James Burton Pond Collections: NY Times Baxter's Springs Massacre


New York Times, October 18, 1863



The Massacre of Gen. Blunt's Escort

A Thrilling and Heartrending Narrative

Descriptive Letter of General Blunt

From Our Special Correspondent

     Leavenworth, Kansas, Monday, October 12, 1863
     The telegraph has already given you the fact of an attack by Quantrell upon Gen, Blunt, and the slaughter of his staff and escort. Let it be my task to give you the details of the sad affair. As no blame can attach to the General or any of his officers, except that portion of his escort who behaved cowardly, it is very necessary that the facts be known. On the face of it there seems to have been recklessness of negligence. The details will justify neither censure.
     As you are aware, Gen. Blunt returned from Fort Smith to Fort Scott about fifteen days since. It was his intention to move headquarters on the 15th inst., from Fort Scott to Fort Smith, and return to that point with his train. His health mended slowly after moving North.
     It is not to be disguised that great anxiety was felt at Headquarters, lest Price, whom the falling back of Gen. Steele with his army corps to Helena, after the brilliant affair at Little Rock, left unmolested at Arkadelphia, with nearly 20,000 men, further strengthened by the remains of the rebel forces driven out of the Indian Territory by Blunt, should swing round to the west and attack the small force under Gen. Blunt, necessarily scattered at the salient points where garrisons were essential. That anxiety was increased when it was known that Gen. Schofield had ordered the Second Colorado battalion of infantry to march to Springfield, Mo. This left Gen. Blunt with but one regiment of infantry (white,) with the three depleted Indian regiments, holding Fort Blunt, with Fork Town, Scullyville and Webber's Falls, in the Territory, and a portion of the Second and Sixth Kansas, and Third Wisconsin cavalry, numbering in all about 1,000 men, for scouting and escort duty. Col. Cloud, commanding in Western Arkansas, had only the First regiment Kansas (colored,) and the Thirteenth Kansas (white) infantry for garrison, at Fort Smith and Van Buren. He had a large number of recruits, unarmed and equipped, except the weapons they had carried with them into the mountains. Three thousand men would cover his available force. It is certainly true, that if to be left entirely unsupported was the policy of the Department commander, Gen. Blunt's lines are too far advanced. As a bitter difference of opinion has existed between Gens. Blunt and Schofield on this point, it looks as though the falling back of Gen. Steele to Helena was admirably adapted to prove Gen. Schofield's policy the correct one. It only need be said that Gen. Blunt, at the head of such a force as Steele had, would not have stopped short of disorganizing and destroying Price's army.
     On the 3d or 4th inst. Gen. Blunt received advices from Lieut. Jenks, A. A. A. General to Col. Cloud, that Marmaduke was moving from Arkadelphia against Fort Smith, with a cavalry force of from three to five thousand. It since appears that this force was in reality Col. Joe Shelby's brigade, which lately entered Missouri at Pineville, and is now devastating Southwest Missouri.
     Acting on this information with the promptness and energy which are his preeminent characteristics, Gen. Blunt took a small escort of 100 men, consisting of portions of Company I, Third Wisconsin cavalry and Company A, Fourteenth Kansas cavalry, under Capt. Larimer and Second Lieut. R. Pierce. The latter men were all raw recruits, the Wisconsin boys being veterans of two years' experience. Major H. Z. Curtis, A. A. G., (a son of Major Gen. Curtis,) Lieut. Far, Third Wisconsin, Judge Advocate on the Division staff, Major Benning, Third Wisconsin, District Provost-Marshall, and Lieut. John C. Tappan, Second Colorado infantry, A. D. C., accompanied the General, with the division band and headquarters' retinue of clerk, orderlies, teamsters, &c., numbering about forty persons. Among those who accompanied the General was James O'Neill, Esq., of this city, who was connected with Frank Leslie's establishment as artist and correspondent. Mr. O'Neill was a young man of genius, versatility and generosity. He possessed brilliant power, and as an artist, musician, orator and actor, bid fair to make himself a proud reputation. Brave and adventurous, he attached himself to the Army of the Frontier to gratify those feelings by the pursuit of his profession. He was murdered at the Baxter's Springs slaughter.
     But to return to the movement of the General. With the force spoken of he left Fort Scott on Sunday afternoon, the 4th inst. His information did not lead him to anticipate difficulty till he got south of Baxter's Spring, sixty-three miles from Scott, where Company A, Second Colored infantry, and two companies of Third Wisconsin cavalry, under Lieut. Pond, were stationed. This post is an important position, commanding the military roads to Forts Blunt and Smith, which cross Spring River at this point. The camp is located near the timber. A rude earthwork for rifle-pits defends the camp and was of great value in repulsing Quantrell. Pond had seen sufficient bushwhacking tracks to know that a considerable guerilla force was in the densely wooded country to the east of him, hence he was under the necessity of sending out heavy scouts and foraging parties. His cavalry were all out the morning of the attack, foraging. Gen. Blunt reached the neighborhood on Tuesday noon. The following extracts from private letters to members of his Staff, will tell the events that followed better than I can:

Baxter's Springs, Kansas, Wednesday,
Oct. 7, 1863 - 10 P.M.

Capts. Tholen and Loring:
     * * Everything in the staff wagons is lost. The wagons were burned with most of their contents. * * * We have just found the body of Major Curtis. When I wrote Major Blair last night it was supposed he was a prisoner, as we had searched the ground over near where his horse fell last evening, and could not find him. Moreover, Quantrell's Adjutant, or a person representing himself as such, who came into Lieut. Pond's camp with a flag of truce, said they had my A. A. G. a prisoner. To-day he was found near where he was thrown from his horse, shot through the head, evidently murdered after being taken prisoner. I shall start his body with that of Lieut. Farr to Fort Scott this evening.
     You will probably have heard some of the particulars of the affair here yesterday before you receive this. The escort, Company I, Third Wisconsin cavalry, and Company A, Fourteenth Kansas cavalry, behaved disgracefully, and stampeded like a drove of frightened cattle. I did not anticipate any difficulty until we got below this point. We arrived near this camp about 12 M., and halted on the hill almost in sight of the camp, and not more than four hundred yards distant, to wait for escort and wagons to close up.
     The escort came up and dismounted to wait for the wagons, which were but a short distance behind. At this time my attention was called to a body of men,--about one hundred,--advancing in line from the timber of Spring River, on the left, which you will recollect is not more than three hundred or four hundred yards from the road. The left of their line was not more than two hundred yards from Lieut. Pond's camp at the Spring.
     They being nearly all dressed in Federal uniforms, I supposed them at first to be Lieut. Pond's cavalry, (two companies,) on drill. At the same time my suspicions were aroused by some of their movements. I ordered the wagons, which had just come up, to the rear, formed the escort in line with their carbines unslung, while I advanced alone toward the party fronting us, to ascertain if they were rebels. I had advanced a short distance when they opened fire; at the same time firing was heard down in Pond's camp. Turning round to give the order to the escort to fire, I discovered them all broken up and going over the prairies to the west at full speed. They did not even discharge the loaded carbines they had in their hands, except in a few cases. Had the escort stood their ground as soldiers should have done, they would have driven the enemy in ten minutes. I endeavored in vain, with the assistance of Maj. Curtis, to halt and form a portion of them. When the escort stampeded, the enemy, on discovering it rushed on with a yell, followed by another line of about 200 that emerged from the edge of the timber. Being better mounted than our men they soon closed in on them. The men of the escort were much scattered and with them it was a race for life.
     After going a mile, I succeeded in halting fifteen men, including Lieut. Pierce, of Company A, Fourteenth Kansas, who has done his duty well and nobly throughout. As soon as I got them in line and commenced advancing upon the enemy they fled and fell back to the road, when the whole command (600) formed in line of battle. The balance of the escort that had escaped were all out of sight in the advance. Maj. Curtis had been seen to fall from his horse, which was wounded, and stumbled in crossing a ditch.
     About one o'clock I sent Lieut. Tappan, (who had kept with me all the time,) with four men, to Fort Scott, while with the other nine I determined to remain until the fate of those who had fallen should be ascertained. As they fell back to the road I followed them up over the ground we had come, to look for the wounded, but all with two or three exceptions, (which had escaped accidentally) were killed--shot through the head. All the wounded had been murdered. I kept close to them and witnessed their plundering the wagons. At one time they made a dash at me with about 100 men, endeavoring to surround me, but failed in this purpose.
     As they moved off on the road leading south I went down to the spring, and found them all O. K. Lieut. Pond, of the Third Wisconsin, and his command, are entitled to great credit for the manner they repelled the enemy and defended the post. The colored soldiers fought with great gallantry.
     The band wagon was captured, and all of the boys shot in this way, after they were prisoners. The same was the case with the teamsters, and Mart. O'Neill, my driver, was killed with the band boys. All of the office clerks, except one, were killed. Lieut. Farr is among the killed; also my Orderly, Ely. Maj. Henning is with me. But few of the escort who escaped have come in. I suppose they have gone to Fort Scott. The dead are not all buried, but the number will not fall short of 75.
     The enemy numbered six hundred--Quantrell's and Coffey's commands. They are evidently intending to go south to the Arkansas. I have scouts on their trail. Two have just come in, and report coming up with them at the crossing of the Neosho River. Others are still following them up. Whether they will go directly south, on the Fort Gibson Road, or cross Grand River to Cowskin Prairie, I cannot yet determine. When they came in they crossed Spring River, close by Baxter. I have sent messengers to the Arkansas River, and if they succeed in getting through safe, our forces there will be put on the alert, and may intercept them.
     I am now awaiting the arrival of troops from Fort Scott. If I get them, which is doubtful, as the Fourteenth is not armed, I will follow the hounds through the entire Southern Confederacy, as long as there is a prospect of overtaking them. And I will have it well understood, that any man of this command who again breaks from the line and deserts his post, shall be shot on the spot, and there shall be no quarter to the motley crew of murderers. * * *
     I was fortunate in escaping, as in my efforts to half and rally the men I frequently got in the rear, and got considerably mixed up with the rebels, who did not fail to pay me their compliments. Revolver bullets flew around my head thick as hail, but not a scratch. I believe I am not to be killed by a rebel bullet.
     Yours truly,                 JAMES G. BLUNT

     The attack was made on the camp at Baxter simultaneously with that on the General's escort. The entire force numbered 600 to 800 men, and were under the command of Quantrell, Todd, Gordon, and Hunter. It appears they were moving South out of Missouri, and proposed to signal their departure by the annihilation of the command at Baxter's Spring. They emerged from the timber of Spring River and dashed into the camp while the negroes were at dinner, completely surprising them. Eight men were pistolled as they stood, ere the negroes obtained their arms, to which they immediately flew, driving them out of camp in splendid style. One wretch pointed a pistol at the head of Mrs. Pond; another shot a babe, the child of a refugee and his own cousin, and he knew it. A negro who saw the hellish crime shot the wretch through the heart. Several charges were made by the rebels on the rifle pits, but the cool courage and discipline of the negroes drove them back. Their only officer, First Lieut. Cook, was killed in the fight. Lieut. Pond, during its progress, got on the outside of the works, to a small mountain howitzer, which he had received the day before, and, unaided, brought it to bear on the enemy, loaded and fired it three times with canister, making the rebs leave hastily into the timber and behind the hill, where the attack on Blunt had been made. Hence the whole force assembled at the plundering and burning of the Staff train. The band, orderlies, etc., were all murdered, and many of their bodies burnt with the wagons. The members of the band fought with great gallantry, but were, of course, overpowered. Lieut. Farr (who was formerly a law partner of Gen. Butler) was wounded in several places, and after capture shot through the head. His clothes were stripped from his person. Major Henning and Capt. Tought, the scout, fought with gallantry, as did Lieut. Tappan. The most marvelous escape was that of the General himself. His transcendent courage was never so brilliantly displayed. Had the escort stood their ground there is little doubt the enemy would have been defeated. The total number of our dead is seventy-eight of the escort, and nine at the camp, including Lieut. Cook. The cool audacity of Gen. Blunt was never more apparent than in his deliberately following the enemy as they moved South. As they moved by the valley road, he kept the high grounds. They were impressed with the conviction that he must have a large force in the vicinity, and so desisted from attempts to take him in.

NOTE: Thomas Leach, a Fairwater enlistee, was killed during the attack on the wagons. G. M. West, editor of the Brandon Times, described the event as follows in his 1867 publication, Metomen, Springvale, Alto and Waupun, During the War: Thomas P. Leach enlisted at Fairwater, February 22, 1862, under J. B. Pond, who was recruiting for Captain Stephens Company of Kingston, which was mustered in as Company C, 3d W. C. He was with the Regiment in all of the campaigns and engagements, part of the time acting as teamster. He was killed while driving his team near Baxters springs, C. N., in the assault made by the notorious Quantrell on that place on October 6, 1863. He surrendered when surrounded by the rebels, but they gave no quarter, but murdered him in cold blood and burned his wagon. He was buried near Baxters Springs.

With appreciation to Kevin Dier-Zimmel for locating the article.

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