The Battle of Westport

October 25, 1864 – General Sterling Price’s Confederate army covered 61 miles in two days following their defeat in the largest battle fought in Missouri and the largest engagement west of the Mississippi River.

As two major Federal forces closed in on Price from different directions, he devised a desperate strategy to simultaneously attack both at Westport (now part of Kansas City) near the Kansas-Missouri border. At 8 a.m. on October 23, Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s Federal cavalry attacked the Confederate rear east of Westport.

General John Marmaduke’s Confederate division protected Price’s rear along the Big Blue River. Marmaduke’s men initially held, but the Federals captured the river’s west bank around 11 a.m., and the Confederates fell back. The Federals crossed the river at Byram’s Ford and threatened the right-rear of Price’s army.

Meanwhile, Price directed the rest of his army to attack Major General Samuel R. Curtis’s Army of the Border to their west. Confederates pushed the Federals back across Brush Creek, but Curtis rallied at Westport and the Kansas border. Price’s men launched several charges over four hours but could not break Curtis’s line. Then Federals found a small ravine and turned the Confederate left.

The Battle of Westport | Image Credit: Flickr.com

The Battle of Westport | Image Credit: Flickr.com

At mid-morning, Price learned that Marmaduke was falling back. Price positioned the remnants of Marmaduke’s division along with the division of General James Fagan to guard the southward escape of the valuable Confederate supply train. Price’s remaining division under General Jo Shelby would prevent the Federals from pursuing. Price’s men and his train withdrew down the Missouri-Kansas state line.

Curtis informed Federal Chief of Staff Henry W. Halleck after the fight that “the victory at Westport was most decisive.” This battle effectively ended Confederate resistance in not only Missouri, but in the entire Trans-Mississippi Theater. Each side lost roughly 1,500 men, which was a much more devastating figure for the undermanned Confederates.

As Price’s men withdrew, Pleasonton’s Federals pursued. The Confederates stopped after covering 61 miles in two days and fought a rear guard action at the Marais des Cygnes River, near Trading Post in Linn County. This was the first full-scale engagement of the war in Kansas. As the Federals attacked, Price fell back across the swollen river, leaving Fagan’s division behind to hold the attackers off.

The Confederates escaped, but the Federals caught up with them again later that day at Mine Creek, where they inflicted more casualties. Price made a third stand when his wagons stalled while crossing the Marmiton River. All told, Price lost 10 cannon and over 1,000 prisoners, including Generals Marmaduke and William L. Cabell and four colonels. The Federals captured or destroyed about one-third of Price’s supply train.

Pleasonton reported that the Confederates “left in great haste, dropping trees in the road to bar our progress, and fighting a running contest to the Osage River… after a brilliant charge the enemy was routed.” Price’s army was “effectively crippled.” Curtis’s troops joined the Federal pursuit, and Price continued moving to try to reach the Arkansas River, still over 100 miles away.

On the afternoon of October 28, a portion of Curtis’s army under Major General James G. Blunt caught up to Shelby’s Confederates resting at Newtonia, Missouri. Shelby held off Blunt’s advance to allow the rest of Price’s army to continue retreating. As Federal reinforcements arrived, Shelby’s men withdrew as well.

The next day, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commanding the Federal Department of Missouri, transferred troops from his department serving under Curtis to guard various posts, leaving Curtis without enough manpower to continue his pursuit. Arguments over whether Confederate prisoners should be sent to Fort Leavenworth (in Curtis’s department) or St. Louis (in Rosecrans’s department) added to the delays. Price slipped away, but his army never became an effective fighting force again.

Price had invaded Missouri to reclaim the state for the Confederacy. But besides disrupting some supply lines and diverting Federal troops from other areas of battle, the expedition failed to help the overall Confederate war effort.

—–

Sources

  • Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 3: Red River to Appomattox (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), Kindle Locations 12188-262
  • Hattaway, Herman, Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 602-03, 816
  • Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 156-61
  • Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 587-90
  • Schultz, Fred L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 474
  • Wikipedia: The Battle of Westport
  • Wikipedia: Price’s Raid
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