The Battle of The Blue

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


Robert McNown, Co. D 

  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

Samuel Marshall, Co. B 

                                  Sam Marshall in the 1870's - photo courtesy Jeff Phillips

  Samuel Marshall was born on December 11, 1837, near Oberlin, OH, into a family that had emigrated from Lincolnshire, England, two years previously.  In 1842, the family moved to southern Wisconsin and acquired farmland northeast of Lake Geneva.  As a young man, Samuel traveled to California during the Gold Rush with his older brother and later accompanied his father to New York City.  In 1857, Samuel came to Kansas, living briefly in Leavenworth, Lawrence, and Topeka, before settling in Breckinridge County, now called Lyon County.  In April 1860, he was married to Martha Jane Courtney.  The couple had two daughters, Allah Nora and Emma Jane, before moving to Topeka in 1862. 
  Samuel enlisted in Company B, 2nd  Regiment, Kansas State Militia, on August 24, 1863, and was called to active duty on October 10, 1864, as the Militia was called up in response to the approach of Price’s Confederate army from Missouri.  Muster roles reveal that Sam was detached from his unit and stayed at Topeka to protect the city in case the Confederates broke through and attacked.
  After the war, Samuel and his family moved briefly back to Wisconsin, where a son, Robert Edgel was born, and then returned to Topeka, where a third daughter, Minnie, was born.  In 1868, both Minnie and Martha Jane died.  
   In 1869, Samuel married Margaret Grabendike in Topeka and began a second family with the birth of Hattie Belle in 1972.  In that same year, the Marshalls moved to Osage City, about 40 miles south of Topeka in Osage County.  They had two more children, Edwin Charles, born in 1874, and William Loren, born in 1878. In Osage City, Samuel farmed, traded in real estate, and operated a livery stable and a brick kiln.  Here is an item from a local newspaper about his house:
“The brick walls are said to be three or four courses thick, the bricks probably having been made in Marshall’s own nearby brick-making plant.  Locally made bricks were also used for several Osage City Business Buildings still in use today [1962].  . . . Marshall built his house so that it was warm and dry.  He built the kitchen and dining room partially underground, with two large rooms altogether above ground.  The Marshall home and his brick factory, with its drying kiln, were both close to Salt Creek [south of Osage City].”
  Margaret died in 1913 and Samuel in 1914. Both, along with Edwin, were buried in Osage City Cemetery, as were Hattie and William in later years.


 Nelson Holder Ritchie, Co. B
 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.

Wallis W. True, Co. F

    Wallis True never intended to move to Kansas, but that was how things worked out. Wallis was 37 years old in 1862 and did very well for himself as a farmer and a blacksmith on his farm, which was located 5 miles south of Bentonville, Arkansas. He was an ardent Union man during the Civil War and it was because of his beliefs that he was forced to pack up his family and what few possessions they could carry and leave for Shawnee County Kansas in the fall of 1862.
   Ever since the War began the year previous Wallis had been targeted by local groups sympathetic to the Confederate cause: "You're with us or you're against us." - "Join the Rebel cause and your farm will remain safe." He remained steadfast though and his reputation as a Union loyalist kept Wallis and his family in a perilous and uneasy existence. Their farm was occasionally raided for corn and fodder by the marauding Rebel Units which haunted the area and Wallis was worried that they would all be killed. Finally after one of these Bands took seven cows, a pig and three wagon-loads of shucked corn Wallis decided that was all he could take. He and his wife Golda loaded up their children and a few possessions and headed for Shawnee County under the escort of Union General James G. Blunt and his command. Soon after arriving in Shawnee County they moved to Big Springs in neighboring Douglas County and waited for the War to end.
  In May of 1864 Wallis True became a member of the 2nd Kansas Militia: a loosely formed Regiment of men from Shawnee County, most of whom had no military training. This Unit, which was formed in August of 1863 after the sacking of Lawrence, Kansas, drilled infrequently and was without weapons or uniforms. By the summer of 1864 the threat of Rebel invasion from the east was replaced by news of Indian uprisings to the west. Although the U.S. Army sent some cavalry units out to quell the Indian threat, Shawnee County was never in any danger and life went on as usual.
  October of 1864 brought with it The Price Raid and Wallis and many of his neighbors who formed Company F from Big Springs joined the rest of the 2nd Kansas Militia as it left for Jackson County Missouri to defend the Border. When the 2nd KSM was overwhelmed by Jackman's Brigade at Mockbee Farm, Wallis was among the 70 or so men captured and forced to march roughly 200 miles the next seven days. Wallis survived the ordeal and returned to his family by the middle of November but was physically never the same man again.
   Wallis True began to suffer from dysentery in the last days of his captivity in southern Missouri. After he returned to Big Springs he went under the care of Dr. W.H. Brown and waited for the symptoms to disappear, but they persisted and Wallis struggled from loss of appetite and lacked the strength necessary to perform his job as blacksmith. This "running off at the bowels" as it was called back then would have been a common illness among the prisoners from the 2nd KSM as most of them had to drink contaminated water at some point in their captivity. Doctors at the time didn't know the proper treatment for dysentery and Wallis continued to suffer, although he tried not to show it. He was a stubborn man and tried not to let it get the best of him.
  In 1867 Wallis decided to go back to his farm in Benton County Arkansas and try to reclaim the life he had known before the War. His house and property were mostly destroyed but with the help of his friends and family he rebuilt it the way it was before. Wallis' health continued to decline though and he was without a Doctor's care until 1874, when he became completely disabled. This once strapping blacksmith and self-sufficient farmer would be forced to apply for help from the Government.
  Wallis True finally applied for an Invalid Pension on March 24th, 1879 at the Benton County Courthouse. He stated in his Declaration for Pension that while in the service of the 2nd Kansas Militia he was taken prisoner and suffered the hardships of being exposed to the weather without proper clothing, was struck with the butt of a rifle above his eye by a guard and had contracted dyspepsia and chronic diarrhea which continued to the present day. He also said he had never been treated by a doctor while in the service. But Wallis had waited too long to file; in September of 1883 Wallis' attorney received a letter from the Commissioner of the Pension Office which stated that the cutoff date for filing a claim was July 4th, 1874.
   Although Wallis was ineligible for a pension, he did file for and receive compensation of $240 for his livestock and corn that was stolen by the Rebels in 1862. 

  Through all of these travails Wallis True continued to be the cornerstone of his large family and although he never found relief from his illness which he contracted while a prisoner of war, he persevered. He passed away at his farm in 1907 at the age of 82, still a Union man.


        Colonel George Veale, 2nd Kansas Militia
George Veale's life story is impressive had he only been an average citizen of Topeka Kansas who performed courageously as the Colonel of the 2nd Kansas Militia during Price's Raid in October of 1864. The fact of the matter was that Col. Veale's accomplishments and contributions to Kansas made his military history just one of many distinctions which clustered around him
    George Veale was born in Daviess County Indiana in 1833 and grew up working on his Father’s farm while attending school about three months a year until he turned 17. He then studied at Wabash College in Crawfordsville IN for two years before landing a job which would eventually lead him out west; he took charge of a steamboat laden with trade-goods and set out for the river-towns of the lower Mississippi River area. This experience led him to Evansville, IN where he worked in various capacities for Fielding Johnson, who owned a wholesale dry-goods business. It was here he met Fielding’s daughter Nancy and they were married in January of 1857. Fielding Johnson had traveled to Kansas Territory in 1856 and gave his consent for Nancy and George to marry if they would join him there. And so began their westward journey.   George and Nancy Veale began their honeymoon by embarking on the Steamer “White Cloud” and traveling down the Ohio River, up the Mississippi past St Louis, then up the Missouri River past Kansas City and landing at Quindaro, Kansas Territory. Quindaro was a free-state settlement located on the site of present-day Kansas City, Kansas. Besides becoming a business partner of his Father-in-law, George quickly took the opportunity to become involved in civic life in the bustling new city, editing and publishing a newspaper and was appointed the first sheriff of Wyandotte County.

   George quickly realized that transportation systems for hauling goods and people weren’t yet fully developed in Kansas and so he decided to help organize some. He drove ox-teams loaded with goods from his store to nearby Missouri and became part owner of the steamboat “Otis Webb” which carried goods and services to the many towns springing up along the Kansas and Missouri Rivers. George also signed the call for the first Kansas Railroad Convention in 1860 and was involved in the organization of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway.
   These first years after George and Nancy Veale arrived in Kansas were prosperous, but danger was lurking in the background: The Border Troubles. The area was rife with conflict long before the Civil War officially began and although George preferred to stay out of these “troubles” he wasn’t about to let ruffians of any ilk disrupt the progress which he had help achieve. During the summer of 1861 George raised a company which became part of the 4th Kansas Volunteer Infantry and was commissioned its captain in June of 1861. Reassigned to the 6th Kansas Cavalry, he rose to the rank of Major and mustered out in 1863 and relocated to Topeka, which was the Capitol of the newly created state of Kansas. During these times of Border Warfare it became necessary for men to remain close to their families and this point was driven home in August 1863 with the destruction of nearby Lawrence, Kansas. In May of 1864 George Veale replaced R.A. Randlett as Colonel of the 2nd Regiment of the Kansas State Militia and took control of the small band of farmers, tradesmen and businessman from the Topeka area. They had no uniforms, weapons or other military equipment but Colonel Veale instilled the importance of being ready to fight in these men - and it stuck. In October of 1864 when it became clear that the Confederate Army under General Sterling Price would threaten Kansas, the ranks of 2nd K.S.M. swelled to roughly 500 men. These men became an organized unit under Col. Veale and his hand-picked officers in the three weeks which led up to a Battle which would severly test the Colonel's leadership and skill as a soldier.
    No amount of drilling would prepare Col. Veale and his men for the events of October 22nd, 1864 as they patrolled the area of the Big Blue River near Byrom's Ford, a few miles south of Westport Missouri. That afternoon around three o'clock, The 2nd Kansas Militia was smashed by a Confederate force many times it's number. After a pitched battle that lasted nearly an hour, the 2nd K.S.M. was finally dislodged from its holdout at a place called The Mockbee Farm and lost nearly 40 percent of its men. Veale's men fought with the toughness and bravery of a veteran unit and delayed the Rebels from using any advantage they might have gained earlier in the afternoon when they drove the Union forces north to defend Kansas City and Westport. While it is conjecture to say that Col. Veale and his 2nd K.S.M. kept General Price from invading Kansas, it is fact that they made the boldest stand and suffered the greatest loss on that day.
    George greatly felt the loss of his men who were killed, wounded and captured that day at Mockbee Farm. Two days after the battle, Col. Veale returned to the area and located the rough burial places of 15 of the 24 men who were killed and saw to it that thay had coffins and were re-interred on Kansas soil. They were re-buried at the Huron Cemetery in Wyandotte County, with Col. Veale paying the entire cost. When it became certain that Kansas was safe from the Rebel threat the next month, Col. Veale again saw to the removal and re-interment of these men to Topeka, where they were given a heroe's funeral and a special place at the Topeka Cemetery. In his official report of the battle, George Veale gave testament to the courage of all of his men, writing: “The courage of my men is deserving of the highest praise and valor and coolness displayed by my officers cannot be too highly recommended.”
   George Veale returned Topeka where he continued to help shape the future of Kansas. In 1865 he was one of the founders of Lincoln College, which became Washburn University. He also helped found the National Bank of Topeka and served as its vice-president. In 1866, because of his tact and sound judgment of land values, he was appointed by the Governor of Kansas to be commissioner for the sale of railroad lands in Kansas. He owned a newspaper, The Topeka Commonwealth, and was instrumental in the creation of the Topeka Library. He was a member of the first Kansas legislature under the Leavenworth constitution, serving two terms in the state senate during 1867 and 1868, and served fourteen years in the lower house of the state legislature beginning in 1871. During the grasshopper plague of the early 1870’s, George Veale let the customers of his hardware store buy at cost & on credit so they could quickly rebuild their farms and their lives. Colonel Veale built the Veale block on Quincy Street in Topeka and also built many other business buildings on Kansas Avenue, besides more than one hundred residences. He had receipts to show that he had paid Shawnee County more than $100,000.00 in taxes.
     Colonel Veale gained the title of the Grand Old Man of Kansas. He was revered by all classes of people for the services he rendered his city and State in almost every line of public activity. One biographer has said,  “When history’s perspective rearranges the men and events of today and yesterday according to the parts they played in the formation of the State, the name of Colonel George W. Veale undoubtedly will be among those at the top of the list.  The name of Colonel George W. Veale, Topeka newspaper man, banker, railroad builder, college founder, lobbyist at Washington, debater, legislator, merchant, philanthropist, Indian fighter, pioneer, soldier, recognized leader in all civic endeavor belongs to the annals of Topeka and Kansas.”  
     Colonel George Veale was all these things and more, but what I will remember him for is his bravery and leadership in battle at the Mockbee Farmhouse on 22 October, 1864. Rest in peace, brave soldier.


  1. Thanks for your excellent research! Yesterday I found out that my great-grandfather Richard Fitzgerald was a member of the Topeka Battery, Company K. Your site has given me invaluable information, as the Battle of Westport takes on new significance for me. I actually grew up in Kansas City on the site of some of the fighting, a few blocks from the Wornall House. I haven't finished reading your posts, and look forward to doing so! Kathleen

  2. Thanks Kathleen for providing the full first name of your Great Grandfather - I would like to include him in the profiles section if you can provide some information about him. Thanks, Jeff

  3. Beautiful job with the site, Jeff. Keep up the fine work. Very polished. It inspires me to finish up my own research projects.

    "I'll be back!"

  4. Thanks for the comment Rob, I'm looking forward to your next project/publication. Years ago you showed me one of your books (which you wrote and published) and that has helped motivate me to go forward with this blog.

    Hasta La Vista!

  5. VETERANS DAY -Tuesday , 11 November @ 11am for ONE Hour we ill read the names of the 2nd Kansas Colored UNION ARMY REGIMENT

    " In Service to their country
    October 21-23, 1864 "
    Reading of the names of the 2nd Kansas Colored Union Army is coordinated b y the QUINDARO RUINS / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2015
    and is Free and open and welcomed to the PUBLIC.
    Thank YOU,

    Marvin S. Robinson, II
    QUINDARO RUINS / Underground Railroad- Exercise 2015

  6. Thank you for the information Marvin - I wish I could be there to attend the ceremony. There is a very strong possibility that some fallen members of the 2nd Kansas Militia, as well as the 2nd Kansas Union Colored Army, are interred in that grave. It is as good a place as any to ponder the supreme sacrifices they all made that weekend in late October, 1864