In October 1864, the Daviess County men of the First Cavalry Regiment of the Missouri State Militia (MSM) battled General Price’s Army at the action that became known as the Battle of Westport.
The most desperate part of the First’s participation was on the second day of fighting at Byram’s Ford at the Big Blue River on Oct. 23, when General Pleasonton’s Union Cavalry broke through General Marmaduke’s Division on the east flank of the Westport battlefield.
Gallatin’s Col. James McFerran had organized the First Cavalry Regiment in April 1862. The Regiment’s first action was in Adair and Macon counties in August 1862 and faced mostly guerrillas until the end of the war in April 1865.
The Battle of Westport was reported as the most extensive cavalry action of the Civil War and was the last major battle of Missouri and of the area west of the Mississippi River. In 1864, the southern forces under Gen. Sterling Price were three Cavalry Divisions of about 4,000 men each. The divisions were commanded by Gen. J.F. Fagan, Gen. J.S. Marmaduke and Gen. J.O. Shelby and a few unattached units from Arkansas including Capt. Anderson’s battalion.
The Daviess County men were in Gen. Alfred Pleasonton’s four brigades under Gen. Rosecrans. In the battle on the union side was a Cavalry Division under Gen. S.R. Curtis called the Army of the Border and two Divisions of infantry under Gen. A.J. Smith’s party of the U.S. 16th Army Corps. The infantry units did not see much action since the 1864 Missouri war was fast moving. The action at Westport mostly involved the five Cavalry Divisions.
Our 1st MSM Regiment was in Pleasonton’s 1st Brigade commanded by Col. Philips, and there were a few (14) Daviess County men in Gen. Sanborn’s third Brigade part of the 6th MSM Cavalry Regiment. Other Daviess County men in the 33rd and 43rd Missouri Vol. Infantry were north of the Missouri River and were not involved in major action at Westport.
The 43rd participated in the Battle of Glasgow on Oct. 15, 1864, and the 33rd under Col. Sam Cox had some action Oct. 26 and 27 with part of Capt. Anderson’s battalion. Some of Anderson’s force was south of the Missouri River led by Capt. George Todd. Capt. Todd was killed Oct. 21 near Independence.
The First Cavalry Regiment formed by Col. McFerran included three companies (A, B and G). On the day of the battle at Byram’s Ford, the regiment was commanded by Lt. Col. B.F. Lazear and Major A.W. Mullins, assisted by Major Henry Neil and 1st Lt. P.S. Kennedy.
Company A was commanded by 1st Lt. Benton Miller from Kidder, Company B by Capt. J.T. Goodbreake with the help of 1st Lt. S.N. Gaskill, and Company G by 1st Lt. William Kessinger with the help of 2nd Lt. David Groomer of Pattonsburg.
The First Cavalry Regiment since April 1862 had 467 Daviess County men in service. This regiment helped chase Gen. Marmaduke out of Independence on Oct. 22 after darkness. McFerran had moved the rebels two miles west of Independence where the 4th Brigade took over and moved Gen. Marmaduke’s Division to within three miles of Byram’s Ford.
The First Brigade was to take over from the 4th the morning of the 23rd and make an all-out effort at sun-up Sunday morning. At this point the First Brigade was commanded by Gen. Egbert Brown.
The “day dawned clear and cold,” a film of ice was on the Big Blue River and “morning mist hugged the ground.” Gen. Pleasonton found Gen. Brown and Col. McFerran unprepared to attack two hours after sunup, so he had them both arrested and sent to the rear. Col. John F. Philips took over the 1st Brigade and its 1st Regiment was now commanded by Lt. Col. Lazear. “Twice Col. Philips sent the 1st Regiment “charging up the road in column but `they’ were hurled back by rebel fire” from the hills west of the ford.
The Battle for Byram’s Ford mostly took place in the hour before noon, and at that time Gen. Marmaduke’s Division broke and ran. Gen. Pleasonton’s Division “had suffered two hundred casualties in that hour and most were from the 1st Brigade. The 1st Regiment had no battlefield deaths and went on to battle Gen. Shelby northwest of Hickman Mills that afternoon.
The regiment was at Fort Scott, Kan., the 26th and detailed to escort captured artillery and prisoners to the regiment’s winter headquarters at Warrensburg. The regiment was “mustered out” in the spring of 1865.
Many of the Daviess County men of the 1st Cavalry Regiment are listed from page 219 of the 1882 Daviess County History Book. There are two copies at the Daviess County Library.
— research by David Stark of Gallatin, MO