|View single post by David White|
|Posted: Mon Oct 13th, 2008 09:19 pm||
As my car slipped and shot out stones behind it on the damp dirt road at the final summit before the Cabin Creek Battlefield Park, I thought back to the time I made my wife drive the old Bruinsburg Road from Bruinsburg to Port Gibson, Mississippi through the Port Gibson Battleground. I still hear about that one, so I thought to myself, be glad you’re on your own this time.
Cabin Creek Battlefield would be the smallest one I would visit on this trip but strangely the most monumented of the lot. The monuments included the brand new 1st Kansas Colored Volunteer Infantry monument. Cabin Creek is actually two battles in one, not unlike Bull Run but on a much smaller scale. Cabin Creek itself is an important impediment on the Military or Texas Road between Ft. Scott, KS and Ft. Gibson, OK (Or in Civil War terms the Indian Territory). Stand Watie and his troops figured prominently in the two actions here. In the first, in early July 1863, Watie was intercepting supplies bound for Gibson and General James Blunt’s planned build up of Federal forces there in July 1863. The first battle was a failure for Watie, as his men were repulsed primarily through the efforts of the 1st Kansas Colored Regiment. Returning to the area over a year later on September 19, 1864, Watie, now under the command of General Richard M. Gano of Texas, met success this time, capturing 300 wagons and $1.5M in supplies. Gano, Watie and their Texas and Indian troops had a tremendous feast that night after over three years of harsh war. The park is very small, less than 100 acres so I walked the entire park and read every monument in about 30 minutes. The monuments for the most part commemorate the later battle and granite markers denote the position of every regiment and battalion. The Union positions are at the top of the fairly steep bank above the creek and the Confederate positions are opposite them by about 50 yards.
Heading Northeast again as I hit the three corners of Oklahoma, Missouri and Kansas I got off the interstate and headed for Baxter Springs, KS. The town is definitely a financially depressed area today but has some very interesting old houses that are on the left just after you cross the Spring River into town that were probably there the day William Quantrill and his band rode into town on their way to a winter stay in Texas on October 6, 1863. I was arriving three days short of the 145 anniversary of the events that happened there. Sitting on a hill opposite the site of the old earth and log fort that sat on the Texas Road and with the springs sitting between them is the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum. It chronicles the town’s history from prehistoric times until the present and it really quite an impressive museum for the size town it is. Sure there are many items that one readily finds in your average small town antiques store but there are many interesting item of local value that chronicle the town’s history, especially the local lead and zinc mining operations. The incident at Baxter Springs during the Civil War captures an entire row of cases, with displays, letters and artifacts that chronicle that fateful day in October. Also of Civil War interest in the front lobby is a 12 pound Confederate Napoleon knockoff made in Richmond, VA during the war. After the war it was given to the local GAR to celebrate holidays with live firings.
The staff at the museum was very friendly and helpful. They have a driving tour of the sites related to the incident at Baxter Springs. The driving tour takes you to all the relevant sites, many now in the residential areas of town. It starts on the river where Quantrill and his men forded the river, takes you to the place where he divided his command to attack the fort and shows the route of the two columns that unsuccessfully attacked the fort from the south. The fort site is preserved and there is some evidence of the fort but not much. Quantrill was driven off by the few companies of the USCT that were occupying the fort along with a howitzer that they had for defense. The fort is about 20 acres and across the street from it, is a marker for the place where the Federal dead were initially buried until 1869. Today it is someone’s front yard. The driving tour next takes you to the highest point in town that overlooks the fort where Quantrill gathered his men to regroup for a second attack on the fort. But while he was doing that, word came that a more lucrative target, a supply train was coming down the Texas Road along with General Blunt and the Fort Scott band. The tour takes you to the place the attack began and shows how it became a running battle to the north and northwest as Blunt, his men and his wagons were routed. The tour takes you to the ravine where many of Blunt’s men tried to surrender but instead were mustered out to eternity by the Missouri Guerillas. Another stop takes you to the location where the Fort Scott tooters were forced to briefly become shooters before being captured, murdered and their bodies burned with the wagons that carried their instruments. This site is now an older lower middle class housing area. The last stop on the tour was to the National Cemetery where the casualties of the attack on the fort and the massacre were finally buried in 1869. A large Civil War monument dominates the cemetery.
From there it was on to Wilson’s Creek and the Moonlight tour. I arrived about an hour before they closed the Visitor’s Center to prepare for the tour. I watched the film (a pretty good one by the NPS standards), looked at the displays and made my best $20 purchase of the trip when I bought Hess, Piston, Shea and Hatcher’s book Wilson's Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road. I also purchased the audio tour of the battlefield, which I will talk about in a later installment.
Before the tour, the Friends of the Wilson Creek Battlefield Foundation had a Chili and Pie supper. Since most of the people there were locals, many who knew each other, I mostly sat by myself and ate. One of the serving ladies came over and introduced herself as Roseann Blunt. Still in my Civil War frame of mind I said, “Are you related to the famous Blunt?” She replied, “Yes, I’m his mother.” “Pardon me,” I said with a puzzled look. She replied, “Yes, I’m the governor’s mother.” Here I was thinking I was asking her if she was related to General James Blunt and it turns out she was the mother of Missouri’s second youngest governor ever, Matt Blunt and the ex-wife of the minority whip in the US House of Representatives, Roy Blunt. Other than the “pardon me.” I never let on to her that I was asking about the 19th Century Blunt and not the 21st Century one.
The moonlight tour was the best $5 I spent on the trip. Buses took us through the pitch black darkness of the park going the wrong way on the tour road. In each of our pockets was a pass signed by “Pap” Price giving us permission to enter into the Confederate lines. The buses of 20 or so people were dropped off where the historic Wire Road crosses the tour road, just south of the Ray House. The bus monitor told us about the battle on the way and said we were to pay attention to the name of Private Smith who we would be hearing a lot about throughout the evening. Once on foot on the Wire Road, we were greeted by an older woman in period costume with a lantern who enquired why we were there. The bus monitor told her we were civilians from Springfield come out to look for relatives among the dead and wounded. It was the evening after the battle and we were transported back into time. As we walked up the road and around the Ray House we came upon various vignettes acted out by reenactors in proper attire and uniforms. All the vignettes seemed somewhat melodramatic but there probably was a certain amount of drama the real night of August 10, 1861. The older woman initially handed us off to a private in the Missouri State Guard who would walk us to these various vignettes. The first stop was among some MSG litter bearers who were picking Pvt Smith up off the battlefield wounded and moaning and carrying him to the Ray House. The next stop was to listen to some men from the Arkansas Pulaski Battery as they told what they had seen that day including the death of Lt. Omar Weaver who had his arm removed by a cannon shot to the shoulder. The next vignette was to Private Smith’s messmates as they wondered what happened to him and what they had seen that day. Their vignette ended with Pvt. Smith’s favorite fiddle tune in hopes that he would hear it and return to them. The next Vignette was behind the Ray House where a surgeon sawed on Pvt. Smith’s leg and removed it to throw it in a bloody pile of other limbs. The sawing and moaning were probably too subdued in this vignette. The next morning when I returned, I saw all the blood (food dye) on the ground and the little pieces of PVC pipe used to making the sawing noise. In front of the Ray House we met the Rays themselves, who wondered if their world would ever be the same. Back on the Wire Road, we arrived on the scene of the battlefield burial of Private Smith who had obviously succumbed to his wounds. The burial party went through his belongings and found an optimistic but unfinished letter to his mother, which they read aloud to each other. The final stop on the Wire Road before we returned to the bus was at the tent of General Rains, who composed a letter home with his adjutant to the mother of Private Smith. He told the adjutant to take out some upsetting particulars about his wounding and the fact that he did not die right away. He then made a great stump speech. He said he did not like killing his Missouri brethren who were misguided and followed the Union but he had no problem killing Kansans and those low “Dutch.” With that, the evening was over, except for a little checking up on football scores and watching the last game of the day. This had been the first fall Saturday in decades where I was not consumed by College Football; it was really weird for me.
To Be Continued…
Last edited on Mon Oct 13th, 2008 09:28 pm by David White