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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 322: 'Accurate information'

Friday, June 22, 2012

During the Civil War accurate information was for the most part very difficult to acquire, as opposed to modern technology which facilitates the transmission of needed information with pinpoint accuracy.

For the generals and soldiers of the blue and gray to obtain accurate information on the spot was almost impossible. Maps were usually inaccurate or non-existent and verbal and written reports were often hours, days and sometimes weeks old.

However, when small units such as companies or squads were operating in the field on search-and-destroy missions they could often be given very accurate or misleading information depending on the allegiance of the "civilian" who provided it. Such was the case when a slave provided accurate information to a large squad of "Blue Belly Billy Yanks" who were on a scout or patrol near Independence, Mo., in the summer of 1862.

The following after-action reports describe the result of this information and are located on pages 126-127 and 130 in vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion.

"Headquarters United States Forces

Independence, Mo., June 19, 1862.

Sir: A scouting party which I sent out last night to the vicinity of Hambright's Station surprised and killed two bushwhackers by the names of Randolph and Gresham; also wounding a man in company with them, who is probably innocent.

I am sending out most of my scouts, now dismounted, hunting them in their own way in the brush. On the 17th, the Fort Scott mail was robbed in the Department of Kansas.

Your Obedient Servant,

J. T. Buel

Lieutenant Colonel, Commanding Post."

"Headquarters United States Forces

Independence, Mo., June 19, 1862.

Sir: In compliance with an order from you, I proceeded with 30 men of Company D to the neighborhood of Hambright's Station; called at Mr. Allen's, who pointed out the location of Mr. Renick's house. I arrested Mr. Renick and a Mr. Reife, who was at the house.

A negro here told me that two of the bushwhackers were in a stack of hay not very far distant and near one of Mr. Fagg's.

I dismounted my men, detailed a sufficient guard for the horses and with the remainder of my command divided it into two squads and proceeded to the reported lurking place of the rebels.

I sent Sgt. Ross with one squad to surround the haystack, while with the other I proceed to Fagg's house. Finding no one at the house and hearing firing in the direction of the haystack, I proceeded there immediately.

Sgt. Ross with his squad had come on to an armed party of marauders lying in the hay, killing two and wounding the third. The wounded man was found to be unarmed, therefore not killed. Took the wounded man to Fagg's house. Park Randolph and D. Gresham are the names of the two men killed.

I delivered your message to Mr. Mathews and from him learned that Kit Chiles had been in the neighborhood a short time before. Followed him immediately up to his mother's, arriving there about sunrise.

Failing to gain any further intelligence on him, I returned to Mr. Mathews and made arrangements to bury Randolph and Gresham.

According to your orders, I arrested Barns and destroyed his grocery. From Renick, I took six horses, two of them belonging to the men who were killed and the other four left there by soldiers returning from Price's army. I took one dragoon pistol from one of the dead men, all of which I turned over to the Provost-Marshal.

Jas. M. Vance

First Lieutenant, Comdg., Co. D. Seventh Mo. Vol. Cav."

"Independence, Mo., June 23, 1862.

Sir: In compliance with your orders, I left the post with 30 men at 9:30 a.m. and proceeded to the farm of J.R. Lowe. Before arriving there, I saw suspicious looking persons, whom I supposed to be pickets.

At Lowe's farm, I dismounted my men, leaving a sufficient guard with my horses. I proceeded to the bushes with the residue of my men and found a camp, two bridles, two blankets and a lariat rope.

From appearances, I thought the guerrillas had scattered in various directions through the woods. I deployed my men as skirmishers. Taking four men with me, I proceeded along the by-paths to a distance of nearly three-quarters of a mile.

Discovering a picket (guard), we fired on him, causing him to drop his overcoat. Almost instantly we were fired upon by large numbers from the bushes just ahead of us.

After firing a few rounds, they advance on his. We retreated to where our horses were hitched and when our men assembled, I found there was one missing.

After searching for him for some time without finding him, I concluded that he was killed, and having received a wound in one of my legs. We returned to camp, where we arrived at 7 p.m. I think we killed two of the villians -- one certain.

I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,

James Breckinridge Captain, Comdg., Company B, Seventh Cavalry, Mo. Vols.

Now then, Lt. Vance received accurate reliable information and his "scout" was successful. Whereas, Capt. Breckinridge did not and he and his men walked into an ambush and they were very lucky to survive, and, of course, the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches