Summary Statement, 3rd Quarter, 1863 – Wisconsin artillery sections

Below the numbered batteries from Wisconsin, in the third quarter of 1863 summaries, are four lines based on returns submitted from sections directly assigned to cavalry or infantry regiments:

0297_1_Snip_WI_Misc

One of these is a carry over from the previous quarter.  Another matches to an entry from way back in the fourth quarter of 1862:

  • Battery attached to 3rd Cavalry: Reporting at Van Buren, Arkansas with no cannon.  But inferred, based on the ammunition reported (below), is the presence of 12-pdr mountain howitzers.  At this time of the war, the regiment was part of the District of the Frontier.  Colonel William A. Barstow commanded.  Minus some detachments, the regiment was at Fort Blunt (Fort Gibson), Cherokee Nation, in July 1863. After a busy summer and early fall, the regiment moved to Van Buren (accross the Arkansas River from Fort Smith) in early November. As far back as mid-1862 the regiment operated with a pair of mountain howitzers.  The regiment brought that section to Prairie Grove in December 1862.  But the lack of annotation here leaves questions.  What we can confirm from this entry is at a minimum the regiment retained stores through the fall of 1863, if not the howitzers themselves, at Van Buren… which brings us to the next entry….
  • Company C, 3rd Cavalry: No location given, but reporting one 12-pdr mountain howitzer.  This is one of those entries where other sources not only provide validation but point to a prominent role of the artillery piece.  Captain Edward R. Stevens commanded Company C, which was detached from the regiment and operating out of Fort Scott, Kansas.  A detachment (of men from Companies C and D, plus some Kansas USCT) under Lieutenant James B. Pond occupied Fort Blair (also called Fort Baxter), at Baxter Springs, Kansas.  Pond’s command included on mountain howitzer.  On October 6,  William Quantrill’s raiders attacked the fort.  Pond organized a hasty, but effective defense, centered around that howitzer.  While part of Quantrill’s force attacked the fort, the other wing encountered Major-General James Blunt and escort, who happened to be moving his headquarters from Fort Scott to Fort Smith at that time.  Blunt’s column was routed with over 100 killed. Though the general escaped, the incident was deemed a “massacre” in Federal accounts.  Despite demands and threats, Pond held out at Fort Blair.  In 1898, Pond received the Medal of Honor in recognition for his stand that day.
  • Section, Artillery, attached to 2nd Cavalry: Reporting at Fort Smith, Arkansas with two 12-pdr mountain howitzers. In September 1863, Colonel Thomas Stephens, of the regiment, was in command of a small brigade of cavalry assigned to Seventeenth Corps, then operating at Vicksburg.  Only eight companies were with Stephens. The other four companies formed a battalion under Major William H. Miller, which operated in Missouri.  This brings up a question about the reported location. The battalion remained part of the Rolla, Missouri garrison well into the fall of 1864, serving in the District of Rolla, Department of Missouri. There is no mention of movement to Fort Smith.  So this may be a transcription error.  One has to wonder if the clerks confused the 2nd and 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry. 
  • Detachment, 30th Infantry: I interpret their location as as “Indian expedition, Dakota Territory.”   The regiment reported four 6-pdr field guns (down from six) on hand.  The 30th Wisconsin served in Major-General John Pope’s Department of the Northwest, providing troops for garrisons in the Districts of Wisconsin and Iowa.  Colonel Daniel J. Dill commanded the regiment.  A detachment under Lieutenant-Colonel Edward M. Bartlett, comprised of Companies D and F, were on duty at Fort Sully, Dakota Territory, through the fall.  If I had to guess, this would be the likely location of those guns.

So four stories from the Trans-Mississippi ranging from an infamous massacre to mundane garrison duties.  And between these four lines, barely a battery between them.  Let’s look to what ammunition was on hand:

0299_1_Snip_WI_Misc
  • 3rd Cavalry: 85 shell and 26 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
  • Company C, 3rd Cavalry: 30 shell, 36 case, and 36 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
  • 2nd Cavalry: 76 case and 9 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
  • 30th Infantry: 364 shot, 182 case, and 159 canister for 6-pdr field guns.

No rifled projectiles reported, of course.  But those sheets are posted for review (here, here, and here).   But there are small arms reported:

0300_3_Snip_WI_Misc
  • 2nd Cavalry: 75 breechloading carbines and 96 army revolvers.

That line from the 2nd Wisconsin Cavalry has me wondering if the regiment simply submitted one return, covering both artillery and cavalry stories, as opposed to separate returns (as per regulation). 

These were the final lines in the third quarter 1863 summaries.  Before we move on to the last quarter’s summaries, let us account for the omissions.  We’ve discussed many of those “in line” with the state entries.  But there were a few others that fell between two chairs, so to speak.  Furthermore, I will also review the state of the heavy artillery at this stage of the war.  If for nothing else to say we’ve not cast our nets with prejudice.

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November 8, 1864: “Our work accomplished….”, Curtis ends his pursuit of Price

Though he had fled Missouri over a week earlier, 150 years ago today (November 8, 1864) Major-General Sterling Price was still on the move trying to escape pursuit.  After the failed attempt at Fayetteville on November 3, what was left of Price’s army marched southwest through the Indian Territories to avoid the Federals operating out of Fort Smith and gain a safe crossing of the Arkansas River.  On November 4th, the Confederates reached the Sallisaw River, which they followed down to the Arkansas.  Most of the battered Army of Missouri crossed the Arkansas on November 6th.

Price_Campaign_Nov5_8

Hard on Price’s trail was Major-General Samuel Curtis with elements of his Army of the Border, along with other formations attached for the pursuit.  By this time, Curtis had Major-General James Blunt’s division, Lieutenant-Colonel Frederick Benteen’s brigade from the Department of Missouri, Colonel M. La Rue Harrison’s force out of Fayetteville, and a collection of other troops from Kansas.  Though ordered to follow Price to the Arkansas River with the hope of trapping the Confederates with the garrison out of Fort Smith, Curtis would not receive any reinforcement.  This was due in part to the fatigue from the long campaign against Price, but also due to pressing requirements that pulled troops out of Missouri and to Tennessee. None-the-less, Curtis resolved that his “boldness of pursuit must compensate for want of numbers….”

By November 5, Curtis reached Prairie Grove.  Then on the 6th, he reached the Sallisaw River.  The following day, fully expecting to engage Price, Curtis arrayed for battle.

November 7 we started at daylight, our route leading through the woods and on by-roads in a southwesterly direction. Horses, wagons, and property stolen from the Missouri marked the way, which we followed till late at night and remained until the morning. Among other articles a carriage, said to be the one occupied by Price himself, was passed on the wayside, and everything showed a hasty and terrified retreat.  Our curiosity, usual on such occasions, hurried the advance forward, hoping to overtake the enemy.  About dark we came upon a cannon which he left in the road, and after a few miles more, darkness and a necessity to close up my forces induced another halt. We had very little chance to feed ourselves or horses and resumed the march early on the 8th, uncertain of our whereabouts, but confident of the enemy’s near presence as the prairie was still burning and his broken down mules, horses, and baggage were again broadcast over his well-defined way.  Colonel Harrison now had the advance and pushed forward with great vigor to the timber, far in our advance, which proved to be the timber skirting the Arkansas River. A few of the rebel rear guard were driven beyond the stream, and bringing up McLain’s battery, we shelled the timber on the south side. Some of our troops crossed over and exchanged a few shots as they supposed with the last of Price’s army.  Our work was accomplished, and the shout that went up from the Army of the Border and the roar of our cannon resounded through the gloomy forests of the Arkansas, carrying to the camp of the starving enemy beyond our parting farewell.  This crossing, selected by Stand Watie’s Indians, is a little above the mouth of the Sallisaw, about twenty-five miles above Fort Smith.

With that, the pursuit of Price came to an end.  That evening Curtis issued an order proclaiming “the object of this organization and campaign is accomplished.”  After congratulating the men on their performance, Curtis gave orders for the various parts of the pursuing force to return to their assigned stations.  The Army of the Border had pursued Price for around 850 miles.  They’d reached their assigned limit.

At that point, what was left of Price’s command was, though free to move, so far out of position as to not threaten Missouri again.  The Confederate Army of Missouri would spend the next thirty days marching through Indian Territory and Texas in order to get back to their base in southwest Arkansas.  The last chapter in Price’s 1864 campaign was one of routine marches, recuperation, and attempts to justify the effort expended.

(Citation from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 516-7.)

October 28, 1864: “I was engaging all the avalible force of Price’s Army”: Blunt at Newtonia

After stunning losses at Westport and during the retreat through Kansas, Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri was defeated and broken.  But it was not yet beaten.  An army with arms is at least an army in being.  Though delivering telling blows, the Federal pursuit failed to seal the deal and complete the defeat with capture of Price and his men.  Following the disasters of October 25, 1864, Price continued his retreat through southwest Missouri. The column moved through Carthage, Granby, and went into camp about four miles south of Newtonia on October 28.

Price_Campaign_Oct28

But Major-General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry did not press the pursuit after the victories on the 25th, but instead pulled off the pursuit to resupply. The next pursuit force in line, the division of Major-General James Blunt.  Keep in mind that Pleasonton reported to Major-General William Rosecrans in the Department of Missouri while Blunt reported to Major-General Samuel Curtis in the Department of Kansas.  No single authority exercised operational control of all the pieces in blue.  Bunt did not catch up with Price until 2 p.m. on October 28.  Finding the Confederates in camp south of Newtonia, Blunt first sent word to nearby units, calling on reinforcements.  But he did not hesitate to bring on an engagement, at a point two miles south of Newtonia:

Being convinced of their intention to avoid a fight, if possible, I determined to attack them at once. The First and Fourth Brigades were with me in the advance. I had directed the Second Brigade to halt early in the day to procure forage for their horses to enable me to put them in the advance to press the pursuit at night; consequently I did not rely upon them to participate in the early part of the engagement. I had supposed that General McNeil’s brigade, of General Pleasonton’s division, was close up in my rear, and sent back to hurry it forward, while the First and Fourth Brigades of the First Division were quickly deployed in line, and under the cover of the fire of the First Colorado Battery, posted upon the bluff, they swept across the plain at a gallop until within musket range of the enemy’s line. Skirmishers were rapidly deployed, and but a few moments elapsed until the engagement became general. I now ordered forward the First Colorado Battery, which, with a section of howitzers attached to the Fifteenth Kansas Cavalry, and under command of Sergeant Patterson, of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, poured a destructive fire into the enemy’s ranks.

On the Confederate side, Brigadier-General M. Jeff Thompson, commanding the “Iron Brigade” of Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division, was part of the Confederate force thrown out against Blunt. His men had gone into camp around mid-day, but shortly after rushed north due to a false alarm.  The brigade had just returned to camp when Blunt arrived in force:

We had scarcely commenced the ordinary duties of camp when we were again ordered out, and proceeding to the same place found the enemy drawn up before us on the opposite side of the small field. The firing commenced immediately, and in a few minutes our line bravely crossed the fence and advanced upon the enemy, crossing the field under a hot fire of artillery and small-arms, and drove the enemy into the open prairie. Not stopping at this second fence an instant, we advanced into the prairie and continued to drive the enemy, never letting them form to charge, which they endeavored to do. There was some mounted men on our right, but no supports near our rear, and I halted the line after we had advanced so far that we were exposed to flanking. We remained in this position until the enemy had retired their line, when we fell back toward our camp, receiving several shots from the enemy’s artillery as we retired.

Even depleted from five days of defeat and retreat, the Confederate force outnumbered Blunt’s brigades – a fact that Blunt was quickly aware:

It soon became evident that I was engaging all the available force of Price’s army, which outnumbered me more than eight to one. Their superiority of numbers enabling them to press upon my flanks with a large force compelled me to fall back about 500 yards from my first line, which was done in good order, and the line reformed in the face of a terrific fire. The enemy pressed forward their center, but were promptly checked by the canister from the First Colorado Battery. It was now near sundown, and my command had been engaged near two hours and their ammunition nearly exhausted, while a large force of the enemy were passing under cover of a corn-field around my left flank, and my force being too small to extend my line in that direction, I was about to direct my line to fall back and take position on the bluff, when very unexpectedly the brigade of General Sanborn, of General Pleasonton’s command, came up. I immediately placed them in position on my left, directing General Sanborn to dismount his men and advance through the corn-field, which was promptly executed, repulsing the flanking column of the enemy, who now abandoned the field and retreated rapidly under cover of the night in the direction of Pineville, leaving their dead and wounded in our hands.

Newtonia

Blunt had about 400 casualties in the afternoon fighting – he estimated one-eighth of the force committed.  Confederate casualties were just over half that number. The short, sharp action at Newtonia was the last important action between Price and his pursuers in Missouri.   The battle, though small, allowed Price more maneuver room to continue retreat.  The next day, the Confederates passed through Pineville and then camped five miles to the south that evening.  Price retreated out of Missouri, but his pursers had failed to destroy his army.  Due to a split command, the Federals had allowed Price to slip through to Arkansas.

The campaign was far from over, but the results were already clear for all to see.   Missouri was a “battleground state” in the 1864 campaign season.  And battles had secured the state for the union – both on the map and for the electoral process.  The Confederates, while still a force in being, were never again in position to threaten the state.  But with a “Army in being,” Price was still a chess piece on the board.  The pursuit, though not with an intensity of the late days of October, would continue to dog Price through Arkansas.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 577 and 669.)

“You have doubtless exercised your best judgment…”: Pleasonton, Price, and the Big Blue River

On October 22, 1864, as Major-General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri continued its march westward, skirting Kansas City, the next major obstacle to cross was the Big Blue River.

WestPort1

Minding his wagon train, Price needed a good ford over that river.  The best option for him was Byram’s Ford along the Independence-Westport Road.

The view above looks from the west bank, where federal troops defended on October 22, towards the east, from which Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby’s division attack. Just a small patch of woods in the midst of the Kansas City sprawl today (and not exactly in the most picturesque section either!).  But in October 1864, that crossing point became – say like Beverly’s Ford in Virginia (and you’ll pick up on why I selected that later) – very important to the passing armies.

Major-General Samuel Curtis deployed his forces to cover most of the upper crossing points along the Big Blue River by morning of October 22.

Westport2

When Shelby’s men arrived around 10 a.m. on October 22, they made a frontal demonstration at Byram’s Ford.  That was a distraction which allowed troops to cross elsewhere and flank the Federal position here.  With their position turned, around 3 p.m., Curtis’ command fell back towards Kansas City.  Shelby’s men captured “one beautiful 24-pounder howitzer” and several hundred Federals.  By opening the crossing, Shelby allowed Price some maneuver space.  The Confederate wagons soon turned southwest towards Little Santa Fe (bottom edge of the map above) and the Kansas border.

The fighting at Byram’s Ford, or Big Blue River if you prefer, was the “setup” for the larger battle outside Westport on October 23.  In that light, we might look to what was happening behind the fighting to the east to the other movements that set in motion the events of the 23rd … specifically Major-General Alfred Pleasonton.

Let us look to the exchange between Pleasonton and his superior, Major-General William Rosecrans.  In the evening of October 21, Pleasonton had pushed his way through the Confederate rear guard to reach Lexington and beyond to Wellington.  There he received a set of instructions for operations on October 22 at around 9:30 p.m.:

…Everything confirms the general’s belief that Price is threatening independence with one division, and with his command and train is to-night in the vicinity of Lone Jack. The general wishes you to let McNeil follow Price, and act so as to make him think you are following with your entire command; then, with your other three brigades, march by the shortest route to Lone Jack. Smith will march to-morrow morning to Chapel Hill. He may march in two columns; if so, one will go by Greenton and the other by Wagon Knob. Push your command as rapidly as possible without entirely breaking it down, and, as much as possible, subsist on the country. …

These orders would have Pleasonton moving far to the south, and out of range to directly support Curtis.  Furthermore, as Pleasonton would complain, the cavalry was far too north to be able to execute such a move quickly.  At 7:10 a.m. on the 22nd, Pleasonton received clarification:

The general dispatched you at 9.30 last evening that he was satisfied Price would move south, and that he had directed General Smith to move in direction of Pleasant Hill, and you to send three brigades in same direction; since which your dispatch of 11 p.m. was received this a.m., indicating that most of your command was too far advanced on the Independence road to move as indicated. He therefore leaves to your discretion the route of pursuit, satisfied, however, that Price moved last night, if not before, in a southerly direction….

Rosecrans went on to discuss straggler control.  But the important thrust of these orders was that Pleasonton, then outside Independence and moving west, could operate with discretion and use his own judgement.  (And there are some readers snickering loudly at this point!)

So what did Pleasonton do?  Around 6 a.m., and likely crossing Rosecrans’ morning orders in route, Pleasonton sent this report from the Little Blue River crossing (where Blunt had fought the day prior):

 I have just arrived at this point and find the bridge over the creek destroyed. I am building a temporary bridge over the creek to cross my command. The advance is on the other side of the creek; is skirmishing slightly with the rear guard of the enemy. I shall press forward as rapidly as possible. The indications are that the enemy’s whole force passed on this road except about one brigade, which went on the Lone Jack road. All the citizens say the enemy’s train passed here.

The report from the field directly conflicted with Rosecrans’ assessment of the situation.  The report, along with messages from Curtis, prompted Rosecrans to provide Pleasonton an even longer leash in orders sent at 9:45 a.m.:

Your dispatch 6 a.m. received. Curtis telegraphs me he makes his stand on the Big Blue. I have no doubt but that the enemy will turn south into Kansas, following up the Big Blue. Not knowing precisely where your cavalry may be I cannot direct your movements. I have no doubt if you can you should move on enemy’s left flank, but you must use you’re best judgment.

Around mid-day, and likely not in receipt of the 9:45 a.m. orders, Pleasonton provided another update.  He had made contact with Bunt’s forces out of Kansas City.  Pleasonton’s forces were pressing the Confederate rear guard out of Independence (and though he didn’t recognize it, had temporarily cut off a sizable portion of Price’s command).  By evening, Pleasonton was crowding the Confederates near Byram’s Ford.  In short, he’d done what he DID NOT do at Brandy Station – move forward to command the situation.

How did Rosecrans read this?  At 8 p.m. he sent a note to Pleasonton:

Your dispatches of 12.45 and 1.45 p.m. received duly, as were the two preceding. You are so near Independence that I am sure Price will go out of Jackson County into Kansas to-night. General Smith will be at Chapel Hill and will to-morrow move to Pleasant Hill. You have doubtless exercised your best judgment, but I still think to have threatened at the Little Blue and to have moved south with the remainder of your command to the Independence and Warrensburg road would have been better. By placing you near the enemy’s line of retreat Price’s retreat would then have been a necessity and with the infantry south of you and always behind you you could have swung around in safety. As it is now you must be left to conform your movements to those of the enemy, having in view your supporting force of infantry as well as your union with Blunt’s forces and the position of your depot of supplies at Warrensburg…..

So, Rosecrans was having second thoughts about the discretion given earlier in the day. Rosecrans followed this up with a note at 10 p.m., requesting Pleasonton forward to Curtis, so the two forces might operate in consort the next day:

I am led to believe that Price will have moved by to-morrow morning a.s far south as Hickman Mills, with the intention of going into Kansas and down into the Indian Territory to avoid Steele. He has not procured a remount in Missouri. More than half of his horses are worn down and jaded. He goes into a hostile country to him. Our united forces will, I think, be able very nearly to destroy him. Smith’s infantry is well on the way to Pleasant Hill to-night, and can beat Price’s cavalry moving. Set in now, strain every nerve, and bend every will to bring the raiders to grief. I go to Pleasant Hill to-morrow.

Rosecrans had correctly determined Price’s intent, but he was casting his net too far south, even as information from the fighting on October 22 came into his headquarters.  Let me attempt to reconstruct this on the map:

Price_Campaign_Oct22

Curtis held a line along the Big Blue River (Number 1 on the map) and faced Price’s advance (Number 2).  Able to force a crossing at Byram’s Ford, Price directed his trains south to New Santa Fe.  However to the east, Rosecrans had Major-General A.J. Smith’s column move towards Chapel Hill (Number 3), with the intent of moving forward to Pleasant Hill.  Rosecrans wanted Pleasonton to move up on Smith’s flank to Lone Jack (Number 4, dashed line), but Pleasonton, operating with no small discretion, moved in direct pursuit of Price (Number 5).  It’s hard to be fair to Rosecrans and not be critical of the plans he laid out that evening.  Some have said, with merit, in his mind “Old Rosey” was still fighting at Chickamauga that fall.

I would contend that October 22, 1864 was Alfred Pleasonton’s best day of the war.  He put a cavalry force right where needed most, using his “best judgement” and somewhat in contradiction of his commander’s intent.  Price now faced a strong force in his front and a cavalry force in his rear.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part VI, Serial 86, pages 158 and 182-5.)

“We thus held the enemy back for hours”: Battles outside Independence on October 21, 1864

As I write on October 21, 2014, Kansas City, Missouri has the attention of many Americans.  Tonight the first game in this year’s World Series starts at Kauffman Stadium.  One-hundred and fifty years ago, Kansas City also had it’s share of attention.  On October 21, 1864, just fifteen miles (as the crow files) to the northeast of the stadium, an action along the Little Blue River, outside Independence, broke open a series of actions.  Fighting would culminate two days later in one of the largest engagement fought west of the Mississippi River at a location roughly 10 miles southwest of the stadium.  So can I say the return of the World Series to Kansas City is timely?  I think so.

In part, the geography of Missouri brought Price to the outskirts of Kansas City.  Major avenues in the area generally parallel the Missouri River to Independence.  There the Santa Fe Trail, and other less famous routes, fan out to the southwest into Kansas.  Another factor on Price’s line of march was the “Burnt District.”  As mentioned before, the Army of Missouri was starving.  The desolation of the counties south of Kansas City (In General Orders No. 11, these were the counties of Jackson, Cass, Bates, and the northern half of Vernon) could not support the army.  The quicker Price made the Kansas border, the better.  And the short path required Price to cross two watercourses – the Little Blue River and the Big Blue River:

Price_Campaign_Oct21

An while Price neared the Kansas border, Federal forces confined him in both front and rear.  Having fought a “developing” action at Lexington, Major-General James Blunt looked to delay Price at the Little Blue River.  For this purpose, he left his second brigade, under Colonel Thomas Moonlight, consisting of Kansas cavalry, to contest the crossings there.

Moonlight’s men occupied good ground on the banks overlooking the river, but were spread thin to cover several crossing points.  When pressed, the Kansans set fire to the Independence Road bridge over the Little Blue River, but that was not the end of the fighting that day, as Moonlight recorded:

Being thus menaced on all sides and the object for which I was left accomplished, the command slowly fell back about two miles, fighting. A favorable piece of ground here presenting itself, a new line of battle was formed on the left of the Independence road, and we slowly began to drive the enemy back over the ground again, dismounting every man for the purpose of shelter behind stone walls, fences, and houses, some of which were then held by the enemy, who, after a vigorous assault, were dislodged, thus affording us an advantage which accounts for the few killed and wounded on our side, compared with the enemy, who suffered terribly. The Eleventh Regiment here behaved like old veterans, and gave renewed proof of their fighting qualities, driving an enemy greatly their superior in numbers to the very ground occupied in the morning. By this time General Blunt had come up, and other troops were being thrown in on the right to my support. About 200 of the Sixteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel [Samuel] Walker, of that regiment, reported to me and did splendid service on the left. Major [Robert] Hunt, Fifteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry, chief of artillery for Department of Kansas, reported about this time with some mountain howitzers, and rendered such service as only a brave and gallant officer can render. We thus held the enemy back for hours, a great portion of the time without any ammunition, supplying its place with lusty and defiant cheers.

When he arrived to reinforce Moonlight, Blunt had hoped to pin Price long enough for Federal forces under Major-General Alfred Pleasonton to arrive from the east (on the map above, blue arrow on the right, reaching Lexington).  But his position around Independence was somewhat isolated.  Orders came from Major-General Samuel Curtis, writing from a field headquarters on the Big Blue River (blue line just southwest of Kansas City on the map above) at 6 p.m.:

Don’t exhaust our troops, but fall back to this place with the least further effort. A small picket or two along the road, to let us have certain knowledge of the enemy’s approach, is all we need.  Let Price have Independence. It is easily flanked, and his force, it is said, large. I have all day been fearing that he would send a whole division to get in our rear. Indeed, we have to fear a flank movement to-night, but here we have extensive lines fortified, and must save our resources of men and blood.

At the same time Curtis pulled in Blunt, Pleasonton contacted Major-General A.J. Smith, leading a division of his corps in the pursuit of Price, suggesting the infantry move up towards Lexington but thence directly west.  His reasoning matched the expectations set forward by Major-General William Rosecrans, commanding the Department of Missouri, earlier in the day:

I believe Price is retreating by Lone Jack and Chapel Hill. If this is so, while McNeil follows his rear the balance of the command should strike him near Lone Jack, following the Hopewell and Snibar road in two columns.  The infantry can go by Renick Mills or follow the cavalry….

Clearly Rosecrans, commanding troops on the east in pursuit of Price, and Curtis, commanding those out of Kansas that were blocking Price, did not have a common picture of the battlespace.  This variance was in part due to incomplete information, not so much held back, but not shared, between the commanders.  Each had a different opinion as to how to track down Price.

Pleasonton, however, was for all purposes standing in direct contact with Price’s trail elements.  For him, option one was to follow Rosecrans’ intent and swing to the south to intercept Price – assuming Price was retreating south.  Option two was to follow Price withdrawing westward. The situation called for Pleasonton to use his best judgment on October 22.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, page 592; Part IV, Serial 86, pages 159 and 165.)

 

“Developed his position, strength, and movements”: Blunt’s day at Lexington, Missouri

September 19, 1864 was a busy day in the Civil War.  Actions in several theaters, not the least of which occurred outside Middletown, Virginia (150th anniversary events I hope to attend today).

As I’ve been following Major-General Sterling Price’s campaign in Missouri, let me turn to activity at Lexington, Missouri, 150 years ago today.  As mentioned yesterday, Major-General James Blunt moved a force into Lexington, arriving on the morning of September 18.  Blunt, and his commander, Major-General Samuel Curtis, were working with poor information about Price’s movements.  And at the same time, a dispute with Kansas Governor Thomas Carney prevented the deployment of some Kansas militia units to the field.  Curtis needed an accurate assessment of the situation before committing to any further plans.  According to Blunt, he was able to gather just that at Lexington on September 19:

Upon occupying Lexington I obtained reliable information that the advance of Price’s army, under Shelby, was at Waverly; that Price was calling in all detachments sent out for recruiting and other purposes and was concentrating his forces to meet an expected attack from the forces of General Rosecrans. On the 19th, at 11 a.m., while I was momentarily expecting the arrival of re-enforcements I had requested to be sent to join me at Lexington, and also to receive an answer to my dispatch to General Sanborn, a courier arrived with dispatches from the general commanding informing me that in consequence of the embarrassments thrown in his way by the Governor of Kansas and others relative to moving the militia out of the State, no re-enforcements could be sent to me. At the same time it was reported to me that my pickets were attacked and were being driven in by the enemy, who were advancing in force in three columns. The pickets were re-enforced and instructed to resist the enemy’s advance, while the command was immediately put in position in line of battle southeast of the city, facing a section of open and undulating country, with cultivated fields extending from one to two miles in our front, with the Independence road in our rear, upon which I designed to fall back whenever it became necessary. As the enemy moved steadily up and massed his force in my front, I became well convinced that the whole of Price’s army was present, and with the small force of my command I determined not to bring on a general engagement, but to develop his force and movements and accomplish the object of a reconnaissance. All irregular firing upon the skirmish lines of the contending forces, with occasional artillery firing, was kept up for nearly two hours, when their long-range guns opened a brisk fire in my front, to which my short-range howitzers could not reply with effect, and being pressed by an overwhelming force, with an attempt to flank me on the right and left, I directed the command to withdraw and fall back on the Independence road. This movement was accomplished in good order, the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry, under the immediate command of Colonel Moonlight, covering the retreat in a gallant manner. The last position occupied by the rear guard with four mountain howitzers was held until dark and until the small command was almost entirely enveloped by the superior numbers of the enemy, when, under cover of the night, we moved by easy marches in the direction of Independence, having in the operation of the day punished our adversary severely, but what was of greater importance, developed his position, strength, and movements, the first instance in which it had been done since he had crossed the Arkansas River on his raid into Missouri.

To his credit, Blunt’s work at Lexington did indeed delay Price’s advance.  And worth noting, Blunt was able to establish positive communication with elements of moving west in pursuit of Price.

His mission that day was to develop the situation.  And develop he did.  On many Civil War battlefields, commanders fought what we might call “meeting engagements” and faced that important task of developing the enemy.  In short, this entails forcing the enemy to deploy and show what he has.  Blunt certainly force Price to set up his force, with Brigadier-General Joseph Shelby in the lead.  Shelby had to bring up his artillery to dislodge Blunt.  No casualty figures were offered by either side, specifically to the Lexington fight.  So we don’t know what cost Blunt paid to “develop his position, strength, and movements.”

Historians generally give Blunt credit for this action and cite it as a key event leading to the battle around Kansas City that would follow.  But did Blunt accurately develop Price?

At 7 p.m. on the 19th, Blunt sent a report to Curtis relating the details of the action and what information he had derived from the fight:

Price advanced on Lexington in two columns and drove in my pickets about 2 p.m. I advanced my line skirmishing with them until their whole force was developed, and they commenced to flank me on the right and left, when I fell back on the Independence Road.  They pressed us hard, but we made our retreat, losing but few men.  I shall move unceasingly to-night until I find a good position and am in supporting distance of you. It is certain that Price’s whole force is in Lexington, and is not less than 20,000. Their artillery did us no damage, while ours was used with good effect.

Confederate accounts indicate, though others were involved, the only force heavily engaged was Brigadier-General M. Jeff Thompson’s brigade. So where did Blunt reach the 20,000 number?  The next morning, around 8 a.m., Blunt sent another report to Curtis confirming the number and providing an explanation:

From a small boy of Shelby’s command, whom I have prisoner, I learn that Price brought about 20,000 men with him into the State, and has procured 5,000 recruits since.

So the “development” was derived, in part, from the word of a boy.

Blunt went on to say that if all moved rapidly, the two converging armies could catch Price.  On the other hand, Blunt felt, “unless Rosecrans attacks him vigorously in the rear” that Price would escape through Kansas.

The largest major campaign of the war – in terms of distance covered – was about to turn upon the largest battle fought in the state of Missouri.  But that was days away.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part I, Serial 83, pages 573-4; Part IV, Serial 86, pages and 141 and 144-5.)

150 Years Ago: Sound of the guns at Prairie Grove

NOTE:  This post is focused on the Federal artillery at the battle of Prairie Grove.  For more background information on the battle, I refer you to Civil War Daily Gazette’s entry or the Civil War Trust resource page for Prairie Grove.

On this day (December 7) in 1862, one of the westernmost battles of the Civil War took place at Prairie Grove, Arkansas. We don’t often think of artillery in the Trans-Mississippi, yet just as at Pea Ridge the “King of Battle” played an important role.

After the long, rapid march from Springfield, Missouri, Brigadier General Francis Herron advanced from Fayetteville towards the advanced position of Brigadier General James Blunt at Cane Hill to the southwest. Before he could link with Blunt, Herron ran into Confederate Major General Thomas Hindman’s defensive position outside Prairie Grove.

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View Shoup’s Lines at Prairie Grove

Hindman chose good ground to defend. On the right side of the line, facing the advance of Herron’s Federals, were four batteries – Blocher’s, Marshall’s, and West’s Arkansas batteries along with Bledsoe’s Missouri battery. All told, these batteries fronted six 6-pdr field guns and four 12-pdr howitzers.

When Herron’s column reached Illinois Creek, they came under the Confederate guns. First throwing Captain David Murphy’s Battery F, 1st Missouri Light Artillery over a ford, Herron then moved the remainder of his force over. Rapidly, Herron established a gun line by adding the other three batteries under his command. These were Lieutenant Joseph Foust’s Battery E, 1st Missouri; Captain Frank Backof’s Battery L, 1st Missouri; and Lieutenant Herman Borris’s Battery A, 2nd Illinois Light Artillery. Twenty guns in total – four 10-pdr Parrotts, six 3-inch Ordnance Rifles, six James Rifles, one 6-pdr field gun, and three 12-pdr howitzers.

In his battle report, Foust described the initial phase of the action:

Arriving at the ford of the creek, I was ordered to halt out of sight of the enemy, and to advance and open the battery upon a signal to be given from Captain Murphy’s battery.

We went into action at the signal, under a terrible fire from the enemy while crossing the ford. About the third round the enemy’s guns were silenced. Another battery on our left having got our range, we were compelled to change position to the front….

In his report, Murphy elaborated further about the fire effects noting, “The fire was so well directed that the enemy retired, minus caissons, horses, and one piece disabled.” With the Confederate batteries silenced, and their infantry taking cover, Herron advanced his infantry. Backof’s and Foust’s batteries moved forward to support this assault.

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View of the Confederate position from Herron’s line of advance

Backof wrote:

After silencing the enemy’s battery on the hill in front of us, I advanced 200 yards, flanked on the left by the Twentieth Wisconsin Volunteers and by the Ninety-fourth Illinois on the right, and sustained an effectual artillery fire at the enemy’s position (which they moved several times) for three hours. In the same time [the infantry] made a charge…on the hill and through the woods surrounding; meanwhile the shells of my battery did great execution amongst the enemy.

But the Federal infantry found themselves outnumbered when they closed with the Confederates on the hill. When the infantry fell back, Backof covered the retreat with canister. In the melee two of Backof’s guns were disabled (though he later reported only one out of action at the end of the day). His losses were one man killed, two wounded, and eight horses.

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Confederate artillery position at Prairie Grove

Also in this forward position and facing Confederate attacks, Foust wrote:

At this time the enemy attempted to charge our lines, when the whole battery opened on them with canister, and they fell back in confusion. The infantry attempted to charge the hill, but were repulsed by an overwhelming force of the enemy, when we again forced them back with canister. Again the infantry attempted to carry the hill, but were driven back the second time, when we covered their retreat once more with canister, driving the enemy back again to the wood. The enemy seeing the battery without support, made a great effort to take it, but were driven back by the battery.

Herron summarized the defense of these guns,

Never was there more real courage and pluck displayed, and more downright hard fighting done, than at this moment by the above-named batteries. Advancing to within 100 yards of the guns, the rebels received a fire that could not be withstood, and retreated in disorder, receiving, as they ran, a terrible fire, causing great slaughter among them.

Foust would lose also eight horses, along with two men killed and six wounded. Herron would single out Foust for heroism during the repulse of the Confederate attacks.

At this phase of the battle, action shifted to the Federal right flank. Blunt had “moved to the sound of the guns,” quite literally, and arrived to smash into the Confederate left. There three Federal batteries also played an important role there, first defeating the Confederate artillery and then breaking up the infantry. Just as on Herron’s side of the field, the Federal artillery not only outnumbered the Confederates, they outgunned them with six 10-pdr Parrotts, four James Rifles, five 6-pdrs, and one 12-pdr howitzer. In the thick of the action, Captain John Rabb of the 2nd Indiana Battery, recalled,

A heavy musketry fire was then brought to bear on my command. I answered with canister. For fifteen minutes my men stood firm, firing their pieces with terrible precision, making roads in the ranks of the enemy, which were quickly filled by fresh men from the rear. Three times they advanced in heavy force upon the battery, but were driven back to the wood with heavy loss.

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Overlook of the west side of the Prairie Grove battlefield

In the engagement, Borris reported firing 320 rounds from his two cannons. Foust fired “562 rounds of shot, shell, and canister.” Muprhy’s gunners fired 510 shells and solid shot. That is a lot of iron going downrange… particularly for a “small” battle in the Trans-Mississippi.

Prairie Grove is one of the best preserved battlefields outside of the National Park System. It is a bit out of the way, but worth the drive to visit. For those who haven’t, I’ve posted many of the historical markers on the battlefield in HMDB as a virtual tour.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 22, Part I, Serial 32, pages 100, 106, 112, 124,128-9, and 136.)