The Battle of Mine Creek, also known as the Battle of the Osage, was a battle that occurred on October 25, 1864, in Kansas as part of Price’s Raid during the American Civil War. In one of the largest cavalry engagements of the war, two divisions of Major General Sterling Price’s Army of Missouri were routed by two Federal brigades under the command of Colonels Frederick Benteen and John Finis Philips.
This battle was the second of three fought between Price and the Federals on this day; the first had been earlier that morning at Marais des Cygnes a few miles away, while the third would be fought a few hours later at the nearby Marmiton River. Although vastly outnumbered, Union forces won all three engagements, forcing Price out of Kansas and sealing the fate of his disastrous Missouri campaign.
General Alfred Pleasonton, commanding the Federal forces in this engagement, was previously in command of Federal forces at the Battle of Brandy Station in the eastern theater; this gives him the distinction of having won a major cavalry battle for the Union on both sides of the Mississippi River.
In the fall of 1864, Sterling Price led an expedition into Missouri hoping to capture that state for the Confederacy, or at least to negatively affect Abraham Lincoln’s chances for re-election in November. After a series of several battles across that state, Union forces under Maj. Gens. Samuel R. Curtis and Alfred Pleasonton finally defeated Price decisively at the Battle of Westport, in modern Kansas City, Missouri. Price withdrew south toward his base in Arkansas while Pleasonton, commanding a Union cavalry division, pursued him into Kansas hoping to capture or destroy his army before he could reach Confederate territory.
Price’s army was hampered by the presence of a rather large supply train, containing upwards of 500 wagons filled with badly needed war supplies for the South. As he camped along the Marais des Cygnes River near the town of Trading Post in Linn County, Kansas, Price’s force was attacked by two Union brigades from Pleasonton’s Provisional Cavalry Division. Although unable to prevent the escape of most of the Southern force, Pleasonton’s men were able to capture around 100 prisoners and two cannons, forcing Price to continue his withdrawal. Quickly renewing their pursuit, the Federal cavalry affected their own crossing of the river, which was delayed somewhat due to heavy rain and the swollen condition of the river.
Six miles south of Trading Post, the brigades of Colonels Benteen and Phillips overtook Price’s army once more, this time as it was crossing Mine Creek. The heavily laden Confederate wagons were experiencing difficulty with the rain-swollen ford, and Price had accordingly anticipated making a stand at this location. He formed a line on the north side of the stream, with Brig. Gen. James F. Fagan’s division on the left, and John S. Marmaduke’s on the right. Eight cannon were deployed in support of this force. Brigadier General William L. Cabell’s brigade formed up on the south side of Mine Creek in reserve. General Price himself had gone on with the main wagon train toward Ft. Scott, about twenty miles south, in the company of his third division, under Brig. Gen. Jo Shelby. Price was hoping to capture that post, which held valuable military stores.
The Union troops consisted of Philips’ brigade, containing three regiments of Missouri State Militia cavalry; and Benteen’s brigade, which consisted of the 10th Missouri Cavalry, the 4th Iowa Cavalry and the 3rd Iowa Cavalry, augmented by two companies of the 7th Indiana Cavalry combined with a detachment from the 4th Missouri Cavalry. In all, about 2,600 Federal troops would face around 7,000 Confederates.
Although outnumbered by more than two-to-one, the Union cavalry immediately commenced an attack. Col. Philips initially hesitated in the face of the overwhelming Confederate superiority in numbers, but he was overruled by Benteen (who would later ride to fame at the Battle of the Little Bighorn), who charged full-tilt into the Confederate center while Philips hit Price’s left flank. Faced with this sudden assault, Fagan and Marmaduke ordered their men to remain mounted (rather than dismount, which had been their usual practice), turning the ensuing combat into one of the largest mounted cavalry engagements of the Civil War.
Disaster nearly overtook the Federals, as Benteen’s 10th Missouri Regiment inexplicably stopped their charge about halfway between their original position and the Confederate lines, refusing to start again until Major Abial R. Pierce of the 4th Iowa Cavalry galloped ahead of his regiment toward the Southern lines, followed in turn by his own regiment and then the rest of Benteen’s brigade. Hitting the Confederates
“like a thunderbolt”,
according to William Forse Scott’s The Story of a Cavalry Regiment: the Career of the Fourth Iowa Veteran Volunteers, the Union troopers forced the Confederate line to disintegrate
“like a row of bricks”.
Mass confusion reigned on the battlefield, as many of Price’s men had donned captured Union uniforms, making it harder to distinguish between them and real Union soldiers. General Marmaduke was captured by an Iowa trooper named James Dunlavy, as he went to rally what he thought was a group of his own men (but who turned out to belong to Benteen’s command). General Cabell similarly became a prisoner, as would nearly 1,000 of Price’s army by the time the battle had ended.
Although the Confederates had numerical superiority, they were overwhelmed by the rapid attack and greater Union firepower, which included revolvers and breechloading carbines (the Confederates were mostly equipped with muzzle-loaders). The battle itself lasted barely 30 minutes; by the time General Price arrived on the scene, it was practically over. Although many Southerners fought tenaciously, especially Price’s artillery, most chose to flee. General Fagan tried to reform these men south of the creek near the Jones house, but was not able to hold his troops there and retreated to a new position atop a treeless mound still further to the south. However, lacking artillery support (Price’s artillery had been captured on the main battlefield) and having lost several of his immediate subordinates, Fagan could not hold this position either. Benteen’s brigade began its charge up the hill, supported by Union artillery, and Fagan’s command broke and ran for the nearby Ft. Scott road. Coming upon this scene, Price tried to rally his retreating men, to no avail.
Confederate casualties were 1,200, including those wounded during the retreat. Union casualties were 100. Benteen and Philips continued their pursuit of Price’s diminishing force, joining combat with it again at the Battle of Marmiton River later that same afternoon. The Army of Missouri would continue its withdrawal until reaching relative safety in Arkansas, though with only about one half of its original numbers. The great Missouri Raid had been a complete fiasco for Price, and the overall Union victory had precisely the opposite effect from what the Confederates had hoped, helping in Abraham Lincoln’s successful campaign for re-election and contributing to the overall Union victory in the war.
The battlefield has been preserved by the Kansas Historical Society as Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site, which includes a museum with details of the battle.