October 23, 1864 Battle of Westport, Missouri
Three of the four brigades of Blunt's Division spent the night in camps outside Westport. The Kansas militia - including Blair's 3rd Brigade of Blunt's command - slept in the trenches at Kansas City.
Blunt spent the night arranging for wagons to issue ammunition and food to his command.
Long before daylight Blair reported to Blunt at the Gillis House in Westport and was ordered to march the next morning at 3 a.m. However, someone had sent the brigade's horses north of the Kaw River and Blair spent the entire night finding them and bringing them to his men.
Only Montgomery's 6th KSM left on schedule. Blair and the 10th KSM did not get underway until dawn. The 4th and 19th did not leave at all at this time.
Blunt ordered his 3 available brigades to march 3 miles south across Brush Creek and to deploy on the bluff south of the creek. (Blunt’s report, p. 575)
Blunt himself remained in Westport on the roof of the Harris House hotel where he could see the entire battlefield.
The panoramic view available to him showed that the country for a
mile north of Brush Creek was heavily wooded. South of the creek the woods stretched half a mile. South of the woodwere two miles of cultivated fields intersected by rail fences and stone walls. South of the fields was a prairie which stretched southward four miles, ending only at Indian Creek.
South of the timber the Westport Road ran between heavy stone walls. West of the road were open fields intersected by stone walls. On the northern end of the fields the timber swept into the field to the west in a shape like the horn of a crescent. East of the Westport road the timber was dense because of a small creek which emptied into Brush Creek. Hinton p. 153
Blunt's brigades were under arms at daylight, and after having
supplied themselves with ammunition from the train sent out from Kansas City, they began retracing the march of the previous evening. Jennison's report,
After spending the night on the Prairie south of Westport, Thompson's Iron Brigade and Jackman's Brigade woke at daylight and was soon saddled up, waiting for orders. Without much delay the order to advance came and the division rode towards Westport. Thompson's memoir
Blunt’s Division and Shelby's Division Deploy
Soon after sunrise Jennison’s and Ford’s brigades reached the bluff.which was immediately south of Brush Creek and in heavy woods. After a brief time they advanced south half a mile and formed on the edge of the prairie and then a bit later they moved into a corn field south of Bent's House, half a mile south of their previous position.
In this Jennison occupied the Union right with his left flank resting on the Westport Road. Ford’s left rested on the road. McLain’s Colorado Battery remained half a mile to the rear on the edge of the timber. Hinton p. 154. Sketch of 15th Kansas Cavalry by C.R. Jennison
in Military History of Kansas Regiments
The battle began about 7:30 a.m. For about half an hour the fight was restricted to artillery firing.
At about 7:30 a.m. McLain's Battery fired the first shots of the battle when Shelby's Division came into sight. One of the shells knocked off the head of a man in Slaybacks Battalion, as smooth as a guillotine could have cut it, but the men never wavered. The regiments were brought into line and held while the Confederate leaders determined the plan of battle.
In a short while the Confederate plans were made. Jackmans Brigade took the left and Thompson's Iron Brigade the right. In Thompson's line-up, Smiths, Johnsons, Gordons and Slaybacks commands were on the left of the Westport Road and Erwin, Elliott and Williams on the right of the main road. The men occupied these positions under a hot artillery fire. Soon Collins Battery rode up and unlimbered a section of its four guns in the road. The Confederates began sending shells back at the Federals. Report of M. Jeff Thompson in OR Vol. 41, Pt. 1, p. 667
Since Moonlight had not joined the main line, Blunt sent his aid
Richard J. Hinton to order him forward. When Hinton arrived Moonlight was forming his brigade which consisted of the 11th Kansas Cavalry, detachments of the 5th Kansas Cavalry and a battalion of the 12th Kansas State Militia under Col. Woodsworth. Soon Moonlight advanced his brigade and his command formed on the extreme Union right. Hinton p. 155.
Phase 1: The Federals Push the Rebels Back
At about 8 a.m. after half an hour of artillery firing, the Federals sent out their skirmishers and after they had advanced a few rods, both sides opened an incessant fire with small arms. Jennison's Report, p. 585.
By now Lt. Eayre was nearly out of ammunition, so Lt. Birdsall was sent forward with his section and two caissons of ammunition to relieve him. Birdsall opened on the enemy at long range and did very good execution.
A rebel battery came into position at Birdsall's left, fring from the State Line Road at a range of 1,300 yards. Birdsall turned his guns on the battery, throwing shell into it pretty rapidly. He drove the battery to a new position three times, dismounting one of his guns. This was the last they saw of the battery that day. Lt. Eayre in the meantime had replenished his ammunition and taken a position further to the right.
Although the Confederate accounts don't mention it and the Union accounts give few details, Blunt's troopers pushed the Confederates south about a mile, all the way to the vicinity of Wornall House.
Apparently they accomplished this because of the superior fire power of their carbines and because of the excellent skill of McLain's cannon.
