Battle of Westport

Battle of Westport (HMIPO)

Location: Kansas City, MO 64113 Jackson County
Country: United States of America

N 39° 1.704', W 94° 35.672'

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Position of Opposing Forces - 11a.m. Oct. 23, 1864

Gen. Sterling Price was on this spot at 11:00 a.m. but retired before the armies had reached this disposition.

Positions after the Union flank attack. Lines moved back and forth with charges and countercharges, although cavalry, most were dismounted. Dobbins and Slemons were pulled back to Harrisonville Road near noon. Jackman was ordered out at 1:00 p.m. to support Fagan after Marmaduke's collapse at Byram's Ford. The remainder of Shelby's Division withdrew soon thereafter.

map of battle of Westport - Third Day


Turning Tides

In the Civil War Midyears the North Scores Key Victories

In July, 1863, the South lost at Gettysburg and at Vicksburg, and the tide of victory turned to the North. Union gunboats took control of the Mississippi, isolating Confederates west of the river. In November, 1863, Chattanooga fell and by July, 1864, Atlanta, Richmond and Petersburg were under siege. The Confederacy was being split and its capitol threatened.

(map of situation mid 1863 - mid 1864)

The South Devises a Desperate Plan to Capture St. Louis and Turn the Union From the East

Confederate troops from Missouri and Arkansas would raid Missouri, rally the loyal men there, capture St. Louis and bring Missouri into the Confederacy. Success could possibly change the course of the war.

C.S.A. Headquarters ordered the plan into operation on August 4, 1864. (The logistics problems of this raid would rand with those of U.S. General Sherman's march through Georgia.)

On September 19, the C.S.A. Army of Missouri rode out from Pocahontas, Arkansas, with General Sterling Price, a Missourian, in command. Generals James Fagan, John Marmaduke and Joseph Shelby led three divisions of cavalry with artillery.

(picture of Confederate cavalry)


Defiant Sweep Across Missouri

Plans Change

(picture of Price's Raid into Missouri)

The Confederates advanced slowly, stopping for raids and supplies. On September 27, they arrived at Ft. Davidson, south of St. Louis, and attacked. They were repulsed, and, after dark, the outnumbered Union garrison slipped from the fort. Some Southern troops gave chase. Before the Confederates could regroup, St. Louis was alerted. The necessary "moment of surprise" was lost ... and also the major objective of the raid.

Raiders Turn West

General Price's men turned toward Jefferson City, the state capitol. Enroute, they recruited men, and swept the area of mules, cattle and military supplies. But, at Jefferson City, unexpected Union strength discouraged attack. The army rode on westward, through the river towns, on toward Kansas City and Ft. Leavenworth.

(map of the Campaign of the Army of Missouri)

A Trap Awaits

Meanwhile, two large Union forces were in pursuit from St. Louis: General Alfred Pleasanton's cavalry behind them and General Andrew Smith's infantry to the south. The deep, bridgeless Missouri River was north and General Samuel Curtis' U.S. Army of the Border was ahead.


The Opening Clash

October 21, 1864

Fierce Resistance in a Delaying Action Beside the Little Blue River

(picture of skirmish line)

By October 21, the men in gray had fought through Lexington and were enroute to Independence. At the Little Blue River (near the present Highway 24 bridge), one brigade of the U.S. Army of the Border prepared to delay the Confederates' advance to the Big Blue River where General Curtis was planning to make his stand. The Union brigade and reinforcements under division commander James Blunt fought stubbornly. But, during the day of fierce, bloody fighting, the Confederates slowly pushed them back to Independence.

(map of Battle at the Big Blue River)

Federals Entrench

That evening, the Union men retreated to the Big Blue River. General Curtis' men had been fortifying the river for a week, from the river's mouth to Hickman Mills, fifteen miles southward. The general was "confident I can stop Price at this crossing."

Hoping to "bag Price," he dispatched a trusted messenger to General Pleasanton, urging him to press forward. The messenger, narrowly escaping drowning and capture, got through. By midnight 15,000 were deployed along the west bank, waiting.


Breakthrough at Big Blue River

22 October 1864

Strike at Byram's Ford

(map of the position of October 22, 1864)

At sunup, Union forces along the Big Blue braced for attack. After a feint toward the main Union force to the north, the Confederates struck at mid-morning, south, at Byram's ford (where 63rd St. crosses the river). The battle seesawed, but the Southerners found a small unguarded ford nearby, crossed and struck the Unoin flank. The Federals retreated. The river had been crossed.

(picture of hand-to-hand fighting)

That afternoon, action was scattered across a wide area extending to the state line. Fighting at Mockbee's farm (78th and Holmes) was very fierce with high casualty. A thundering Confederate cavalry charge there finally routed the raw, but persistent Kansas militiamen.

Back in Independence, Union General Pleasanton was pushing the Confederate rear guard through the town. Because of this pressure, General Price later directed his train of captured goods (600 wagons, 5,000 head of stock), and his 5,000 unarmed recruits soutwesterly.

(picture of troops around campfire)

Little Rest For Weary Men

That night, few men slept. Pickets clashed; units were positioned and issued ammunition; and many, thinking of tomorrow, stared into the campfires during the chill night.


A Chill & Sleepless Night

Troops Carefully Positioned

(map of positions of October 23, 1864)

That night, General Price carefully positioned his 10,000 men. South of Brush Creek, General Shelby's division on the left and General Fagan's men on the right formed a front from State Line to Harrisonville Road (Prospect Ave.). One stretched along the road to Little Santa Fe (121st St. and State Line). General Marmaduke's division occupied former Union entrenchments at Byram's ford on the Big Blue River, opposite U.S. General Pleasanton's 7,000 cavalrymen now on the east bank.

Generals Plan Past Midnight

At Gillis House in Kansas City, Union General Curtis worked long after midnight to deploy his 20,000 men, after finally deciding to make a stand. General Blunt and his division were stationed north of Brush Creek and along State Line; the Kansas Militia were held in reserve in Westport and in Kansas City.

(picture of Union Officers at the head of their troops)

Advance at Dawn

At dawn, Union troops crossed the icy waters of Brush Creek, pushed through the timber up the hill and across the plain (to 55th St.). Through the morning mist came the Confederate cavalry. The blue skirmish line finally fell back, retreating across the creek. The Confederates waited on the creek for ammunition to be reissued.

(You now stand where C.S.A. General Price watched that morning by a tree. The tree, now gone, became known as the "General's Tree.")


Day of Decision

October 23, 1864

(map of Battle of Westport Oct 23, 1864 11am)

U.S. General Curtis, watching from the Harris House roof in Westport, ordered his reserves forward. He arrived at Brush Creek about 11 a.m. But another Union advance failed.

Fate Intervenes

He was preparing to lead another assault when a local farmer, George Thoman, arrived. The farmer was angry at the Confederates for taking his gray mare, and told General Curtis how to reach the the hilltop - and the Confederate left flank - undetected. Curtis' men, with artillery, followed him up a small ravine (now Rockwell Lane and Sunset Drive) and shocked the Southerners by firing down their line.

(picture of Union attack)

Assault at the Front

Simultaneously, General Blunt attacked from the front. The bluecoats poured up and over the heights, followed by artillery.

Blue and Grey Collide in Furious Battle

A furious battle raged across the stone walls and brown, frost-killed fields - a screaming, hacking, exploding melee of men, horses, sabers, and guns. Fighting was particularly fierce around William Bent's house (55th and Ward Parkway). More than 40 cannon were firing. One Confederate battery fired so rapidly that a cannon burst from its heat (near 56th and Pennsylvania).

Superior Union numbers finally took their toll. The Confederates slowly gave up ground.


Valor & Death

Collapse on Second Front

At the same time that morning at Byram's ford on the Big Blue River, General Pleasonton's bluecoats were fighting a pitched battle against General Marmaduke's men. The Southerners were entrenched by the river and on steep rock ledges to the west. They had superior position, but were outnumbered two to one and low on ammunition. After long, bloody, hand-to-hand combat, they were pushed to the Harrisonville Road (Prospect Ave.) where they retreated south.

General Fagan's division and one of General Shelby's brigades then engaged General Pleasonton's men. But the Union forced through and a battery came upon General Shelby's right flank at Hinkle Grove (63rd and Walnut) about 1:30 p.m. and opened up with a searing fire.

(maps of the Battle afternoon October 23, 1864)

Iron Brigade Holds

Caught in a pincers, General Shelby's "Iron Brigade" made a last desperate stand behind stone fences (now 71st St.) which stretched to the state line. (His right flank fought where Forest Hill Cemetery is now - where both farmer George Thoman and General Shelby would be buried years later.) This delaying action allowed Generals Fagan and Marmaduke and the wagon train to retreat south along the state line. The "Iron Brigade" then fell back in orderly retreat.

The Chase Begins

Union Commanders met at Indian Creek to decide who should give chase. The Confederates rode on southward.


A Long Road Home

(picture of Union and Confederate cavalry clash)

The wagon train miraculously survived the day. General Smith's 6,000 infantry men veered north and missed intercepting it. The Union brigade dispatched by General Pleasonton to destroy it, was repulsed then later fooled by a "battle line" of unarmed recruits and finally turned back by a grass fire set by the Southerners.

(map of the Confederate retreat & Union pursuit through Kansas & Missouri)

No Time to Bury the Dead

Dead and wounded were left on the fields to be gathered up by local farmers. (One mass grave was near 55th St. and Ward parkway) John Wornall's Home (61st St. Terrace and Wornall) served as field hospital for both sides.

Disaster at Mine Creek

On October 25, Union cavalry caught the Confederates crossing Mine Creek in Kansas, 65 miles south and killed and captured many. General Price burned one third of the wagon train the next day to speed retreat. On October 28, the Union attacked again at Newton Missouri. They ended pursuit at Fayetteville, Arkansas, November 4.

After enduring cold, starvation and smallpox during their march across the Choctaw Nation, the raiders finally disbanded at Laynesport, Arkansas, December 2, 1864.

Southern Resistance in the West was broken. The Battle of Westport was the last major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. More than 30,000 men fought approximately 10,000 Confederates and 20,000 Federals. Some estimate that 3,500 were killed or wounded though no one knows exactly.
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HM NumberHMIPO
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Marker Number8
Placed ByThe Johnson County National Bank and Trust Co
Marker ConditionNo reports yet
Date Added Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 at 6:51am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)15S E 361978 N 4321137
Decimal Degrees39.02840000, -94.59453333
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 39° 1.704', W 94° 35.672'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds39° 1' 42.24" N, 94° 35' 40.32" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)816, 913
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 428-498 W 55th St, Kansas City MO 64113, US
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