Sunday, October 14, 2007

Action on the Little Blue and Independence

Early on the morning of October 21st, 1864, Marmaduke’s division moved west from Lexington and quickly collided with Moonlight’s pickets just east of the Little Blue River and pushed the company of skirmishers back toward the defenses along the riverbank. Here the Union response stiffened and Marmaduke lost dozens in the advance.

Eventually, numbers began to tell and Marmaduke’s division pushed Moonlight’s brigade back to the bridge. Crossing and firing the bridge temporarily halted the Confederate advance. Locating fords both upstream and down, Marmaduke continued his advance and further dispersed Moonlight’s force, who ordered his men to dismount, take cover and begin a slow withdrawal.

Reaching a low ridge a mile west of the river, Moonlight was relieved to find Blunt leading a brigade to his assistance. Five regiments, backed by three batteries, were soon dismounted, aligned and moving toward the Confederates. The battle lines quickly collided in a wild, vicious, hand-to-hand melee, surging in advance and retreat. Shelby’s Rebel division joined the fray, but after an hour of close fighting with greater artillery support, the Federals had pushed forward a half-mile. Realizing he had over-extended and the greater Confederate force was overlapping his flanks Blunt withdrew to his original line on the ridge, well protected by his batteries.

At this moment, a confused order moved the left-most Yankee battery to the right and into a more exposed position. More importantly it uncovered the left-flank 11th Kansas cavalry regiment. Shelby’s next attack was aimed right for the weakened part of the line. Rather than waiting for the attack, the 11th charged forward and were joined by the 2nd Colorado cavalry.

The fight was short and mean; as quickly as it started, it ended. Both sides drew back - the federal line preserved.

Both sides were exhausted and short of ammunition. The 11th was almost entirely out of ammo; they held the line with "cheers and song".

The fighting to the south was equally desperate. Jennison’s Union brigade was hard pressed by the rest of Marmaduke’s division. Much of the fighting was within 25 paces.

As the fighting ground to a halt, Bunt organized a fighting withdrawal. While one line held position, the other fell back to a new position and then swapped roles. The artillery was evenly divided between the two. In this way, four successive positions were maintained and abandoned, back through Independence and on to Curtis’ position on the Big Blue.

Shelby now led the Confederate advance. Moving through Independence he was contested by the 16th Kansas supported by the ubiquitous 11th. A wicked firefight developed in the town streets, smashing windows, awnings and sidewalks and wounding and killing men and horses. Shelby’s men pushed the Yankees out of town to the railroad bridge where the fight petered out in the total darkness of nightfall.

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