Summary Statement, 4th Quarter, 1863 – The Indian Home Guard

Below the listing of Iowa’s summaries is this short section with the heading “Indian Brigade”:

0319_1_Snip_IB

In earlier quarters, we’ve discussed the origins of the Indian Brigade, or more specifically the units in the Indian Home Guard. For the second and third quarters, only a section from 3rd Indian Home Guard Regiment appeared in the summaries. Here, we find two entries. The lower of the two is consistent with earlier quarters. But the upper line is a fresh field to consider:

  • Company E, 2nd Indian Home Guards: Actually reading “2nd Infy’ | Arty Stores|” or something along those lines. The unit is reporting from Fort Gibson… indicated as “Arkansas” but this should read “Cherokee Nation” or “Indian Territories.” During the war, the post was sometimes cited as Fort Blunt. The line reports two 12-pdr field howitzers. No leads as to who was in charge of this pair of howitzers. But in the time period we are reviewing, Major Moses B.C. Wright commanded the 2nd Indian Home Guards.
  • Company L, 3rd Indian Home Guards: And again to be precise this line reads “3rd Infy’ Indian Home Guard, Stores.” No location given, but the 3rd was also operating out of Fort Gibson/Blunt. The report indicates three 12-pdr mountain howitzers. We have connected Captain Solomon Kaufman with these cannon in previous quarters.

At the end of December, 1863, the Indian Home Guards were part of the First Brigade, District of the Frontier, Department of Missouri. Colonel William A. Phillips, who’d led the organization of these guards, led the brigade, with his headquarters at Fort Gibson/Blunt. In addition to the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Indian Home Guards, the brigade included the 14th Kansas Cavalry. Their mission was to maintain the lines between Fort Gibson, Fort Smith, and other Federal strongholds in the district. With that charge, these regiments did a lot of patrolling, with much interaction with Confederate forces operating in the same area.

The details about the artillery use of these units remains an unclear and imprecise area of my studies. Certainly these cannon were employed to defend the post. And at times they are used to support patrols. As mentioned in the second quarter discussion, the mountain howitzers were used at Cabin Creek in July 1863. Beyond that, I can only speculate.

Turning to the ammunition reported, howitzers need shells and case shot:

0321_1_Snip_IB
  • 2nd Home Guards: 130 shell and 124 case for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • 3rd Home Guards: 50 case for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

And canister on the next page:

0321_2_Snip_IB
  • 2nd Home Guards: 19 canister for 12-pdr field howitzers.
  • 3rd Home Guards: 60 canister for 12-pdr mountain howitzers.

No rifled projectiles were reported on hand, of course. So we move to the small arms:

0323_2_Snip_IB
  • 2nd Home Guards: Three .69-caliber musketoons, 31 Sharps’ .52-caliber rifles, and one Colt navy revolver.
  • 3rd Home Guards: One Sharps’ .52-caliber cabine and 33 Sharps’ .52-caliber rifles.

And those Sharps’ needed cartridges:

0324_2_Snip_IB
  • 2nd Home Guards: 1,000 Sharps cartridges.

As for powder, not much reported:

0325_1_Snip_IB
  • 3rd Home Guards: Two pounds of musket powder.

The presence of even a small number of howitzers at the advance post of Fort Gibson was an important resource in the hands of Federal commanders in this theater of war. On the Confederate side, several officers noted the lack of artillery supporting their allies from the tribes. And the Federals were keen to maintain their edge in regard to the artillery. In correspondence dated February 11, 1864, sent to Colonel Phillips in Fort Gibson, Major-General Samuel Curtis noted that more artillery was needed at that post. Underscoring that desire, three days later Curtis communicated to Major-General Henry Halleck, in Washington, his designs to strengthen the hold in the Indian Territories, pointing out, “Fort Gibson has been fortified by the volunteers, making it a pretty safe position; but some finishing and repairing are necessary, and two or three good siege guns would be a great additional strength.”

Yes, a couple of heavy guns in the blockhouses would ensure control of the Arkansas River. And with that a sizable portion of the territory beyond. However, there is no indication Halleck considered Curtis’ request.

A Brief History of the 2nd Missouri Artillery

The story of the 2nd Missouri Artillery is very much atypical, when considered beside other artillery formations raised during the Civil War.  Yet, that atypical unit history is somewhat a typical for Missouri regiments.  I’ve discussed some aspects of the 2nd Missouri’s history in previous posts (see here, here, here, here, and here).  But let’s go into a few more of those particulars, just so you see how “atypical” this unit was.

The 2nd Missouri Artillery’s origins lay in those confrontational days in May 1861.  Missouri was teetering on the verge of secession and a young Army captain named Nathaniel Lyon moved to prevent such.  In order to put a force on the streets of St. Louis, Lyon acted, not with direct authority at that moment in time, to muster a force of Missouri militia into Federal service for a period of three months.  Lyon later received full backing, and a brigadier-general’s star, in these efforts.  The militia mustered by Lyon were designated the “United States Reserve Corps” and, under terms of enlistment, were limited to duty in St. Louis… though later stretched a bit to include locations in eastern Missouri.  This Reserve Corp consisted of five infantry regiments and one cavalry company.

By late July, when these units were nearing muster out, Lyon’s adjutant, Major John M. Schofield, issued Special Orders No. 19, in which allowed the three month Reserve Corps to muster out, but be replaced by units raised with three-year enlistments.  That is, provided no other “emergencies” arose that required those militia to remain in service.

But before those orders could be applied, Lyon had met his end at Wilson’s Creek and there was just such an “emergency” to deal with.  Lyon’s replacement, Major-General John C. Fremont, expanded the Reserve Corps, retaining the five regiments of infantry and adding two squadrons of cavalry and two batteries of light artillery, under orders issued on August 12, 1861.  This expansion used the authorities granted under Special Orders No. 19 to enlist men for three years.  Under Fremont’s organization, or lack thereof, several formations were raised under designations of “Home Guards” or “Reserve Corps.” By late October, Fremont expanded these reserves again to include the First Reserve Corps Artillery – twelve companies of heavy artillery and three batteries of light artillery.   And it is those fifteen “Reserve Corps” artillery companies/batteries which eventually became the 2nd Missouri Artillery.

When Fremont was relieved of command on November 2, he left behind a bureaucratic mess.  Major-General George B. McClellan charged Major-General Henry Halleck with cleaning that up.  Instructions sent on November 11 read in part:

In assigning you to command the Department of the Missouri, it is probably unnecessary for me to state that I have intrusted to you a duty which requires the utmost tact and decision.  You have not merely the ordinary duties of a military commander to perform, but the far more difficult task of reducing chaos to order.

And who better to assign to that task than Halleck? McClellan went on to instruct Halleck to examine all unit musters to identify “any illegal, unusual, or improper organizations….” And in those cases, Halleck offered legal, three-year enlistments as a means of retaining the formations.  Simple solution, right?

But Halleck had a problem for which there was no simple solution.  The men of this “Reserve Corps” and the Home Guards had enlisted with several stipulations and guarantees.  One of which was service only in the state (or in some cases within St. Louis).  Furthermore, the authority of the U.S. officers was somewhat limited over these state formations.  By mid-December, Halleck decided the best way to resolve this was simply pay off the troops for the time in service, and go about recruiting new three-year regiments.

However, hindering Halleck’s attempt to clear out this “chaos” was the paymaster’s refusal to pay troops who had not been properly mustered, and for whom rolls were incomplete. And at the same time, subordinate commanders were reluctant to simply release these able body men, as they might not reenlist.

Finally, on January 17, 1862, Halleck found a compromise and issued General Orders No. 22, which read in part:

Organizations which have been mustered into the United States service under the title of “Reserve Corps,” or other designations, are regularly in the military service of the United States, and are to be paid and supplied the same as any other troops.  It is not the intention to require the service of such troops out of this State, except in cases of emergency, but they must do the same duty as other troops, and any refusal on their part to obey orders will be punished to the full extent of the law…

Concurrent with that order, the infantry regiments (which were actually designated by numbered “Reserve Corps” on the books) were consolidated into volunteer regiments.  This led to mutinies and desertions throughout the first half of 1862.  Commanders rated the units as “useless” for the duties required.  The story of the infantry and cavalry “Reserve Corps” falls out of our scope here.  So the short version is that on September 1, 1862, Schofield (now a Brigadier-General and in charge of the District of Missouri) issued Special Orders No. 98 directing the muster out of all Reserve Corps regiments.

But the artillery of the Reserve Corps was a different story.  Under Halleck’s early attempts to bring order, the Reserve Corps artillery was redesignated the 2nd Missouri Artillery Regiment (orders dated November 20, 1861).  Colonel Henry Almstedt was appointed commander. Furthermore a mustering officer had processed the artillery troops into formal, legal, three-year terms.  Indeed, around that time some 320 men who didn’t wish to remain as three-year volunteers opted to muster out.  By January 1862, most of the regiment’s batteries were considered organized and were actually drawing in more recruits (all new three-year enlistments).

In the fall of 1862, hearing the infantry and cavalry were being mustered out, the artillerists also asked for their pay-out.  But instead of mustering out, those batteries, now the 2nd Missouri Artillery and considered a volunteer regiment, were to be retained.  In General Orders No. 21, issued on November 29 by Major-General Samuel Curtis (replacing Halleck in command of the Department of the Missouri), the Second was defined under a different enlistment status:

The Second Missouri Artillery was first enrolled as Home Guards, but with their own consent they were afterwards regularly mustered in as three-year volunteers… and the matter was fully explained in German and English.

But now, seeing how the other Reserves had been treated, all the artillerists were clamoring for their release.  General Schofield, commanding the subordinate District of Missouri, added to this:

The Second Missouri Artillery was reorganized and became volunteers soon after Major-General Halleck assumed command of the department.  Therefore it is not to be considered as belonging to the Reserve Corps.  But even were this not the case, that regiment would be retained in service, since their services are needed in the position for which they were originally enlisted, and there are no other troops which can be used to replace them.  Therefore the Second Missouri Artillery will not be mustered out of service.

The logic of this and other statements was lost on the rank and file.  The problem festered through the winter.  On March 30, 1863, Brigadier-General J. W. Davidson, commanding the St. Louis District, complained about the 2nd Missouri:

A detachment of this regiment at Pilot Knob serving with a battery is in mutiny.  Another serving with a battery at Benton Barracks was recently in mutiny.  Another serving as heavy artillery at Cape Girardeau was recently in mutiny.  A detachment serving with the Twenty-second Iowa Volunteers by department orders left that regiment and is, I am informed, in this city, thus deserting their station.  This calls for a decision upon the difference between the officers and men as to what the regiment is, whether as volunteers or Reserve Corps.

In reaction to the mutinies and other troubles, Curtis convened a board of inquiry in April.  That board concluded the regiment’s original muster, in the summer of 1861, had been illegal.  Furthermore, the change of status to three-year enlistments was invalid.  The board recommended that the regiment be reorganized, should the command deem it necessary to retain the 2nd Missouri in service.  And Curtis agreed with that suggestion.

Curtis then punted this up to his boss in Washington… who just happened to be Halleck at that time of the war.  On May 15, Halleck responded, “This regiment was remustered as volunteers for three years or the war, while I commanded the department, and under the supervision of a staff officer…. There could have been no possible misunderstanding on this subject, and General Curtis was wrong in again reviewing the question.” Halleck concluded by offering a few “hard” solutions:

Those men who were unfit for service should have been discharged and the regiment filled up or its organization reduced.  The men had no claim whatever for a discharge on the ground of improper enlistment.

And now the regiment should be filled up, if possible, and if not, its organization should be reduced.

While all this correspondence was passing between St. Louis and Washington, the war situation put another spin on the 2nd Missouri’s problems.  The spring of 1863 was full of activity on all fronts and Missouri was no exception.  In April, Brigadier-General John S. Marmaduke raided through southeast Missouri (I’ve written on Chalk Bluff, which occurred at the end of that raid).  Marmaduke threatened several points and put up a scare that St. Louis would be attacked.  And while preparing the city’s defenses, Curtis went so far as to promise the 2nd Missouri Artillery that “… if they would do their duty as soldiers till the trouble was over they should be mustered out.”

Promises made, but the bureaucracy still had to be appeased. Through the early summer the men remained in the regiment and were none too happy about it. Not until July 27 did Schofield formally request a disposition on the matter, adding the sharp assessment that the 2nd Missouri “.. is a disgrace to the service, as well as utterly useless.”  With that, official authorization came on August 3 to muster out the men from the original “Reserve Corps” enlistments.  But that was not to apply to men who’d volunteered directly into the 2nd Missouri starting in 1862.  To cover the process involved, Schofield issued Special Orders No. 219 on August 13.  After covering administrative details, the last paragraphs, dictating the unit’s disposition, read:

The Second Missouri Artillery Volunteers will be reorganized and recruited to its maximum as rapidly as practicable.

For this purpose a military board will be appointed to examine the capacity, qualifications, propriety of conduct, and efficiency of all the commissioned officers of the regiment, and to consolidate the men remaining in the regiment after the muster out hereby ordered into the proper number of full companies.  Upon the report of this board the commanding general will order the muster out of such officers as shall not be found fitted for their positions.

This order cleared the way to finally, and permanently, resolving the issues caused by Fremont’s hasty organization, Halleck’s blunt approach to reconciliation to regulations, and Curtis’s somewhat tone-def management…. if I may be so bold.

In short order, the regiment was reduced to a battalion.  Captain Nelson Cole, who was then on staff as the Artillery Chief for the district, transferred out of Battery E, 1st Missouri to accept a Lieutenant-Colonel’s position in the Second Missouri.  Cole’s date of rank was October 2, 1863.  And that date might be considered the start of the reorganization of the regiment.

Enough men remained to form five companies of heavy artillery.  The First Flying Battery, originally Pfenninghausen’s and later Landgraeber’s Battery, an independent formation, transferred in to become Battery F.  The 1st Missouri State Militia Battery (also known as Thurber’s or Waschman’s Battery) became Battery L.  And new enlistments began to fill in the rest of the ranks. Not until February was the regiment completely reorganized to full strength.  At which time, Cole was promoted to Colonel.

From that point forward to the end of the war, the 2nd Missouri Artillery had a less contentious and administratively conventional history.  In 1864, most of the heavy artillery companies were reequipped as field artillery.  These batteries would see field service in Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia.  One battery served in the Atlanta Campaign.  Most of the others saw service repelling Price from Missouri in the fall months of 1864.  The field grade officers, including Cole, served in several key staff positions, providing a cadre of artillery chiefs. As many of those three-year enlistments remained at the close of the war, the regiment was only slowly mustered out.  Some batteries saw service on the Powder River Expedition of 1865, under a column commanded by Cole.

We might say that despite its unconventional origin and mutinous reputation, the 2nd Missouri matured into a very proper organization by the end of the war.

Sources: Aside from the Official Records and other common sources, material for this post comes from “Missouri troops in service during the civil war : Letter from the Secretary of war, in response to the Senate resolution passed on June 14, 1902”, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1902. 

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.)

Grant desires “Price be pursued to the Arkansas River”: Curtis, Rosecrans, Pleasonton and the “battle” over Price

150 years ago today, Major-General Sterling Price’s campaign was far from over.  Maybe lunging through its last legs, but far from over.  The action at Newtonia on October 28, 1864 had effectively closed Missouri to the Confederacy.  On October 29, Price moved his headquarters south of Pineville, Missouri.  He moved to Maysville the next day.  By November 1st, Price’s column reached Cane Hill, Arkansas – technically Boonsborough, which was one of three small communities in the area.  At that point, Price dispatched part of his column under Major General James Fagan to support an attack on Fayetteville (an action I’ll pick up later).  Thus by All Saints’ Day, Price was well into Arkansas.

Price_Campaign_Oct31

However, the Federal’s pursuit of Price was not to the effect that authorities back east preferred.   Brigadier-General James Blunt remained in pursuit with his division after the action at Newtonia. For Major-General Samuel Curtis, in command of the Army of the Border, Blunt’s 1,000 effectives were the only force to push forward.  Major-General Alfred Pleasonton, with the cavalry from the Department of Missouri, was not in pursuit.  After the fights on October 25, Pleasonton pulled most of his command off to refit.  On October 27, he issued instructions, presumably from Major-General William Rosecrans, to withdraw the remainder (brigades of Brigadier-Generals  John Sanborn and John McNeil).

Granted, Pleasonton’s cavalrymen had been in the saddle through most of the month.  And at the same time, those troops were supposed to be securing portions of Missouri (which, by the way, happened to be reporting Confederate activity in the wake of Price’s transit.) But a golden opportunity was out there for the taking – the elimination of an entire Confederate army.  The split command caused problems throughout the pursuit of Price, and on October 29-31 that rift was the saving grace for Price.   From Washington came a telegram for Curtis from Major-General Henry Halleck:

General Grant directs that Price be pursued to the Arkansas River, or at least till he encounters Steele or Reyonlds.

This order referenced the commands of Generals Frederick Steele  and Joseph J. Reynolds in Arkansas.  The orders did not reach Curtis until October 30.  In his response written at 1 a.m. that day, Curtis threw Rosecrans under the bus:

I send couriers with orders to this effect directed to the several brigade commanders of troops of General Rosecrans, who had abandoned the pursuit by his orders. I will proceed with my own force toward Cassville, hoping to concentrate sufficient troops at that point to resume the pursuit.  I also send to General Steele your dispatch, indorsing on it the present direction taken by the enemy.

Six hours later, Curtis sent off a very lengthy, but detailed, summation of the situation with a barb attached, “The delay occasioned by General Rosecrans’ orders will be the equivalent to thirty-six hours….”

Rosecrans was, of course, communicating with Halleck also.  On October 28 he received his orders from Washington:

General Grant thinks you can and ought to send troops to assist General Thomas….

This prompted an exchange between Rosecrans, Major-General George Thomas and Major-General William T. Sherman to work out the details.  The following day, Brigadier-General John Rawlings, Grant’s own Chief of Staff, received orders to go west to supervise the “re-enforcing the armies actually confronting the principal armies of the enemy.” Grant’s instructions to Rawlings indicates clearly his impression of the situation.

Now that Price is retreating from Missouri, it is believed that the whole force sent to that State from other departments can be spared at once. The fact, however, that a considerable force is pursuing Price, and may go so far that some time may elapse before they can be returned to Missouri and be distributed for the proper protection of the State, has induced me to make two separate orders….

The orders given pertained to Major-Generals A.J. Smith’s and Joseph Mower’s commands.  Their destinations depended much on the evolving situations in Tennessee and Georgia.

Meanwhile, Rosecrans, in Warrensburg, Missouri at that time (about half way between Jefferson City and Kansas City, so still “in the field”), was quick to respond to Curtis’ couriers on October 30:

Your dispatch of 1 a.m. of this date received.  It was my intention and expectation that Sanborn’s and McNeil’s brigades should follow the enemy…. [Sanborn] has orders to take every available man and force Price within reach of Steele’s men…. [General Edward F] Winslow’s brigade was worn down by long marches and is under orders to return to General Sherman….

That last mention, of the fourth brigade in the provisional cavalry division, is noteworthy.  Rosecrans was at this time dealing with conflicting requirements – chasing Price and directing units to Tennessee.  Supporting Rosecrans’ side of this, from Fort Scott came Colonel Charles Blair’s report, stating in part, “McNeil never stopped his pursuit.”  What is interesting, at this juncture of the dialog, is Pleasonton is absent from the message routing.  His “provisional” division was for all practical purposes working as independent brigades.

For a chief of staff thousands of miles from the fighting, perceptions are reality.  On October 31, some of those perceptions, built upon Curtis’ telegrams, brought cross words between Halleck and Rosecrans.  At 12:30, Halleck sent a message which reinforced the orders arriving with Rawlings:

Lieutenant-General Grant directs me to repeat his order that General A.J. Smith’s command be brought to Saint Louis with all possible dispatch, preparatory to its being sent to General Thomas.  Telegraph what date it will reach Saint Louis.

Before that telegram arrived, Rosecrans (still in Warrensburg) sent an update to Halleck relating Sanborn’s progress, stressing that brigade was “to take all his horses that are not exhausted and continue to move on the enemy’s rear.…”  Rosecrans went on to estimate Price’s force at 20,000 – a figure he attributes to Pleasonton.  He further said Major-General Marmaduke, captured on October 25, felt Price only had three cannons left.  Conflicting estimates of the enemy force, perhaps?  But certainly that message had not arrived in Washington before Halleck’s second telegram of the day:

General Curtis telegraphs that you have ordered the troops back from the pursuit of Price, directing General McNeil to Rolla and General Sanborn to Springfield. The orders of General Grant and General Canby are that the pursuit must be continued to the Arkansas River, or until you meet the forces of Generals Steele or Reynolds. These orders must be obeyed.

Rosecrans didn’t receive the two telegrams until much later in the day.  Only at 6:30 p.m. was Rosecrans able to respond to Halleck’s first telegram.  In that response, Rosecrans assured Halleck that A.J. Smith was on the way.  Then at 9 p.m., Rosecrans responded, somewhat awkwardly to the second telegram:

Generals Sanborn and McNeil determined the defeat of the enemy at Newtonia, and everything has been, and is being, done to accomplish the objects arrived at by the orders of General Canby and General Grant. Under all these circumstances of the case, it is the matter of regret that General Curtis should have thought proper to telegram you as he did.  That Winslow’s cavalry did not accompany them may be easily understood when it is stated that it had been marching after Price fifty-two days, and their horses are worn out.  General Sanborn telegraphs tonight that one-half of the horses of the troops from Saint Louis have been abandoned by the way.

And to Rosecrans’ credit, his orders for Sanborn and McNeil that day reiterated the intent – continue after Price.

Over the following days, the correspondence with Washington turned more and more towards the urgent need to transfer troops to Thomas.  Still, not until November 3 did the orders go out that would resolve the problem caused by the split command structure.  To Curtis, Halleck sent:

The Secretary of War directs that you assume command of all troops belonging to the Department of Missouri and now serving on the western border of that State, and pursue Price toward the Arkansas River, or till he reaches the troops of General Steele or Reynolds.

So, 27 days after Price turned west from Jefferson City… and 46 days after Price entered Missouri … there was one commander in charge of the direct efforts against him.  A lot of miles, and a lot of telegrams, were wasted before the battle over command was decided.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 41, Part IV, Serial 86, pages 301, 305, 330-1, 342-4, and 420.)

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.)