Report of Major-Gen. Alfred Pleasonton, U. S. Army, commanding Provisional Cavalry Division. Headquarters Cavalry Division, Warrensburg
I desire to submit a preliminary report of the operations of this division from the time of its first contact with General Price’s army, after my assuming command, until its arrival at Fort Scott. As soon as subordinate reports are received, I will then submit a more detailed statement.
On the 22d of October my advance came up with the enemy’s rear guard at the Little Blue. The bridge was destroyed over that stream, but by means of a temporary bridge, hastily constructed, and a ford about half a mile below, the command was soon crossed. McNeil’s brigade had the advance, and soon engaged the enemy, followed by Sanborn’s brigade, and this force soon pressed them back upon Independence, and beyond that town, where by a vigorous charge of Catherwood’s regiment (Thirteenth Missouri Cavalry) two guns were captured from the enemy. The pursuit was continued, and Brow’s and Winslow’s brigades coming up they were thrown to the front. The enemy seemed to be in haste, so I determined to push them all night, and for this purpose Winslow’s brigade was dismounted and thrown forward in a number of successful charges, which resulted in driving the enemy some six miles to the Big Blue River during the night; and I take this occasion to say that Colonel Winslow not only handled his brigade in splendid style, but his troops showed themselves equal to any service they were called on to perform.
This brigade being very much worn down by this night’s fighting, Brig. Gen. E.B. Brown was ordered to move his brigade forward and attack the enemy at daylight and keep pushing him vigorously, as he would be well supported. Not finding any attack being made I went to the front. I found Brown’s brigade on the road so disordered as to be in no condition for fighting, and General Brown himself had made no preparations to carry out my order. I immediately arrested him, and also Colonel McFerran, of the First Missouri State Militia, whose regiment was straggling all over the country, and he was neglecting to prevent it, and placed Colonel Philips, of the Seventh Missouri State Militia, in command of Brown’s brigade. The night previous, at Independence, I had ordered General McNeil to proceed with his brigade from that point to Little Santa Fe, and to reach that latter point by daylight. General McNeil failed to obey this order, but came up to the Big Blue, some five or six miles above the point at which the rest of the division was fighting, about 12m on the 23d, and instead of vigorously attacking the enemy’s wagon train, which was directly inform of him with but little escort, he contented himself with some skirmishing and cannonading, and the train escaped. The rebel General Marmaduke stated after he was captured that had McNeil attacked at this time they would have lost the whole train. I trust that this conduct on the part of General McNeil will meet the marked disapprobation of the major-general commanding, as it has mine. Finding that General Brown had not attacked the enemy on the morning of the 23d of October at the Big Blue, I immediately ordered Winslow’s and Philips’ brigades into action, with Sanborn supporting, and after a very obstinate battle the enemy were driven from their position to the prairie on the Harrisonville road beyond the Big Blue.
It was then about 1 o’clock in the day, and the enemy, in very heavy force, were fighting the Kansas forces at Westport, under General Curtis. My appearance on the prairie caused them to retreat from before Curtis on the Fort Scott road, and in passing they formed to attack my position. A brigade of their cavalry charged the right of Sanborn’s brigade and shook it considerably, but I ordered up six pieces of artillery, and by means of double-shotted canister soon caused them to halt and finally beat a hasty retreat. Soon after this Generals Blunt and Curtis overtook me in pursuit, and it was agreed that my forces should take the right of the Fort Scott road, while theirs took the left. This was done, and headquarters were made at little Santa Fe that night. The next morning, by agreement, General Curtis’ command took the advance, and mine followed, until we had marched to West Point, where, finding the enemy were at the Trading Post, on the Osage River, General Curtis requested me to move to front with my troops. I did so and attacked the enemy at daybreak on the morning of the 25th of October, shelling his camp. He left in great haste, dropping trees in the road to bar our progress, and fighting a running contest to the Osage River, where his main force was posted, awaiting us. The rapidity of the march was such that but two brigades, Winslow’s (then commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Benteen) and Philips’ brigades, with a small part of Sanborn’s, had reached the front, but knowing the importance of time to the enemy I did not hesitate to attack at once, and after a brilliant charge by both brigades the enemy was routed. Eight guns were captured. Major-General Marmaduke and Brigadier-General Cabell surrendered with about 1,000 prisoners, and the enemy began to burn a large number of wagons in his train. The road for the next fifteen miles was strewn with muskets and arms of all kinds.
Late in the evening I again came up with the enemy, just opposite Fort Scott, on an extensive prairie, but my horses were too much exhausted to go into action, and I was compelled to go to the fort for forage. That night Generals Curtis and Blunt also passed at Fort Scott, and the next morning, 26th of October, I received a communication from General Curtis, of which the enclosed is a copy. My command was too much exhausted to move immediately after the enemy, but I ordered it forward, and only countermanded their instructions after receiving the major-general’s dispatch from Warrensburg, directing the different brigades to return to their respective districts. I also enclose a dispatch from General Curtis showing he had given directions for the prisoners taken by my command at the Osage to proceed to Fort Leavenworth. This, also I did not regard after receiving the general’s instructions. I left Fort Scott with the prisoners, captured artillery, and several hundred head of captured stock, sheep, and cattle, on the 28th of October, and arrived at Warrensburg on the 31st.
The losses of the command in killed and wounded will not exceed 450, while that of the enemy was much greater. All their dead and wounded fell into our hands.
I desire to commend to the favorable consideration of the major-general commanding the following brigade commanders: Brigadier-General Sanborn, Colonel Philips, Seventh Missouri State Militia; Colonel Winslow, and Lieutenant-Colonel Benteen. Colonel Cole, chief of artillery of the Department of the Missouri, and my chief of staff, rendered most important and efficient service, which is also submitted to favorable notice.
A great many horses were abandoned by the enemy. Some of them were taken by the troops in exchange for their exhausted animals to continue the pursuit, but the greater number were taken by the people of the country and from Kansas. At least 2,000 stand of arms were captured by my command but before they were secured by me they were taken from the field, many by persons from Kansas who visited the field of battle for plunder.
I would state that from the demoralized state of the enemy as well as the exhausted condition of the horses of my command, I recommended to Major-General Rosecrans the propriety of directing Sanborn’s and McNeil’s brigades to follow up the enemy beyond the limits of the Sate of Missouri and then return to their respective districts at Rolla and Springfield, while Phillips’ and Winslow’s brigades could be withdrawn from the pursuit; and upon the approval of this suggestion it was carried out.
I would also further state that all of the conflicts that took place with Price’s army were in the limits of the State of Missouri. A. Pleasonton, Major-General, Commanding. (WR: LIII: 336-339)