The Civil War in Missouri
Transcribed official Messages and reports between Officers in the field and their Headquarters, and messages from Field Office to Field Office.
The Battle of Kirksville, Adair County, Mo.
A. A. G., Dept. of Kansas, Fort Leavenworth, Kans.
AUGUST 6, 1862.-Action at Kirksville, Mo.
Numbers 1.-Colonel John McNeil, Second Missouri Cavalry (Militia).
Numbers 2.-Lieutenant Colonel William F. Shaffer, Second Missouri Cavalry.
Numbers 3.-Major John F. Benjamin, Eleventh Missouri Cavalry (Militia).
Number 1. Reports of Colonel John McNeil, Second Missouri Cavalry (Militia).
HEADQUARTERS IN THE FIELD,
Kirksville, August 7, 1862.
COLONEL: After an active pursuit of the enemy under Porter for eight days we brought him to action at this place at 11 o'clock a. m. of yesterday. He had a force of from 2,500 to 3,000 men posted in the houses and corn fields of the village. We had an aggregate of 1,000 men, with five pieces of artillery.
The town was taken after a fight of two hours and fifty minutes, with a loss of 5 killed, including Captain Emanuel Mayne, of the Third Iowa, and 25 wounded.
We have captured about 200 horses, as many arms of all descriptions, many of them being recently captured Government arms. The loss of the enemy killed and wounded may be safely stated at 150, and 40 prisoners. We are out of rations and our horses worn-out, but will take up the pursuit as soon as we can seize subsistence enough to keep us up.
I have the honor to be, your obedient servant,
HEADQUARTERS McNEIL'S COLUMN,
Palmyra, September 17, 1862.
MAJOR: I have the honor to send you herewith report of Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer, commanding Merrill's Horse, and of Major Caldwell,* commanding detachment of Third Iowa Cavalry, and of Major Benjamin, commanding detachment of the Eleventh Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, of their operations in the action of August 6, 1862, between the force under my command and the army under the guerrilla chief Joseph C. Porter.
I also append as brief a narrative of the events of the march and engagement as I deem their importance to allow, with such mention of the conduct of individuals as their merits justly entitle them to.
My command was composed of a detachment of the Merrill Horse, under Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer, of 14 officers and 320 men; detachment of Second Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, under command of Captains McClanahan and Edwards, 5 officers and 117 men; detachment of Eleventh Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, Major Benjamin, 320 men; the command of Major Caldwell, Third Iowa Volunteers, composed of detachments of his own regiment, the Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, and Red Rovers, Missouri State Militia; detachment of the First Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, under Major Cox, 5 officers and 132 men; section of Third Indiana Battery, Lieutenant Armington; section of steel 2
-pounder battery, Lieutenant McLaren; Sergeant West, with a 12-pounder howitzer, Second Missouri State Militia; making an aggregate of --- officers and --- men.
The train guard and those required to hold and guard horses while combatants dismounted for action, the support of the artillery and reserve deducted, left us about 500 men with which to engage the enemy. The pursuit which had preceded and led to this action had been long and arduous, and most of the troops engaged had been constantly on the march since the middle of July. I had hung on the trail of the enemy from the time I struck it, on the 29th of July. Beginning the chase with 120 men and a 12-pounder howitzer, with which I marched from Palmyra on July 29, augmented at Clinton, in Monroe County, by Major Cox with 160 men and two small steel guns, I marched to Paris at night, expecting to find Porter in that place, as he had sacked it that evening. Finding that he had moved to the Elk Fork of Salt River, we prepared to attack him there, when suddenly he made a feign of an attack on us in Paris. This kept my men on the move all day, our skirmishes driving the attacking party in every direction. But finding that this feint was only to cover his retreat across the railroad, and that he had broken up his camp at noon, we marched in pursuit all the next night, arriving at Hunnewell at 5 o'clock next morning. We moved as soon as possible, after resting our men and horses, worn-out with forty-eight hours' constant pursuit, camping that night at 10 o'clock at a farm some 4 miles east of Shelbyville.
