Early History of the Big Blue River (and the Battle of)
by Frank W. Blackmar (1912)
Big Blue River, one of the principal water-courses of northeastern Kansas, is composed of two branches. The north fork rises in Hamilton county, Neb., and the south fork in Adams county of the same state. They unite near the town of Crete, whence the main stream follows a southerly course, flowing through the western part of Marshall county, Kan., forming the boundary between the counties of Riley and Pottawatomie, and emptying its waters into the Republican river at Manhattan.
There is also a Big Blue river in Missouri, where a battle occurred on Oct. 22, 1864, in which a number of Kansas troops were engaged. The engagement was an incident of the Price raid. On the 21st Gen. Curtis, commanding the Union troops, was forced back from the Little Blue through Independence and took a position on the west side of the Big Blue, where he threw up fortifications and felled the trees in front of his works to form an abatis. The next morning he disposed his troops so that the right wing was composed of the First brigade (Col. Jennison), the second brigade (Col. Moonlight), the Fourth brigade (Col. Ford), and a brigade of Kansas militia commanded by Gen. M. S. Grant. With the right wing was McLain's Colorado battery. The left wing consisted of the Third brigade (Col. Blair), and was made up of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Tenth Kansas militia cavalry, Capt. Eve's Bourbon county battalion, a detachment of the Fourteenth Kansas cavalry, Knowles' section of the Second Kansas battery and Dodge's Ninth Wisconsin battery.
Early on the morning of the 22nd Gen. Blunt sent Col. Ford with six companies of the Second Colorado cavalry to skirmish with the enemy on the Independence road and feel his position. Ford engaged the enemy and forced the Confederates under Gen. Shelby to withdraw to Byram's ford or 6 miles farther south. Col. Jennison was sent to hold the ford and later was reinforced, but Shelby forced Jennison's position and then flanked the Union line. Blunt and Deitzler began falling back to Kansas City, which gave Shelby the opportunity to sever the line, cutting off the Kansas militia under Gen. Grant, which was engaged in guarding the fords near Hickman's mills. Even with this it looked for a time as if the Confederates were defeated, but Shelby received reinforcements and charged the Federal line. In this charge and the pursuit which followed, the Kansas militia under Col. George W. Veale were the chief sufferers, losing 36 killed, 43 wounded and 100 captured. Grant managed to extricate himself from his perilous position and fell back to Olathe; Col. Moonlight withdrew to the Shawnee mission, and that night the remainder of the Union army lay between Westport and Kansas City.