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Wednesday, Sep. 17, 2014

Battlefield Dispatches No. 242: 'Shot by Shot'

Friday, December 3, 2010

At approximately 3 a.m. in the morning on Oct. 26, 1864, the Confederate Army of Missouri, commanded by Mjr. Gen. Sterling Price, started to advance south (if you are of the Southern persuasion) or continued to retreat (if you are of the Northern persuasion) from the vicinity of Deerfield, Mo., towards Neosho and Newtonia in hopes of evading the pursuing Yankees and reaching a safe haven in southwest Missouri or northwest Arkansas.

However, late in the previous night of Oct. 25 and before the Army of Missouri started to march south, General Price ordered most of the army's supply train to be burned because the slow moving fully loaded supply wagons had required protection that caused the entire Army of Missouri to be inflicted by the "Curse of the Slows." This was so because the army could only move as "fast" as its "slowest part" which was the supply wagons. By burning the supply wagons the "Curse of the Slows" was broken and Army of Missouri could and did move faster by forced marches and increased the distance between it and the pursuing Yankees.

The pursuing Yankees, as was their habit, after fighting in almost continuous combat in four major battles and numerous skirmishes (smaller engagements) on Oct. 25 over a distance of approximately 50 miles stopped their pursuit for 12-18 hours to be re-supplied from Fort Scott. This stop also allowed for additional "Union" troops that had not participated in the previous day's combat to move to the front and continue the pursuit of Price's Army of Missouri by forced marches all the way to Newtonia, Mo.

It was here at Newtonia, that the last major battle of Price's 1864 Campaign in Missouri and Kansas occurred on Friday, Oct. 28, 1864. It, like all the previous battles from Oct. 23-25, 1864 that included the Battles of Westport near Kansas City, Trading Post, Mine Creek, Little Osage and Chariot's Farm, was a "Union" victory, but it was also a successful Confederate rear guard action. This successful rear guard action allowed the Army of Missouri to continue moving into northwest Arkansas, the Indian Territory (present Oklahoma) and eventually reach the of northern Texas early in December of 1864.

The following brief "Union" after action reports describe the Battle of Newtonia and are located on Pages 508 and 509 in Series I, Vol. 41, Part I Reports of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion:

Colonel James H. Ford

Commanding 2nd "Union" Brigade.

"From this time (after leaving Fort Scott on the morning of the 26th) until the afternoon of the 28th we continued marching night and day, with but short halts and small feeds (These were all forced marches, with virtually no sleep), following at all times the trail of the enemy. About 10 a.m., my brigade being in the advance, discovered the enemy's rear in the edge of the woods north of Shoal Creek. I sent two companies of the 16th Kansas Cavalry into the woods as skirmishers, who soon reported that the party (of the enemy) was about 200 strong and retreating fast. I then pressed rapidly forward and upon reaching Granby ascertained that they had just passed through and that Price's whole army was doubtless at Newtonia, (a) distance of five miles. The advance soon reported that enemy's (supply) train (what was left of it) was in sight and but a few men visible. I hurried forward at a gallop and when within two miles of the town saw the rear of the rebel train entering the woods beyond the town on the Cassville road. The (artillery) battery was immediately planted (located) on the bluffs and commenced throwing shelsl, while the 16th Kansas Cavalry and the 2nd Colorado Cavalry were formed in two lines and ordered to charge down toward the enemy's train, the charge being led by the Major General commanding the First Division in person (Mjr. Gen. James G. Blunt). We advanced at a rapid gallop, with skirmishers in front, until we came upon the main body of the enemy, who was formed three lines deep and the front line dismounted. The action was commenced in earnest and for three hours with less than 900 men (my brigade consisting of less than 600) we contended with the enemy often times 10 our number and closed the day by driving him from the field, leaving his dead and wounded in our hands.

During the hottest part of the engagement the enemy threw a large body of men upon our left, their fire telling fearfully upon our small force, but the left, commanded by Major Ketner commanding the 16th Kansas Cavalry, never moved or flinched, but answered "shot for shot." The brigade remained on the (battle) field until 9 p.m., when it went into camp in the town of Newtonia.'"

Report of Mjr. Gen. James G. Blunt

"The rebel forces had encamped in the timber south of the town, on the Pineville road, with the view of remaining there until the following day, thinking that the pursuit of our forces had been abandoned, but on discovering my advance coming in view on the high ground overlooking the town of Newtonia on the northwest, they hastily broke camp and attempted to move off. To cover this movement they deployed a force of about 2,000 men upon the prairie to protect their rear. Being convinced of their intention to avoid a fight, if possible, I determined to attack them at once. The 1st and 4th Brigades were with me in the advance. I had directed the 2nd Brigade to halt early in the day to procure forage (feed for horses their horses) to enable me to put them in the advance to press the pursuit at night; consequently I did not rely upon them to participate in the early part of the engagement. I had supposed General McNeil's brigade of General Pleasonton's Division, was close up in my rear and sent back to hurry it forward, while the 1st and 4th Brigades of the 1st Division were quickly deployed in line and under the cover of the fire of the 1st Colorado Battery (McClains), posted upon the bluff, they swept across the plain at gallop until within musket-range of the enemy's line. Skirmishers were rapidly deployed and but a few minutes elapsed until the engagement became general. I now ordered forward the 1st Colorado Battery, which with a section of howitzers (small cannon) attached to the 15th Kansas Cavalry poured a destructive fire into the enemy's ranks. It soon became evident that I was engaging all the available force of Price's army, which outnumbered me more than eight to one. Their superiority of numbers enabling them to press upon my flanks with a large force compelled me to fall back about 500 yards from my first line, which was done in good order and the line reformed in the face of a terrific fire. The enemy pressed forward their center, but were promptly checked by canister (artillery ammunition composed of iron balls with the effect of a shotgun) from the 1st Colorado Battery.

It was now near sundown and my command had been engaged near two hours and their ammunition nearly exhausted, while a large force of the enemy were passing under cover of a cornfield around my left flank and my force being too small to extend my line in that direction, I was about to direct my line to fall back and take position on the bluff, when very unexpectedly the brigade of General Sanbom, of General Pleasonton's command, came up. I immediately placed them in position on my left, directing General Sanbom to dismount his men and advance through the cornfield which was promptly executed, repulsing the flanking column of the enemy, who now abandoned the (battle) field and retreated rapidly under the cover of the night in the direction of Pineville, leaving their dead and wounded in our hands."

So ended the battle of Newtonia, Mo., on Friday Oct. 28, 1864. Today, however, another Battle of Newtonia is being waged and this is the effort to preserve the "battlefield" itself.

Today this campaign has been partially successful with still many goals to be achieved and many acres of land to be acquired. If anyone is interested in helping to preserve this battlefield, please do not hesitate to contact the "Newtonia Battlefields Protective Association, c/o Tom Higdon, 930 Mill St. General Delivery, Newtonia, Mo., 4853."

The Confederate rear guard during and immediately after the Battle of Newtonia was commanded by one of the finest cavalry commanders of the Gray or Blue during the entire Civil War. In fact, from the Battle of Westport on Oct. 23, 1864 up to and including Newtonia this Confederate Major General was the "Guardian Angel" of Price's "Army of Missouri". He was this, because he successfully commanded the rear guard actions in four out of the six battles that occurred between Oct. 23 and 28, 1864. Next week's column will feature the after action reports of these four battles by Price's "Guardian Angel" and of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches