many were either killed, wounded, and taken prisoners, or are missing. Among the killed, I notice Lieut. Col. [H. M.] Greene* (United Brethren preacher on Wakarusa), Mac Martin (Dr. Martin’s brother), W. P. Roberts (Judge Robert’s son at Big Springs), Mr. [Samuel Allen?], James Eagle, Tavern keeper at Big Springs, Dan Handley of Topeka, John Ward* (the Ward’s son above Topeka), H. C. Coville living above Topeka, Harvey Young, N. Brown, L. Selkin, M. D. Race, R. McNown, Mr. Rake, Charles Budd, Mr. Chapman, and two others unknown reported up to Monday as killed/wounded. I have concluded to cut out the piece and send you. Please preserve it.  

 *Henry M.Greene and John Ward both survived but suffered major injuries
  As to Brother [Joshua]Hannum’s Company, I am almost afraid to hear the particulars. Those killed living at Big Springs must have been in his Company. I saw (Ishiel)Tyler a moment at Kansas City. He says they were right in the fight and had plenty to do. Says that he (Tyler) lost a horse. I am anxious to learn the fate of Bro. Hannum, [James]Taylor, [Jesse] Stevenson, Lewis Clogston, John Ward & all our old neighbors. Also to hear the fate of the many taken prisoners. It is most dreadful to think of. Had we been residing at Topeka, I might have been in the thickest of the fight and helped to do something for the salvation of my state, and the good of my country. It is said the Topeka boys fought like tigers. They held the advancing columns of Price’s advancing legions at bay for about an hour until they were surrounded and their battery taken. I have been away from home so much or I would go right down there and see and sympathize with my old neighbors. I am anxious to hear from Harry Winans. I expect he was in the midst of the fight. I learn the mail is about to start. I will write again soon as I get more particulars. I found two letters from you when I came home. One written with a pencil from Hartford, the other written after returning [to Owego]. Was glad to hear [from you]. I think Missouri will be safer now. I may come for you directly after my Quarterly Meeting, or preacher’s meeting, starting about the 20th of November if you deem best. Write and let me know. Buy just as little as you must at present prices. Everything is bound to change after [the presidential] election. – J. S. Griffing

 Owego [New York]
October 30, 1864

My dear husband [James],
I see by one of the New York papers that [General] Price has been defeated & has retreated. I hope it is true and that there will be no need of you or any others of the militia to be sent after him again. I received a letter written at Atchison and was in hopes to get another yesterday but none came. I hope to hear soon that all are safe…. I hope this will find you well and that the next letter will bring me good news from you. The boys often talk of you and want to see you very much. Write often as you can. Ever your, -- Augusta
 Augusta was hopeful that James would have good news in his next letter, but it wasn't meant to be. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Letters of James and Augusta Griffing:"Excuse the Dirt, Grease and Writing"

                                                 James and Augusta Griffing in 1855
                                                      photo courtesy of W.J.Griffing
  I recently discovered a website which features the personal letters of James Griffing, a Methodist Minister who in the fall of 1864 was living in the now defunct town of Lincoln in Nemeha County Kansas.  These letters provide an insight into the lives of the men of the 2nd KSM and their families around the time of the Battle at Mockbee Farm which so many were wounded, killed or captured.
   James had his wife Augusta had recently rented out their homestead in Shawnee County and moved to temporary quarters in Lincoln, Kansas. After a Cheyenne uprising on the central Kansas plains threatened  the family's safety it was decided that Augusta and her three children should return to the Griffing's home state of New York . This meant that they would have to venture through the volatile state of Missouri which was rife with guerrilas and outlaws.  The plan was carried out anyways and by August 1864 Augusta and the children were safely in Owego, New York.  James meanwhile was called to join the Nemeha Home Guards in response to the Cheyenne threat and when Price's Army invaded Missouri, he mobilised with his unit toward the Border area should the Confederates threaten Kansas.  James served with the 22nd Regiment of the Kansas State Militia, Co. G and was encamped with his unit at Kansas City when he took time to write to Augusta.
  In camp, Kansas City
October 23, 1864
My Dear Wife [Augusta],
We came here last evening. [General] Price is reported to have entered Westport last evening and [is] said to have a force of from 20 thousand to 40. If so, and as he is pretty well surrounded, I am looking for a pretty severe contest today. Our company may be in the midst of a most terrible slaughter. The thing has become more of a reality than I was expecting when I started. I hope everything will be for the best.
 Half past two o’clock. I commenced writing [you] this morning [when] an order came that we must drop everything and march at once. So we came over to the breastworks which Col. Jennison had thrown up for the protection of Kansas City. Col. Jennison was driven in by the rebels last evening into the entrenchments where we are at present quartered. They are at present fighting a tremendous battle five miles south of this [location]. The wounded are being brought in, in large numbers. We can see the smoke of the battle very plainly, but the wind is quite unfavorable, and the continued talking and cheering as the dispatches come in prevents our hearing much of the thunder of the artillery.
Still later. Our men have cut off his long train of commissaries, taken a large amount of his pillage, and Price is going South just as fast as he can. An order has come requiring just as many of our men as possible to get horses and pursue him. I have not yet been down to the hospital to see the wounded. Our regimental surgeon, Dr. Hidden, just told me they were generally slightly wounded; he thought but few cases would prove fatal. You can form no idea of the amount of Militia here – especially the infantry. I was just down where the Topeka boys were camped. They told me the Topeka battery was taken by the enemy yesterday and Col. Veale’s cavalry company was cut off from the main body, and they had not as yet heard from them.
 Next morning. Dreary from standing guard most of the night. News comes that the enemy are retreating [as] fast as they can go with our men in hot pursuit, fighting him with the artillery and cavalry. A great many hundred have already been killed and taken prisoners. Yesterday, whilst a portion of the men were packing up to leave on the retreat, they were surprised by a battery planted in their front which mowed down a large number of them. Our Captain, who was ordered down to assist in guarding prisoners, says he thinks we will be ordered home again today. I do hope it will be so that I can go out to the battlefield before I return. Returning cavalry militia state that the “Rebs” are scattered quite thickly over the ground. Preparations are making for a drill so I will leave this and hope to write again soon. Hoping I may be able to tell you good news about the Topeka Cavalry, as Capt. [Joshua B.] Hannum’s Company was away then. Now I would like to hear how you all are this morning. Ever your own affectionate husband, -- James   NB. excuse the dirt, grease and writing as it has been done mostly as I could catch it on my knee in camp.

 Owego [New York]
October 27, 1864
My dear husband [James],
I hope to hear soon that the militia are not engaged in fighting. I cannot bear to think that you have got to be in battles. It is dreadful to think of the poor families left desolate & alone this time of the year. I am glad we are here if there is to be trouble in Kansas. People have said ever since I came that they would not think of going back this winter & now they think it would be foolish & unwise. Ever your affectionate wife, -- Augusta
 The letters in the next post between James and Augusta discuss the fate of those they knew from the 2nd KSM.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nelson Holder Ritchie, Co. B - "A Good Clean Man"

                                                        photo courtesy of Kurt Rogers 

          Nelson Holder Ritchie arrived in the Topeka Kansas area around 1860, coming over from western Missouri.  Born Nelson Holder in what was later Lawrence County Missouri,he was a man of mixed race who was listed as "white", "black" or "colored" in various census and Civil War Draft Registration records.  It has been the subject of discussion amongst Nelson's descendants that he may have been part Cherokee.  According to one daughter, "He was a very good looking man over six feet tall, about 200 hundred pounds, black curly hair, a good clean man."    Nelson told his descendants that he was raised by an old Scotch lady, as his mother died when he was a baby and his father died before he was born.
  Nelson took on the Ritchie surname after being taken in and perhaps employed by noted early Topekan John Ritchie.  John Ritchie was a Free-stater and abolitionist with ties to the Underground Railroad and was also Commander of the 2nd Indian Home Guards - a Federal Unit from Kansas during the Civil War.  John also served in various capacities with the 5th Kansas Cavalry in 1861/62, a unit which frequently skirmished with the Confederates in the Border area.  It was perhaps on one of these forays that John encountered 20 year old Nelson - or it could be that Nelson came to Topeka seeking a better life and was taken under the wing of John Ritchie.  Whatever actually happened, by 1864 Nelson's prospects at a better life had dramatically increased with his arrival in Topeka.  The threat of Rebel invasion put these prospects at risk however and in October 1864 Nelson answered the call to arms and joined the 2nd Kansas Militia, Company B.  According to one of Nelson's daughters, "It was at the close of the Civil War, and Nelson got in on the last part of it.  He was in the Cavalry and had a good horse.  He had his hat with a few bullet holes in it, but he was never hurt.  He was in his twenties at the time of the war.
  Like so many of his peers in the 2nd Kansas Militia, Nelson narrowly escaped the Battle of Mockbee Farm and returned to Topeka, where he rejected an offer from John Ritchie to attend school.  Nelson had decided that he would build a life in Kansas, but it would be on his terms.  He worked hard, perhaps working construction on one of the numerous buildings sprouting up in the rapidly growing capitol of Kansas and by 1870 he had married and fathered a child.  After his wife and child both died in 1871 (Nelson joked with his later family that he thought an old black mammy had poisoned them) Nelson persevered and moved to Great Bend Kansas where he owned and operated a hotel, complete with livery stables and carriages for hire.  He remarried and raised quite a large family at Great Bend and in 1892 relocated to Bountiful Utah where he worked for the railroad for many years.  His family continued to grow and Nelson was a good father and husband, passing on these enduring qualities to his loved ones before passing away in Bountiful in 1913 at the age of 72.
   Nelson passed to the great beyond without giving many details of his experiences with the 2nd Kansas Militia to his friends and family.  This seemed to be a common trait among these men who had come so close to death.  He had made the most of his humble origins and endured to become the cornerstone of his family as it moved out west.  And he found that not only would he be accepted in Kansas, but he would flourish.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Missing Six of the 2nd Kansas Militia

  The final resting places of the "missing six" men of  the 2nd Kansas Militia are unaccounted for and in all likelihood lost to history.  They were perhaps quickly buried in the aftermath of bloody battle, their graves unmarked and forgotten.  Some of their bodies may have been collected by family members and brought back to the family farm where the gravesite was eventually lost to development.  Although these men and the others who sacrificed for Shawnee County at the Big Blue River have nearly faded to obscurity, I will attempt to exhume whatever bits and pieces of their lives that I can.  These scant facts are an effort to pay them the tribute they so richly deserve.
   The story of David Fultz has been brought to light recently but his gravesite remains a mystery. It is likely that his body was removed from the field by family members and buried near the family farm in southeast Shawnee County.  He left behind a wife named Elizabeth and three children.
   Elias Roberts of Co. I originally hailed from New Jersey before moving out west to Ohio and later Iowa, where he farmed and started a family.  By 1860 Elias, his wife Martha and their three children had relocated to Lone Jack in Jackson County Missouri.  This was an extremely dangerous area to raise a family - Lone Jack was in the heart of the Border War region and by 1863 Elias and his family moved over into Shawnee County Kansas and farmed in the Tecumseh Township.   Shortly thereafter Elias was killed at Mockbee Farm but his gravesite remains unknown at this time.  It is possible that his sacrifice faded into obscurity even within his own family history, as was the case with many others who died that day.
  The spirit of the obscure American wanderer was embodied by William Waln, who was also from Co. I.  After William was killed at the Battle of the Blue, he was identified as "William Wann" in every source that listed the dead of the 2nd KSM.  After I failed to track down that name, I came across a Widow's Pension File that revealed his true name.  More research revealed that he was born in Highland Co. Ohio in 1818 and migrated to Marion Co. Iowa by the late 1840's.  According to census records, William and his wife Leah had at least two children in Iowa before moving to Indiana and having two more.  By 1864, William was serving in the 2nd Kansas Militia and became a (misspelled) footnote to history. The whereabouts of his gravesite remain unknown.

   Moses Banks served in Company D from Indianola Kansas, just north of Topeka.  He is listed as "colored" in various sources and died at the Battle of Mockbee Farm.  Moses may have been a former slave but at this point his origins are not known.  It is known that Kansas was a destination of free African Americans in the early 1860's because of its admission to the Union as a free state. When Governor Carney called out the Militia in October, 1864 all men between the age of 18 and 60 were called to service including African Americans.   Nearly one thousand blacks answered the call (in addition to the roughly 2,000 that were already serving) with most of these men forming separate regiments.  The 2nd KSM did have a few "colored" men serving, probably filling roles such as Teamster and Blacksmith.  Moses Banks gravesite is unknown at this time; there was an pension application made in July of 1867 for a minor dependant in Moses name so perhaps somewhere there is a descendant.
    Ben Hughes was an African American Teamster who was believed to have been murdered at the Mockbee Farm battlefield while attempting to surrender.  Ben's origins and personal life are also unknown but the circumstances of his death were widely used to exemplify the cruelty of the Confederates under Colonel Sidney Jackman. It would be nice to believe that such a martyr were given a proper soldiers burial - his gravesite remains unknown.
   Dennis Ray was not listed as a man of color but was listed among the dead from Company D.  There doesn't appear to be any census records for him but I did come across a Dennis Ray in the "U.S. Civil War Draft Registrations" Records.  He was listed as living in Timber Hill, Bourbon County Kansas and his occupation was listed as blacksmith.  The final resting place of Dennis Ray is unknown.

   The fact that these three men of African descent died at the Battle of the Blue is interesting to me because they weren't actually supposed to be fighting.  Their roles were of a support nature and therefore it seems likely to me that they could have chosen to be among the first to retreat and thus escape when it had become apparent that the Rebel forces would overcome them.  That they didn't run when they had the chance gives an indication of their true character.
   The mystery as to the locations of the gravesites of these six men may never be solved but it doesn't really matter if they are remembered by future generations for their bravery and sacrifice. 
  There was another man of color who served in the second KSM - his name was Nelson Ritchie and not only did he survive the Battle of Mockbee Farm but thrived to become highly successful.  His story will be told another time.