Hearing during the night that Porter had taken Newark the evening before, we marched next morning for
Bethel, where we were joined by Major Benjamin, of the Eleventh Missouri State Militia, with 80 men, making our entire force 360 men. With this small force we pushed on to Newark, expecting to find it occupied by Porter, with his entire force of 2,000 men. Our advance guard entered one side of the town while the retreating enemy's rear was still in sight from the other. Such pursuit was made as the worn-out condition of our men and horses and the character of the country made prudent against so numerous an enemy.
We marched at 12 m. next day and continued pursuit of the enemy over a most difficult country, following his devious and eccentric windings through brake and bottom and across field, often where no wheel had ever turned before. He had destroyed bridges and obstructed the fords by felling trees. Notwithstanding this we kept well up with him, driving in his pickets, beating up his camps, and left many of his men prone upon the track.
We came up with him at Kirksville about 10 o'clock Wednesday morning, August 6, and learning that he had expelled the people from the town, concluded that he would occupy the houses and defend the place. Kirksville is situated on a prairie ridge, surrounded completely by timber and corn fields, with open ground on the northeast, from which direction we approached. The advanced guard, comprising detachments of the Second and Eleventh Missouri State Militia, under Major Benjamin, had been gallantly pushed forward, and held the northeastern approach of the town long in advance of the arrival of the main column and artillery.
Upon information that the enemy held the town everything was hurried up, without regard for horse-flesh, leaving the train to the care of the rear guard. I deployed columns on the northern and eastern faces of the town, the ground on the northeast being highly favorable for attack. Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer was put in command of the right wing, composed of the Merrill Horse, under Major Clopper; detachments of Second and Eleventh Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, under Major Benjamin, and the section of the battery of the Third Indiana Artillery, under Lieutenant Armington. The left wing was put in charge of Major Caldwell, of the Third Iowa Volunteers, and was composed of his own command, as stated above, and the detachment of the First Cavalry, Missouri Volunteers, under Major Cox. A
section of a steel battery of 2-pounder howitzer, in charge of Sergeant West and 10 men, of Company C, Second Missouri State Militia, acted, as did the Indiana artillery, by my order, under the direction of Captain Barr, of the Merrill Horse.
These dispositions having been rapidly made, I concluded to ascertain the position of the enemy, as nothing could be seen or heard of him, except one man in the cupola of the court-house, who retired at the bidding of a Sharps rifle, and a rifle-shot from a house at an officer, who appeared too curious about what was going on in town. For this reason I called for an officer and squad, who should charge into the town. Lieutenant Cowdrey, of the Merrill Horse, with 8 men, did the business most gallantly--dashing in at the northeast corner of the town, where he drew a most terrible fire from houses and gardens and on all sides. He dashed around the square, coming out at the other corner, with small loss, considering the nature of the perilous errand. The enemy discovered, the attack commenced.
The artillery opened, throwing shot and shell into the corn fields, gardens, and houses where the enemy were ensconced. The dismounted men were thrown forward to seize the outer line of sheds and houses on the northern and eastern sides of the town. This was gallantly done by the commands of Major Benjamin and Lieutenant Piper, of Merrill's Horse; the detachment of the Ninth Missouri State Militia, under Captain Leonard; the Red Rovers, under Captain Rice, and the detachment of the Third Iowa. Major Cox with his detachment occupied and skirmished through a corn field on the northeast of the town, driving a large body of the enemy out and pursuing them with effect. The advance was steadily made, house after house being taken, the occupants killed or surrendering. In this work we lost
the most of our men that were killed or wounded--including Captain Mayne, of the Third Iowa, who fell at the head of his command, leading them up as only a brave soldier can. A simultaneous charge of both wings now carried the town and court-house; but still the western line of houses and corn fields were defended with energy, our lines receiving a galling fire; but the right wing, gallantly led by Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer and Major Benjamin, made short work of this part of the field, while the left wing took
full possession of the southern line of the town.
