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Battle of Westport.


October 1864

From The Missouri Democrat, Monday, October 31, 1864.


Signal Rout of Price!


On Saturday the enemy succeeded in forcing a passage across Big Blue, at the Upper Fords, greatly outnumbering our forces and driving Moonlight and Jennison back to Westport. Our loss was considerable in this day’s operations, the Kansas militia suffering a loss of from one hundred to one hundred and fifty in killed, wounded and prisoners. General Curtis, on Saturday afternoon, moved his headquarters from Big Blue to this city, and Saturday night the whole army was concentrated about this point, the advance being at Westport.

The enemy encamped about three miles beyond Westport, on the Fort Scott road. Price, from all accounts, was himself in command. They were confident of being in Kansas City by Sunday night. Many former residents of Kansas City, were among them, desirous of wreaking vengeance on their former friends and neighbors. Early yesterday morning the battle commenced, the enemy greatly outnumbering our advance, and extending his line west nearly to Shawnee Mission and crowding down in front into the timber South of Westport. Colonels Ford, Jennison and Moonlight were soon hotly engaged. Moonlight held the extreme right, to prevent the enemy’s outflanking us. General Curtis soon ordered the militia up, and the boys went in with a will. The 19th Kansas militia were dismounted and sent to the front, also the Miami county boys, and did excellent service in checking the rebel advance. The infantry were ordered up and formed in line on the bank of Bush Creek, South of Westport. Our batteries were playing lively on the enemy and there was rapid firing along the line.

The enemy were gradually forced back from the timber into the open to grounds and fields along the Fort Scott road, near the Wernel [sic-Wornall] place. Here they made a strong stand, making temporary breastworks of rails and firing from the stone walls and cornfields. But our fire was too hot for them, and a ringing cheer along our lines told that the enemy was being forced back. This was about eleven o’clock, and for the last half hour and more cannon firing off to the extreme left, had told of the approach of Pleasanton’s [sic] forces from the East. They now emerged in strong lines up on the prairie, a short distance beyond the forks of the Fort Scott and Harrisonville roads, and charged upon the enemy’s flank while our boys charged down on the front, putting them to complete rout.

The artillery and cavalry pushed on as rapidly as possible, shelling the rebels from every eminence, and keeping up the pursuit till dark.

The battlefield exhibited evidences of the fiercest contest. The enemy had fled in such haste, that he had been forced to leave his dead and many of his severely wounded. In the field next to the lane, on this side of Wernel’s house, there were seven dead rebels lying side by side, and near them an officer, said to have been Colonel McGee [sic-James M. McGhee]; around the latter the rebels had built a little pen of rails. A little further on, we saw a dead rebels lying stiff and stark by the roadside, shot through the head. A little further on the remains of a rebel cannon, broken to pieces by a shot from one of our guns. Striking the open prairie beyond Wernel’s, the evidences of the fight were visible all about–dead horses, saddles, blankets, broken guns and dead rebels. A little distance from the forks of the road, on the Harrisonville road, lay a dead rebel, the top of his head shot off by a cannonball. He was the very image of a bushwhacker, and had on three pairs of pantaloons. On one of his fingers was a large gold ring. One of our soldiers tried to take it off, but the finger was so swollen that it would not come off, and he left it and passed on. Another dead rebel we saw on this part of the field. He was clothed in a fine suit of new clothes, evidently the plunder of some store or house. On the prairie our shells seemed to have done the main execution. About three miles out was a rebel shot through the bowels and left by his companions by the roadside to die. At a house by the road was one shot through the neck–a mortal wound. Early in the day the rebels took possession of Mr. Wernel’s house for a hospital. Here they left about a dozen, too severely wounded to be moved, and three soldiers to take care of them. We interrogated some of these men, and they all were members of Dobbins’s brigade of Arkansas troops. With one exception, of those we conversed with, they claimed to have been forced into the service; one, a boy of eighteen, said he volunteered rather than be conscripted. The most of those wounded will die, being shot through the body. The less severely wounded were removed last night to Westport, and are receiving the same attention as our wounded.

Quite a haul of prisoners was made during the day. Some forty or fifty of them were marshaled in line, just at night as we came through Westport, and started off under guard for this place. Many of them were mere boys, from sixteen to nineteen years old. Some of them had a bushwhacker look, while some of them looked like “good quiet farmers,” who had lately joined the expedition for plunder. One of them remarked that they “had got the joke on Old Pap this time, as they would surely beat him into Kansas City.” Another replied that “he wished Old Pap was along with them.”

One thing was to be remarked of all the rebels we saw–dead or alive–the stolid, ignorant, degraded appearance of the whole of them. They seem to belong to a different race from ours, and most certainly an inferior one. In truth, this war is one of intelligence [sic], enlightened, and Christian civilization against barbarism. These miserable, degraded, hungry wretches, on their errand of plunder and devastation to our peaceful homes, are fit representatives of the half-civilized power that is endeavoring to overthrow Republican institutions on this continent.

We would have betided the homes of this hated city, had these wretches made good their entrance here. That they did not, we owe, under the good Providence of God, to the brave Kansas boys who helped this beat the invaders back. We should certainly have been overpowered had they not crossed the line and help fight their own as well as our battle on Missouri soil.

The Journal of the same date, 24th, as also the following:

A courier just in from Gen. Pleasanton, reports that that officer attacked the rebels again early this morning. They fled at the first fire, and are already thirty miles from Westport. Our forces are in hot pursuit. It is thought that the main body of Price’s troops, with his immense train, moved in that direction before yesterday, and that it was an ourside column with which our forces fought yesterday.