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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 288: 'A Reckless Fierceness'

Friday, October 28, 2011

This past Tuesday, Oct. 25, 2011, was the 147th anniversary, to the day, of the Battle of Mine Creek that is the largest Civil War battle fought in Kansas and the second largest Cavalry battle of the entire Civil War.

Therefore, it is only fitting and appropriate that this column be devoted to an aspect of this battle, the Battle of Mine Creek. Official Confederate "after action" reports are rare because many of these documents were destroyed during the last years of the war so they would not fall into the hands of the enemy.

However, a few did survive and are included in the U.S. Government publication entitled the "Official Record of the War of the Rebellion" that was published over 30 years from 1865 -- 1895.

The following Confederate "after action" report is by Brig. Gen. John B. Clark and describes the participation of Gen. Marmaduke's Division in the battles of the Big Blue on Oct. 22, Westport on Oct. 23 and Mine Creek on Oct. 25, 1864.

Gen. Clark is the author of this report because Gen. Marmaduke was captured at the Battle of Mine Creek, became a prisoner-of-war and was unavailable to write his report. This report is located on pages 683 -- 685 in Series I, Vol. 41, Reports of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"Headquarters, Marmaduke's Division of Cavalry, Camp on the Red River, Ark., Dec. 19, 1864.

(Battle of Big Blue)

On the same evening Independence was captured, my brigade was encamping two miles beyond the town on the Westport Road.

On the morning of the 22nd, Fagan's Division being hotly pressed from the rear, Gen. Marmaduke sent me an order to form a line of battle at some suitable point near my encampment, some two miles from Independence, as support to Freeman's Brigade, which was formed in my front some half a mile, Fagan's Division having been pressed (forced) back, then Freeman's Brigade, the enemy came within range of my artillery half an hour before sundown, which immediately opened and checked his advance.

Then, falling back probably a mile under directions from Maj. Gen. Marmaduke, I formed my brigade in order of battle to await the advance of the enemy.

I was advised that the resistance must be stubborn, as there was heavy fighting in front and the rear of the train was only a short distance in advance.

The enemy, having now engaged the army both in the front and rear and possibly elated at having driven the rear of the (Confederate) column over 12 miles of hard-fought ground and knowing from the report (sound) of their guns in the advance that the relative position of the contending forces had slightly changed not withstanding the almost impenetrable darkness of the night, they (the enemy) rushed upon us with "a reckless fierceness" that I have never seen equaled, giving us warning of confidence reposed in the efficiency and number of their troops in case we were pressed to a general engagement.

Thus passed this long and never-to-be-forgotten night of the 22nd.

The dark obscurity that enveloped friend and foe alike was only relieved by the bright flash of our guns (artillery), and the deathlike stillness that reigned in the forest around us was only broken as volley answered volley from the contending forces. Our loss was heavy, but especially in the regiment of the gallant Jeffers.

(Battle of Westport)

On the 23rd, Marmaduke's Division, again in the rear, was attacked at an early hour by the same enemy and with the same spirit as before. Some of our regiments were forced back after having repulsed the enemy several times.

Falling back through my brigade, the enemy came upon me in the full enthusiasm of pursuit, and although my brigade contended nobly with the foe for two hours and strewed the open field in our front with his dead, our ammunition exhausted, we were forced to leave the field again to the enemy, our dead in his hands.

The booming of Fagan's and Shelby's guns were heard all this time in the direction of Westport heavily engaging the enemy. At this time, I was directed by Gen. Marmaduke to pass the train and protect its left flank (side) from a threatened attack.

I found them advancing upon the flank, but (they) halted without coming to an engagement. Continued to retreat that night until 1 o'clock.

Resumed the march southward on the 23rd; crossed into Linn County, Kan., on the 24th. Resumed the march southward on the 25th (of October), Maramaduke's division being in the rear.

(Rear guard action between Trading Post and Mine Creek)

Before I had gone a mile from the encampment (on the Marais des Cygnes) of the night before, I received an order from Gen. Marmaduke to form my brigade in line of battle, as the enemy had again appeared in our rear. I remained in that position until 10 o'clock; no engagement with small arms; retiring from that position in line of battle.

The enemy, 800 or 900 yards distant in line of battle, followed us. We were now well out on a prairie that seemed almost boundless. At the distance of a mile, Gen. Marmaduke directed me to halt, which we did.

The enemy coming on with a steady advance approached very near in a largely superior force.

We retired at a trot, the enemy in close pursuit. We continued on this way, each holding about the same position, across a flat prairie almost four miles, when we came suddenly upon the (supply) trains halted, the delay occasioned by a deep ravine (Mine Creek), the enemy not more than 500 yards in our rear.

(The Battle of Mine Creek)

There was no time to make any but the most rapid dispositions for battle. To attempt to dismount and send the horses to the rear was inevitable destruction, as the enemy in the confusion would have been upon us.

There was no alternative but to abandon the train or fight on horseback (which the Confederates did). In the hurried consultation between Gens.

Fagan and Marmaduke, I understood this to be the view taken of the emergency. It was determined not to dismount, which met with my approbation (approval).

Skirmishing had already begun, the artillery in action, when the Federal force (I should judge to be 6,000 -- 7,000 (when, in reality, it was approximately 2,800) made a furious charge on the right and left flank. Both gave way in hopeless confusion!

Every effort was made by appeals and threats to retrieve the rout, but it swept in an irresistible mass ungovernable. The Federal force and that mingled together until you scarcely knew who was friend or foe!

Gallant spirits, however, were seen here and there in hand-to-hand conflict with the foe, in sad contrast to those who had ignominiously thrown away their arms. Gen. Marmaduke, in the vain effort to rally his troops, was captured by the enemy.

Every gallant spirit in my brigade remembers with affection the gallant and prudent commander of a hundred battles and mourn that his valuable services are lost to his country in the hour of her emergency.

The gallant Jeffers with Maj. Waddell, of my staff, and many other officers were captured. I succeeded in forming, I suppose, 500 men of Gen. Marmaduke's escort (which deserves great credit for being less demoralized than any troops I saw in the rout), all of which retired in some order to the main column.

The retreat was continued with occasional skirmishing until we reached Newtonia (on Oct. 28, 1864), which was the last sight we had of the enemy. As I have heard that the odium was cast upon the Maj. Gen. commanding (Maj. Gen. Sterling Price) for adopting the line of retreat through the Indian Nation (present Oklahoma), I desire to say that the route was earnestly advocated by me in preference to any other. It gives me great pleasure to call attention to the gallant conduct of Pvt. Adams, Company B, Third (Missouri) Regiment, of my brigade during the Battle of Mine Creek.

John B. Clark Jr., Brig. Gen., Commanding Division."

A good officer or non-commissioned officer always praises the good or excellent performance of those whom he commands in victory or defeat. It appears from this report that Brig. Gen. Clark was an excellent officer, because in defeat he consistently praised the actions of his soldiers who deserved praise. It is not known what the "gallant conduct" of Pvt. Adams was, but be assured that it happened because Brig. Gen. Clark wrote that it did, and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches