1918 KANSAS AND KANSANS Chapter 45 Part 1

CHAPTER XLV

THE PURSUIT OF QUANTRILL1

Map of Operations Near Baldwin and Pursuit of Quantrill, August 21, 1865.

At eight o'clock on the night of the 20th of August, Captain Coleman, at Little Santa Fe, received a dispatch from Captain Pike, saying that Quantrill, with seven hundred men, was camped on the head of the Grand River, eight miles to the east. Quantrill was, in fact, at that hour approaching Spring Hill, Kansas, twelve miles west of the State-line, and he had been in Kansas at least four hours; and on the prairie near Squiresville his men had dismounted and allowed their horses to graze an hour. A second dispatch from Pike reached Coleman fifteen minutes later. It stated that Quantrill had passed into Kansas with eight hundred men. Captain Coleman at once sent couriers to Kansas City with that information. He also sent a messenger west to notify the towns of the presence of the guerrillas. He hurried with his men to Aubry and assumed command there. This gave him about one hundred and eighty men, and at midnight he took the trail of the guerrillas.

The first courier of Captain Coleman arrived at Kansas City at eleven-thirty, and the second courier came in an hour later. General Ewing was absent, having gone to Leavenworth. Major Plumb, as Chief-of-Staff, was in command. As soon as possible after the arrival of the second dispatch he was on his way to Kansas with seventeen men - all the mounted men immediately available at Kansas City.2 At Westport he added thirty men to his command. The dispatch of Captain Coleman - that Quantrill had entered Kansas with eight hundred men - was the only information he had of the situation. At daylight on the morning of the 21st he arrived at Olathe. There he found the garrison in arms, the men having been roused by the long roll on the arrival of Captain Coleman's courier. While he was making inquiries a great column of black smoke boiling like a thunder-head shot into the sky far to the westward. Observing it a moment, he turned to his men and said, "Quantrill is in Lawrence." Lieutenant Cyrus Leland, Jr., was at Olathe, and was given permission to join the pursuit suit. Taking the few mounted men found at Olathe, Major Plumb rode across the country straight for Lawrence. He sent George Plumb with a few men to alarm the people living along the Kansas River, believing the guerrillas might try to return to Missouri that way.3

At Blue-Jacket Crossing of the Wakarusa, some six miles southeast of Lawrence, with but thirty men remaining, his force having been reduced by details to scout and carry dispatches to Kansas City, Plumb found Captain Coleman just ahead of him.4

Clouds of dust and columns of smoke south of Lawrence indicated that Quantrill was retreating on the Fort Scott road and laying waste the country. Plumb took command of Coleman's force. He recrossed the Wakarusa and made all haste south to the Santa Fe Trail at Baldwin, which point he reached ahead of the guerrillas, his appearance saving it and Prairie City from the torch. The sky was without a cloud, the day calm and still, the country parched and dusty, and the heat excessive. The gallop of twelve miles from the Wakarusa to the Santa Fe Trail completed the exhaustion of the horses, all of which had made more than sixty-five miles without rest.5 Some horses had dropped dead in the road ascending the divide traversed by the old Trail.

After burning most of the houses in and about Brooklyn, Quantrill, driven by fear of Lane who was pressing his rear, started down the Santa Fe Trail towards Baldwin. From a high point in the road he saw Major Plumb's column marching up the Santa Fe Trail to meet him. Quantrill left the Trail and turned to the south to avoid Plumb, intending to regain the Trail at Baldwin; but after having gone a mile he decided that this could not be done. The guerrilla leader was disconcerted, and after a hurried conference with his guides and captains, retraced his course to a point near Brooklyn, where he turned south on the Fort Scott road. From the point where he turned back he sent a scouting party to reach and destroy Baldwin and Prairie City if possible, and in any event to keep between Plumb's men and the guerrillas.6

When the guerrillas were pushed off the Santa Fe Trail the citizens led by Lane in pursuit kept to the road until they met the Union troops. Whether Lane and Plumb met at this time is not clear.7 The militia regiment of that region was rapidly assembling. Sandy Lowe, Colonel of the Twenty-first Kansas Militia, had summoned his men and joined the pursuing citizens.8 After a brief conference Plumb divided his command, sending Captain Coleman to fall on the guerrilla rear, and intending himself to go with the militia south to a ford on Ottawa Creek to stand across the road. When Plumb started from Kansas City, he sent an orderly to the quarters of Lieutenant John H. ginger with an order to form his men and follow into Kansas. Singer made a rapid march on the trail of Plumb, coming up while the conference was in progress. Plumb inquired how many horses Singer had that could still trot, and sixty were found. They were given to Captain Coleman who secured in his own command enough in addition to make two hundred men. With these he charged through the lane running north of William C. Black's house to the Fort Scott road, and was followed by the citizens who had come with Lane, and others under Leland. This left Plumb with about one hundred soldiers on horses which could not be forced into a trot because of exhaustion. With these and Colonel Lowe's militia he started south to form the ambush at the crossing of Ottawa Creek. At Prairie City he heard the firing and uproar of Captain Coleman's charge on the guerrillas, and finding that it would be impossible for him to keep up with the Militia on the way to the ford, he turned west and went to Captain Coleman's aid. He arrived at the Fletcher farm as Captain Coleman was driven back through the cornfield, and checked the guerrillas, who did not cross the north fence.

Passing to the south of the field, Quantrill gave Captain Gregg, a rear-guard of sixty men and ordered him to remain facing the field until the guerrilla force had crossed Ottawa Creek, after which he followed them. The ford was not more than half a mile from the cornfield, and was not the ford on the main road, which was some five miles away.9 It was necessary for Major Plumb to reform his troops for the pursuit, putting those in front who had horses that were still able to trot, and these were mostly the militia and citizens under Lieutenant Leland. They charged the guerrilla rear-guard many times that afternoon, but when the cavalry would appear Captain Gregg would retreat through a second line which he kept always back of him, then form across the road near the retreating column. The Federal soldiers were from a mile to three miles in the rear all the time. Major Plumb's horse failed from heat and exhaustion in the afternoon, and George Plumb took one for him from a farmer. After he got this fresh horse Major Plumb rode much with Leland.10 "Quantrill rode forward and asked the guide where he was taking them to," says Boies. "The guide replied that the town before them was Morristown, Missouri. Quantrill looked a moment and then cursed the guide, telling him that the town was Paola; that a heavy force was there, and they would be cut to pieces if they proceeded." This occurred on top of the "Big Hill," a mile and a quarter west of Bull Creek, which runs on the west side of Paola. While the guerrillas were halted there, the Militia came up and charged them. Quantrill turned his whole command, rode back, met the charge and fought the militia, which held the guerrilla force ten minutes, hoping the cavalry would be able to come up, but had finally to fall back. After a brief council with his officers, at the top of the hill, Quantrill left the road, going up Bull Creek and away from Paola. It was dark before Major Plumb again reached the top of the hill. There was not a guerrilla in sight, and supposing that Quantrill had gone into Paola, he marched in that direction.

In the afternoon Ben Ellis had arrived at Paola and alarmed the citizens. Captain B. F. Simpson was at home, and he set about the defense of the town. There were but twelve soldiers there. About four o'clock Captain Nicholas Beuter, Company C, Twelfth Kansas, arrived with his company. Simpson got as many citizens as he could, and by dark he had about three hundred men and soldiers under arms. Scouts reported the guerrillas approaching, and Simpson decided to ambush them at the ford of Bull Creek. There was no water in the ford, but for a hundred yards immediately above it there was a stretch of deep water lying parallel with the road, shallow next to the road and deep on the east side against a high, steep bank, on the top of which grew a thicket of willows. Simpson believed that after the day's march over the waterless prairie the horses of the guerillas would became unmanageable when they came to this pool and crowd in to drink. He formed his men in the willows along the top of the steep bank, intending to fire when the horses had rushed into the water. Shortly after the ambush was formed two hundred more soldiers arrived, and these were posted in ambush also, but nearer the ford. Simpson sent six men to scout along the road towards the Big Hill. They returned a little ahead of Major Plumb's command, which was advancing along this road towards Paola - very little ahead of it. They reported that there had been a battle on the Big Hill, and that the guerrillas were following and would be on them in a minute - supposing Major Plumb's men to be the guerrillas. Simpson made his final arrangements to deliver an effective fire and follow it with a vigorous attack on both flanks of the guerrilla column. Major Plumb's men reached the creek, and their horses did exactly what Simpson had expected those of the guerrillas to do - rushed into the water and threw the whole line into confusion. In trying to prevent this Major Plumb gave orders in a loud voice. Simpson recognized Plumb's voice as he was giving the order to fire, and called out - "Is that you, Plumb?" "Yes," said Plumb, as he recognized Simpson's voice. Thus by the merest chance were the Union troops saved from the ambush designed for the guerrillas.

