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Friday, Oct. 21, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 278: 'Shot and Shell'

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Battle of Wilson's Creek on Aug. 10, 1861, near Springfield, Mo., was one of the largest and most significant battles of the Civil War that occurred west of the Mississippi River.

Kansas was well represented in that battle by the participation of the 1st and 2nd Kansas Volunteer Infantry Regiments that were in some of the most fiercest, horrific combat of the day.

The 2nd Kansas was commanded by Fort Scott's own Lt. Col. Charles W. Blair who lived in Fort Scott before, during and after the Civil War.

He served as the longest commanding officer of Fort Scott during the war and was promoted to brigadier general in 1865 for his faithful dedicated service to the United States.

The following is Col. Blair's after action report of the Battle of Wilson's Creek and is located in Series I, Vol. 3 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, pages 84 and 85, Army of the West, Hdqrs., 2nd Reg't., Kans., Vols.

August 17, 1861

Sir: I herewith enclose you a list of the killed and wounded of my regiment (5 killed, 59 wounded, 6 missing, total 74), which came under my command after the fall of Col. Mitchell, who was dangerously wounded at the first fire we encountered.

The regiment had been stationed as a reserve on a hill on the right side of and overlooking the cornfield in which Capt. Plummer's battalion was deployed.

After they had been driven back by overpowering numbers and the advance of the enemy against them checked by Lt. Du Bois' Battery, which was stationed near us, I rode forward to Capt. Totten's Battery, still farther in our front, to see Gen. Lyon and request upon him too order us forward. Upon a statement of our position he replied, "Order the 2nd Kansas to the Front!"

I informed Col. Mitchell, and he brought the regiment forward promptly. As we raised the crest of the hill beyond the advanced battery and were still marching in column by the flank, a masked fire (from ambush) was opened upon us, under which Gen. Lyon was killed, who was at the head of our column (Note: General Lyon commanded all the "Union" forces at Wilson's Creek and was the first "Union" general killed in the Civil War.) and Col. Mitchell was severely wounded.

Col. Mitchell sent for me and ordered me to take charge of the battalion and see that it maintained the reputation of Kansas.

He was then removed to the rear and Lt. Schreyer of Capt. Tholen's company, assisted by two men, carried back the body of Gen. Lyon.

I threw the battalion into line, and after sharp firing for 15 or 20 minutes, we drove the enemy back down the descending slope that was in our front.

During this time the enemy's artillery was playing (firing) upon our position, but his round "shot and shell" were too high and only his grape, musketry and rifle (fire) did us great injury.

During the cessation that followed the first firing, Capt. Clayton's company of the 1st Kansas found me, which I formed on the left of my position and the companies of Capt. Roberts, Walker and Zesch which I formed on my right.

On the right of my position a ravine stretched down to the enemy's camp, by means of which he made several attempts to flank us. At different times I had sent men one or two at a time from Capt. Roberts' company of the 1st and Capt. Cracklin's company of the 2nd Kansas, but they did not return.

At length I rode out myself and at 20 yards to the right of my position, fire was opened upon me by what seemed to be a full company. My horse was killed under me, but I escaped unhurt. My orderly, Alexander H. Lamb, brought me his horse, which I rode during the remainder of the engagement.

At this time Maj. Sturgis sent me, at the request of Maj. Cloud, of my regiment and Capt. Chenoweth, of the 1st Kansas, a section of Capt. Totten's Battery which came just in time to save us.

As the guns (cannon) stopped, Capt. Chenoweth rode out to the head of the ravine before mentioned and, perceiving the approach of a large force, he, together with Maj. Cloud and Lt. Sokalski, got the guns in position and opened fire upon them.

As the enemy approached nearer, I ordered the men to lie down and load and fire in that position and not to throw away (waste) a fire, which order, I think, was obeyed to the letter. The fire upon us was terrific, but not a man under my command broke ranks or left his place.

They loaded and fired with intense earnestness and energy, and we finally drove the enemy back for the last time and utterly silenced his fire. The artillery then left us and retired to the rear.

Maj. Sturgis had previously sent me an order to retire as soon as I could do so safely, and after driving the enemy completely back, I took the opportunity to do so. My command came off in good order and at slow time, with the men perfectly dressed.

(Note: "dressed" means in perfect formation) as on the drill ground. I crossed the first ravine in my rear and reformed.

After waiting there some 20 minutes, I marched out by the flank and rejoined the main command.

It is proper that I should state that early in the action (battle), before our regiment as such was under fire, a large force of cavalry attempted to flank us and Maj. Cloud, taking Capt. McClure's company of my regiment and deploying them as skirmishers (an advance line), succeeded in driving them back after four or five effective and well-directed volleys (of musket fire).

I am under the greatest obligations to Maj. Cloud and Adj. Lines and Capt. Ayres, of my regiment and Capt. Chenoweth of the 1st Kansas and indeed to every officer and man under my command for their self-possession and courage and for the admirable manner in which they assisted me in the action, and I would be glad to have them properly represented at headquarters.

My regiment went on the field and came off it unbroken, with its battalion organization as perfect as when it first went under fire.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

CHARLES W. BLAIR, Lt. Col., Comdg., Second Kansas Volunteers.

Any good commander at any level, then and now, recognizes and praises his soldiers for a job well done, and Col. Charles W. Blair did just that and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches