Battlefield Dispatches

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Battlefield Dispatches is a column featuring original documents from the era of "Bleeding Kansas" (1854 --1861) and the "Civil War" (1861--1865) west of the Mississippi River.

[Private William F. Nichols served for approximately 18 months, Feb. 13, 1864 -- Sept. 25, 1865.]

Battle of Big Blue: Oct, 22, 1864

"On reaching Big Blue we made another stand and forced the enemy to make a crossing (Oct. 22, 64) of the Creek to the south and to scatter their forces so that we were able to hold them in check until the following day (Oct. 23, 64)".

Battle of Westport: Oct. 23, 1864

"General / Pleasanton overtook them and with Carbines strapped to their saddles came on them in a Saber Charge, which spoiled all plans. The next day (Sunday, Oct. 23, 64) was the hardest day for both sides, but being greatly re-enforced we beat them and turned them South."

[The Battle of Westport was a deceive Union victory which caused Confederate Commanding General Sterling Price to abandon his plans to attack Kansas City and Fort Leavenworth, and to advance southwest into the enemy state of Kansas to create as much havoc and destruction as possible, One of the most direct ways for officers to deliver both verbal & written orders during a Civil War battle was to use a messenger mounted on horseback Very often, the couriers or dispatch bearers were killed or became lost in the confusion of the battle which is what happened to Pvt. Nichols after the Battle of Westport.]

Battlefield Courier

"On Monday morning (Oct. 24, 64) I had my first experience as a dispatch bearer. While we were skirmishing on the west of Brush Creek, we from an elevation, saw Price's forage train reaching several miles to the South in full retreat. Lieut. Thornton detailed me to report to Blunts field headquarters which he pointed out to me as best he could about 2 miles away and to the N.E. [Northeast] and I to make good time, took as straight a course as I could, When about half way and passing a grove of black oak saplings on the side of a steep hill, (I being at the foot of the hill) a volley from some 2 or 3 hundred Rebels was fired at me from the top of the hill about 100 yards away. One or 2 bullets struck low enough, one struck my bridle rein and the other struck my Poncho which was strapped to the back of my saddle and passing through the roll endwise. The tops of the trees and down hill shooting fooled them. I returned the favor [shooting] as best I could & soon run into our own troops and was not reaching headquarters."

Skirmish at Fort Lincoln: Oct. 25, 1864

"On my return I was more fortunate as Co. A was held to the extreme right as a Scouting Party until we reached Fort Scott. At Fort Lincoln [located approximately 3 miles west of present Fulton, Kansas on the north bank of the Little Osage River] while on skirmish duty the Rebel skirmishers were behind a rail fence about 300 yards away and all seemed to be firing at the flag. Our Ensign Sgt. Slane told me to dismount and drive them out of the fence corner; my 2nd shot started them, one of their number being supported by 2 comrades."

Amateur artilleryman at Fort Scott: Oct.26, 1864

"The following morning found us in Fort Scott. The prisoners (among whom was Generals Marmaduke & Cabell) and guns and equipage captured at Mine Creek or Trading Post were coming in; among other things was a 6 gun Battery of 18 Pound Brass field Guns, They [were] driven in two and the harness cut from the horses leaving the guns standing in the street. A young fellow who had evidently saw a Cannon undertook to explain how the guns were handled and finding the Lanyard and a Primer, he inserted the Primer, hooked the Lanyard in the ring of the primer and pulled. (He didn't know it was loaded), this particular gun had been taken "Charged"; fortunately there was no person directly in front of it and it being standing almost Parallel with the street there was no damage done until the shot was well out of town when it struck the corner of a brick house, knocking out a cart load or more of bricks & mortar. "The Amateur/ Gunner took a walk."

Pursuit to the Arkansas River

"We were ordered to follow Price's trail and overtook him at Newtonia, Mo. and went into Camp within a mile of Price's Camp; during; the night we received orders to fall back 6 miles and rest our horses for 2 days when we again took up the Chase; we overtook them again at Webber Ford on the Arkansas River near Fort Gibson, I. T. [Indian Territory; now Oklahoma] and after firing a few shells at their rear guard we went into Camp in a very heavy rain, my bed was composed of 2 fence rails and I was taking a fever. I put in a bad night, we had neither blankets or tents."

Editor's note: Subheads and any text enclosed in brackets are part of the commentary and were not part of the original document. Arnold W. Schofield is a Kansas State Historical Society historian and is superintendent of the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site near Pleasanton, Kan.