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Civil War Round Table of Kansas City

Battlefield Dispatches #89

Prairie Thunder

On October 25, 1864 the thunder of artillery echoed down the Marais des Cygnes, Little Osage & Marmaton River Valleys and across the eastern Kansas prairie. The sounds of Union & Confederate cannons being fired & the explosion of their ammunition caused much consternation, worry & fear on every farm & in every town, including Fort Scott, where the sounds of the big guns were heard.

On Tuesday, October 25, 1864, Colonel Charles W. Blair, the commanding officer of Fort Scott was not in Fort Scott! He had commanded the Brigade of Kansas Militia at the Battle of Westport on October 23rd & was now, on this day, an Aide-de Camp (assistant) to Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis who commanded the “Union” Army of the Border that was pursuing the Confederates south from Kansas City on their way to attack Fort Scott. Col. Blair’s brigade was marching as the rear of the Union column, but he did not stay there. He went forward to the SOUNDS OF THE GUNS!

Samuel R. Curtis (Wilson's Creek National Battlefield)

Charles W. Blair (Battle of Westport Museum)

The following are excerpts from Col. Blair’s official report in which he describes the Battles of Trading Post, Mine Creek, Little Osage & Charlot’s Farm or Shiloh Creek that occurred on Tuesday, October 25, 1864. The official report is located on Pages 601- 606 of Vol. 41of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

HDQRS., Sub-District No. 2, South Kansas,

Fort Scott, Kans., Jan. 1, 1865

Sir: As volunteer aide-de-camp on your staff, I have the honor to transmit, herewith, according to your direction, a brief report of events of the 25th of October last, all of which I saw & part of which I was.

On the march of the night before from West Point, [Mo.] down, my brigade occupied the rear of the column & when the column halted & no word was sent to the rear to bivouac [camp], I supposed that the advance had come to the timber of the Marais des Cygnes & was clearing the obstructions which all thought the enemy would create to oppose our forward movement. Accordingly, we waited patiently, standing by our horses’s heads without FIRE, FOOD or FORAGE. Toward morning becoming chilled by the rain & cold night air, I mounted my horse & accompanied by an orderly, rode forward in search of fire. About midway up the column I found a [camp] fire & had scarcely succeeded in warming my benumbed limbs when the SOUND OF ARTILLERY called my attention to the front. I immediately started forward & as soon as it was light enough to distinguish objects, I saw that it was impossible for [my command] to get over the [Marais des Cygnes] River till a late hour.

Trading Post

Ascending the high mound [on the north side of the river] overlooking the stream, I saw [our] skirmish line [advancing] about midway from its base to the timber pushing steadily to the front. I immediately started forward to overtake them, having been joined by Sergeant-Major Rebstein of my brigade. Pushing forward, I joined the skirmishers just as they received fire from the enemy on the south bank. On crossing the river we found to our surprise, no obstructions, save two trees, which had been felled in the road & were rapidly removed by our advancing troops.

Mine Creek

Arriving on the table-land, which forms the summit level between the Marais des Cygnes & the [Little] Osage rivers, we again saw the enemy’s line & this time it was evident he was in full force, although his whole line was not visible, his right being behind the brow of the hill which descended into MINE CREEK. Meanwhile the gallant brigade on our right was steadily advancing, with skirmishers well out [in front]. The artillery was playing with great rapidity & considerable effect. I looked at the enemy’s line close, serried & vomiting fire; I looked at the little brigade that was unflinching & steadfast in its front. It was evident that here THE BATTLE was to be fought & the desperate issue joined on which the FATE OF THE SOUTH TIER OF KANSAS [including Fort Scott] depended.

The enemy’s artillery was playing on this line with fearful effect & we had nothing but musketry to reply, but the men were steady & self-possessed & perfectly easy under fire. When it [the other brigade] did come on line the whole command advanced to short range & for a time the [GUN]FIRE was INCESSANT & TERRIFIC! Both lines seemed like walls of adamant, one could not advance; the other would not recede! THE CRASH OF MUSKETRY, the SCREAM OF SHELL, the HISSING SOUND OF CANISTER & BALLS, MINGLED with the SHOUTS of SOLDIERS & the CRIES of the WOUNDED, set off, too, by the WALLS of FIRE & girdles of steel behind, which marked both lines, formed a scene more easily remembered than described.

During this terrible conflict I passed along the whole line & met your gallant staff officers everywhere counseling, encouraging, exhorting & commanding & the tenor of the whole was “CHARGE”! It was evident that our only safety was a SUCCESSFUL CHARGE by which we might capture the guns. At length the movement commenced slowly at first, but increasing in velocity until it swept on resistless as an avalanche. A rush, a scramble & all was over. The guns were captured, the enemy broken & flying to the rear, while our victorious squadrons were in almost breathless pursuit.

Little Osage

Having rid myself of this responsibility, I again hurried to the front. When I overtook the advance I found it halted at the foot of the precipitous mounds descending into the [Little] Osage Valley. Almost as far as we could see over the smooth prairie & on arriving there we could plainly see the REBEL COLUMN moving straight in the direction of Fort Scott. The movement was then very rapid & continuous till the skirmish line was checked near the verge of the Osage timber [on the north bank of the Little Osage River]. The woods seemed alive with rebel soldiers but in rapid motion. The skirmishers kept up occasional firing at them until the advance brigade came up & we all charged rapidly down into the timber, but the enemy disappeared before our arrival.

We followed down stream some distance, crossed at the ford & just as we were emerging from the timber on the south side, the head of the column was fired on by the enemy’s skirmishers. We soon dislodged them, however, & pushed on toward a corn-field to the left of the road. The head of the column was here checked by a HEAVY FIRE from the field & it was evident that another battle was to be fought! Accordingly the general formed his brigade in close column of companies & made them a little speech while forming to the effect that it made no difference whether there were 1,000 or 10,000 men on that field, he wanted them to RIDE RIGHT OVER THEM & SABER THEM DOWN AS FAST AS THEY CAME TO THEM! The men responded with a YELL, the dismounted skirmishers TORE DOWN THE FENCE in the face of a GALLING FIRE & SWEPT THROUGH IT LIKE A TORNADO!

In the rear of the corn-field, another line was formed on the prairie, the right resting on a skirt of timber fringing a small stream, which the advance of the brigade, rapidly deploying into line CHARGED & broke at the first onset. A third line of battle was formed still farther to the rear, in a low basin, where there had been an evident intention to encamp & which was surrounded by a semi-circle of hills where they [the enemy] held us at bay under a severe fire for about twenty minutes or more & until the whole brigade formed in line & CHARGED! Before this impetuous charge they were once again broken & as I passed through their temporary halting place there was abundant evidence of the haste they were in, in the BROKEN WAGONS, DISMANTLED FORGES, FRAGMENTARY MESS CHESTS & SMASHED CROCKERY with which the ground was strewn. The chase this time lasted about a mile to the top of the hill south of the valley of the [Little] Osage & getting view of the enemy again from the summit of this hill, I was gratified to observe that he was bearing very palpably to the east, thus giving me my first reasonable hope that FORT SCOTT might be SPARED!

Charlot’s Farm / Shiloh Creek

As I had been a sharer in all the fighting & a participant in every CHARGE heretofore during the day, I determined to get a good position & look at one from a safe distance, as I saw the enemy had formed two lines of battle a mile or more to our front. Accordingly, I secured the highest spot of ground in the vicinity, took out my field-glass, unused in all previous events of the day & deliberately watched the operations. Major-General [Alfred] Pleasonton directed this attack in person assisted by Major [T. I.] McKenny, who as usual, was in the front. Of the perils or particulars I cannot speak, but of the results I can say that both lines broke & fled before our forces got even within respectable distance.

Homeward Bound

I then turned the head of my “Gallant Gray” homeward & never drew rein till I struck our picket [guard] post 3 miles from Fort Scott, where some 40 of our citizens with Col. Perry Fuller at their head, were impatiently expecting news from the TRIUMPHANT ARMY of the BORDER.

So ended Colonel Charles W. Blair’s participation in the defense of Kansas during the 1864 Confederate invasion of the Jayhawk State!

Civil War Round Table of Kansas City
4125 NW Willow DR
Kansas City, MO 64116

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