The Battle of Mine Creek, 1864

October 25, 1864

The Battle of Mine Creek was the largest Civil War conflict fought in Kansas, and one of the larger cavalry engagements of the war.

Portrait of Alfred Pleasonton

On the morning of October 25, 1864, two brigades of Union General Alfred Pleasonton’s Provisional Cavalry Division defeated the rearguard of the retreating Confederate Army of Missouri at the Battle of Mine Creek. [Wikimedia Commons]

Prelude to the Mine Creek Battle

Confederate General Kirby Smith’s sweeping triumph over Union forces in Arkansas and Louisiana during the Red River Campaign in the spring of 1864 emboldened him to authorize a daring cavalry raid into Missouri in September. Smith chose Major General Sterling Price to lead the foray. Price’s objectives were to divert Union troops away from Richmond and Atlanta, enlist Confederate recruits, capture and destroy Union war materials, and, if possible, capture St. Louis or Jefferson City. Smith also hoped that Confederate successes in Missouri would damage President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection hopes.

Confederate Army of Missouri on the Move

During the summer, Price assembled three divisions of cavalry, mounted infantry, and supporting artillery, commanded by Major General James F. Fagan, Major General John S. Marmaduke, and Brigadier General Joseph O. Shelby. Price’s force, known as the Army of Missouri, totaled roughly 12,000 ill-provisioned men. Perhaps as many as 4,000 of them were unarmed.

Price’s Expedition began on August 28, 1864, when the Army of Missouri departed Camden, Arkansas. On September 19, he led his men into Missouri near Doniphan and headed north toward St. Louis.

Battle of Fort Davidson—September 26-27, 1864

Eager for a morale-boosting victory early in the campaign, Price decided to attack Fort Davidson, a lightly defended Union garrison, about eighty miles south of St. Louis on September 26. The two-day battle that followed proved costly for the Confederates. Although the Confederates forced the Yankee garrison to abandon the fort, Price suffered roughly 1,100 casualties while doing so. More importantly, the delay enabled Union officials to strengthen their defenses around St. Louis, forcing Price to abandon plans to strike his primary objective. Instead, Price led his army west toward Missouri’s capital, Jefferson City, near the center of the state.

For the next week, the Army of Missouri rampaged across central Missouri, destroying railroads, burning bridges, and looting. Bogged down by wagons loaded with supplies and plunder, the slow, undisciplined caravan did not approach the Missouri capital until October 6, 1864. On that date, Price’s vanguard skirmished with federal pickets and forced a crossing of the Osage River six miles below Jefferson City. By that time, Brigadier General Clinton Fisk, commander of the Union District of Northern Missouri, had ringed the city with formidable defenses.

Fearing a repeat of the costly defeat at Fort Davidson, Price decided to bypass Jefferson City. Instead, he headed his army toward the Missouri-Kansas border on October 8. On the same day, Major General Alfred Pleasonton arrived in Jefferson City and took command of all Union-mounted forces. Pleasonton ordered his cavalry into the field to harass Price’s rearguard.

As the Army of Missouri continued its slow trek west, the Confederates assaulted Glasgow and Sedalia on October 15. The Confederates carried off roughly 1,500 muskets, 150 horses, and wagonloads of supplies during the raids.

Union Opposition

Army of the Border

Price’s raids and pillaging in Missouri came at a steep price. The army’s slow progress enabled Union officials to consolidate their forces. On October 9, 1864, Major General Samuel Curtis, commander of the Department of Kansas, learned that Price had left Jefferson City and was moving toward Kansas. Curtis countered by convincing Kansas Governor Thomas Carney to mobilize the state militia. The next day, Curtis declared martial law and began merging the 4,000 regular troops under his command with 8,000 Kansas militiamen to form a force to confront Price.

Curtis partitioned his army into two divisions. Major General James G. Blunt, in charge of the District of South Kansas, commanded the army’s 1st Division, which comprised three brigades of volunteer cavalry regiments and a fourth brigade of Kansas state militia units. Major General George W. Dietzler commanded the 2nd Division, which comprised all the Kansas state militia units except one.

By October 13, 1864, Curtis was referring to his combined command as the Army of the Border in official correspondence. On October 14, in a memorandum, Curtis informed Major General Henry W. Halleck who was General-in-Chief of the Armies of the United States, that “I denominate my forces the Army of the Border, and I will do all I can to make it felt by the enemy.”

Pleasonton’s Provisional Cavalry Division

While Curtis was organizing his Kansas troops, Major General William S. Rosecrans, commander of the Department of Missouri, began rounding up cavalry units under his jurisdiction to stop Price. By early October, Rosecrans had assembled roughly 5,500 Union troopers at Jefferson City led by Major General Alfred Pleasonton, commander of the District of Central Missouri.

Second Battle of Lexington—October 19, 1864

As the Army of Missouri inched west, Price found himself between two hostile forces. Pleasonton’s cavalry was still nipping at his heels, as roughly 2,000 Federals from Blunt’s division of the Army of the Border headed toward Lexington, Missouri, to await Price’s arrival.

On October 19, the two forces clashed on the eastern outskirts of Lexington. Led by General Shelby’s division, the victorious Confederates forced Blunt’s men to retreat and establish a new line along the Little Blue River.

