Creek battle over quickly

By BOB JOHNSON
Register City Editor

An hour before noon on Oct. 25, 1864, soldiers of the 2nd New Jersey Calvary steeled themselves for a battle with Confederate forces in eastern Kansas.
They were in a Union brigade commanded by Col. Frederick Benteen and part of a force of about 2,700 facing 8,000 southerners in the Mine Creek Valley, east of today’s Mound City.
Two New Jersey soldiers had a conversation just before the hostilities that showed how confident the Union veterans were, Arnold Schofield told those attending the summer meeting of the Allen County Historical Society Tuesday evening.
The conversation was recorded in a journal kept by one of their comrades. “John told Amos, ‘We’re in for a fight today,’” Schofield, superintendent of the Marais des Cygnes Massacre and Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Sites in Linn County, said.
“Well, you’ve dressed for it,” Amos replied matter-of-factly, oozing confidence.
Confident they should have been, Schofield said. “Most of the Union soldiers had been fighting for three years and knew what they were doing. Their horses were well-trained, didn’t shy when the fighting started” and Union soldiers were armed with repeating weapons that gave them far more firepower, Schofield said.

THE MINE Creek battle was a rear guard action of a force assembled weeks earlier in Arkansas by Gen. Sterling Price. Initial plans were to attack St. Louis.
The Confederates marched into Missouri intent on adding recruits and seizing supplies and materials as they went. They also wanted to draw attention from other fighting in the East and disrupt the 1864 presidential election.
Things didn’t go as planned.
As the Confederates approached St. Louis, it was obvious the city was well defended. Price turned toward Jefferson City, meaning to take the city and install a Confederate governor for Missouri. Didn’t happen, and the southerners marched on to Kansas City, where they were defeated at Westport.
Price’s force had captured supplies that filled scores of wagons and during the campaign attracted many Missouri farm boys, with no formal military training and armed with squirrel rifles.
Price led the force south into Kansas after the Westport defeat, “to create as much havoc and destruction as they could,” Schofield said.
The column had an 18-hour head start, but Union forces regrouped and headed south in a forced march. First action, the night of Oct. 24, was a skirmish between tailend Confederates and a Union picket patrol at Trading Post, a few miles north of Mine Creek.
At Mine Creek, a stream with high banks and few fords, the wagons in Price’s army were slow in crossing and left the rear guard of 8,000 soldiers and a handful of artillery pieces situated in low areas of the valley north of the creek. The 2,700 Union soldiers soon topped the northern slope. The forces positioned themselves in two opposing lines.
Those in the smaller Union force might have been unnerved at the prospect of going to battle with a such superior numbers, but they had experience and firepower on their side. Besides repeating rifles, many of the calvarymen had as many as three six-shot revolvers as well as sabers. Most of the Confederates carried single-shot rifles, including flintlocks, that they used as clubs after a single discharge. Few were battle-hardened.
The battle ended quickly.
The Union force suffered 25 killed and about 100 wounded. The Confederates, sent into disarray by the downhill charge of the blue-clad calvary, suffered 600 killed and 500 wounded.
About 300 Confederates were captured and before officers quelled the carnage, more than half of the prisoners were executed. Schofield said that was the result of the deep hatred Missourians aligned with North and South had for each other.
Union forces relentlessly pursued the Confederates, making a continuous battle of 55 miles before the southerners crossed the Arkansas River and found refuge in Indian Territory — what is now Oklahoma.