Civil War
Field Trip

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Battle of Baxter Springs  
(Visited 2-9-2012)

On October 6, 1863 Confederate guerrilla forces under William Quantrill attacked the Union Fort Blair which stood at this site, in Baxter Springs, Kansas.  The Missouri "Bushwackers"  armed with cavalry pistols, soon found the fort with its Howitzer Cannon a very unappealing target.  Quantrill gave up the attack and led his men back to the Military Road (today's Military Ave) with the intention of heading South to Texas and winter quarters.  It was then that he spotted a smaller Union force approaching from the North on the Military road.  The Confederate guerrillas attacked the Union troops under Gen. James Blunt with their usual boldness and gave No Quarter.
A good place to begin a visit to Baxter Springs is the Museum and Heritage Center at 740 East Avenue.  The friendly staff is very helpful.  The museum dedicates an entire section to the "Baxter Sprngs Massacre" but also does a nice job of covering the area's post-Civil War and 20th Century history.  Contact the museum:
  (620) 856-2385
ABOVE PHOTO:   CWFT Participant Rhea Cobb stands next to a replica of the Fort Blair "Blockhouse" which was in the center of the Baxter Springs fortifications in 1863.

When his men were attacked, Union General James Blunt jumped on his horse and made his escape....leaving his command leaderless.  Within seconds the Guerrillas were in the middle of the Federal position, blasting away with their Colts at close range.  Union Soldier Lewis Coon later wrote of the fight:  "...we were outnumbered, surprised and practically surrounded and every man knew his only chance was to fight his way through and get away."

Eighty Nine did not "get away" and were shot dead by Quantrill's Horsemen.  Among the dead were 14 members of Blunt's Brigade Band.

BELOW PHOTO:  Monument to the Union Soldiers who were killed in Baxter Springs, KS on Oct 6, 1863.  The bodies of these men were originally buried just North of Fort Baxter.  In 1869 their remains were moved to a U.S. National Plot about a mile West of town.  The names and Units of the Federal dead are engraved on the monument base. (2nd Kansas Battery - 8th Kansas Cavalry - 12th Kansas Infantry - 13th Kansas Infantry - 14th Kansas Cavalry  - 15 Kansas Cavalry - 79th U.S.C.T - 88th U.S.C.T. -2nd Ohio Cavalry -  3rd Wisconsin Cavalry - 9th Wisconsin Infantry)
CWFT Commentary:

An interesing question to consider...Was the Civil War engagement at Baxter Springs a "Battle" or a "Massacre?"  For a century and a half many historians have labeled the fight a "Massacre."  Certainly the Missouri guerillas' attack was brutal and they apparently meant to leave no survivors.  However, taken in the context of the area and the time period, the action of Quantrill's men can become understandable.

By the fall of 1863 the Civil War in the Kansas/Missouri theater had devolved into a "take no prisoners" war.  Union General Thomas Ewing Jr. had long before established a policy of "No Quarter" for suspected Southern guerillas.  He had also declared war on the guerillas' famlies, imprisoning some of their wives and sisters...with tragic results when their jail collapsed in August.  This action had led to Quantrill's devastating raid on the Redleg
stronghold city of Lawrence, Kansas on August 21st.

Ewing had reacted to the burning and killing in Lawrence by ordering the removal of every citizen of four Missouri border counties where many of the guerillas' families lived.  After the forced evacuation of these counties, Kansas Redlegs and Union troopers invaded the area stealing whatever they could carry off and then burning the abandoned homes.

The total cost of Ewing's "Order # 11" in civilian lives (women & children) has never been calculated but it's effect on the mindset of Missouri guerillas is easier to gage.  Rage and revenge were running unabated on both sides in Kansas and Missouri and the battle at Baxter Springs was one of the saddest examples of where that kind of war can lead.
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