Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Benteen’s Brigade at the Battle of Mine Creek, Kansas
After Major General Sterling Price’s ambitious raid through Missouri was stopped with the Union victory at the Battle of Westport Near Kansas City on October 23rd, 1864, the Confederatecommander turned his forces south and headed into eastern Kansas. Price intended to take the large Union supply depot at Fort Scott before retreating to Arkansas. Major General Samuel J. Curtis’ Union Army of the Border, led my Major General Alfred Pleasanton’s cavalry division, closely pursued the Confederates.
On October 24th, Price was camped along the north bank of the Marais des Cygnes River near the town of Trading Post. Early in the morning of the 25th, Pleasanton attacked. The Rebels immediately crossed the river with their supply train; a successful delaying action by Brigadier General John B. Clark Jr. prevented the Federals from capturing the train. The Rebels hurried south along the Fort Scott Road.
About four miles farther south, two cavalry brigades under the commands of Colonel John F. Philips and Lieutenant Colonel Frederick W. Benteen caught up with Price as he tried to cross rain swollen Mine Creek with his large supply train at the ford on the Fort Scott Road. Two Confederate divisions formed in line of battle roughly 100 to 300 yards north of the winding creek. Major General James Fagan deployed his division on the left while Major General John Marmaduke formed in line on the right of Fagan. The Confederate lines were supported by eight artillery pieces.
Philips’ brigade of Missouri cavalrymen arrived on the scene first and formed opposite Fagan’s Confederates. Benteen arrived with his command, consisting of the 3rd and 4th Iowa Cavalries, the 7th Indiana Cavalry, the 10th Missouri Cavalry, and a detachment of the 4th Missouri Cavalry that was combined with the 7th Indiana. Benteen moved to the left of Phillips, opposite Marmaduke. With about 2600 cavalrymen facing 6400 Confederates, a courier was sent to Pleasonton requesting immediate reinforcements.
Benteen, who was a veteran of many campaigns and had showed his aggressiveness in the fighting at Westport a few days earlier, assessed the situation. He decided he would attack and not wait for reinforcements to arrive. He formed his command into a column of regiments, with the 10th Missouri in front, the 4th Iowa next, followed by the 3rd Iowa, and finally, the 4th Missouri / 7th Indiana. When he had closed to within 300 yards of the Confederate line, Benteen ordered a charge. Philips then ordered a charge in support of Benteen.
Benteen’s charge was almost over before it started. Facing the fire coming in from a much larger Confederate force, the lead rank of the 10th Missouri had only advanced a hundred yards or so before stopping and holding up the entire assault. Benteen had commanded the 10th Missouri before taking over brigade command, and he sprang into action to get the cavalrymen moving. As the regimental historian of the 4th Iowa Cavalry recalled “He persisted most heroically in trying to break the unfortunate situation. He rode directly in front of his men, within pistol-shot of his enemy, hatless, white with passion, waving his sword and shouting the order to charge”.
The 4th Iowa was immediately behind the 10th Missouri. Unable to move forward, the 4th Iowa’s commander, Major Abial R. Pierce, ordered his cavalrymen to go around the stalled 10th Missouri’s left. After they had completed the maneuver, Pierce ordered his regiment to charge into the Confederate right flank. The 3rd Iowa Cavalry moved through the 10th Missouri and over to the right and joined in the charge; followed by the 7th Indiana/4th Missouri. As the assault continued, the 10th Missouri composed itself and finally advanced.
The Confederates outnumbered the Federals, but the Union cavalrymen were better armed. The Rebels were ordered to stay on their horses to fight rather than dismount, but most were armed with long infantry muskets that were difficult to impossible to reload while mounted. The Federals were armed with pistols, sabers, and carbines; the 4th Iowa and 10th Missouri had seven shot Spencer carbines. By maneuvering around and to the left of the 10th Missouri, the 4th Iowa was able to attack both the front and right flank of the Confederate line while the other units in the brigade hit the center. The better armed Union cavalrymen overpowered the Rebel line and the Confederate horsemen fled to the rear in confusion. “The rebels were so confused and at so short range that they could not well use the muzzle-loading guns with which the most of them were armed, but they kept some of the artillery firing till the gunners were shot or captured” recalled the 4th Iowa’s regimental historian.
To the right of Benteen, Philips joined in the assault against the Confederate left with the same result. It had taken only about 20 minutes of fighting to break the entire line. The Federals then captured the ford at the Fort Scott Road crossing, forcing the Confederates to try to cross Mine Creek at other nearby fords. While attempting to rally his men, General Marmaduke was captured by Private James Dunlavy of the 3rd Iowa Cavalry. Dunlavy, who had been wounded, had unwittingly rode in the direction of some Confederates and surprised the General. Brigadier General William Cabell was also captured by a member of the 3rd Iowa, Sergeant Calvary M. Young. Both Dunlavy and Young were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. In all, some 600 Confederates were captured at Mine Creek.
Benteen’s and Philip’s brigades, along with reinforcements, continued to pursue the Confederates south of Mine Creek. There was additional action about eight miles south of Mine Creek at the Little Osage River. Here, the Confederates were reinforced by General Jo Shelby’s Division and were able to delay the Federal cavalry enough for the wagon train to again escape capture. Fighting continued south the Little Osage before the exhausted Federals ran out of steam and ended the pursuit. Price decided not to make an attempt to capture Fort Scott, and continued his retreat south until his army reached Arkansas in early December.
The Battle of Mine Creek is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Little Osage River, and while fighting occurred there that day, the action at Mine Creek was much larger. It was one of the largest Cavalry battles of the entire war.
Here’s an excerpt from Lt. Col. Benteen’s official report regarding his brigade’s action at the Battle of Mine Creek:
On the morning of the 24th, just after daylight, we moved out to Santa Fé, and taking our position just in the rear of General Sanborn’s command marched until late that night, reaching the
Osage River, where, on the order of General Sanborn, we bivouacked around the house of Elder Williams, that officer deeming it too dark and the enemy too well posted for an attack that night. That day we marched over a desolated country, where even water was scarce, at a speed that necessarily kept the rear at a trot, and bivouacked, without forage for our jaded horses, a distance of at least forty-two miles. The morning of the 25th broke and gave promise of a dull and dreary day, when I was ordered with my brigade to march to the river and cross, receiving from you the order to charge the enemy whenever the opportunity offered. I crossed, and reaching the prairie formed my column in the following order: First, the Tenth Missouri Cavalry, Maj. W. H. Lusk; second, the Fourth Iowa Cavalry, Maj. A. R. Pierce; third, the Third Iowa Cavalry, Maj. B. S. Jones, and fourth, the Seventh Indiana Cavalry and Fourth Missouri Cavalry, consolidated, under the command of Maj. S. E. W. Simonson, of the former regiment, and moved as rapidly as possible after the retreating enemy. The skies now cleared, and the sun smiled out upon the scene as if foretelling the glorious day that awaited us. After forming, a few advanced skirmishers were thrown out to prevent a too sudden approach upon the enemy, who might be behind any of the numerous hills of the undulating prairie. Three short miles were scarcely accomplished when one of the advanced skirmishers galloped back and reported that the enemy was only a few hundred yards ahead in line of battle, in large force, and with eight pieces of artillery. About the same time Major Hunt, of General Curtis’ staff, came up and told me the enemy’s exact position, stating that there was a brigade already in position in his front, but too weak to begin the attack. I at once determined to form on the left of this brigade, especially as a few more paces brought us in view of the line of rebels; seeing the position in which he had his artillery, I immediately surmised that the rebel commander had committed a fatal blunder, and resolved to capture it. I sent an officer to the commanding officer of the brigade on my right with the information that I was going to charge, and a request for him to charge with me, for God’s sake, and at the same time formed my command in column of regiments in the same manner I had formed them for marching, and immediately sounded the charge. The line of the brigade on my right was soon passed, but it did not charge with us; this brigade I have since learned was the one commanded by Col. J. F. Philips, of the Missouri State Militia. The fire of the enemy was now so hot that for a moment it staggered even my own gallant regiment, but it soon recovered and went on with an exulting yell. At the time the charge was sounded, I gave the orders for the different regiments to execute a right half-wheel, and dispatched my staff to see it executed, then to completely cut off the enemy’s chance to escape with his artillery. This maneuver was successfully executed, and we captured the guns in a shorter space of time than is necessary to record it. Then began a fierce hand-to-hand fight, one that surpassed anything for the time it lasted I have ever witnessed.
My loss in this part of the day’s transaction was large, but in comparison with the gains it was small. Lieutenant Curtiss, of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry, was instantly killed while gallantly encouraging on his men, and Lieut. B. Armbrust, Company A, Fourth Cavalry Missouri Volunteers, was wounded in the bridle-arm while bravely charging at the head of his company. The enemy was completely routed and driven in the wildest confusion from the field; several of his wagons were abandoned in the narrow road that crosses the creek just in the rear of his position. Many of his force were left dead and wounded upon the field and in our hands. It is a matter of impossibility for me to state the number, as I had no opportunity of passing over the scene of the conflict afterward. After the action of the morning my brigade took no part in any lighting, until the final one of the day, when the enemy drew up his whole force in the afternoon upon what I am informed is called the Little Marmiton Creek. In this action I formed my command as you ordered for a charge as follows: The Tenth Missouri in line of battle, the Third and Fourth Iowa and Major Simonson’s command in column of squadrons in their rear, with the intention to charge as soon as a striking distance could be reached. I ordered the charge at one time, but the enemy fell back too rapidly upon his strong lines and I felt that it would be more than useless to continue, so I halted and formed a line of battle, my ammunition by this time being reduced to a very few rounds per man and my horses completely tired out. Major Simonson’s command was not included in the line of battle, as you had stationed him to support the section of artillery you had stationed to the left and rear of the command.
In this last action we lost several men wounded, and amongst them Maj. A. R. Pierce, of the Fourth Iowa Cavalry, who was severely wounded in the foot while leading his men toward the rebels. He did not leave the field until the night had set in and the command bivouacked on the field, the enemy in the meantime having retired. This ended the fighting up to the present time in which we have had any participation. The next morning I moved my command to Fort Scott, halting to feed on the road. The next day I received orders from you to report to Major-General Curtis, and am at present still under his orders.
This report does not pretend to give any history of our operations previous to my assumption of command. I suppose Colonel Winslow, my predecessor, will make his report as soon as possible of the movements up to the time of his departure.
You will find annexed Exhibit A, which gives a list of the casualties of the command for the whole period of time the command has been in pursuit of Price. Hundreds of prisoners have fallen into our hands, but owing to the nature of our movements, I have not been able to keep a record of them.My thanks are due to the officers and men for their gallant and cheerful performance of duty at all times. Maj. W. H. Lusk, of the Tenth Missouri; Maj. A. R. Pierce, of the Fourth Iowa; Maj. B. S. Jones, of the Third Iowa; Maj. S. E. W. Simonson, of the Seventh Indiana, and Captain Knispel, of the Fourth Missouri, are entitled to especial mention for the brave examples they set their men and the gallant style in which they led them into danger. To Private James Dunlavy, Company D, Third Iowa Cavalry, belongs the honor of capturing Major-General Marmaduke, and to Sergt. Calvary M. Young, of the same company [Company L,] and regiment, that of taking General Cabell. We also captured besides the guns and prisoners two stand of colors. Of my staff, I beg particularly to mention Capt. J. F. Young, Tenth Missouri Cavalry, acting assistant adjutant-general, and Lieut. August Thiel, of the Fourth Missouri Cavalry, acting aide-de-camp, for their gallantry in the field and their unceasing attention to duty at all times. I do not desire to make any invidious distinctions, however, for all did well and nobly and deserve the thanks of their country.
In conclusion, allow me, general, to return you my sincere thanks for the uniform kindness you have displayed toward me during our official connection, and I shall always cherish it with the kindest of feelings and regard.
I remain, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
F. W. BENTEEN,
Lieut. Col. Tenth Cavalry Missouri Vols., Comdg. Fourth Brig.
Maj. Gen. A. PLEASONTON.
Although he saw extensive action in the Civil War, Benteen is perhaps best remembered as the commanding officer of one of the Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer’s 7th Cavalry columns at the Battle of Little Bighorn against the plains tribes in what is now southeastern Montana. Benteen’s battalion and that of another Civil War veteran, Major Marcus Reno, survived the battle while famously, Custer and his battalion of cavalrymen were all killed.
Battlefield Atlas of Price’s Missouri Expedition of 1864 by Charles D. Collins, Jr.
Civil War Kansas: Reaping the Whirlwind by Albert Castel.
The Civil War on the Border Volume II by Wiley Britton.
Deeds of Valor: How America’s Heroes won the Medal of Honor Volume I by William F. Beyer and Oscar Keydel.
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion. Series I, Volume XLI, Part 1.
Rebel Invasion of Missouri and Kansas and the Campaign of the Army of the Border Against Sterling Price by Richard Josiah Hinton.
The Story of a Cavalry Regiment: The Career of the Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers from Kansas to Georgia 1861-1865 by William Forse Scott.
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