Battle of Little Blue River—October 21, 1864

Two days later, Price attacked Blunt’s new line and forced the Yankees to fall back to Independence, Missouri, before the fighting ended. Later that evening, Blunt abandoned Independence and joined Curtis’ lines along the Big Blue River, southwest of Independence.

Second Battle of Independence—October 22, 1864

Price’s Army of Missouri occupied Independence on the afternoon of October 21 after Blunt’s Federals fell back to the Big Blue River. The next morning, Price continued his push west towards a showdown with the Union Army of the Border.

Concerns about Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s Union cavalry, still in pursuit of the Confederates, prompted Price to leave James F. Fagan’s division of about 4,500 soldiers at Independence to guard his rear.

Price’s concerns were well founded. Pleasonton’s Union cavalry caught up with the Confederates along the Little Blue River east of Independence on October 22. After Pleasonton’s troopers forced their way across the Little Blue River and drove Fagan’s men out of Independence, Price had to send John S. Marmaduke’s division back to stem the Union advance. The redeployment, however, dashed Price’s hopes of defeating Curtis’ army before being caught in the Union vise.

Battle of Byram’s Ford (aka Battle of Big Blue River)—October 22, 1864

While the rearguard of the Army of Missouri fought to hold back Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry during the Battle of Independence on October 22, 1864, Major General Joseph O. Shelby’s division probed Union Major General James G. Blunt’s defensive line along the western banks of the Big Blue River. With Pleasonton pressing his rear, Major General Sterling Price was desperate to get the bulk of his forces, along with roughly 500 wagons and about 5,000 head of cattle, across the Big Blue River.

After unsuccessfully storming Blunt’s line, Shelby began searching for alternatives. By mid-afternoon, Confederate detachments found places to cross the river above and below Byram’s Ford. With the Federals in jeopardy of being flanked and isolated, Blunt ordered the defenders to withdraw to Westport (now part of Kansas City, Missouri) and join the bulk of Curtis’ army, setting the stage for the decisive Battle of Westport the next day.

Battle of Westport—October 23, 1864

On the day after Major General James G. Blunt’s division fell back from Byram’s Ford and joined Major General Samuel Curtis’ Army of the Border, Major General Sterling Price found himself in the pincer he had wished to avoid. When the Confederates attacked the Federals on the morning of October 23, they enjoyed some early success until running low on ammunition. As the fighting reached an impasse, the Yankees flanked the Confederates and forced them to withdraw.

Meanwhile, Major General Alfred Pleasonton’s cavalry had launched an early morning assault against Price’s rear at Byram’s Ford and forced their way across the Big Blue River. Pleasonton’s arrival left the Confederates caught in a vise between two surging federal forces. Facing possible annihilation, Shelby executed a masterful delaying action that enabled Price to withdraw his army southward and reconnect with his supply train at Little Santa Fe.

Battle of Mine Creek—October 25, 1864

Following the Union victory at the Battle of Westport on October 23, Price led the remnants of the Army of Missouri southward toward Little Santa Fe to rejoin his supply train. The next day they entered Kansas, moving toward Fort Scott. Price led the way, accompanying the bulk of his army. The cavalry divisions of Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke and Major General James F. Fagan traveled behind, protecting the army’s supply train.

Early on the morning of October 25, two brigades of Union General Alfred Pleasonton’s pursuing cavalry division caught up with Price’s rearguard near Mine Creek. Because the Confederate wagon train had not yet crossed the creek, the Confederates were forced to stop and fight the 2,500 Union troopers commanded by Colonel John F. Philips and Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Benteen.

Confederate skirmishers delayed the Yankees long enough for Marmaduke and Fagan to establish defensive lines. By 10:30 a.m., both sides were in position to do battle and the Confederate artillery opened fire.

At 11 a.m., Benteen led a charge against the Confederate line that initially stalled until more Yankees joined the onslaught. Unable to match the firepower of the superior breech-loading carbines wielded by the federal cavalrymen, the Confederate line soon collapsed. As the two forces collided, the fighting regressed to fierce hand-to-hand combat.

By 11:30 a.m., the Confederates were scrambling across the rain-swollen creek. Blocking their way were hundreds of supply wagons that were overturned or stuck in the mud along the steep banks. Adding to the chaos, many of the Confederates were dressed in Union uniforms they had confiscated in earlier raids during the campaign. With little chance of escaping the congestion, hundreds of Confederates surrendered. The Federals stayed in hot pursuit of the Confederates who managed to escape, and later that evening Price ordered the remnants of his wagon train burned to hasten his retreat.

Outcome of the Battle of Mine Creek

The Battle of Mine Creek was the largest Civil War conflict fought in Kansas and one of the larger cavalry engagements of the war. Pleasonton’s decisive victory decimated Price’s Army of Missouri. In addition to the destroyed wagon train, the Confederates suffered over 1,100 casualties (250 wounded, 300 killed, and 600 captured). The Federals also captured two Confederate generals John S. Marmaduke and William L. Cabell. Union losses totaled slightly over one hundred (94 wounded, 15 killed, and one captured).