[Masthead] Overcast ~ 56°F  
High: 61°F ~ Low: 42°F
Sunday, May 1, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 239: 'A Galling Fire'; 'Swept like a Tornado'

Friday, November 12, 2010

During the Civil War, the third and last battle that occurred in Kansas on Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1864; was the Battle of the Little Osage. This battle happened approximately 11 miles south of Mine Creek and 10 miles north of Fort Scott near the present town of Fulton. It, like the Battle of Trading Post and Mine Creek, was a Union victory and successful Confederate rear guard action.

The following descriptions of the Battle of the Little Osage were written by Colonel Charles W. Blair and Captain Richard J. Hinton who were both aide-de-camps on the staffs of separate "Union" generals. It is interesting to note how similar the reports are, even to the use of the same words and phrases, but they were written at different times, independent of each other. Colonel Blair's report is located on Page 499 in Series I, Vol. 41, Part I, reports of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion. Captain Hinton's description is located on Pages 228-231 in his book entitled "Rebel Invasion of Missouri & Kansas & the Campaign of the Army of the Border Against General Sterling Price in October & November 1864."

Colonel Blair's Report

"The movement was then rapid & continuous till the skirmish line was checked near the verge of the [Little] Osage timber. 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. Colonel Cloud was in the charge, with about 60 veterans of the 2nd Kansas Cavalry. He halted in the timber to rest his horses for a few minutes & I passed on with the advance brigade, which I think was Brigadier General McNeiPs. At all events, it was commanded by a general officer.

We followed down the stream, crossed at the ford & just as we were emerging form the timber of the south side the head of the column was fired on by the enemy skirmishers. We soon dislodged them, however & pushed on toward a cornfield on the left of the road. The head of the column was here checked by a heavy fire from the field & it was evident another battle was to be fought.

Accordingly the general (McNeil) 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 was 1,000 or 10,000 men in that field, he wanted them to RIDE RIGHT OVER THEM! The men responded with a YELL, the dismounted skirmishers tore down the fence in the face of a GALLING FIRE & the column SWEPT THROUGH IT LIKE A TORNADO. In the rear of the cornfield another line was formed on the prairie, the right resting on a skirt of timber fringing a small stream, while the advance of the brigade, deploying into line, CHARGED & broke them 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 to encamp, which was surrounded by a semicircle of hills, where they held as 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 again broken & as I passed through their temporary halting place there was abundant evidence of the haste that they were in, in the broken wagons, dismounted forges, fragmentary mess-chests & smashed crockery with which the ground was strewn. The chase this time continued about a mile to the top of the hill south of the valley of the [Little] Osage & on getting view of the enemy from the summit of the 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. I noticed to with increased satisfaction, that we were at least a mile east of the wire road & that for the first time the enemy's direction was turned from this place. Satisfied that I could render no further service, I determined to come directly here (Fort Scott) to see to a certainty whether the post which was my special care was safe or not & to satisfy those cravings of hunger which, though persistently ignored for three days & nights, would still, despite resolutions, occasionally became clamorous.

Colonel Charles W. Blair

Aide-de-Camp & Commanding Officer, Fort Scott."

Captain Richard J. Hinton's Description

"About two miles from the stream [Little Osage River], we again flushed the rebel rear, which was driven rapidly towards the timber. The movement was active & continuous & under it both men & animals gave way, many of the latter falling exhausted. The timber swarmed with rebel skirmishers, as our advance halted for rest & reinforcement. Just as the head of our column emerged from the timber, it was fired on by enemy skirmishers. They were soon dislodged. Again we pushed forward toward a cornfield on the left of the road and beyond a little stream. Here the movement was checked by a heavy fire from the field. It was apparent that another battle had to be fought. The enemy was visible in great force at our front. Extending on the south side of the Little Osage [River], about one mile, is a smaller stream emptying into the [Little] Osage just east of the crossing. One half mile south are two farms, one rather southwest of the other, nearest to the timber, with a small strip of prairie between the fields. Beyond this, three hundred yards, was a smaller stream, quite narrow & deep, running parallel with the [Little] Osage. In crossing this, our horses were compelled to swim. Just south was the large cornfield, within which the enemy was in force.

Here another throw was to be made in the game of war.

McNeil rapidly formed his little brigade into columns of companies, dismounted the 5th M. S. M., ordered it to take down the fence, which was done gallantly in the face of a GALLING FIRE & then in clear, sharp tones, addressed the brigade as it was formed, telling them "that it made no difference whether there were one or ten thousand men in that field, he wanted them to ride right over them!"

The response was a WILD CHEER & almost before the order to CHARGE was given, the impatient troops SWEPT THROUGH IT LIKE A TORNADO. Nothing could have withstood that wild rush and the enemy melted away. Beyond the field & to the left, the enemy had formed another strong line of battle. Behind this some distance & to the right, so that the two were en enchelon, was still a stronger line.

For twenty minutes they [the enemy] held us at bay under a severe fire, until the brigade, which had become somewhat scattered in these impetuous charges & pursuit, again reformed & in the line of battle CHARGED, driving the enemy in confusion & following in rapid & continuous pursuit for two miles. The effect of their charge was of course aided by the rapid advance & deployment of the other brigades which had as fast as possible crossed the [Little] Osage, moved to the front & were now getting into position.

Passing through their [the enemy's] temporary resting place, every evidence of haste with which they retreated was to be seen.

Scattered over the ground, were arms [weapons], clothing, blankets, equipments, mess utensils & food. Their killed & wounded were left as they fell. Quite a number of wagons were found half consumed. Large quantities of fixed ammunition, both for large & small arms [Artillery, shoulder & side arms], was scattered for miles along the line of retreat. Hundreds of broken down [worn out] & wounded animals were seen on the prairie. It now became evident that the enemy's flight no longer endangered Fort Scott, the direction of his march being turned east of that place for the first time during the day's operations [Tuesday, Oct. 25, 1864]. The credit of the gallant movements at the [Little] Osage, is due to General McNeil & the troops under him; especially for the rapid pressing of the advantages gained."

So ended the descriptions of the Battle of the Little Osage by Colonel Charles W. Blair and Captain Richard Hinton and of course the War Went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches