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Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

Battlefield Dispatches #40

Commendation & Condolence

Yesterday was ‘Veterans Day” or as it was traditionally named “Armistice Day” when “Veterans of all Wars” living & deceased are honored, recognized & remembered throughout the United States. Therefore, this column is dedicated to all veterans who have served, are currently serving & will serve in the Armed Forces of the United States defending the “Freedom” we as a nation enjoy.

During any war when all of the officers or non-commissioned officers of a unit are killed, replacements are awarded a “Battlefield Commission” on the spot to maintain the “Continuity of Command.” However, promotions as a result of a “Letter of Commendation” were often lost when the letter disappeared forever in the administrative “Fog of War.”  The following “Letter of Commendation” & recommendation for promotion was submitted as the result of the leadership & bravery in combat of Col. John E. Phelps of the 2nd Union Arkansas Cavalry against enemy forces in the 1864 Confederate Campaign in Missouri & Kansas. It is located on pages 544 & 545 of Volume 41 Part IV of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion & is as follows:

John E. Phelps (Missouri Historical Society)

Headquarters District of Southwest Missouri,
Springfield, Mo., November 12, 1864.

Major-General [Alfred] Pleasonton,
Commanding Cavalry, in the Field:

General; I have the honor to submit the following special report under the provisions of paragraph 743, Revised Army Regulations, relative to the conduct of 1st Lieut. John E. Phelps, 3rd Regular Cavalry & colonel 2nd Arkansas Cavalry Volunteers, during the last campaign against the rebel army commanded by General Price in Missouri. This officer deserves special mention for the following acts of GALLANTRY & good conduct, viz:

1st. On the morning of October 8, while the enemy appeared to be in full force in front of Jefferson City, he moved out with a portion of his own regiment, CHARGED the enemy’s line & broke it & drove his rear guard in confusion some 2 miles, killing & capturing a number of the enemy & settling the question as to whether the enemy was about to attack or was retreating.

2nd. At Boonville on the 11th day of October with a portion of his own regiment & the 6th Provisional Enrolled Mo. Militia he attacked the enemy in position by my order, drove in his entire skirmish line upon the army in position, where he fought them till night, killing & wounding more than 100 of the enemy & losing but 2 men killed and 2 wounded.

3rd. At Dover, having moved from Cook’s Store at midnight on the 19th of Oct. for the purpose, with his own regiment & the 6th Mo. State Militia Cav., he attacked more than three times his number & put them to rout capturing 7 commissioned officers & 6 men & leaving a number of the enemy dead & wounded on the field & obtained the 1st positive information that the enemy was at that time moving rapidly west.

4th At Independence he moved with his regiment (dismounted) directly upon the enemy’s line & through the town without halting with so much impetuosity that he captured a staff officer of General [William L.] Cabell’s & the general’s sword & by the movement contributed largely to the capture of the enemy’s artillery taken there.

5th At Big Blue, on the 23rd, he made a most gallant CHARGE at the head of his regiment upon the enemy’s artillery & was prevented from taking it only by an intervening stonewall.

6th At Marais des Cygnes he CHARGED in a most gallant manner across the river with his regiment & drove the enemy from the timber, where he was felling trees across the road & immediately ATTACKED him in the open prairie, whereby the enemy was compelled to form for battle & whereby our army was enabled to achieve the brilliant result which immediately followed at the Battle of the Osage [Mine Creek].

For these most faithful and gallant services I RESPECTFULLY RECOMMEND that Col. John E. Phelps, 2nd Arkansas Cavalry Volunteers & 1st Lieut. 3rd Cavalry Regular Army be promoted one grade in the Regular Army & be brevetted Brigadier–General of Volunteers.

I have the honor to be very respectfully, your obedient servant,

Brigadier- General Commanding.

[Note: this commendation was not lost in the “Fog of War’ because on March 13, 1865, less than 4 months after his bravery in combat, Col. Phelps was promoted to Captain in the Regular U.S. Army & to Brigadier General of Volunteers.]

John B. Sanborn

Alfred Pleasonton


During WWII, one of the most feared pieces of correspondence a family could receive was a telegram that began “WE REGRET TO INFORM YOU”. This was official notification that a loved one had been killed or was missing in action [combat]. It is not known exactly when the Defense Department started using telegrams, however, the words in the following Civil War letter are timeless & are similar to what a family would receive today from a Company Commander or Senior Non-Commissioned Officer:

Camp 3rd Iowa Cavalry
December 22nd, 1864

Mr. Asbach:

Dear Sir:
Your note of the 6th inst. was received this evening & I at once reply as I know how anxious you will feel to hear of the matter spoken in the same.

I REGRET TO INFORM YOU that the detachment which took part in the Battle of the Osage [Mine Creek] in Missouri [Kansas] which resulted in the defeat of Price & in which your SON JOHN was KILLED has not yet joined the company & consequently, I am unable to give you full particulars. He was in the LINE of BATTLE & our regiment was charging, WHEN HE WAS STRUCK IN THE HEAD by a ball [bullet] & instantly KILLED.  We all regret his loss, as he was a good soldier, brave & true & will long be remembered by his comrades.

His effects will be sent [to] you as early as possible.

Very Respectfully,
Geo. W. Johnson, Capt.
Co. “M” 3rd Iowa Cav.

[Please Note: The original letter was donated to the Iowa State Historical Society by & a copy provided to Mine Creek Battlefield SHS through the generosity of Mrs. Joyce Nigbor from Madison, Wisconsin who is a Great, Great Niece of Pvt. John Asbach.] THANK YOU VETERANS ONE & ALL!

Civil War Round Table of Kansas City
436 West 88th Terrace
Kansas City, MO 64114

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