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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

One of the Last Cavalry Charges, Mine Creek

by Gordon Thorsby

On October 25, The Battle of Mine Creek (aka Battle of Osage) was a small fight in terms of casualties. However, it was one of the largest Cavalry engagements of the war and was one of the very last “Cavalry charges” made in American history.


William T. Sherman was about to march to the sea when Sterling Price with a 12,000 man cavalry force raided Missouri and Kansas. Other Union commanders had to address Sterling Price and Maj. Gen. Alfred Pleasanton was in the region.


A Two brigade force had been pursuing Price’s Cavalry when it halted near the crest of a rise on an open field. At the other end of the field were seven thousand Confederate troopers with their backs to Mine Creek. A road split the field such that the brigade of Missouri Militia cavalry led by Colonel John H. Philips lined up in battle formation on one side and Lt. Col. Frederick Benteen had his brigade with the 10th Missouri in front in battle formation, the 4th Iowa behind it, along with the 3rd Iowa, 7th Indiana and 4th Missouri Cavalry Regiments. Heavy skirmishing had already begun.

Confederate Maj. Generals James Fagan and John S. Marmaduke commanded the two division rear-guard that protected a 500 wagon train that stretched almost ten miles. The wagon train was hung up trying to cross the creek. A potential charge made would be 2,600 attacking Federal troopers versus 7,000 Confederate cavalry. Attacking while outnumbered almost three to one … well that violated virtually every rule book in military tactics. For some reason, neither Marmaduke nor Fagan had not ordered any of his cavalry to dismount.


At 10:30 a.m., the Confederate artillery gunners opened on an approximate location where the Union cavalry formations were located. Despite the obvious that Benteen was significantly outnumbered, Benteen ordered a charge into the Confederate defense.

(from the Kansas City Historical Society.org)


At 11 A.M., with the bugle's call, sabers were drawn and with a yell, the Tenth Missouri Cavalry began their charge. Philips began the advance of the Missouri Militia on the other side of the road. They increased to a gallop. Arkansans, Missourians, Texans and other cavalry regiments didn’t know how many were advancing. They heard the bugles, the loud huzzahs from the top of the hill, and felt the tremble of thousands of horses’ hooves. Suddenly, a the cavalry line appeared with flashing sabers and the rumble became unnerving as the lines became a mass approaching the multi-colored troopers. Confederate fire was a ragged volley but the lines held. The Union10th Missouri Cavalry hoping the line would break on sight and leave the wagons saw they weren't breaking and the Regiment pulled their mounts to a halt in the middle of the field. The Confederate line continued their fire with the Tenth a mere 200 yards away. Benteen waved his sword to urge them forward “but they stood frozen in their tracks, intimidated by a force three times their size.”


The Confederate Napoleon 12-pound gun continued banging away into the confused Union line when over the rise came even more lines. “to prevent a collision and to continue the attack, the Fourth Iowa Cavalry pushed through the stalled lines of the Tenth Missouri and resumed the charge. All along the Union line, in a chain reaction from left to right happened and the charge was renewed.”


Confederate cavalry volleyed while mounted and dismounted and loaded as quickly as possible or at least some did. The mass of blue almost on them, ”The Confederate line disintegrated." Blue troopers fired with repeaters into groups of the Confederate defenders. The defenders fired one more shot, turned their horses and fled. Their rifles became clubs for close in fighting only.


Flying rearward, some defenders attempted to jump their horses the four-to-five feet high creek embankment into the river and were unhorsed and became prisoners. Wagons in a panic turned over in the water with men and animals being drowned. Union cavalry flanked the Southern line, circled behind and gathered up more panicked soldiers. Additional Federal troops from arrived while fighting continued.


In the end, almost 600 Southern troopers and the two brigadier generals, John S. Marmaduke and Fagan were captured along with 500 killed and wounded. Union losses were approximately 150. By 11:30, the main fighting was over and action in pursuit continued until sunset. At dark, Price ordered half of the remaining wagons torched because the train risked the safety of the entire force. With the wagons burned, so were the supplies and a primary objective of the incursion. Instead of Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri back into

play for the South, the three states were secure once and for all for the North and Price’s army was no longer a factor. The positive Union outcome was made possible in a one hour fight by two cavalry brigades in a soon to be obsolete form of fighting.

Alfred Pleasanton would eventually have a small town in Kansas named after him and Frederick Benteen would be at Little Big Horn where his performance was questioned.







Sources:


“The Battle of Mine Creek, October 25, 1864”, by Kansas Historical Society, December 2014.


"Battle of Mine Creek", American Battlefield Trust, https://www.battlefields.org/learn/civil-war/battles/mine-creek.


Official Records: Series 1, vol 41, Part 1 (Price's Missouri Expedition) p. 337.






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