The Battle of
Baxter Springs, Kansas

The Battle and Massacre at Baxter Springs, October 6, 1863

by Dr. W.H. Warner, Girard, Kansas


About two weeks prior to the massacre at Baxter Springs, two citizen mail carriers between Fort Scott and Fort Gibson were fired upon by a small band of Quantrill's men, led by Cy Gordon. The mail carriers returned the fire, each party firing from behind trees. Both mail carriers were wounded and surrendered. This skirmish occurred about ten miles south of Baxter Springs.

One of the mail carriers, called "Fatty," was recognized by Gordon as an old chum, with whom he had roamed the streets of Leavenworth, visited the girls, etc. "Cy" had many questions to ask relating to Leavenworth, to his mother, and to various other matters, which were answered by 'Fatty" to the satisfaction of "Cy;" so contrary to the usual custom of Quantrill's men, which was to kill their prisoners, the two mail carriers were set at liberty and permitted to pursue their journey to Baxter Springs - after being relieved of horses and mail matter, including dispatches between the Forts, and being informed that, as Quantrill's men were running short of blankets, kettles and other camp equipage, it would be necessary in about ten days for them to take dinner with the Union garrison at the Springs, and to relieve the garrison of such surplus material as they themselves might need.

This polite threat was communicated by "Fatty" and his companion to the commandant at the post, Lieut. Cook of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, but little or no attention was paid to it. "Fatty," however, had confidence in what "Cy" Gordon had told him. He had remained in camp, under my treatment for his wounds, and was in my quarters, a log-cabin I had urged the men to build, that in case of a fight the wounded could be cared or safe from the enemies' bullets. When, on the 6th of October, 1863, we were startled by the rattle of musketry and revolvers. We were attacked, though we did not then realize it, by Quantrill's men. Cy Gordon's promise was being fulfilled.

Our garrison, up to two days previous to the attack, consisted of one company of the Second Kansas Colored Infantry, commanded by Lieut. Cook, and Company D, of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry, commanded by Lieut. John Crites, who had had command of the post, but who had been summoned to Fort Scott, leaving Lieut. Cook in command of the post. On this day, the 4th, we were re-enforced by Company C, Third Wisconsin Cavalry, under Lieut. Pond, who assumed command of the post.

Three sides of the camp were protected by logs and earth thrown up about four feet high, the west side having been removed the day before for the purpose of enlarging the camp, by command of Lieut. Pond. On the morning of the fight, sixty picked men with all the teams and wagons of the command, were sent out to forage through the country, leaving as a garrison a fighting force of twenty-five cavalry and sixty or seventy colored troops, more than half of the white men in camp having been excused from foraging duty at sick call in the morning.

At 12, the enemy having quietly and unobserved crept near our camp, suddenly advanced upon us at double-quick and opened fire. Our camp had been surrounded by skirmishers. The cooking department was one hundred and fifty or two hundred feet south of the camp and near the springs. Both the cavalry and colored infantry were standing around the fire, while dinner was being taken up, when the enemy was discovered advancing and rapidly firing from the east, south and west. Riding at full gallop, they passed on the south between the men at dinner and the camp, discharging their revolvers right and left as they advanced to the balustrade.

The colored soldiers in the cavalry at dinner, ran their best for camp, the cavalry seizing their carbines and revolvers and the infantry their muskets, all commenced a return of fire with undaunting bravery. While this attack was being made, the main body of the enemy galloped from the woods skirting Spring River on the east, forming in line sixty or eighty rods north of camp, on the ridge, apparently for the purpose of making a charge upon us in full force, simultaneously with an attack by the advance which had passed around the camp to the west.

At the first attack, Lieut. Pond unlimbered the howitzer, manned it the best he could, and loaded it himself with twelve pound shell. Not one of the command at that time was found who knew anything of artillery drill, and as a consequence the fuse was not cut, so the shell, fell far short of the enemy; but if it did them no damage, the firing of it notified them that we had such an instrument of death in our hands. Men never fought more willingly nor courageously, and for twenty or thirty minutes there was a ceaseless rattle of musketry and revolvers and booming of the cannon. After the first dash, the enemy on the west retreated, scattered and fought from behind the shelter of trees and the south bank of the creek, at the expiration of half an hour withdrew, unaccountably to us, one by one, from the fight.

The main body on the north, without advancing, countermarched on a gallop back to the woods and advanced toward us a second time as though undecided whether or not to attack. They then returned to the woods. One of the enemy, apparently an officer. had a duel with the saddler of Company D, Third Wisconsin, until the latter having emptied his revolver, rushed from his oak tree to his tent after his carbine, which, on his return to his barricade, he brought to his shoulder, with no load, when his adversary, casting his eyes around and discovering himself to be alone, exclaimed, "Where in hell are my men," and galloped away unscathed, the last of the enemy into the forest.

All was now quiet and still like a calm after a furious storm, and we had time to make a list of the casualties of the fight. Of the forces at the Springs, eight white and one colored man were killed. and from twelve to fifteen wounded, including one woman shot through the heel, and a little child shot through the lungs. Lieut. Cook was killed and a man who was with him, the two being in the woods practicing with their revolvers. The husband of the wounded woman, and the father of the wounded child, were shot in cold blood, the latter by a former schoolmate and cousin.

Four or six other married men were killed. A teamster perceiving an old acquaintance among the advancing enemy, tossed his revolver toward him in token of surrender, and was immediately shot by his former neighbor and friend, through the abdomen and died in thirty minutes. The colored man who was killed while within our works and comparatively out of danger, discovering his former master on the hill across the creek, ran to meet him with joyous acclamation, and was, by his old master, shot through the heart, his body rolling down the hillside in the clear waters of the brook.

Among the prisoners of our side taken were two or three who had been mere spectators of the battle and about half a dozen others who were hunting, looking for lumber or strolling in the woods. Near sundown they were paroled and came into camp. For an hour or two all was quiet with the exception of preparations to receive an expected renewed attack. We did not know who our enemy was, nor why he had so suddenly left us, but we fully expected him to return.

About 2 or 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Maj. B. S. Henning of Gen. Blunt's Staff rode into camp, and told us of the massacre on the prairie, and called on Lieut. Pond for a volunteer guard of two or three men to return with him to search for Gen. Blunt, whom he believed to be alive and hiding somewhere in the vicinity of the massacre. The Major informed us that the enemy was Quantrill and his guerrillas.

Soon after the Major left us, a messenger bearing a flag of truce approached our camp. He brought from Quantrill a request for an exchange of prisoners. As we bad taken no prisoners, Lieut. Pond returned as answer a proposition that each party should unconditionally release all the prisoners he held. Soon afterward we heard on the prairie nearly west of us, quick successive reports of fire-arms and it is probable that then the prisoners taken by Quantrill were killed.

Quantrill now at the head of his entire force, supposed to be about three hundred, approached our camp, as we had anticipated, formed in line of battle and halted on the south bank of the creek where now stands the city of Baxter Springs, about eighty rods southwest from our camp. Our men were all quietly awaiting his charge, prepared and determined to give him a warm reception. The gap on the west side of our breastworks had been closed by placing therein sutler's wagons, poles, rails, ropes, etc., etc.,[sic] and it won have been difficult for cavalry to make a successful charge upon its from that direction, especially as our howitzer was mounted conspicuously in the front with fuse properly cut, and now happily manned with skilled men. Knowing our enemy, we were all, white men and black, commissioned officers and private soldiers, fully determined to sell our lives as dearly as possible, and to die rather than to surrender, for to surrender would only be certain death. Thus we remained, thirty minutes-it might have been more, it might have been less, every minute seemed as an hour, when suddenly he wheeled and left us, marching south, and to our great relief we saw him no more.

About sundown, Maj. Henning returned to our camp accompanied by Gen. Blunt. After dark, one by one, the wounded from the prairie came into camp. They were most of them so badly disfigured and covered with blood as not to be recognizable. All had been left upon the prairie for dead. Jack Arnold came in with five or six shots in the face which could not be recognized as belonging to a human being. Others received from five to eight wounds in different parts of the body, but a large proportion of the wounds were in the face and head. Only ten or eleven wounded of the Federal forces, by feigning death escaped death, and crept in after dark, surprised and rejoiced to find us still alive and in possession.

It was with good reason generally believed after the battle by Gen. Blunt's command, that our garrison had been captured in the morning, as Quantrill, when first seen by them, was coming from the direction our camp. When first seen by them, as Quantrill's soldiers were all dressed in Union blue, they were supposed to be a detail from the garrison coming to pay their respects to Blunt's command and escort them into camp. Gen. Blunt had halted his command, and ordered his headquarters band in front. The members of the band had arranged themselves in position, and had their music and instruments in readiness to pay a welcome to their supposed friends.

Gen. Blunt and members of his staff were in the ambulance, their horses being led by Orderlies; all were joyous in anticipation of an immediate march into our camp, a hearty dinner, and a good night's rest among friends, when Quantrill's order was given to his men to charge upon them. His command was instantly obeyed. His men advanced upon Blunt's body guard with terrific, terrible force, with a revolver in each hand, and yelling like demons which they were.

In a moment all was changed. Supposed friends became foes of the fiercest kind. Happiness and hope became terror and despair. Pleasure became pain, and life became death. Panic seized every one. Blunt's little command was in the worst position possible to fight. No concerted action could be had. Each must fight or flee for himself, so dire and complete was the surprise, and so overwhelming the charge. Gen. Blunt gave no command. A command would have been of no avail, for his men soon learned that Quantrill, the bloody-handed and dreaded Quantrill, who six weeks before, had sacked and burned Lawrence, the beautiful city on the Kaw, and murdered in cold blood two hundred of her people, and who was known to give no quarter, was their foe. The only thought in the mind of each was how to save his life. But for the most of them no means of escape was found. Only a few on the fleetest horses got away.

The case of the band was especially sad. They had a splendid wagon built for their especial use, and they were equipped in elegant uniforms, with side arms, fancy swords and revolvers made not for fighting but for show. They were non-belligerents. Upon realizing the situation, the driver wheeled his horses westward, and undertook by rapid running to escape, but in less than a mile he was overtaken, and himself and every member of the band shot dead. Fire was set to the wagon, and many of their bodies charred beyond recognition. Most of them had been chosen from the Third Wisconsin Cavalry. Their leader, Pilage, was a noble, kind-hearted, educated and liberal German, from Madison, Wis. His remains could be distinguished from those of his dead companions in no way but by the gold cord on his pants. The remains of all had been stripped of everything of value.

Gen. Blunt escaped in the following manner: He and Maj. Curtis, his Adjutant General, were together, when they saw two openings in the enemy's ranks. Blunt told Curtis to run for the one and he would try to escape through the other. In a few moments he looked back and saw Maj. Curtis following him. At this time Gen. Blunt's horse leaped across a ravine, scarcely keeping his feet, and throwing his rider onto his neck, but recovering himself he sped on and carried the General safely to the woods. Next day Maj. Curtis' body was found in this ravine with a bullet through his temple, his revolver near him.

Gen. Blunt's command consisted of his staff-Major B. S. Henning, Capt. Farr and Major Curtis; his headquarters clerks, the band, twelve or fourteen six-mule teams; ambulance, one company (D) of the Third Wisconsin Cavalry, and one company (A) of the Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry. All the headquarters' books, uniforms and other property were captured, including over $1,000 in money.

The 7th of October was the saddest the writer and his companions ever saw. The fearful carnage of the day before was more fully realized every passing hour. All our available force was kept busily employed from early light until darkness covered the field of blood, searching for and bringing into camp the dead. Quantrill had thoroughly done his work. It was evidently his intention that none should be left alive. If mercy was shown, it was in the fact that all but one were shot through the temple, thus causing instant death. This one was Capt. Farr, who, shot through the hips and pelvis, died a lingering, agonizing death. The whole number belonging to Gen. Blunt's command killed in the battle, if battle it can be called where all the fighting was done by one side, was ninety-three and at the post eight, making one hundred and one in all. Quantrill lost two in killed at our camp.

The foraging party under Orderly (afterward Lieutenant) Homer W. Pond, of about sixty of our best cavalrymen, detached their mules from their wagons, and as many as could mounted, and by the way of Carthage and Lamar, Mo., reached Fort Scott in a few days in safety.

My theory of the battle is that about three days before, prior to the attack upon our garrison, Quantrill had had one or more spies in our camp, probably in the night time, before Lieut. Pond re-enforced us with Company C, of the Third Wisconsin, and the howitzer. He had planned his attack upon us, anticipating an easy victory on account of our supposed weakness, and was entirely ignorant of Blunt's movements or presence in the vicinity. When the main body of his command filed out of the woods on the east on the gallop to charge us from the north, he discovered on his right Blunt's command, halted, and preparing to make a grand entry into our camp for dinner. He instantly realized that he was between two forces, our garrison on his left and Blunt's command on his right.

Retiring for a moment to the woods for consultation, he re-appeared on the north, as we supposed to attack us, but really for the purpose of charging upon and disposing of Blunt's command, before effecting our capture. And when, after the massacre of Blunt's bodyguard, he again re-appeared on the hill and stood drawn up in line as if intending to attack us, he must have desisted from the attack on account of our evident thorough preparations to receive him. It is true history, I believe, though stated otherwise by some, that the Federal forces on the prairie made no stand, and did not fire a gun, but ran at the first, as soon as they realized that the charging party was an enemy, and many of the men threw away their carbines to lighten their weight.

The usual precautions, taken when on a march, were not taken; there were no deploys nor advance guards. Gen. Blunt was severely censured by the press and individuals for dereliction of duty for not using the ordinary precautions against surprise or sudden attack by an enemy, by those who knew the facts. There had been created for him a department, with headquarters at Fort Gibson. When attacked, he was on the way to his new headquarters, to assume command of his department. He had taken great pains to secure a grand and imposing outfit, including a department band of skilled musicians, elegantly uniformed, and he had procured a full corps of department clerks, and new uniforms for himself and staff.

After suffering this sad misfortune, he never assumed command at Fort Gibson; but after remaining five or six days in our camp at Baxter Springs, he returned to Fort Scott.

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