October 6, 1863.--Action at Baxter Springs, Kans.
No. 3.--Report of Maj. Benjamin S. Henning, Third Wisconsin Cavalry.

October 7, 1863

COLONEL: I have the honor to report the following facts in regard to the fight at Baxter Springs, Cherokee Nation, October 6, 1863:

On Sunday, the 4th, General Blunt, with the following members of his staff, viz: Maj. H. Z. Curtis, assistant adjutant-general; Maj. B. S. Henning, provost-marshal of district; Lieutenant Tappan, Second Colorado Volunteers, aide-de-camp; Lieut. Asa W. Farr, judge-advocate, together with the brigade band, and all clerks in the different departments of district headquarters, and also an escort consisting of 40 men of Company I, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, under Lieut. H. D. Banister; 45 men of Company A, Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, under Lieutenant [R. H.] Pierce, and the whole escort under the command of Lieut. J. G. Cavert, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, and a train of 8 wagons, transporting the effects of district headquarters, company effects, &c., left Fort Scott for Fort Smith, Ark., and on that day marched 6 miles, and camped. On the succeeding day marched 34 miles, and camped on Cow Creek; and on Tuesday, the 6th instant, marched from Cow Creek to within a distance of 80 rods of a camp at Baxter Springs, Cherokee Nation, and halted at 12 m. for the train to close up, as it had become somewhat scattered. The halt continued about fifteen minutes, and the  command had just been given for the column to move, when horsemen were seen coming out of the woods, a distance of about 80 rods to the left, and forming in line. As we were so near Baxter Springs (although not in sight of it by reason of an intervening ridge), many supposed them to be our own troops, drilling or returning from a scout. The general immediately ordered the two companies into line of battle, and the train to close up in rear of the line, which was done under the immediate direction of Major Curtis, assistant adjutant-general; and at the same time a reconnoiter was made by Mr. Tough, a scout of the general, who reported that the force were enemies, and that an engagement was going on at the Springs. I had ridden forward myself and discovered that the force was large, and reported the same to the general, who then rode forward to reconnoiter for himself. At this time I discovered that the enemy were being re-enforced from the southwest, on a line between us and the camp at Baxter Springs, the main body of the enemy being east of us; and, wishing to ascertain the condition of things in that quarter, I rode forward to the crest of the hill, where I saw that the camp was nearly surrounded by the enemy, and the fighting very brisk. While there, stragglers of the enemy continued to pass from the southwest to their main body. Although within range of the camp and receiving a straggling fire therefrom, I immediately commenced to fire upon these stragglers, and received their fire in return, and was seconded by Mr. Tough and Stephen Wheeler, of Company F, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, both of whom acted with great bravery, and was just on the point of returning to our line, when I saw 5 mounted rebels with 3 Federal soldiers as prisoners, trying to pass as the others had done. I immediately recognized one of the prisoners as a private of Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, one of the companies stationed at the Springs (and belonging to my own regiment). I determined to rescue them, and called to Tough and Wheeler to advance with me, but the former had just shot one rebel, and was in close pursuit of another in a direction taking him away from me. Wheeler advanced with me, and by pressing hard on the rebels and firing fast, we drove them, killing 1, wounding another, and rescuing the prisoners, who all belonged to Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry. As the rebels escaped they attempted to shoot the prisoners, and wounded one in the shoulder. As this was right under the fire of the camp, two of the prisoners made for the camp without stopping to say, "Thank you." The other, and the one personally known to me, named Heaton, seemed to be so bewildered that I had to ride up to him and force him to start in the right direction. All this had taken me over the brow of the hill, so that when I turned to go back, our forces were partially out of sight; but a few jumps of my horse brought them in sight again, and I saw them still in line of battle, while the enemy, to the number of about 450, were advancing upon them in line of battle, and firing very rapidly. I will here state that of the 85 men of our escort, 20 men acted as rear guard to the train, and did not form in line at all, leaving only 65 men in line, of which 40 men were of Company A, Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry, on the right, and 25 of Company I, Third Wisconsin Cavalry on the left. At this time the distance between the two lines was not 200 yards, and the enemy advancing at a walk, firing. I had just time to notice these facts, when I saw 2 men in the center of Company A, Fourteenth Kansas, turn to run, but before they could fairly turn round, Major Curtis and the officers of the company forced them back, and I concluded the fight would be desperate, and was hopeful, but before the officers could get their places the same 2 men and about 8 more turned and ignominiously fled, which the enemy perceiving, the charge was ordered, and the whole line advanced with a shout, at which the remainder of Company A broke, and despite the efforts of General Blunt, Major Curtis, Lieutenants Tappan and Pierce, could not be rallied. At this time a full volley was fired by Company I, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, which so staggered the right of the enemy that I began to have hopes again; but as their left continued to advance their right rallied, but were checked so much that their line, as seen by me, was crooked, their right being behind. The firing then became indiscriminate, and I saw that Company I stood firing their revolvers until the enemy were within 20 feet, and then turned, but before any distance could be made the enemy were in their midst, and out of 40 of the company 23 were killed and 6 wounded and left for dead upon the field. At this time my attention was attracted to my own danger, the enemy having advanced so fast as to cut me off from the rest, and, after trying a couple of dodges, I succeeded in getting into camp at Baxter Springs, all the while closely pursued, and found Lieutenant Pond, who was in command, busily engaged in firing a mounted howitzer outside of his breastworks. The garrison at Baxter Springs consisted of parts of two companies of Third Wisconsin Cavalry and one company of the Second Kansas Colored Regiment, (known after December 13, 1864, as the Eighty-third U. S. Colored Infantry) the whole under the command of Lieut. J. B. Pond, Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry. The camp had only been established a few days, and in that time the lieutenant caused to be built a breastwork like a log fence on three sides of a square, in which were his tents and quarters. The attack on the camp had been a partial surprise, but the troops acted splendidly, and Lieutenant Pond, taking the exposed position outside the breastworks, loaded and fired the howitzer three times without any assistance, and the engagement was so close that during this time some of the rebels had entered the breastworks, and at the time I entered the defenses and got where Lieutenant Pond was the bullets were pelting against the logs near by and all around him. As the fight with the force of General Blunt was out of sight of the camp, Lieutenant Pond had been unable to tell what it meant, and was very much surprised to see me, and in answer to my order for his cavalry (with which I hoped to be of some use to our scattered troops), told me that he had that morning started out a forage train of 8 wagons and an escort of 60 men, who had gone in the direction from which the enemy had come, and he supposed they were gobbled up, and in response to his order only 7 men reported to me. With these I returned to the brow of the hill in the direction of the first attack, and plainly saw the enemy engaged in sacking the wagons, and while there saw the band brutally murdered. At the time of the attack the band-wagon, containing 14 members of the brigade band, James O'Neal, special artist for Frank Leslie's pictorial newspaper, one young lad twelve years old (servant of the leader of the band), Henry Pellage, of Madison, Wis., and the driver, had undertaken to escape in a direction a little to the south of west, and made about half a mile, when one of the wheels of the wagon ran off, and the wagon stopped on the brow of the hill in plain sight of where I stood. As the direction of the wagon was different from that in which most of the troops fled, it had not attracted such speedy attention, and the enemy had just got to it as I returned, giving me an opportunity to see every member of the band, Mr. O'Neal, the boy, and the driver shot, and their bodies thrown in or under the wagon and it fired, so that when we went to them, all were more or less burned and [the wagon] almost entirely consumed. The drummer-boy, a very interesting and intelligent lad, was shot and thrown under the wagon, and when the fire reached his clothes it must have brought returned consciousness, as he had crawled a distance of 30 yards, marking the course by bits of burning clothes and scorched grass, and was found dead with all his clothes burned off except the portion between his back and the ground as he lay upon his back. A number of the bodies were brutally mutilated and indecently treated. Being satisfied that Lieutenant Pond could hold the camp against their force, I took two of the men and started out on the prairie in search of General Blunt, Major Curtis, or any others I could find, and in about an hour after succeeded in hearing of the general's safety, and learned also that Major Curtis was supposed to be a prisoner, as his horse had been shot from under him. I learned this from a wounded soldier that had concealed himself in the grass while the enemy had passed by him; and just then observing a deserted buggy and horse, I placed him in it with a man to take care of him, and they reached the camp in safety. The enemy were still in plain sight, and remained on the prairie till about 4 o'clock, when they marched south in a body. General Blunt and Major Curtis had tried to stop the flight of our troops from the start, and had several very narrow escapes in doing so, as the enemy were close upon them, and finally the general succeeded in collecting about 10 men, and with these he worried the enemy, attacking them in small parties, and, when pursued by too large a force, falling back until they turned, and then in turn following them, so that at no time was he out of sight of the enemy, and most of the time close enough to worry and harass them. As they withdrew from the field, he searched for and took care of the wounded, and remained upon the ground till they were all taken in and cared for, and then went into camp.

The ground on which the fight took place is rolling prairie, extending west a long distance, covered with grass, and intersected with deep ravines and gulleys, on the banks of which grow willow bushes, sufficient to conceal any difficulty in crossing, but not sufficient to protect from observation; and in retreating, many of our men were overtaken at these ravines, and killed while endeavoring to cross. Major Curtis had become separated from the general, and while riding by the side of Lieutenant Pierce his horse was shot and fell. All supposed he was taken prisoner by the enemy, being close upon them, and Lieutenant Pierce saw him alive in their hands. The next day his body was found where his horse had fallen, and he was, without doubt, killed after having surrendered. Thus fell one of the noblest of all the patriots who have offered up their lives for the cause of their country. Maj. H. Z. Curtis was a son of Major-General Curtis, and served with his father during his memorable campaign through Arkansas, and was present with him at the battle of Pea Ridge, where he did good service as aide to his father. When General Curtis took command of the Department of the Missouri, the major remained with him as assistant adjutant general on his staff, and when General Curtis was relieved of that command, the major sought for and obtained an order to report to General Blunt, as assistant adjutant-general, and in that position had done much toward regulating and systematizing the business of district headquarters of Kansas and the frontier; and on General Blunt's determining to take the field, Major Curtis accompanied him with alacrity, parting with his young and affectionate wife at Fort Scott, on the 4th of October, and met his horrible fate at Baxter Springs, on Tuesday, October 7. All who knew Major Curtis acknowledge his superior ability, and in his particular duties he had no equal. Beloved by the general and all his staff, his loss has cast a heavy gloom over us, "whose business is to die," unusual and heartfelt. In looking over the field, the body of Lieut. [A. W.] Farr was found next to where the first attack was made, with marks of wounds by buckshot and bullets. The lieutenant was unarmed at the time of the attack, and had been riding in a carriage, but had evidently jumped therefrom and attempted to escape on foot. Lieutenant Farr was a prominent young lawyer from Geneva, Wis., and had been a partner of General B. F. Butler, at Worcester, Mass. At the time of the breaking out of the rebellion he took a patriotic view of the difficulty, and, although a strong Democrat, like General Butler, had accepted a position where he thought he could be of service to his country, and has fallen in the good cause. Well does the writer of this remember the night before his death, while we were lying on the ground with our blankets over us. The lieutenant said it was not ambition nor gain that prompted him to enter the army, but only that he might do his mite towards crushing the rebellion; that he did not seek promotion, but was willing to serve where he could do the most good. Truly a patriot was lost when Lieutenant Farr was killed. Other dead, many of them brave and true men, were scattered and strewn over the ground for over a mile or two, most with balls through their heads, showing that they were killed after having surrendered, which the testimony of the wounded corroborates. They were told, in every instance, that if they would surrender and deliver up their arms they should be treated as prisoners of war, and upon doing so were immediately shot down. Sergt. Jack Splane, Company I, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, was treated in this way, and the fiend that shot him, after taking his arms, said, "Tell old God that the last man you saw on earth was Quantrill." Sergeant Splane is now alive, although he received five balls, one in his head, one through his chest, one through his bowels, and the others in his leg and arm. Private Jesse Smith was shot nearly as bad and under the same circumstances, but he did not lose his consciousness, and says that the rebel who shot him, and as he lay upon his face, jumped upon his back and essayed to dance, uttering the most vile imprecations. Some unarmed citizens that were with us were killed, and their bodies stripped of clothing. Take it all in all, there perhaps has not a more horrible affair (except the massacre at Lawrence, in Kansas) happened during the war, and brands the perpetrators as cowards and brutes. I will here also state that a woman and a child were shot at the camp; both will recover. It was done premeditately, and not by random shots, and the brute who shot the child was killed by a shot from the revolver of Sergeant McKenzie, Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry.

I respectfully call your attention to the facts set forth in this report, in hopes the Government will see fit to retaliate for the actions of this band of desperadoes, who are recognized and acknowledged by the Confederate authorities, and whose report of this affair stated that the brutality of the beast was exultingly published by the Confederate papers, and approved by the Confederate officials. Capt. A. H. Campbell, Fourteenth Kansas Volunteers, while a prisoner in the hands of the enemy at Fort Smith, Ark., was in presence of this person, Quantrill, and heard him say that he never did, and never would, take any prisoners, and was boasting of the number of captured soldiers he had caused to be shot, stating particulars, &c. These facts should be published to the civilized world, that all may know the character of the people against whom we are contending. I would also respectfully call the attention of the general commanding to the fact that passes in and out of the posts of Sedalia, Springfield, and Kansas City, signed by commanders of the posts, and also permits to carry arms, were found on the bodies of a number of the rebels killed in the fight; and from them and other papers, there is no doubt but that a portion of Quantrill's force was made up of persons belonging to the Missouri militia.

I desire to take special notice of the bravery and coolness of Lieut. James B. Pond, Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, commanding the camp; Sergeant McKenzie, of Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, and the first sergeant, R. W. Smith, of said company.

The number of the killed is as follows:

Maj. H. Z. Curtis, Lieut. A. W. Farr, Lieutenant [Ralph E.] Cook


Members of brigade band


Clerks and orderlies


Company A, Fourteenth Kansas


Company I, Third Wisconsin


Company C, Third Wisconsin (in camp)










The loss of the enemy, as far as known, is between 20 and 30.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,


Major Third Wisconsin Cavalry.


Asst, Adjt. Gen., Department of the Missouri, Saint Louis.


Hit Counter visits since 02/04/2004
page revised 05/25/2006