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Doc. 53. battle of Blue Mills, Mo.

Col. Scott's official report.

Headquarters 3D regiment Iowa Volunteers, liberty, Mo., Sept. 18, 1861.
S. D. Sturgis, Brig.-Gen. U. S. A.:
sir: In relation to an affair of yesterday which occurred near Blue Mills Landing, I have the honor to report:

Agreeably to your orders I left Cameron at 3 P. M. of the 15th instant, and through a heavy rain and bad roads made but seven miles during that afternoon. By a very active march on the 16th I reached Centerville, ten miles north of Liberty, by sunset, where the firing of cannon was distinctly heard in the direction of Platte City, which was surmised to be from Colonel Smith's (Illinois Sixteenth) command. Had sent a messenger to Colonel Smith from Hainesville, and sent another from Centerville, apprising him of my movements, but got no response. On the 17th at 2 A. M. started from Centerville for Liberty, and at daylight the advanced guards fell in with the enemy's pickets, which they drove in and closely followed. At 7 A. M. my command bivouacked on the hill north of and overlooking the town. I despatched several scouts to examine the position of the enemy, but could gain no definite information. They had passed through Liberty during the afternoon of the 17th to the number of about four thousand, and taken the road to Blue Mills Landing, and were reported as having four pieces of artillery. At 11 o'clock A. M. heard firing in the direction of the landing, which was reported as a conflict between the rebels and forces disputing their passage over the river. At 12 M. moved the command consisting of five hundred of the Third Iowa, a squad of German artillerists and about seven Home Guards, in the direction of Blue Mills Landing. On the route learned that a body of our scouts had fallen in with the enemy's pickets and lost four killed and one wounded. Before starting despatched a courier to Colonel Smith to hasten his command.

About two miles from Liberty the advance guard drove in the enemy's pickets, skirmishers closely examined the dense growth through which our route lay, and at 3 P. M. discovered the enemy in force, concealed on both sides of the road, and occupying the dry bed of a slough, left resting on the river and the right extending beyond our observation. He opened a heavy fire which drove back our skirmishers, and made simultaneous attacks upon our front and right. These were well sustained, and he retired with a loss to his position. In the attack on our front the artillery suffered so severely that the only piece, a brass six-pounder, was left without sufficient force to man it, and I was only able to have it discharged twice during the action. Some of the gunners abandoned the piece, carrying off the matches and primer, and could not be rallied.

The enemy kept up a heavy fire from his position — and our artillery useless and many of the officers and men already disabled — it was deemed advisable to fall back, which was done slowly, returning the enemy's fire and completely checking pursuit.

The six-pounder was brought off by hand through the gallantry of various officers and men of the Third Iowa, after it had been entirely abandoned by the artillerists. The ammunition wagon, becoming fastened between a tree and a log at the roadside in such a manner that it could not be released without serious loss, was abandoned. The engagement lasted one hour, and was sustained by my command with an intrepidity that merits my warmest approbation.

I have to regret the loss of a number of brave officers and men, who fell gallantly fighting at their posts. I refer to the enclosed list of killed and wounded as a part of this report.

The heaviest fire was sustained by Company I, Third Iowa Volunteers, which lost four killed and twenty wounded, being one-fourth of our total loss. This company deserves especial mention. Captain Trumbull, assisted by Lieutenant Crosbey of Company E, brought off the gun by hand under a heavy fire. Major Stone, Captains Warren, Willett, and O'Neil were severely wounded, and also Lieutenants Hobbs, Anderson, Tullis, and Knight. The latter refused to retire from the field after being three times wounded, and remained with his men till the close of the engagement. Among the great number who deserve my thanks for their gallantry, I might mention Sergeant James F. Lakin of Company F, Third Iowa, who bore the colors and carried them into the fight with all the coolness of a veteran.

The loss of the enemy cannot be certainly ascertained, but from accounts deemed reliable it [143] is not less than one hundred and sixty, many of whom were killed. His total force was about four thousand four hundred.

Your most obedient servant,

John Scott, Lt.-Col. Third Iowa Volunteers, Com'dg.

Secession official report. General D. R. Atchison's report.

Lexington, Sept. 21, 1861.
General Price: Sir:--In pursuance of your orders I left this place on the 15th instant, and proceeded forthwith to Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, where I met the State Guard on the march from the northwest--one regiment of infantry, under command of Colonel Saunders, and one regiment of cavalry, under command of Colonel Wilfley, of the Fifth district, and one regiment of infantry, under command of Colonel Jeff. Patton, and one battalion of cavalry, under command of Colonel Childs, from the Fourth district. I delivered your orders to the above commands to hasten to this point (Lexington) with as much despatch as possible. They marched forthwith, and reached the Missouri River about four o'clock in the evening, when Colonel Boyd's artillery and battalion and baggage were crossed to the south side, where he took his position, Captain Kelly planting his artillery so as completely to command the river. The crossing continued all night without interruption, every officer and man using his best exertions. We received news during the night that the enemy would be in the town of Liberty — about six miles distant from the Blue Mills Ferry — at an early hour the ensuing morning. We were crossing in three small flats and much time was necessary to move the large train of a hundred wagons. Colonel Childs, with his command, had taken post for the night about two miles from Liberty, on the road to the ferry. Here he engaged the enemy's advance or pickets in the morning, killing four and wounding one, with no loss on our side. The enemy then fled, and we heard no more of them until three or four o'clock, when their approach was announced in large force, supposed to be nine hundred men, with one piece of artillery, a six-pounder. The men of our command immediately formed--Colonel Jeff. Patton leading the advance — to meet the enemy. After proceeding about three miles from the river they met the advance guard of the enemy and the fight commenced. But the Federal troops almost immediately fled, our men pursuing rapidly, shooting them down until they annihilated the rear of their army, taking one caisson, killing about sixty men, and wounding, it is said, about seventy. The Federal troops attempted two or three times to make a stand, but ran after delivering one fire. Our men followed them like hounds on a wolf chase, strewing the road with dead and wounded, until compelled to give over the chase from exhaustion, the evening being very warm.

Colonel Saunders, Colonel Patton, Colonel Childs, Colonel Cundiff, Colonel Wilfley, Major Gause, Adjutant Shackleford, and all other officers and men, as far as I know or could learn, behaved gallantly.

Missouri Republican account.

the rebel forces under Boyd and Patton, numbering some four thousand five hundred, evacuated St. Joseph on the 12th Sept., and retreated in the direction of Lexington. On the succeeding Monday an expedition, under Lieut.-Col. Scott, left Cameron, on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, with orders to cooperate with Colonel Smith in the pursuit of the secession soldiers.

The column of Lieut.-Col. Scott was composed of five hundred men of the Iowa Third regiment, a small detachment of Home Guards, and artillerists to work one gun — making five hundred and seventy men in the aggregate. Simultaneously with the movement of these troops from Cameron, Col. Smith, of the Illinois Sixteenth, with two companies of Colonel Groesbeck's Thirty-ninth Ohio and four pieces, left St. Joseph. Both columns were ordered to Liberty, there to effect a junction and combine their forces. Lieut.-Col. Scott, it appears, reached Liberty on the 17th inst., at seven o'clock in the morning, and waited for the arrival of Col. Smith until one o'clock in the afternoon. The latter not having got up, Lieut.-Col. Scott sent back a messenger, stating that he would push forward after the enemy, whose camp was about five miles distant, which was accordingly done. Boyd and Patton with, as we stated, about four thousand five hundred men, were occupying a strong position in a thicket, near Blue Mills Landing. The following statement is furnished us of what transpired :--

Our skirmishers received a galling fire, and slowly retreated to our main body, when the action soon became general. Our six-pounder was brought to bear on the enemy, and two shots fired, which proved destructive. At this time a heavy fire was opened on our single gun, killing one gunner, and wounding two others. On this, several of the remaining gunners (Germans) abandoned the gun, carrying off the primer and fusees, rendering the piece useless. The action continued for an hour, when our column was slowly withdrawn to more open ground, bringing off the wounded, and dragging away the gun by hand — all the horses having been killed or badly wounded.

In addition to the loss of the Third Iowa, there were six Home Guards and one artilleryman killed. Four of these Home Guards were killed in a skirmish about two hours before the battle. Three of the missing are supposed to be in the hands of the enemy, and the balance killed.

It seems that Colonel Smith, owing to heavy rains, and consequent bad roads, had been greatly delayed on the route, and his failure [144] to join Lieut.-Col. Scott is attributable to these causes. On the receipt, however, of Lieut.-Col. Scott's message, he immediately ordered his cavalry and mounted men to the front, and took them forward at a rapid pace. On his arrival at Liberty, after dark, he found Scott there, after having been repulsed by the overwhelming numbers of the enemy. The men were exhausted, and as the enemy was reported strongly intrenched, it was resolved to postpone an attack until morning. Lieut.-Colonel Wilson reached Liberty with the infantry two hours after Col. Smith.

Early on the following morning, the 18th, the combined forces moved forward, but on reaching Blue Mills Landing found that the rebels had crossed the river and eluded them, the last detachment having gone over at three o'clock in the morning. They had been two days in taking the baggage and stores across, and, with a ferry boat and three flats, found it comparatively easy to take their men over, especially as the Missouri is quite narrow at that point. Thus Boyd and Patton and their army escaped.

The loss of the rebels in the engagement of the 17th is not known, but owing to the desperation with which the Iowa boys fought, it is supposed to have been considerable. It seems that these soldiers had been somewhat chagrined at what was termed their “flight” at Shelbina, although their retreat was reluctant and under orders. They were determined on the first opportunity to show that they were not cowards, and this feeling it was, doubtless, that actuated Lieut.-Colonel Scott to push forward without waiting for Colonel Smith's column. It was not, of course, intended that either command was to attack the vastly superior force of the enemy unsupported; and, in this respect, the conduct of Lieut.-Colonel Scott was unauthorized, though we do not hear of any disposition to attach any blame to him. His object, seeing that the enemy was making preparations to cross the river, was, probably, to draw him out, and retreat before him, in the expectation of meeting a timely reinforcement from Colonel Smith.

It appears that Colonel Smith left St. Joseph previous to the receipt of full orders, which were for him, after the contemplated cutting off of Patton and Boyd from Lexington, to move on himself to the latter place. These directions reaching St. Joseph subsequent to Col. Smith's departure, they were sent after him by a mounted officer, who, for some reason, returned without having overtaken Col. Smith, and consequently without having delivered the orders. The reader, therefore, who has supposed that Colonel Smith had marched to join Colonel Mulligan at Lexington, will feel some disappointment in learning that, in his report to General Pope he speaks of being about to return to St. Joseph.

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