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Monday, May 2, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 237: 'Battle of Mine Creek'

Friday, October 22, 2010

Monday, Oct. 25 is the 146th Anniversary of the Battle of Mine Creek that was the largest Civil War battle in Kansas and the second largest "CAVALRY" battle in the entire Civil War. The largest cavalry battle of the war was at Brandy Station, Va., on June 8, 1863 in which approximately 20,500 horse soldiers of the Blue (9,500) and Gray (11,000) participated. At Mine Creek there were approximately 10,800 participants that included approximately 2,800 "Union Yankees" and 8,000 Confederates.

One "Union" officer. Major General Alfred Pleasonton, has the distinction of participating in both of these battles as a field commander. During the Battle of Brandy Station he was the commander of all the Union Cavalry and at Mine Creek he commanded a provisional Cavalry Division from the Department of the Missouri that joined Major General Samuel R. Curtis's "Army of the Border" in pursuit of the Confederate forces commanded by Major General Sterling Price.

The following description of the Battle of Mine Creek was written by Captain Richard J. Hinton on Pages 206 -217 in his book entitled "The Rebel Invasion of Missouri & Kansas and the Campaign of the Army of the Border Against General Sterling Price in October & November in 1864." Captain Hinton was an Aide-de-Camp on the staff of Major General James G. Blunt and observed the battle from many different locations.

"In the meanwhile the advance brigades moved rapidly across the open prairie. Soon the timber of Mine Creek, about five miles southeast of Mound City, came in sight. As the gallant Missouri and Arkansas troops under colonel Phillips reached the brow of a long acclivity [hill] which overlooked the creek valley, beyond the enemy were discovered in great force formed in line of battle upon the north side of the stream, with their right resting upon the crossing and left extending northwest and resting on the timber of the stream. THE OPEN PRAIRIE, SWEEPING AWAY, AFFORDED THE GRANDEST POSSIBLE FIELD FOR CAVALRY MOVEMENTS. It became evident that here the battle was to be fought. The rebels, deployed six lines deep in the center, showed a force of from 12,000-15,000 men.

[Note this was an estimate and the official records indicate approx. 8,000].

Beyond the creek to the south could be seen a long train and accompanying troops extending for some miles. This was Shelby's Division and the new one under Tyier, with the PLUNDER and PRISONERS of the Missouri raid. The rebel artillery, ten pieces, was stationed on the left of their line, an error on the part of the rebel General which our officers were not slow to perceive. If we succeeded in breaking their center, there was no possibility of their withdrawing the guns. From our front to the rebel lines, the ground formed a gentle descent. On the right and a little to our front was a farmhouse and fences. To our extreme left and front was a slight swale [low area of land], the timber and creek, then a rising corn field with a log cabin at the top.

The brigade of Colonel Phillips had halted upon the edge of the table land, with skirmishers well thrown out, about 1,000 yards from the enemy. Colonel Benteen was still some distance in the rear. Major Hopkins, with the second Kansas and two howitzers [small cannon], came up on the extreme right. General Pleasonton had been informed of the position of our forces and was pressing to the front with a section of Rodman's guns [cannon] and his escort, accompanied by Major Curtis, who had reported to him for duty.

It was apparent the rebel army was determined to fight here, with the exception of checking our march and so enabling them to move more leisurely towards Fort Scott. The whole of their line was not visible, the right being behind the brow of the hill, descending into Mine Creek. Their artillery was playing with considerable effect upon the right of the unsupported brigade of Colonel Phillips, still steadily advancing. Majors Weed and Hunt galloped to the left to inform Colonel Benteen of the position of affairs on the right and desired him to press forward with a view to charge before the rebels had time to do so, a movement which it was evident they were about to execute.

At his time the rebel guns were firing canister at any enemy they supposed to be advancing on their right and hidden from view by the rise in their front. This alone saved Colonel Phillips, who, if known to be unsupported, would have been swept from the field by a vigorous advance. In the face of this fire, which tore the ground in front and filled the air with hurtling missiles. Colonel Benteen's brigade broke from regimental columns, forming into line to the right and left and moving steadily forward till they reached short range. THE RATTLE OF MUSKETRY. MINGLED WITH THE ROAR OF ARTILLERY, THE SHOUTS OF THE SOLDIERS, THE SCREAM OF THE SHELLS. THE CRASH OF SMALL ARMS, THE HISSING SOUND OF CANISTER AND THE CRIES OF THE WOUNDED AS THEY FELL ABOUT US FILLED THE AIR. FORMING A PICTURE. WHEN SET OFF BY THE WALLS OF STEEL BEFORE AND THAT ABOUT AND BEHIND US. THAT CAN BE EASIER REMEMBERED THAN DESCRIBED!

It was evident that a desperate effort was preparing in the rebel lines. A group of officers could be seen in the center, evidently of high rank, while others DASHING FURIOUSLY UP AND DOWN AND FIERCELY THE TIGER REBEL YELL MET AND MINGLED WITH THE WILD HURRAS OF OUR MEN. THE LONG LINES OF REBELS. WITH CRASH AND FURRY OF RAGING BATTLE ABOUT THEM: THE SLENDER [UNION] BIRGADES DEPLOYED AND ADVANCING ON THEIR FRONT, WHILE TO THE NORTH. ACROSS THE BROAD PRAIRIE, WERE TO BE SEEN THE RAPIDLY DEPLOYING TROOPS ADVANCING TO REINFORCE OUR FRONT!

The scenes take longer to describe than to enact. While these troops were pressing to our assistance, deploying to the right and left, forming a second line of battle and the generals with their escort and Staff were riding hastily forward, Colonel Benteen had, without hesitation, DASHED ON UNDER A FIRE SO TERRIBLE, THAT EVEN HIS VETERAN TROOPS WERE FOR A MOMENT STAGGERED. The brigade to the right was showing signs of distress, when making a right half wheel [half right turn] and sending Colonel Phillips to move at the same time, AWAY WENT BENTEEN, both brigades precipitating themselves upon the center and left of the rebel lines.

FORWARD! WAS SHOUTED ALONG THE LINE. AWAY IT WENT; AT FIRST SLOWLY AND THEN WITH A FIERCE MOMENTUM, DASHING AND CRASHING THROUGH REBEL RIGHT AND CENTER. A RUSH -- A SCRAMBLE -- A CONFUSED VISION OF FLASHING SABERS on our left and center; THE WILD TRAMPLE OF RUSHING HORSES; THE FRANTIC SHOUTS OF CHARGING COMBATANTS; THE CRASH OF SMALL ARMS- not continuous as in line -- but RAPID AND ISOLATED as of INDIVIDUAL COMBAT; the cessation of the enemy's artillery fire and the intermittent fire of our own guns, were the elements which made up a scene worthy of being immortalized in the verse of Tennyson or by the brush of Horace Vernet.

So rapidly had the center and right swept forward that the extreme left, which from the nature of the ground had not been able to charge simultaneously and was now swinging, half-wheel to the right, with the view of crossing a ravine, clearing the corn field on the south and attacking the disordered rebel force on the flank as it emerged from the wood; this force as it swept through the ravine and into the field was fired upon by our own guns. [Today this is described as being shelled by "friendly fire" which is as deadly and fatal as being shelled by the enemy].

Supposing these shells to be from the rebel guns, the left went THUNDERING THROUGH THE FIELD, when they were fired upon by a line of skirmishers. With a cheer our boys dashed forward. The rebels fled; a number lay wounded and over them went the line amid a volley from those behind the fence at the top of the field.

While this was going on upon the left, the right and center had completely routed the rebel force, causing them to fallback in wild disorder over Mine Creek and reform upon the south side, about a mile beyond. Colonel Benteen was in hot pursuit until General Pleasonton, who had reached the field just as our charge was being made, sent an order directing that no further advance be made until the division could concentrate.

[Confederate] Brigadier General Graham was killed and left on the field. A large number of field officers of various grades were captured, about eight hundred of the rank and file and nine guns, which made, with the one taken at the Marais des Cygnes, made ten. The wounded left on the field numbered over 200, while the dead was about the same. A number of our officers were severely wounded, but our actual loss was not more than 150 men. the impetuosity of the charge and its complete success, accounts for this slight.

[Note: approx. Union loss: 25 Killed and 125 wounded].

Following the rebel defeat, Colonel Benteen and Colonel Phillips were still pressing the enemy across Mine Creek. A formidable line of battle had again been formed by them [the enemy] on a prairie ridge about one mile to the south. This they soon abandoned and our skirmishers pursued them beyond the dividing ridge of Mine Creek and [the] Little Osage [River].

Our dead and wounded were left on the field to the kindly care of the citizens; so also were the rebel wounded. Our movements were still onward. Fort Scott lay in the direction of the enemy's march. Stores to the value of 2,000,000's, belonging to the [U.S.] Government were there.

[Note: Capt. Hinton did not know that Quartermaster Insley had most of the portable "Union" supplies removed from Fort Scott via of wagons towards lola and out of harms way.]

Hence the necessity of pressing after the shaken, but NOT YET BEATEN REBEL ARMY."

The "Union" forces did indeed press on south and attacked the rear guard of the General Price's Confederate Army at the Battles of the Little Osage, Kan., Shiloh Creek / Chariot's Farm nd Newtonia, Mo. Next weeks column will include Capt. Hinton's description of these battles and of course the War Went On!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches