Battle of Westport


Battle of Westport

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Westport


caption=Battle across Brush Creek as depicted in Missouri State Capitol mural
partof=American Civil War
date=October 23, 1864
place=Present-day Kansas City, Missouri
result=Union victory
combatant1= flagicon|USA|1863 United States (Union)
combatant2= flagicon|CSA|1863 CSA (Confederacy)
commander1=Samuel R. Curtis
commander2=Sterling Price
strength1=Army of the Border (22,000)
strength2=Army of Missouri (8,500)
casualties1=1,500
casualties2=1,500

The Battle of Westport, sometimes referred to as the "Gettysburg of Missouri," was fought on October 23 1864, in present-day Kansas City, Missouri, during the American Civil War. U.S. Army forces under Major General Samuel R. Curtis decisively defeated an outnumbered Confederate Army force under Major General Sterling Price. The conflict was the turning point of Price's Missouri Expedition and helped force his army to retreat.

Westport

Westport (which is now within the boundaries of present-day Kansas City, Missouri) was already an historic city by the time Union and Confederate forces clashed there in 1864. Pioneers traveling along the Oregon, California and Santa Fe Trails had all passed through this town on their way West via Wakarusa watershed ridgelines.

:"Rivers are both byways and barriers." :"To understand history, first understand rivers."Source: [http://www.ksjournal.com Kansas Military History Journal] - (Cimarron) Current Events Department

Price's Missouri Expedition

In September of 1864, Sterling Price led his Army of Missouri into Missouri. Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of the Missouri, began assembling troops to repel the invasion. Rosecrans's cavalry, under Major General Alfred Pleasonton, was in pursuit of Price with a large detachment of infantry from the Army of the Tennessee under Andrew J. Smith.Finding St. Louis too heavily fortified, Price moved further west to threaten Jefferson City. After light skirmishing, Price again decided his target was too heavily fortified and moved west once again towards Fort Leavenworth.

Major General Samuel R. Curtis, commander of the Federal Department of Kansas, now faced the threat of Price's army moving into his department, after learning of the Confederate movements from spies including Wild Bill Hickock. Curtis assembled the troops of his department into the Army of the Border. James G. Blunt was recalled from Indian campaigns to lead the 1st Division composed mostly of volunteers regiments and some Kansas militia. Curtis was only able to muster about 4,000 volunteers and asked Kansas governor, Thomas Carney, to call out the state militia to bolster the volunteer forces. Governor Carney immediately suspected Curtis of attempting to draw the militia away from their voting districts as it was nearing time for reelections. Carney was unconcerned with Price's force far away in Missouri and felt it posed no threat to Kansas. When Price turned west toward Jefferson City, Carney relented and Maj. Gen. George Dietzler took command of the division of Kansas Militia joining the Army of the Border.

Opposing Forces at Westport

Union

Army of the Border - Major General Samuel Ryan Curtis
* 1st Division - Major General James G. Blunt
**1st Brigade - Colonel Charles R. Jennison
**2nd Brigade - Colonel Thomas Moonlight
**3rd Brigade - Colonel Charles W. Blair
**4th Brigade - Colonel James Hobart Ford

* Kansas State Militia - Major General George W. Dietzler
** 1st Brigade - Brigadier General M. S. Grant (engaged at Little Blue River)
** 2nd Brigade - Brigadier General Byron Sherry (manned Kansas City defenses)
** 3rd Brigade - Brigadier General William FishbeckRef|brig
** 4th Brigade - Brigadier General J. B. Scott (not engaged)

Department of the Missouri - Major General William S. Rosecrans
* Provisional Cavalry Division - Major General Alfred Pleasonton
** 1st Brigade - Brigadier General John B. Sanborn
** 2nd Brigade - Brigadier General John McNeil
** 3rd Brigade - Brigadier General Egbert B. Brown
** 4th Brigade - Colonel Edward F. Winslow

Confederate

Army of Missouri - Major General Sterling Price

* Fagan's Division - Major General James F. Fagan
**Dobbin's Brigade - Colonel Archiblad Dobbin

*Marmaduke's Division - Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke
**Marmaduke's Brigade - Brigadier General John B. Clark II
**Freeman's Brigade - Colonel Thomas Freeman

*Shelby's Division - Brigadier Joseph O. Shelby
**Iron Brigade - Brigadier General M. Jeff Thompson
**Jackman's Brigade - Colonel Sidney D. Jackman

The Battle

General Curtis sent the bulk of his 1st Division, under Gen. James Blunt to confront the Confederates at Lexington. Blunt was unable to stop Price but did slow him down and gather information on the size of the Confederate forces. Again along the Little Blue River on October 21, Blunt was forced to retire but not without slowing Price enough for a pursuing Federal cavalry division under Alfred Pleasonton to close the gap between himself and the Rebels. Curtis was nearly 60 years old and age had now taken a toll on his desire for combat. However thanks to his aggressive subordinate, Gen. Blunt, the decision was made to make another stand south of Westport. Blunt personally oversaw the construction of a defensive line established south of the town along Brush Creek perpendicular to the Kansas state line.

Price who was almost as old as his adversary, Curtis, left direction of the battle lines to his subordinate, General Jo Shelby. Two division under Shelby and James Fagan were poised to assault Blunt along Brush Creek. A third division under John S. Marmaduke was posted at Byram's Ford along the Big Blue River to hold off Pleasonton's Cavalry.

Fighting along Brush Creek

Blunt had three brigades along Brush Creek and a fourth under Col. Charles Blair was coming up from Kansas City. From right to left were the brigades under Colonels Thomas Moonlight, Charles "Doc" Jennison, and J. Hobart Ford. At daybreak Ford and Jennison crossed Brush Creek with skirmishers and met Shelby's troopers in an open field beyond. The Confederates attacked and drove the outflanked Federals back across the creek. Thomas Moonlight's brigade was hit so hard that it was forced to retreat across the Kansas state line and Jennison's brigade retreated almost into the streets of Westport. At this crucial point Curtis could hear Pleasonton's guns at Byram's Ford and Col. Blair's fresh brigade just arrived. His spirits lifted Curtis rode to the front lines to personally direct Blair's troops into battle. The reinforced Federals charged across the river but were once again repulsed and retreated back to the north side of the creek. Curtis needed another option besides frontal assaults and while looking for a weak point in the Rebel lines he came across a farmer searching for his lost horse. The farmer directed Curtis to a gulch running up to a rise along Shelby's left flank. Thomas Moonlight's brigade across the border was now in prime position to exploit this opportunity. Moonlight's 11th Kansas Cavalry Regiment escorted a Wisconsin Battery through the gulch and hit Shleby's left brigade, under M. Jeff Thompson, in the flank.

At the same time Moonlight was hitting the Rebel flank, Blunt renewed the attack along the front with Jennison's and Ford's brigades. The weight of Blunt's attack and the surprise of Moonlight's flanking maneuver was too much and the Rebels were forced back across the prairie to higher ground. Here they made a stand and several unsuccessful counterattacks. As disaster was befalling Shelby and Fagan, a similar fate was happening to Price's rearguard under, Marmaduke at Byram's Ford.

Fight for Byram's Ford

Marmaduke's division had the benefit of fortifications on the west bank of Byram's Ford was able to put up a fight against three of Pleasonton's four brigades since 8:00. One of Pleasonton's brigade commanders, Brig. Gen. Egbert B. Brown stalled his attack and was placed under arrest by Pleasonton for disobeying orders. Another of Pleasonton's brigade commanders, Col. Edward F. Winslow was wounded and succeeded by Lt. Col. Frederick Benteen (who would later ride to fame at Little Bighorn). Despite these setbacks the Federal troopers gained the west bank of the river and Marmaduke retired. As Brown's brigade (now lead by Col. John F. Philips) forded the river they came under heavy fire from Marmaduke's artillery. Once they had cross they charged Marmaduke across an open field. In this charge Union troops from Missouri and Arkansas battled Confederates from Missouri and Arkansas. As Marmaduke rejoined Shelby and Fagan, Blunt pounded the consolidated Confederate forces with his artillery.

While the main Confederate army was being hit hard on two sides, Pleasonton's fourth brigade under Brig. Gen. John McNeil moved against a Rebel brigade under William Lewis Cabell guarding a ford near Hickman Mills. Likewise McNeil's brigade was able to drive the Confederates from the ford.

Confederate Retreat

Federal columns were now converging on Price from three different angles. The Confederates pulled back to a last line of defense along the road to the town of Little Santa Fe and set up a line on Forest Hill. The Confederates set the prairie grass on fire as a smoke screen and the road was strewn with debris from the fleeing Rebel army. The fighting at Westport was over but the following day, Blunt and Pleasonton took up the chase once more.

Results

The Battle of Westport was one of the largest battles west of the Mississippi River, with over 30,000 troops involved and roughly 1,500 casualties on each side. The Union victory put an end to Price's threat to Missouri. The greatly contested border state of Missouri was now firmly in Union control. Price continued to fight mostly rear guard actions on his retreat to Arkansas, where his expedition officially ended November 1, 1864. This was the last campaign in the Trans-Mississippi Theater and the last major Confederate threat to any northern state.

History of Preservation of Battle of Westport Sites and Byram's Ford

(As described in the "Monnett Battle of Westport Fund Interpretive and Development Plan") At the beginning of the twentieth century, public interest was sparked to commemorate the events of the Battle of Westport. In 1906, Paul D. Jenkins published the early book Battle of Westport which stimulated the public preservation effort. In the summer of 1912, a reenactment of the battle at Byram's Ford was staged in Swope Park. (Kansas City Star, September 6,1912)

During the decade following the First World War, Kansas City's civic leaders under the direction of H. H. Crittenden, president of the Missouri Valley Historical Society, presented a concerted effort to have the Battle of Westport sites near present-day Loose Park and at Byram's Ford. Crittenden's father was Col. Thomas Crittenden who lead one of the Union cavalry brigades at Byram's Ford on October 23, 1864 and later served as governor of Missouri.

The mayor and City council of Kansas City passed ordinances recognizing the sites associated with the Battle of Westport and Byram's Ford in 1923. These activities were followed by the introduction of a bills in 1924 in the United States Congress to create a national military park to commemorate the Battle of Westport. The first proposal provided for acquisition of a site in the present Loose Park area on Wornall Road at 55th Street.

When this tract became unavailable, efforts for a national memorial then focused in 1925 and 1926 on the Byram’s Ford Big Blue River site. In the testimony before the Congress, the proponents of the Big Blue site advocated the acquisition of the Hagerman tract located on the slope of Bloody Hill. The witnesses testified in 1926 that one of the log houses that was present during the battles in 1864 still stood on this Hagerman tract in 1926. This effort was unsuccessful and the project then ceased for several years.

During the 1950s much of the battlefield was disturbed by the construction of commercial and industrial buildings beginning in 1955 with the construction of an office building facing 63rd Street atop the ridge of Bloody Hill on the former Hagerman tract. This structure was used by Allstate Insurance and then by the Burns and McDonell engineering firm. Between 1956 and 1962 the Meadow area of the site was heavily damaged by the construction of eight buildings for the Byram’s Ford Industrial Park. Two large industrial plants were built on the ridge to the north of the old Byram’s Ford Road. The developer of the industrial park erected a memorial to the Civil War at the crossing of Manchester Trafficway near the historic route of the Byram’s Ford Road.

On the eve of the Civil War centennial in 1958, the Civil War Round Table of Kansas City was formed with former President Harry S. Truman as one of its charter members. Dr. Howard N. Monnett of the Round Table researched, spoke and wrote extensively about the Action Before Westport. Dr. Monnett’s book by that title was published in 1964 at the time of centennial of the Battle of Westport. Dr. Monnett’s enthusiasm for the subject within the Kansas City Round Table led to the discussion of creating an automobile tour of the widely dispersed sites associated with the three-day conflict.

As a memorial to his vision, the leaders of the Kansas City Round Table in 1975 formed the Howard N. Monnett Battle of Westport Fund, Inc. as a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt charitable corporation for the purpose of commemorating and interpreting for the public the sites and battlefields associated with the Battle of Westport. By 1979 the founders of the Monnett Fund had successfully raised funds from throughout the community to purchase and erect permanent signage and monument markers at 25 sites and had created a self-guided automobile tour. These markers included a monument marker in the Meadow site and several wayside markers on Bloody Hill.

In 1979 and 1980, the leaders of the Monnett Fund began the initial efforts to place portions of the Byram’s Ford site on the National Register of Historic Places. This effort was stymied by the confused ownership of many of the tracts in the environs of the Ford and by the unwillingness of owners to voluntarily agree to the site’s nomination to the Register.

The Monnett Fund in 1983 began its role as an actual owner and steward of a portion of the tracts comprising the Big Blue Battlefield. The Monnett Fund’s leaders obtained the donation from Commerce Bank of fifty acres of the battlefield and adjacent tracts which had been subject to foreclosure. This donation included the site of Byram’s Ford crossing on the Big Blue River.

The Historic District was nominated and entered upon the National Register in 1989. The District is Byram's Ford Road Site on the east side of Hardesty Avenue as the old road descends from the east bluff above the Blue River. The second tract is at the ford itself and designated as "Byram's Ford Site." (Marmor at 19)

The Byram's Ford Road Site of the Historic District was acquired in 1995 through a joint effort of The Fund and the APCWS. Title was transferred to the Kansas City Parks Department in April 1995.

Recent intensive archaeological survey in 1996 on behalf of the United States Army Corps of Engineers have provided artifact documentation of the fighting which took place on the area between Byram's Ford and rock out cropping west of the ford. As a result, it has been recommended that the Historic District be amended to include generally that tract which is currently owned by the Fund. (The legal description for the tract is Lot 6 of the Byram's Ford Industrial Park). (Marmor at 60)

Further work in the form of intensive metal detecting and artifact analysis was recommended as appropriate treatment of the site. The projected levee work by the Corps was noted to have an adverse impact upon the additional tract, and mitigation was recommended. (Marmor at 1 "Abstract")

See www.battleofwestport.org [http://www.battleofwestport.org] for more information about the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund, its preservation efforts, and its capital campaign to raise money for the acquisition of key tracts of land. Additionally, the Fund is currently working to raise money to support the opening and operation of a visitors centor. The group's website includes the video "Saving Kansas City's Battlefield" [http://www.battleofwestport.org/index_files/Page323.htm] , which shows what the battlefield will look like following full restoration to its 1864 appearance.

Memorial

Although many signs and placards commemorating some aspect of the Battle of Westport are present throughout Kansas City today, the main memorial for the battle is located in the Sunset Hill neighborhood just south of the Country Club Plaza. Because the center of the main battlefield comprises present-day Loose Park and a portion of the lower (Wornall) campus of The Pembroke Hill School, the memorial is at the southern end of Loose Park, along West 55th Street.

A Battle of Westport driving tour starts in Westport at Kelly's Westport Inn, the oldest standing building in Kansas City, Missouri. It consists of a series of placards, one at each stop, giving both a detailed history of what occurred there and directions to the next stop. Stops along the self-guided tour include the Wornall House, which served as a hospital during the battle, and Forest Hill Cemetery, the final resting place of many men and officers of General Joseph Shelby's "Iron Brigade".

Noteworthy Participants

Several participants in the battle later went on gain national fame in other ways, many of them in the American Old West. Buffalo Bill Cody served as a private in the 7th Kansas Cavalry or "Jennison's Jayhawker" Regiment. Wild Bill Hickock served as scout for General Curtis. Frederick Benteen who assumed command of a brigade at Byram's Ford would later fight with George A. Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Senator Jim Lane and Kansas Governor Samuel J. Crawford served on Curtis' staff. Thomas Theodore Crittenden, served in the Kansas Militia Cavalry forces and was later buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, scene of fighting during Price's retreat from Westport.

Johnny Ringo fought under Shelby on the Confederate side. Thomas C. Reynolds joined Gen. Price's staff and hoped that Price's army might capture Jefferson City and install him as governor of a Confederate government in Missouri.

Command Disputes

By order of Maj. Gen. Blunt (General Field Orders No. 2) the militia regiments of W.H.M. Fishbeck, brigadier general of militia, were placed under command of Charles W. Blair, colonel of volunteers. Fishbeck was infuriated that his command was placed under command of a volunteer officer. On the grounds of Kansas law stating militia should be kept under the command of militia officers, Fishbeck disregarded Blunt's order. Blunt had Fishbeck arrested and was held until released by order of Maj. Gen. Curtis. Upon his release Fishbeck resumed command of the 5th, 6th and 10th Kansas Militia regiments with orders to obey directives that came from Maj. Gen. Blunt. This cumbersome arrangement had Brig. Gen. Fishbeck in direct command of the militia units attached to the 3rd Brigade, 1st Division, and Col. Charles Blair in overall command of the brigade. Howard N. Monnett describes the arrangement as a "brigade within a brigade". Blair and Fishbeck led the militia into action at Westport (accompanied onto the field by General G.W. Dietzler) and in the pursuit of Price until Maj. Gen. Curtis ordered the militia to return home.

References

* [http://www.cr.nps.gov/hps/abpp/battles/mo027.htm National Park Service battle description]
* Howard N. Monnett: Action Before Westport, 1864. Westport Historical Society, 1995 (1964) ISBN 0-87081-413-3
* Fred L. Lee: The Battle of Westport, October 21-23, 1864. Westport Historical Society, 1996 (1976) ISBN 0-913504-38-6 (battlefield tour guide).


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