October 6, 1863.--Action
at Baxter Springs, Kans.
No. 2.--Report of Lieut Col. Charles W. Blair, Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry.
Fort Scott, Kans., October 15, 1863.
SIR: I have the honor to report to you, for the information of the major-general commanding, the following particulars, as far as they came to my knowledge or under my observation, of the late disaster at Baxter Springs:
On the 4th instant, Major-General Blunt, his staff, consisting of Maj. B. S. Henning, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, provost-marshal; Maj. H. Z. Curtis, assistant adjutant-general; Lieut. J. E. Tappan, Second Colorado Cavalry, aide-de-camp, and Lieut. A. W. Farr, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, judge-advocate, his clerks and orderlies, brigade band, and parts of two companies of cavalry, respectively under the command of Lieut. Robert [H.] Pierce, Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, and Lieut. Josiah G. Cavert, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, left this place for Fort Blunt, Cherokee Nation. About 4 o'clock on the morning of the 7th instant, Lieutenant Tappan returned, informing me that about 1 o'clock the day previous General Blunt had been attacked within a few hundred yards of Lieutenant Pond's camp, at Baxter Springs, and the entire command, except the general himself and about 10 men, either killed or taken prisoners, and the baggage and transportation captured and destroyed. He also informed me that the general could not be persuaded to come away, but remained with his few men hanging near the enemy to watch their movements and succor any of the wounded who might be left alive, while he dispatched him (the lieutenant) to me to inform me of the circumstances. The lieutenant further stated that the enemy came over the brow of the hill, just from the direction of Pond's camp. It seemed, without a doubt, that his little force had been captured and destroyed also. He was further under the impression that Majors Curtis and Henning and Lieutenant Farr were prisoners.
Within an hour I was en route to the general's relief with three companies of the Twelfth Kansas Infantry and two companies of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry and about 100 cavalry, under Lieutenants [B. F.] Josling and [W. B.] Clark. Twenty miles out I met a dispatch from General Blunt that he was safe with Lieutenant Pond, who had been fortunate enough to repulse the enemy in their attack on his camp. I pushed on, however, without relaxation, and arrived at the Springs, a distance of 70 miles, in the afternoon of the second day, although it was the first heavy marching the infantry had ever attempted. On my arrival I found that the general had sent off every mounted man he could find, either as scout or messenger, and had notified the officers in command on the line of the Arkansas River of the disaster at the Springs, the direction in which the enemy was heading, and where he would probably cross the river.
The graves were being dug and the dead being carried in for burial as I arrived. It was a fearful sight; some 85 bodies, nearly all shot through the head, most of them shot from five to seven times each, horribly mangled, charred and blackened by fire. The wounded, who numbered 6 or 7, were all shot at least six times, and it is a remarkable fact that, with the exception of Bennet, of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry, all who were alive when they were brought in are in a fair way of final recovery.
The circumstances of this double conflict, as well as I can gather them on the spot, are about these: Quantrill, with a force variously estimated at from 600 to 1,000, was passing south on the border line of counties in Missouri, and made a detour, to attack the camp at Baxter Springs, which up to that time had been defended by one company of colored men, under Lieutenant [R. E.] Cook, and a fragment of a company of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry only. Fortunately, however, the day before I had sent Lieut. James B. Pond with part of another company of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry and a mountain howitzer. The cavalry was, however, all absent with a forage train at the time the camp was attacked; but the blacks, the dismounted men of the cavalry, the howitzer, and Lieutenant Pond were still left. The first attack of the enemy, at 12 m. of the 6th instant, was so sudden and impetuous that he was inside the rude breastworks, and firing pistol shots into the tents, before our forces recovered from the surprise into which they were thrown by the onset. They rallied, however, promptly and gallantly, under the direction of the lieutenant, and, after a severe struggle, repulsed the enemy, and drove him outside the fortifications. He then concentrated his force for a more careful attack, formed in line of battle, before the word could be given to charge, Lieutenant Pond opened upon them with the little howitzer, getting outside his breastworks to operate it, which again threw them into confusion, and drove them over the brow of the hill. At this point, it seems, they first perceived General Blunt's little column, which had halted for the wagons and band to close up, and immediately formed in line to attack it. They formed in two lines, one on the prairie and the other under the cover of the timber, and commenced the advance. Coming in the direction they did, the general, of course, supposed it was Lieutenant Pond's cavalry, either on drill or coming out to receive them. For safety, however, he formed his little force in line of battle, and sent the wagons, with the band, clerks, orderlies, cooks, and other non-combatants, to the rear, and then rode about 50 paces to the front, accompanied by his staff, to reconnoiter and endeavor to ascertain to a certainty what the approaching force was. Whatever doubts he may have entertained were soon dispelled, for the front line, firing a volley and raising the guerrilla yell, charged forward at full speed. The general, turning in his saddle to order his body guard to advance and fire, saw, with shame and humiliation, the whole of it in disgraceful flight over the prairie. There was nothing left for him then but to follow, and attempt to rally them. He accordingly turned with his staff officers, all except Major Henning, to endeavor to overtake the fugitives. By this time the enemy were upon and all around them, and their escape with life seemed almost a miracle. At this time, too, it seems to have struck Major Henning that the enemy approached from an angle which might miss Lieutenant Pond's camp, and that, consequently, he might be safe. With these thoughts, he determined to strike for the camp, and endeavor to bring Pond's force to the assistance of the general. Accordingly he charged straight forward at full speed, passing through a shower of bullets, and through the enemy's line. Deflecting a little to the right, he was over the brow of the hill before the enemy could recover from his astonishment at the daring feat. About half-way from the brow of the hill to the camp, he saw a party of five guerrillas, who had taken 3 of Lieutenant Pond's men prisoners, and were hurrying them off. As they were directly in his way, and a much larger force behind him, he was cool enough to reflect that temerity was here discretion, and instantaneously charged them. He shot 2 of them, killing 1 and frightening the others so badly that they abandoned the prisoners and took to flight. He then approached the camp at full speed, swinging his cap around his head to announce that he was a friend, and, after narrowly escaping being shot by our own men, at length arrived there in safety. He here learned of the attack on the camp, and that not a cavalryman was left, all being absent with a forage train. The distant sounds of the battle showed already that infantry was useless, and he again turned his horse's head in the direction of the field, and, solitary and alone, forced his way through the scattered bands of the enemy back to the side of his chief and his little band of supporters. History should not fail to record such deeds of gallantry and devotion. General Blunt, in his endeavor to rally his men as fast as he could catch up with any of them, was frequently thrown behind, and several times almost surrounded, although mounted in a superior manner. He finally rallied some 15 men, and, charging his foremost pursuers, compelled them in turn to retire. He then started Lieutenant Tappan with 4 men to me, and determined with the balance to watch the enemy. They killed our men as fast as they caught them, sparing none. The members of the band were shot as they sat in the band-wagon, and it was then set on fire. They rifled all the trunks, boxes, &c., in the different wagons, and then set them on fire, with the bodies of the teamsters in them, and all others who happened to be in them when taken. The non-combatants were slaughtered as ruthlessly as the soldiers. Lieutenant Farr was killed early in the struggle. Major Curtis came very near escaping, although his full uniform and showy horse made him a conspicuous mark. He was some distance in advance of his pursuers, when, just as his horse was gathering himself to spring over a deep ravine, he was struck on the hip with a ball, which so stung or frightened him that he missed his leap, and, falling short, threw the major over his head. The horse gathered himself almost instantly, and galloped wildly over the prairie. The major was first taken prisoner and then brutally murdered. Thus died as gallant a soldier and as true a gentleman as ever drew a sword in defense of his country. It may well be said of him, as of Chevalier Bayard of old, "He was without fear and without reproach." The enemy seeing that General Blunt persistently kept them in view, keeping away if pursued, and returning as soon as the pursuit slackened, were no doubt forced to believe that a large force was approaching, of which he was only the advance. His persistent following them up doubtless riveted this conclusion in their minds, as they hurried through their wholesale work of slaughter, and then moved off slowly to the south. General Blunt hovered near them until near night, and then returned to the melancholy work of caring for the wounded and collecting the dead. But few were left alive, as their evident intention was to kill all. The bodies of Major Curtis and Lieutenant Farr were not found until the next day.
Lieutenant Pond is entitled to great credit for his gallant defense of his camp, and Lieutenant Pierce also, who strove hard to rally the flying soldiers. But the men seemed struck by a sudden and uncontrollable panic, and I met many of them within 10 miles of Fort Scott as I moved out with my force. The enemy left between 20 and 30 dead on the field, and as their wounded were taken away with some ambulances and buggies they captured, it is impossible to state the number.
Disastrous as this engagement has been, it would undoubtedly have been as bad, if not worse, if General Blunt and his little force had not been near. In that event, a more careful and combined attack would have been made on Pond's camp, which, with the force around it, must have finally succumbed, and every person there would undoubtedly have been put to death.
The names and number (accurately) of our killed and wounded will be forwarded in a subsequent report.
I have the honor to be, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
CHAS. W. BLAIR,
Col. OLIVER D. GREENE,
Assistant Adjutant-General, Department of the Missouri.
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