The pursuit was continued through woods to the west of the town, where large quantities of horses, arms, clothing, and camp equipage were found, and the entire brush skirmished. Major Clopper was ordered, with a body of the Merrill Horse, to pursue the flying foe, which he did until he became convinced that they had crossed the Chariton, when he returned to camp. Further pursuit for the day, however desirable, was most impossible in our condition. The man had for the most part had nothing to eat for two days and the horses were almost entirely used up. The enemy had been numerous, and we were still unadvised whether he had crossed the river in mass or whether part of his force had not
fallen back to the northwest, from which point they might fall on our rear. We went into camp, taking measures for the collection of forage and subsistence and putting our men and horses in condition for pursuit. I had several days previously detached Lieutenant-Colonel Morsey with 420 men of the Tenth
Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, and Major Rogers, with the Second Battalion, Eleventh Regiment Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, to move north, outflank the enemy, and prevent his getting into Scotland or Schuyler Counties; and have the best reason to believe that it was the proximity of this force, of which Porter was well advised, that obliged him to make a stand at Kirksville. This command came into camp next day, swelling our force to nearly 1,700 men, without any but the precarious means of subsistence left in a country that had been desolated by the passage of an army of nearly 3,000 men.
Happily, on the morning of the 8th, Lieutenant Hiller arrived from Palmyra, by the way of Edina, with 8,000 rations and a timely supply of horseshoes. The address and boldness of Lieutenant Hiller in moving through a hostile country, infested everywhere by marauding bands, with a guard of but 40 men, and for days, is worthy of the highest commendation. It is an instance of devotion to duty that I would respectfully call to the attention of the commanding general as worthy of reward.
On the morning of the 9th we moved, on information from headquarters, toward Stockton, hoping to cut the enemy off from the road; but hearing at Bloomington that Colonel McFerran's force had met and dispersed the remainder of Porter's army, we marched to the railroad. I here directed such disposition of the different commands as I considered efficient to prevent their crossing the road to rally again in Monroe County.
Our loss in the engagement at Kirksville will be found by the surgeon's report to be 5 killed and 32 wounded. That of the enemy may be stated, without any exaggeration, at 150 killed and between 300 and 400 wounded and 47 prisoners. Finding that 15 of the persons captured had been prisoners before, and upon their own admissions had been discharged on their solemn oath and parole of honor not again to take arms against their country under penalty of death, I enforced the penalty of the bond by ordering them shot. Most of these guerrillas have certificates of parole from some provost-marshal or post commandant with them, for use at any time they may be out of camp. These paltering tokens of pocket loyalty were found on the persons of nearly all the men so executed. Disposed that an evidence of clemency and mercy of the country toward the erring and misguided should go hand-in-hand with
unrelenting justice, I discharged on parole all the prisoners who had not violated parole and who were in arms for the first time against their country and Government.
I cannot close this report without commending the conduct of the officers and men under my command. Each corps seemed to vie with the other in the noble competition of duty. Brave men fell, and we mourn their loss. But as brave men live to receive the thanks of their country for gallantry and good conduct in the face of a vastly outnumbering enemy, I would beg leave to mention my immediate attendants, Lieutenant Alexander McFarlane, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Captain H. Clay Gentry, Eleventh Regiment. The first was wounded early in the action and carried to the rear, but not until he had given evidence of coolness and courage that promise well for him wherever he shall meet an enemy. Captain Gentry continued throughout the action to carry my orders to all parts of the field and through heavy lines of fire without apparently losing a moment to think of himself. His bravery is worthy the
name he bears. Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer and Majors Clopper, Benjamin, Caldwell, and Cox each did their duty like brave officers, and especially would I mention Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer and Major Benjamin as having shown distinguished gallantry and a faithful discharge of duty while under a galling fire of the enemy in entering the town. To Captain Barr, of the Merrill Horse, I am indebted for directing the fire of the section of the Third Indiana Battery. His services were truly valuable, and I found him there, as I have found him everywhere, the best of soldiers and the most modest of gentlemen. The non-commissioned officers and men of this battery behaved in a way which even Indiana, who has so much to be proud of in this war, may applaud.
Captain Rice, commanding that gallant little company the Red Rovers, demeaned himself like a true soldier, remaining on the field during the entire action after having received a severe wound in the face
Lieutenant McLaren, of the section of steel battery, gave them "grape" in good style; and Sergeant West did good execution with he howitzer until the axle broke, rendering it useless for the rest of the day. Captains Leonard and Garth, of the Ninth Missouri, and Captains McClanahan and Edwards, of the Second, and Lieutenant Donahoo, of the Eleventh Regiment, came under my immediate notice as acting with soldierly bearing and gallantry, as did Lieutenant Piper, of the Merrill Horse, who led the first attack to seize the houses under a deadly fire, and did the work like a true soldier.
I might be deemed partial or extravagant if I were to attempt the expression of the admiration I feel for my young friend Lieutenant Cowdrey, of the Merrill Horse, for his gallant dash into the town to discover the enemy. It well entitles him to official notice, and when promotion comes to him it will fall on a capable officer--one proud of the service and devoted to duty. There were other instances of individual bravery that came under my notice which I would be glad to mention, but the limits of this report deprive me of the privilege.
The full effect and importance of our action in this pursuit and engagement will be better estimated by those who shall hereafter chronicle the events of the time than by the actors. But I think events will prove that it will have broken up recruiting for the rebel Government in Northern Missouri under the guerrilla flag, and if vigorously followed up by a prompt application of force, with unrelenting and prompt execution of military justice, Northeast Missouri will hereafter refer to that day as a point in her history.
Justice to those who did their whole duty would not be done should I omit to mention Dr. Lyon, surgeon of the Second Regiment, and Dr. Trader, assistant surgeon of the First Missouri. I inclose herewith Surgeon Lyon's report of killed and wounded.
This report has long been delayed, in consequence of my continued occupation in the field since the date of the action, rendering it impossible for me to attend to any clerical duty.
I have the honor to be, your very obedient servant,
Colonel, Commanding Expedition.
GEORGE M. HOUSTON,
Major and Assistant Adjutant-General.
Number 2. Report of Lieutenant Colonel William F. Shaffer, Second Missouri Cavalry.
LIEUTENANT: It having been my good fortune to form part of the forces under command of Colonel John McNeil at the recent battle of Kirksville, I have the honor to report that on the 6th instant we came upon the enemy, 3,000 strong, under command of Porter, McCulloch, and Franklin. They had taken possession of the town, the corn fields on both sides of the town, and the brush in the rear. I was assigned to the command of the right wing, which included Major Clopper, with 300 of Merrill's Horse; Major Benjamin, with part of the Second and Eleventh Missouri State Militia, and a section of the Third Indiana Battery, Lieutenant Armington commanding.
Not being able to first to discover the exact whereabouts of the enemy, Colonel McNeil ordered a cavalry charge to be made. I detailed Lieutenant Cowdrey, with part of Company A, Merrill's Horse, who charged through the town, receiving a severe fire from the enemy from the houses and behind the fences and trees. This was a most gallant charge, and reflects great credit upon Lieutenant Cowdrey and his brave men. Two of them were mortally wounded and 3 slightly and 5 horses killed. I then ordered Company C, Merrill's Horse, Lieutenant Piper commanding, to take possession of the nearest houses occupied by the enemy. This was done in gallant style. The fight soon became general throughout the entire line, the artillery opening on the houses and brush beyond the town with terrible effect upon the enemy. In connection with the Indiana battery I wish to speak particularly of the bravery and good conduct of Sergeants Burns and Elliott and Corporal Berg.
As our lines advanced the enemy fell back to the brush, where their horses were concealed, throwing down their arms and clothing, the thick brush between the town and the river affording excellent protection for their retreat. Pursuit was made for 4 miles by Major Clopper with a detachment of Merrill's Horse, resulting in the capture of several wagons and horses and killing 8 of the enemy. But farther pursuit was entirely out of the question, as the horses were broken down by long marches, many of them having been on the march after Porter for thirty-two days, and the men had been without rations for two days.
Our loss in my command was 4 killed and 9 wounded. The loss of the enemy in the battle was 128 killed and at least 300 wounded. We captured 150 horses, 500 stand of arms, and a quantity of clothing and blankets. Our entire force engaged in this battle did not exceed 500, large details having been made from the command for the purpose of protecting the train, ammunition, and horses, and to defend the artillery and take care of the wounded. This was the most successful battle ever fought in Missouri; the victory most complete, resulting in the entire demoralization and scattering of Porter's entire army, which had been raised by brave and unscrupulous men for the express purpose of holding Northern Missouri and robbing and killing Union men.
Majors Clopper and Benjamin both distinguished themselves by their bravely and gallantry, but this same remark applies to the entire command, officers and men alike seeking the most dangerous places and all anxious to have the fight continue.
In conclusion I must speak of Colonel McNeil's colored man Jim. To him belongs the honor to killing the first man in the fight. Armed with a Sharps rifle, he did splendid work through the entire afternoon.
Whenever a rebel showed his head at long range Jim was almost certain to get him.
I remain, very respectfully, your most obedient servant,
WM. F. SHAFFER,
Lieutenant-Colonel Merrill's Horse.
Acting Assistant Adjutant-General.
Number 3. Report of Major John F. Benjamin, Eleventh Missouri Cavalry (Militia).
KIRKSVILLE, MO., August 6, 1862.
COLONEL: The following is my report of the operations of my command for the last two days and of the part the troops under my command bore in the battle of Kirksville:
Late at night on the 4th I received orders from you to move with my command, and also the companies of Captains McClanahan and Edwards, Second Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, at 4 a. m. on the morning of the 5th, in pursuit of Porter, leaving the wagons and everything behind that would impede our march to be brought up by the rear guard. Some little delay was experienced in getting off in the morning in consequence of some of the companies not being ready at the time appointed.
We soon struck the trail of Porter in the Fabius Bottom, near Clapp's Ford, and followed with all possible speed until, reaching the Middle Fabius, 10 miles south of Memphis, we found that Porter had passed but a short time before, and had destroyed the bridge and felled trees across the ford to interrupt our pursuit. A practicable crossing for the horses was soon discovered above the bridge, where all were passed safely over. A temporary structure was hastily made of the remains of the bridge, over which the small battery and ammunition wagons were passed by hand, the men working with a will. Two other bridges were destroyed by the rebels, but the streams were passed without difficulty. We pursued, without halting, until 10 p. m., and halted, the men lying down in the open air, having eaten nothing since morning and many nothing since the night before. At 4 a. m. of the morning of the 6th we were again in the saddle, without breakfast, and soon after the pursuit commenced again.
Before reaching Kirksville the Third Iowa was ordered in the advance, and passed my command, which followed more leisurely, arriving at Kirksville about 11 a. m. The Indiana battery coming up, I was ordered by you to support it, taking position on the extreme right. When the position of the enemy became fully known I moved the companies of Captain McClanahan (Second Regiment) and Lieutenant Donahoo (Eleventh Regiment) still farther to the right, and at the northeast corner of the town, taking possession of two houses, from which they poured a very destructive fire upon the enemy (concealed, as they supposed, from us) in a small corn field, within short musket-range. Our fire, and the effective discharges of grape and shell from the Indiana battery, soon made the place too hot for the rebels, and they "vamosed the ranch" in the most approved style, leaving guns and everything behind that impeded locomotives. Many were brought down in their attempt to escape.
I received orders from you to assault the northern part of the town, and the two companies of the Second, and Company A, Eleventh Regiment, gallantly performed the work. Company H, Captain Lampkin, still supporting the battery. In nearly every house rebels were found posted, but they made but a feeble resistance. The battery was immediately moved forward, and took a position from which it could rake that part of the town not yet occupied. With Company H and part of Company A and detachments from the Second Regiment several buildings on the west side of the town were stormed and their inmates killed or taken prisoners. With small detachments from the companies of the Eleventh I scoured through a portion of the brush west of the town, meeting with but little resistance and capturing a few prisoners, many guns, horses, blankets, &c. Every officer and man readily obeyed every order and gallantly performed the work assigned them. It is impossible to discriminate. the casualties are remarkably small, considering the length of time the troops were under fire and the duties they were called on to perform. In the Eleventh no person was hurt, and in the Second a few were wounded; but
being separated immediately from them, and they only obeying my orders for the time, I am not able to give the names, having received no report from the company officers.
I cannot close this report without congratulating you on your victory. It is decidedly the most severe blow the rebels have received in Northern Missouri, and has broken the backbone of the rebellion here. Other successes over them have been only partial and our losses generally exceeding theirs; but this is like a thunder-bolt to them, and will teach them, I trust, a lesson for the future.
Respectfully, your obedient servant,
J. F. BENJAMIN,