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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 241: 'Curse of the Slows'

Friday, November 26, 2010

During the Civil War the essence of victory often depended on the rapid movement of troops, ammunition and the other necessities of war. Conversely, if the "Curse of the slows" descended upon an army or campaign and everything including the movement of troops and ammunition slowed down or were forced to move at a "snail's pace" this could spell disaster and the agony of defeat often became a reality. This, then, the "Curse of the Slows" engulfed the Confederate Army of Missouri and plagued its commander Mjr. General Sterling Price on the night of Oct. 25 and the morning of Oct. 26, 1864!

At this time, this army was very tired and encamped just south of the town of Deerfield in Vernon County, Mo., and its camp fires stretched for six miles or so south toward Drywood Creek. The Confederates were tired, very tired and some were probably exhausted and they had a good reason to be so. Because they had just endured 50 miles of forced marches in 12 hours and at the same time the rear guard had successfully defended the back of the army/column in four battles and numerous skirmishes (small engagements) against the relentless tenacious pursuit of the Yankees who were for the most part combat veterans from Kansas and Missouri. In the 12 hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 25, the Confederate supply train moved 4 times as fast and traveled 4 times as many miles as it normally would have done in one day or 12 miles because that was the distance a fully loaded quartermaster wagon carrying 2,000-4,000 pounds of cargo would normally have traveled in one 12 hour day on a good road! Tired and exhausted, you bet they were! The four battles on Oct. 25, 1864 were as follows: Trading Post at approximately 6 a.m., Mine Creek at 11-11:30 a.m., Little Osage at 2-2:30 p.m., all in eastern Kansas and the Battle of Chariot's Farm / Shiloh Creek just northwest of Deerfield, Missouri. During the Battle of Mine Creek, General Price who was with the advance or front of his army decided not to attack Fort Scott because the Yankees were now present in strength in the rear of his army, on its right flank to the west and to the south at Fort Scott. Therefore, he changed the direction of the army and ordered the Army of Missouri to turn east, to leave the enemy "Jayhawk" state of Kansas and to march into "the friendly confines" of Missouri, which it did.

Then, on the night of Oct. 25 and in the darkness of the early morning of Oct. 25, 1864, General Price listened to some of his officers who suggested how the "Curse of the Slows" could be broken. It wasn't hard to figure out and it was not a complicated decision. All that had to be done was to destroy most of the slowest part of the army and that was the supply wagons.

This also included the destruction of the articles of war that were being transported in the wagons! Then, with fewer wagons to protect, the cavalry and balance of the Army of Missouri could march faster and distance itself from the relentless pursuing Yankees. Therefore, the torch was applied to many of the supply wagons just south of Deerfield and the black sky and horizon turned red from the flames and the thunder of exploding ammunition echoed across the Marmaton River Valley all the way to Fort Scott. The following description of the bonfire created by the burning wagons and its' aftermath was recorded by Captain Richard J. Hinton on Pages 238 & 239 in his book entitled the "Rebel Invasion of Kansas and Missouri" that was published in 1865.

"The enemy continued to fall back across the Marmaton [during and after the battle of Chariot's Farm], whence their camp extended to the Drywood, six miles south. The bold, vigorous and successful pursuit, the great disasters of the days, and the bivouac fires, which hazy and afar, told them of the enemy's presence, had greatly disheartened and almost utterly demoralized them. Had General Curtis' plans been followed, troops bivouacked [camped] when evening fell, supplies been brought from Fort Scott and the 1st Division pushed to the front before daylight to attack them, their [the Confederate] defeat would have been overwhelming. No better evidence of this could be given than the fact, that during the night nearly 400 wagons were burned by Price's own orders. With a large amount of ordnance [weapons and ammunition! And stores [supplies! of all kinds. THE noise of bursting shells and the light of the burning train, which was with the advance at Drywood, was heard and seen by [Gen.1 McNeil at Fort Scott.

It was believed at both points, that a renewed attack had been made and rumors of the capture of the guns, etc., floated in on the sunrise. Their utter demoralization was made evident from an incident which occurred at a camp on the Little Drywood. Not knowing the cause of the explosion, a wild commotion ensued, in the midst of which a general officer rode up, exclaiming, "The Yankees are on us boys! The Yankees are on us! Save yourselves as best as you can!" That brigade fled in utter disorder. At 3 in the morning, the rebels broke camp and resumed their retreat. At least 40 wagons were left uninjured by the enemy, which with their contents, were secured by General McNeil next morning. A large flock of sheep was gathered up, that also had been abandoned.

Among the spoils, were several wagonloads of small arms and ammunition, a twenty four pound gun carriage and a large quantity of arms, mess utensils, equipments, etc., were gathered along the first 10 miles of their march. The fords [crossings] on the Drywood were heavily obstructed by Price and several hours were consumed by McNeil in removing them. Benteen with the 4th Brigade moved to Fort Scott, for supplies. McNeil pushed on towards Lamar, camping at Shanghai, 27 miles from Fort Scott that night."

Now then, in the darkness of the early morning of Oct. 26, 1864, just south of Deerfield, Mo., for six miles General Price, on the advice of some of his officers, had broken the "Curse of the Slows" by burning a large amount of his supply train. This allowed the Confederate Army of Missouri to march much faster south by southwest towards Newtonia, Mo., but it was still pursued by the relentless Yankees from Kansas and of course the War Went On!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches