Battle of Westport, MO: October 23, 1864

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.    

Shalor Winchell Eldridge and Family

Shalor Winchell Eldridge and Family. Photo courtesy of:, Kansas State Historical Society. Copy and Reuse Restrictions apply.

NARRATOR: “On the morning of the 23rd, Curtis and a force composed mostly of Kansans attacked the rebels in a timber on the south side of Brush Creek, where Curtis successfully turned Price’s left flank and forced the Confederates to withdraw”… Pleasanton’s forces joined with Curtis’s troops, and Price — “with his army whittled down to 9,000 men — was facing a combined Union force of 20,000.”                                                                                                    

READER 2: From the roof of the hotel at Westport, the rebel army could plainly be seen.  In front of our little advance was deploying a large force…of the Division of Major-General Jo Shelby…Further to the south and east could be seen an enormous train moving off under protection of Marmaduke’s Division, with a large force of conscripts, most of whom were indifferently armed.

Captain Richard Hinton, Kansas, Army of the Border.

READER 4: The battle of Westport, which followed, was the pivotal engagement of the campaign.  Price, attempting to escape from his pursuers who were pressing on his flank and…rear…confronted…five Kansas regiments fighting under Blunt, and 10,000 militia under Deitzler, fighting on the threshold of the state with desperate valor, guarding their homes…Pleasonton’s batteries opened upon him and sent him scurrying southward with Curtis and Pleasonton in pursuit.

Shalor Winchell Eldridge, Kansas militia.

READER 3: On the morning of the 23rd, I took up my line of march, and in a short time discovered the enemy in position on the prairie…Brigadier-General Shelby immediately attacked the enemy, assisted by Major-General Fagan with two brigades of Arkansas troops, and though they resisted most stubbornly and contested every point of the approach, drove them six or seven miles into Westport. In the meantime Major-General Marmaduke, who was to my right and rear, being attacked with great fierceness by an overwhelming force of the enemy, after a most strenuous resistance, his ammunition being exhausted, had to fall back before the foe.

General Sterling Price, Confederate Army of the Missouri.

READER 5: Striking the open prairie beyond Wornall’s [house], the evidences of the fight were visible all about — dead horses, saddles, blankets, broken guns and dead rebels.  A little distance from the forks of the road, on the Harrisonville road, lay a dead rebel, the top of his head shot off by a cannon ball.  He was the very image of a bushwhacker, and had on three pairs of pantaloons…Another dead rebel we saw in this part of the field…was clothed in a fine suit of new clothes, evidently the plunder of some store or house…About three miles out was a rebel shot through the bowels, and left by his companions by the roadside to die.

Early in the day the rebels took possession of Mr. Wornall’s house for a hospital.  Here they left about a dozen, too severely wounded to be moved, and three soldiers to take care of them…With one exception, of those we conversed with, they claimed to have been forced into the service…Many of them were mere boys from sixteen to nineteen years old…These miserable, degraded, hungry wretches, on their errand of plunder and devastation to our peaceful homes, are fit representatives of the half-civilized power that is endeavoring to overthrow republican institutions on this continent.  Woe would have betided the homes of this hated city had these wretches made good their entrance here.  That they did not, we owe, under the good Providence of God, to the brave Kansas boys who helped us beat the invader back.  We should certainly have been overpowered had they not crossed the line and helped to fight their own as well as our battle on Missouri soil.

Journal of Commerce, Kansas City, Missouri.

READER 1: The invaders had been defeated — the traitors driven back — and…the homes of Northern Kansas were saved from desolation…. Too much praise cannot be accorded to the ladies…who organized relief and aid societies, worked unremittingly to relieve the distress…occasioned by the stoppage of work and the absence of the men in the field, and by the preparation of supplies for the sick and wounded.

Captain Richard Hinton, Kansas, Army of the Border.

NARRATOR: The Battle of Westport, sometimes called the “Gettysburg of the West,” was the most decisive battle fought beyond the Mississippi during the Civil War.  Here Union forces defeated Price’s army and with it, rebel hopes of claiming the state of Missouri or the spoils of Fort Leavenworth for the Confederacy. Confederate resistance in Westport turned to retreat, as Price’s army fled south along the Missouri side of the state line.

What are the consequences of this crucial turning point in the Civil War? Check back tomorrow for the details!