The lack of information about this phase of the battle leaves many questions unanswered. Did they push back Shelby's entire division or just a detachment? If Shelby's division was engaged, how could the Federals - who were numerically inferior - accomplish this? Why did
not the Confederates take cover behind stone walls and hold their ground? We don't know the answers to these questions yet. Nor do we know what stopped the Federals when they reached the Wornall House.
Perhaps there were no stone walls in the northernmost part of the cultivated fields. And perhaps Shelby's Confederates stood their ground finally because Fagan's two brigades were stationed near the Wornall House.
Phase 2 McGehee’s Attack
Blunt's position at the Wornall House was formidable. His three brigades were behind a stone wall, some three hundred yards in front of the rebel line. There was a farm house on top of the hill and a wide lane, the fencing of stone, extending to the rebel position. In the lane and just over the hill there was a battery in position pouring shell into the Confederates.
As the Confederate lines were reforming and being placed in position by Shelby, Fagan rode up at the head of his escort. Shelby saluted him and said: "General I am ready to obey any order you may give."
Fagan looked at the Birdsall's section a moment through his field glasses and said: "Shelby, I propose to take that battery. Have a regiment of Cavalry to form in platoons and charge up the line and support the charge on foot."
Colonel Magee commanding a regiment about three hundred strong - a new regiment from Northeast Arkansas, formed by platoons, which nearlyfilled the lane with a living mass of cavalry.
As the rebel regiment charged up the lane, Lt. Col. Samuel Walker led the Sixteenth Kansas Cavalry and Second Colorado Cavalry against McGehee. Two squadrons of the 2nd Colorado under Green struck the column’s left. The 16th Kansas met them in the road. See Hinton pp. 156-157 & 160-161.
Meanwhile Company E of the 15th Kansas Cavalry, struck across the field and reached the lower end of the lane, thus hemming in McGehee's troopers and intercepting any retreat.
McGehee's attack resulted in the loss to the Confederates of thirty-five prisoners. Nineteen dead Rebels were found in the lane and thirty-seven wounded Rebels were carried out.
Phase 3 Shelby Advances and Drives Blunt Back
Reinforced by Fagan's two brigades, Shelby pressed Blunt back to a set of stone walls about half a mile south of the woods bordering Brush Creek. On Shelby’s left Jackman could make no headway against Moonlight. Thompson’s advanced his left against Jennison, but the attack failed. Colonel Smith's horse was shot and his men fell back,
exposing the left of Gordon's regiment who was on his right.
Jennison's men advanced and Shelby's and Jackman's Brigades and perhaps some of Fagan's brigades fell back under a heavy fire in a demoralized state. Hunter’s Regiment of Jackman's brigade charged Jennison to extricate Gordon but this regiment was also compelled to
fall back. Shelby, Jackman and Thompson rode up and down the line rallying the men and encouraging them to make another effort.
A few minutes later Thompson ordered Slayback and Johnson with their recruits to charge Jennison and they entered the crescent of woods whre part of his line was located. Apparently Jackman participated in this charge as well.
Jennison fell back, thus exposing the left flank of Moonlight’s brigade. As Moonlight likewise fell back, the rebels advanced into the gap left by Jennison’s retreat and delivered a raking fire into Moonlight’s flank. To meet this fire and check the rebels Moonlight
wheeled two squadrons to the left, which was done in fine style by Companies A and I. Meanwhile Woodworth's 12th KSM on the right flank kept the rebels in his front at bay by attacking and driving their skirmishers back to their main line. Hinton p. 155.
During this fighting safe behind his stone wall Ford kept Gordon, Erwin, and Williams at bay under a heavy fire. But having gained the grove of timber, Thompson was able to flank Ford who also fell back.
Thompson took position behind the same fence that the enemy had held, but the position in line of his regiments was changed. Slayback was on the right, next Johnson, next Smith, and Gordon had the left, with Jackman's brigade still on his left.
After the 2nd Brigade retired northward to the north side of Brush Creek, Blunt ordered it to move change direction and to westward to Shawnee Mission in order to keep the enemy out of Kansas. Hinton pp. 155-156. Moonlight reached his objective by moving undetected through the timber.
Observing that his line was hard pressed, Blunt ordered Blair to cross Brush Creek with his 6th and 10th KSM and take position on the right and to guard the right flank. Blunt's report, p. Blair's men took a position behind a fence on the edge of the timber on the left of the 15th Kansas Cavalry. In front of them was an open field and beyond were a considerable force of rebels strongly posted behind a stone fence. Blair's men fired rapidly and heavily and remained steady thanks to the example of their oficers. Hinton p. 157 and Blair p. 598
During this lull the Confederates were reinforced and pressed forward again. They established a section of Parrots on the State Line Road. The advance and the shell fire rendered Jennison's postion dangerous and he fell back. Jennison p. 585.
The retreat of the 15th Kansas Cavalry exposed the right flank of Blair's brigade but his men held their position until shortly afterwards Col. Samuel J. crawford of the staf ordered him to retire too. Blair formed on the north bank of Brush Creek. Hinton p. 157 and Blair p. 598