Battle of Marais Des Cygnes in Kansas

The following is a report given by Union Major General Samuel R. Curtis that details the events of the Battle of Marais Des Cygnes, which was a portion of the Battle of Mine Creek in Kansas.

OFFICIAL RECORDS: Series 1, vol. 41, Part 1 – Pgs. 493-495

GRAND RIVER, October 25, 1864-2 p. m.

Major-General CURTIS, Commanding

The enemy had gone into camp in the timber skirting the Marais des Cygnes near the town of Trading Post, making fires and other extensive arrangements for rest and refreshments. My day and night’s march brought my advance close upon them about 12 m. of the 25th, and at 3 o’clock Major Hunt led three companies of the Second Colorado to attack and take a mound which commands the valley of the stream. This was gallantly executed. I had sent a special order to General Sanborn, who commanded the advance brigade, by Major Weed, to push forward artillery and open at long range. This was retarded by the darkness, but the artillery fire commenced about 4 a. m.

As daylight approached our troops deployed, moving in line against the enemy, who still occupied one of the gills and the timber skirting the stream. As our lines rose steadily on the side hill the enemy’s force on the summit melted away, till finally our forces had secured all the commanding positions with very little loss. Skirmishers moved into the timber, when the rebel camp was deserted in great confusion. A stand was made at river crossing, where the enemy was felling trees and firing cannon, but our advance was so close upon them they left their guns and the ford, retreating in disorder. Cattle, camp equipment, negroes, provisions partly cooked, and stolen goods were scattered over miles of the forest camp, and along the lines of the retreat. Few were killed on either side as the night and early morn attack created a general fright in the rebel lines and only random shots on either side. General Sanborn’s brigade, being in advance, and the Colorado squadrons, assisted by my escort, which came up early in the skirmish, did most of the work. After following in hot pursuit for a mile General Sanborn halted his brigade for breakfast, while General Pleasonton led the advance with the remainder of his division.

This battle of Marais des Cygnes was a gallant affair, commenced in a dark rainy night and consummated at early dawn after a day and night march, to the surprise and horror of Price’s forces. They burned a public store-house formerly used by our pickets and fired many haystacks in the vicinity, but their loss of two guns, many cattle, sheep, and thousands of little necessaries for sleeping and carrying supplies, were serious losses to the enemy. General Sanborn being afterward separated with General Pleasonton from my command reported to General Rosecrans, so that I cannot give his version of this and other events of this day’s transactions.

Major Weed, additional aide-de-camp, of my staff, reports concerning his detached duties as follows. After reporting the matter of a proposed movement to the left by General Pleasonton, which I rejected as likely to separate us on the march of the 24th, he says:

The pursuit was continued regularly until 8 p. m., at which hour we reached. West Point, when the division of General Pleasonton was placed in the advance for a night march, and at midnight reached the vicinity of Trading Post, a small settlement at the crossing of Marais des Cygnes, and halted. I immediately proceeded to the front, in company with Major McKenny, to ascertain the cause of the halt, and learned from Brigadier-General Sanborn that his advance had struck the enemy’s column on a high mound half a mile north of the town, and that owing to the darkness of the night and want of knowledge of the country he could not and would not assume the responsibility of moving any farther until daylight.

On making these facts known to the commanding general, he ordered the artillery of General Sanborn’s brigade forward to open at once on the enemy’s line.

At 4 a. m. on the 25th, no firing having been heard, I was directed to go to the front and ascertain why the artillery had not been opened as directed some hours previous. On arriving there I found the battery just going into position about half a mile from the position occupied by the enemy during the night, and four guns were very soon opened on the crest of this mound. After a few shots had been fired Major R. H. Hunt rode up from our skirmish line and begged them to cease firing from that point, as their shells were falling in the midst of our own men, who had already driven the enemy from their position. I then learned from Major Hunt that three companies of the Second Colorado Cavalry, who had been in advance during the day and night previous, had, in the darkness and rain, pushed forward without support and gained possession of this commanding point.

On returning to report to the commanding general I met Brigadier-General Sanborn, who had just left his quarters, and informed him of the facts above stated. I remained with the major-general commanding until Philips’ brigade had crossed the stream at Trading Post, when I was ordered over with a message to General Pleasonton, and after delivering it proceeded to the front with Colonel Blair and Major R. H. Hunt.

Major Hunt, my chief of artillery, who commenced this contest at the Trading Post or Marais des Cygnes, says, after speaking of our march on the 24th:

The commanding general insisted on the troops keeping on the shortest line. Marched all day and night; distance, probably fifty miles. Before daylight on the morning of the 25th I directed Captain Kingsbury, who commanded three squadrons of the Colorado troops, to take the hill on the left of the road, which he did in connection with Colonel Gravely, who commanded this picket-line, driving the enemy across the Marais des Cygnes, where they had felled trees to obstruct our passage. Quite a spirited engagement occurred during the passage of the creek. Our forces crossed and resumed the pursuit on a run. The enemy opened with a number of guns, one of which was captured.

Major T. I. McKenny, aide-de-camp and my inspector-general, thus reports concerning the night and morning operations of the 24th and 25th:

The command was halted by order of the major-general commanding about nightfall to cook some beef at a small place called West point. At 8 p. m. and order came from the major-general commanding directing General Blunt to remain in present position, that General Pleasonton would take the advance, proceeded until 3 o’clock at night, it being exceedingly dark and raining. When the column halted I was ordered forward to ascertain the cause. Found General McNeil, who said he had his instructions from General Sanborn, in advance, to halt and build fires to dry. At this time an order came from the front to extinguish fires. I reported these facts, when I was again ordered to the front to ascertain from General Sanborn the cause of the halt. Found general Sanborn in bed some two miles in advance, and about three miles from Trading post. He told me he had ascertained to his satisfaction that the enemy was in full force, perhaps 10,000 strong, immediately on the high hills in his front, and that he thought it unsafe to proceed farther. These facts being communicated we bivouacked for the night.

October 25, General Pleasonton in the advance skirmished with the enemy across the Marais des Cygnes.

During that night Generals Pleasonton, Lane, and myself traveled most of the time between the divisions, but at early dawn we went forward and saw most of the conflict, especially the advance of our troops on the plain and the taking of the mounds. We also joined the advance movement in the timber, while our troops were skirmishing with the foe and driving him from the crossing.

Brigadier-General Sanborn and the troops of his brigade, Major Weed, Major Hunt, and Major McKenny, of my staff, deserve special commendation for their efforts in this battle of the Marais des Cygnes.

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