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Friday, May 6, 2016

Battlefield Dispatches No. 339: Hot pursuit and white band deception

Friday, October 19, 2012

Today when one hears the expression "hot pursuit," it is normally associated with law enforcement vehicles pursuing another vehicle at a high rate of speed. However, the first after-action report in this column describes the "hot pursuit" of a band of Missouri guerrillas on horseback during the Civil War. This and the following two reports are located in Series I, Vol. 13 of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion, Pages 321-323.

Headquarters, 13th Regt. Cav., Mo. S.M.

Waynesville, Mo., Oct. 18, 1862.

Colonel: In compliance with your dispatch, received last evening that 200 rebels had crossed the Missouri River at Portland the night before and tried to make their way south, I thought it best to let them come near our post so as to be able to intercept them whenever they tried to cross our line. I therefore ordered Capt. Murphy, after midnight with portions of four companies, numbering 75 men toward the Gasconade, while I had another force of about 100 men ready to throw on them whenever I could get information where they intended to cross.

At about 10 o'clock this morning I received a report that Capt. Murphy had not only found their trace (trail), but was in hot pursuit of them. It was also reported that they had turned southwest and it was now certain that they would cross our line seven miles west from here, near the California House. I immediately started there with the force already mentioned and we were scarcely 10 minutes near the California House when they drove in our advance guard, under Lt. Muller of company A, who fell back and brought them into the line of Lt. Brown of Company F, whose men were dismounted. We now pitched into them from all sides and in a few minutes they ran for their lives. Capt. Murphy was also nearly up at that time and drove a portion of them before him and scattering them in all directions.

The estimate of the rebels killed is 20, among them Lt. Tipton and as many are wounded. We captured a SECESH (Confederate) flag, two roll books, some horses and some shotguns and Austrian rifles; made three prisoners and liberated two Union men, whom they had prisoners. We had only one man slightly wounded. I ordered the SECESH population of the neighborhood to bury the dead and to care for the wounded rebels.

The rebels were well armed and equipped and 250 to 300 strong. They were commanded by Capt. Ely, Capt. Brooks and two captains both with the name of Creggs and were a part of Col. Porter's command which did not cross the Missouri with them, but promised to follow them with a larger force.

All our officers and men behaved well. Captain Smith (Company H) has not as yet, at 8:30 p.m., come back from pursuing the rebels.

I remain, Colonel, very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Colonel, Commanding, 13th Regiment, Cavalry, Mo. S. M."

'White band deception'

During the Civil War, troops both north and south often adopted a non-military symbol indentifying themselves as belonging to a specific regiment or company. This could be a colored feather or hat band worn on their head cover (hats). In guerrilla warfare, this was particularly useful because the combatants on both sides wore civilian clothes. It could also be hazardous to one's health and longevity if one's particular symbol or insignia was discovered by the enemy. It could also save the enemy from capture or being killed, if they were bold enough to ride through enemy lines wearing the enemies' insgnia.

"Headquarters Enrolled Missouri Militia,

In the field, near Lancaster, Mo., Oct. 19, 1862.

General: A portion of my command came up with Bill Dunn and his band of guerrillas, about 100 strong, three miles south of Uniontown, on the east line of Schuyler County on Saturday the 18th. About a mile south of their encampment my force fell in with a portion of the Lancaster Enrolled Missouri Militia.. After moving half a mile they drove in Dunn's pickets, which was their first notice of the locality of his camp. Capt. Marquess, with part of the command followed the pickets, being in the center. Capt. B.W. Bell moved on a road leading to the right and the Lancaster men moved to the left. Captain Bell moved to a position on the edge of a brush with an old field in his front. Marquess divided his force and moved on to the brush after the enemy, directing Lt. Hamlin to take a position farther to the left.

The accidental discharge of a gun aroused the enemy and starting to return came in contact with Captain Marquess' squad when he opened fire on them. They fell back and endeavored to retreat on Lt. Hamlin's line and received his fire. They again fell back and moved upon Capt. Bell's position and received his fire. They again fell into the brush and put on the white band and approached Lt. Hamlin's line, and he, taking them to be our men permitted them to pass to his left and they thereby escaped. About this time, Lancaster's men came up. The white band deceived them until the balance escaped.

Four men are known to have been killed. Then enemy being in an almost impenetrable brush, my men did not examine the field until morning, when the balance of the dead and wounded had been removed by the enemy.

We captured 10 prisoners, 25 horses, 25 guns and all of their camp equipage. No casualties on our part. It appears that they have scattered in very small squads, as we cannot hear of them or find their trail.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

S.M. Wirt, Colonel Commanding."

"Lancaster, Missouri; Oct. 21, 1862.

Dear Sir: I have the honor to report to you the skirmish that took place 12 miles northeast of Lancaster, on the 18th instant, between a portion of Enrolled Missouri Militia under my command and a detachment of the 2nd Missouri Cavalry and about 150 guerrillas under the command of the notorious Capt. William Dunn.

On the morning of the 17th instant, I sent out Capt. David G. Maize in the direction of Uniontown in Scotland County with a small force of the Enrolled Missouri Militia from this post to look for rebels.

At daylight next morning, Capt. Maize discovered that he was in the neighborhood of a large force of them and sent back for renforcement to me at Lancaster. I sent what men I could spare, under command of Second Lt. Thomas Law, of the Second Missouri Cavalry and First Lieut. W.W. Bruce of the Enrolled Missouri Militia of this place, making a force, all told of 57 men and officers. They came up with the rebels posted in a thicket 1 and 1/2 miles south of the village of Uniontown in Scotland County. Capt. Maize, assisted by lieutenants Law and Bruce opened fire on them. Capt. Bell of the Enrolled Missouri Militia of Adair County came up about the same time with a considerable force under his command and aided us in the fight which lasted one and a half hours and resulted in the total rout of the rebel forces.

Seven of the rebels are reported killed and a number of them wounded. Ten were taken prisoners and among them the noted guerrilla Tom Palmer. The number of horses captured by my men was 12, arms, saddles and blankets unknown, as they were four gathered up by the various companies engaged and carried off. Capt. Bell of Kirksville, took charge of the prisoners and most of the horses and took them with him.

The rebels wore white bands on their hats and this saved them from utter destruction as our men mistook them at first for our own men. We had none of our men killed or wounded in this skirmish.

On the morning of the 18th, let me add, Capt. N. Williams and Lt. Grimshaw, with 17 men were marching into the village of Uniontown. When near the village they were fired on by some 20 men who they thought were the Enrolled Missouri Militia (as they all had on white hat bands), but before they found out their mistake, the guerrillas had fled out of the village. One man of the Enrolled Missouri Militia was wounded; also three horses.

The skirmish first mentioned in this report took place late in the evening and the rebels made good their retreat under the cover of night.

I have the honor to be Sir, your obedient servant,


Lt. Col., Commanding Post of Lancaster, Mo."

Now then, in this skirmish the Rebels knew the insignia (white hat bands) of some of the Union troops and used it to their advantage in escaping and as the element of surprise in an attack. This was not unusual in Missouri during the Civil War because often an adopted insignia was the only unit identification as both guerrillas and militia were usually dressed in civilian clothes and both sides frequently used this deception to their advantage, and of course the war went on!

Arnold W. Schofield
Battlefield Dispatches