In commemoration of the 150th anniversary of Price’s raid on Missouri and Kansas, KHC is featuring excerpts from “Price’s March of 1864” Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater script. The Shared Stories of the Civil War reader’s theater project is a partnership between KHC and the Freedom’s Frontier National Heritage Area.
READER 2: [T]he sound came…from the east in the Mound City direction…At first faintly, gently, not unmusically, vibrating on the warm hazy air. We had never heard it before, but we recognized it instantly…And hour after hour that gentle booming went on, and we stood near the house-door listening. I suppose every woman and every child within the sound of the guns also stood listening that day. The firing of cannon was new to us. None of us had ever heard it before, and we had not got hardened to it…
READER 4: In front of a log cabin stood an old woman, with several children clinging to her skirts, fearless of the leaden shower which ceaselessly pattered against the cabin wall…[T]he old lady shouted, while we whirled past, “God bless you, boys! Hurrah for the Union! Hurrah for Kansas! Give it to ‘em!” The sight was inspiring. The blessing came like a draught of wine, and with a wild shout the troops cleared the fence, swept over the prairie beyond, and attacked the disordered rebels as they emerged from the timber, capturing a Major and a number of men.
READER 5: Steadily the gallant Union soldiers cut their way through the red glare and over a wall of guns and batteries of artillery, until the shouts of victory were heard over and above the din of battle. Slowly the enemy’s lines melted away, and one by one their Generals, Colonels, and battalions laid down their arms and passed to the rear as prisoners of war…Within thirty minutes after his lines were broken, Marmaduke and the flower of his division were prisoners, and the remainder of his troops were fleeing as though they expected the devil to take the hindmost. They threw away their guns and fell over each other while crossing Mine Creek.
READER 1: Price’s army passed a little east of Mound City, where Blunt’s regiment opened on them a severe fire. They fled precipitately, leaving many of their dead on the field. I have been told that Price had printed on his wagon covers, in large letters, “Coming to stay.” After the battle, someone, in passing over the battle field, found a dead rebel soldier with a paper pinned on his shoulder, which read, “I have come to stay.”
READER 3: Day and night, the retreat was continued until the evening of the 25th, when my division, marching leisurely in front of the train, was ordered hastily to the rear to protect it, while flying rumors came up constantly that Marmaduke and Cabell were captured, with all their artillery…I soon met beyond the Osage River the advancing Federals, flushed with success and clamorous for more victims. I knew from the beginning that I could do nothing but resist their advance, delay them as much as possible, and depend on their energy and night for the rest.
The first stand was made one mile north of the Osage River, where the enemy was worsted; again upon the riverbank, and again I got away in good condition. Then taking position on a high hill one mile south of the river, I halted for a desperate struggle…The fight lasted nearly an hour, but I was at last forced to fall back. Pressed furiously, and having to cross a deep and treacherous stream, I did not offer battle again until gaining a large hill in front of the entire army, formed in line of battle…
READER 2: Shelby, by all odds, was the skillful general of Price’s army, and his division was the last of the bold raiders who flaunted the flag of defiance as they rode into Missouri; who routed General Ewing at Pilot Knob, baffled Rosecrans at St. Louis, drove the Federals into their entrenchments at Jefferson City, and frightened Curtis at Kansas City.
At the Little Osage, Shelby with his war-scarred veterans was brought to the rear as a forlorn hope. He formed on the undulating ground a mile north of the Osage in the edge of the timber, and awaited the coming of [Union forces]. He had not long to wait. With a whirl McNeil’s brigade went into line and then steadily moved forward until the lines locked in the embrace of victory or death.
After a most terrific struggle, Shelby’s line began to waver…[O]ne of McNeil’s regiments in my immediate front made a sudden dash, instantly followed by the other regiments with their commander roaring like a lion. For a few minutes the men of the two contending forces wielded their weapons without fear, favor, or affection.
READER 3: It was a fearful hour. The long and weary days of marching and fighting were culminating, and the narrow issue of life or death stood out all dark and barren as a rainy sea. The fight was to be made now, and General Price, with the pilot’s wary eye, saw the storm-cloud sweep down, growing larger and larger and darker and darker.
They came upon me steadily and calm. I waited until they came close enough and gave them volley for volley, shot for shot. For fifteen minutes both lines stood the pelting of the leaden hail without flinching, and the incessant roar of musketry rang out wildly and shrill, all separate sounds blending in a universal crash. The fate of the army hung upon the result, and our very existence tottered and tossed in the smoke of the strife. The red sun looked down upon the scene, and the redder clouds floated away with angry sullen glare. Slowly, slowly my old brigade was melting away.
READER 4: It was a square stand-up-and-knock-down fight. But finally, Shelby’s men, as they had done at the engagement north of the river, reeled and staggered to the rear, leaving their wounded and two pieces of artillery on the field.
READER 5: After the battle and the frenzied efforts to kill men, came the more leisurely efforts to heal them. The wounded began to arrive in Mound City, where they were received in private houses, in vacant cattle-sheds, or wherever they could be sheltered form rain and weather. There were no hospitals, no surgeons…A “Secesh Raid” was a hurried operation, where fighting and burning men only were wanted. The disabled could be left behind to fulfill their mournful destiny.
Feeling ran very high, and was very bitter among the civil population. People, young and old, wanted to kill the raiders who had frightened them so dreadfully. It was not easy to stem the flood of hatred all in a moment, and become once again a kind and Christian fellow human being. Horrid acts of vengeance were perpetrated by ordinarily decent men. One case occurred in the presence of one of our workmen who was appointed to go out and collect the wounded. They were coming in with a load which consisted of rebel wounded. One unhappy man, probably in delirium, suddenly raised his arm, and, taking off his cap, feebly waved it aloft and cried — “Hurrah for Jefferson Davis!” “You’ll not say that again,” exclaimed the driver savagely, as, drawing his pistol from the holster, he shot the wounded man through the head. Nobody seemed much shocked. People only remarked that enemy wounded had better be quiet or they would not get many to help them.
How long will it take communities like Mound City to recover from the brutal destruction of October 25th? Read tomorrow’s blog post to learn about the aftermath of the Battle of Mine Creek.