Plumb was told that the guerrillas had not appeared at the ford. The Union forces then went into Paola, finding there Lieutenant Colonel C. S. Clark, the ranking officer, and also in command of all the forces south of Little Santa Fe. Plumb's authority ceased. When Clark took the direction of affairs all vigor was lost. Scouts located Quantrill's camp five miles north of Paola, and the troops wished to attack him there but Clark would not permit it to be done, though he had at least four hundred men who were comparatively fresh.

It was daylight the morning of the 22d when he left Paola, and he was fifteen miles behind the guerrillas. He came in sight of them four or five miles east of the State line, but they retreated, leaving their wounded. General Ewing said, "There has been no failure to exert every possible effort to catch Quantrill, except at Paola, Friday night, when a great occasion was lost."11

At ten-forty-five A. M., on the 21st, General Ewing received dispatches from Major Plumb. At Fort Leavenworth there were five companies of an Ohio regiment outfitting for Fort Laramie. These were armed at once. At one P. M. General Ewing started from the fort. He crossed the Kansas River at De Soto, being delayed five hours in getting his men over. He, too, complains of the awful heat of that day, saying that: "Four men of the Eleventh Ohio were sun-stricken, among them Lieutenant Dick, who accompanied me, and who fell dead on dismounting to rest." At Lanesfield, Johnson County, General Ewing spent the night of the 21st. On the morning of the 22d he heard that Quantrill had passed east. Then he left his command and followed the pursuing troops into Missouri, coming up with them five or six miles east of the State-line, after which the pursuit was directed by him. He and General Lane had a number of stormy interviews, and there is no doubt that the forthcoming Order 11 was discussed by them.12


1 Ewing and Plumb were both severely criticised at the time and for years afterwards. For that reason the pursuit of Quantrill is treated at length. No one should be shielded. The writer made a personal examination of the country through which the pursuit was conducted, and sought every source of information on the subject that the facts might be written here.

2 For the exact time of the arrival of the dispatches at Kansas City see the official report of General Ewing, Rebellion Records, Series I, Vol. XXII, Part I, p. 579. In the same volume, immediately following the report of General Ewing, will be found all others relating to the Quantrill raid.

3 Samuel Boies, of Lawrence, was saved by Quantrill to drive the ambulance carrying the guerrillas wounded there. He escaped. He says, in Kansas City Journal, August 29, 1863:

"Quantrill avowed his intention to march to Osawatomie, laying everything waste as he went. At Rothrock's, or Ulrich's, where he stopped to water his horses, Lane first came up with the pursuit, and as Quantrill's men were off the road to the west, Quantrill first thought they would be able to head him off. In that case, he avowed his intention of turning back and in arching down the Kaw Valley to Missouri."

4 Thomas Barber, Company C, Eleventh Kansas, has said to the author that Plumb, sent a number of dispatches to Ewing at Kansas City and that these were sent to Leavenworth. Major Martin Anderson, Eleventh Kansas, went in pursuit of Quantrill on the 21st, and Barber was with him. They met a courier with a dispatch from Plumb, which urged Ewing to place troops along the State-line, and Plumb supposed that Ewing would be in Kansas City as soon as he could return from Leavenworth.

Captain Coleman and Major Plumb both crossed the Wakarusa. In a letter to his mother, written August 29, 1863, Cyrus Leland, Jr., said, "Major Plumb came up with Captain Coleman just east of Franklin."

5 In his official report General Ewing says:

"By this time the horses of our detachments were almost exhausted. Nearly all were young horses, just issued to the companies, and had marched more than sixty-five miles without rest and without food."

6 Statement of Captain William H. Gregg, who always speaks of the site of Brooklyn as Black-Jack Point. Whether this is the real Black-Jack and the name was given later through ignorance to those groves some miles east where John Brown captured H. Clay Pate is not known.

7 Cyrus Leland, Jr., is positive they did not meet here. Lieutenant John M. Singer is fully as positive that they did. He says that a little south of this point he heard Lane urging Plumb to turn the troops over to him - Lane - and that some high words passed when Plumb refused. It is certain that Lane demanded of Plumb the command of the troops. Lane was, for some cause, far behind his citizens when they charged through the lane following Captain Coleman, and his controversy with Plumb would account for the detention.

8 Lowe had been active in the border wars as a loyal man. Because of an indignity to which his wife had been subjected by the guerrillas he made the war a personal matter. It is said that he slew from time to time the twenty-eight guerrillas, mostly by assassination, who mistreated his wife and child. Three of his companies were about Baldwin; and that of Captain Jackson Bell, of Black-Jack. William W. Junkin, of Baldwin, was in Captain Pingree's Company. He said to the author that Colonel Lowe did not succeed in getting many of his men together. The time was too short. Junkin captured a guerrilla and took him to Lowe, who immediately shot him dead, saying as he did so: "That makes forty of them I have killed. I had killed thirty-nine before this one." His act and the reflection he expressed thereon seemed to give him immense satisfaction.

9 The heavy traffic between Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott to supply the army of General Blunt went over this Fort Scott road. The teamsters drove over the best ground they could find. South of the Fletcher farm there were numerous branches of this road - all crossing Ottawa Creek at different points. The author went twice in the fall of 1910 to find the ford at which Quantrill crossed. He found five fords at which it is claimed Quantrill crossed. All of these fords were in use in the summer of 1863, and it was impossible for the militia to know where Quantrill would cross or which ford to ambush. If they were at any ford it was at one Quantrill did not use, for there is no account of any opposition at a ford. Captain Gregg saw Quantrill enter the timber at the ford before he started to follow him, and says that Quantrill would not have ordered him to face the Federal troops with only sixty men until he was five miles away. George Plumb says the guerrillas crossed Ottawa Creek near the field on the Fletcher farm.

10 See Leland's official report, Rebellion Records, Series I, Vol. XXII, Part I, p. 592. General Lane was also at the front most of the time.

11 Rebellion Records, Series I, Vol. XXII, p. 447.

12 Order No. 11 is the most famous order issued on the border during the Civil War. There are conflicting accounts of how and where it was written. There is evidence that in the field on the morning of August 22d Senator Lane exacted from General Ewing a promise that the order should be issued. Senator Stephen B. Elkins told the author that the order was written at the house of Solomon Houck, at Westport, Mo., and that he and Senator Plumb were present when it was written. Mrs. Nannie Harris McCorkle, a prisoner in the military prison for women at Kansas City, told her sister, Mrs. Eliza Deal, that Major Plumb wrote the order - that be was directed by General Ewing to write it and did so.

Following is a copy of "General Order No. 11":

"KANSAS CITY, Mo., AUGUST 23, 1863.

"All persons living in Jackson, Cass and Bates Counties, Missouri, and that part of Vernon County included in this district, except those living within one mile of the limits of Independence, Hickman's Mills, Pleasant Hill and Harrisonville, and except those in Kaw Township, Jackson County, north of this creek and west of the Big Blue, embracing Kansas City and Westport, are hereby ordered to remove from their places of residence within fifteen days from the date hereof.

"Those who within that time prove their loyalty to the satisfaction of the commanding officer of the military station nearest their present places of residence, will receive from him certificates stating the fact of their loyalty, and the names of the witnesses by whom it can be sworn. All who receive such certificates will be permitted to remove to any military station in this district, or to any part of Kansas except the counties on the eastern border of the State. All others shall remove out of this district. Officers commanding companies and detachments serving in companies will see that this paragraph is promptly obeyed.

"All hay or grain in the field or under shelter, in the district from which the inhabitants are required to remove, within reach of the military stations after the 9th of September next, will he taken to such stations and turned over to the proper officers there, and a report of the amount so turned over made to the district headquarters, specifying the names of all loyal owners and the amount of such produce taken from them. All grain and hay found in such districts after the 9th of September next, not convenient to such stations, will be destroyed."

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A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans, written and compiled by William E. Connelley, transcribed by Carolyn Ward, 2000.

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