Battle of Santa Fe

Half an hour after the prisoners were paroled the word to saddle was passed around, and presently a newcomer rode into camp. I knew he was a newcomer because, the day being warm, he had thrown his coat across the pommel of his saddle and his white shirt was fresh-laundered and clean. He was a fine specimen of the handsome, vigorous, intelligent man. In conversation with a little squad he said that he was from Boone County, and that his name was Kneisley. He had scarcely attached himself to one of the companies-not ours-when the order to march was given. Captain Penny's company led the column and the gait was a moderate one. A mile or two from camp, at the forks of the road, we met Stillson in the left. He told us that the Federals were down the road a short distance and that we should meet them in a few minutes if we kept on.

"How many are there ?" some one asked.

"Oh, I don't know. I turned back as soon as I saw they were not of my command, and if I did know how many they are would you expect me to tell you ?"

"Certainly not, unless you let it slip without thinking; all's fair in love and war, you know. But why is it that you did not join them instead of coming back to tell us ?"

"I consider it the proper thing, as well as the most prudent, to strike for a post unless I can sooner reach my command. As for giving you this information, you men have treated me so white, I couldn't help it."

Mutual expressions of good will and hopes for safety were heartily given and after a round of hand shaking Stillson took the other road and was soon lost to view.

In the meantime Colonel Porter had been sent for. The messenger met him coming forward to learn why the column had halted. When informed of the situation he directed a man to gallop back to where the main body of the command would be found and hurry it forward. By some means a break in the column had occurred just behind Captain Porters company, leaving that company and ours to compose the advance. The colonel said there was an excellent spot for battle about a third of a mile to our left and that our little force could hold any number of Federals until the other companies came up. We lost no time in getting there. The place seemed to be made for our purpose. Our horses were completely sheltered and the con- tour of the ground was favorable to us. When the remainder of the command had come up and taken its place- an event looked for with interest and which happened in the nick of time-a bank eighteen inches deep was a natural fortification for one-third of our men on the left, and two half-decayed logs lying in a straight line, with a gap of ten feet between, were in the proper position on our right, leaving us in the center to hug the ground. The colonel standing behind our company ordered every man, officer and private, to lie flat on the ground. This was scarcely done before the enemy began firing. They fired eight or ten volleys before they came into sight, the bullets whistling over us. Had we been standing our loss might have been considerable, so well had they guessed our location. On they came, their commander giving his orders-and very many unnecessary ones-in a very loud voice. It seemed to me that he was trying to give us an idea he was not afraid. I said to Colonel Porter:

"Ain't that funny?" "I never heard anything like it," he said. I told him that I was not well acquainted with Captain McElroy, of Pike County, who had a number of my Lincoln County neighbors in his company, but the voice sounded like his. These loud-toned orders, continually kept up, assured us that the enemy, though unseen, was steadily advancing. After the fifth volley Colonel Porter in a low tone gave the order to load, and it was passed up and down the line. We turned on our backs, loaded our pieces and quickly and quietly resumed our position. Jim Lovelace, who had a witty or a stinging word for everybody and every occasion, had previously named Green Rector, "Daddy," and Mart Robey, "Lieutenant Daddy," saw, or thought he saw, that Green was getting a little closer to the ground than anyone else and cried out just loud enough to escape reprimand:

"Oh, look at Daddy. He's trying to make a mole of himself."

"Didn't the colonel order us to lie flat on the ground ?"

"Yes, but he didn't tell us to burrow in the ground." "Well, I'm obeying orders; I am. It might be well if you'd obey orders a little closer," and Green laughed heartily.

The enemy was now just breaking into view through the thick foliage. I glanced down our line to the right and saw twenty feet away our latest arrival, Mr. Kneisley, standing erect. Whether he had been standing all the while through a misapprehension of orders or had become excited at the sight of the Federals and had now risen to his feet I did not know, but there he was, his clean white shirt a good target for the enemy. The colonel saw him nearly as soon and called out sharply, "Lie down there !" Before Kneisley could obey a bullet struck him just beneath the left collar bone, near the neck, passing through the top part of the lung and out of the body. Had it ranged an inch higher the subclavian artery would have been severed and death from hemorrhage would have been almost instantaneous. As it was, the wound was a dangerous one and it was a long time before recovery.

The Federal commander now caught sight of us. He stopped short, both in step and in orders and cried out as loudly as before:

"Yonder are the God damned sons of bitches, now." [i]

"Ready !" rang out the clear silvery voice of Colonel Porter, and a moment later: "Fire !"

When the smoke from our volley, which was as if from one gun, cleared away, not a Federal could be seen except those prone on the ground. Tom Moore broke out into a laugh and yelled out at the top of his voice:

"The God damned sons of bitches are still here, and what's more, they are about all that are here."

In a little while the colonel called for a volunteer picket guard, one from each company, to go forward and ascertain the whereabouts of the enemy. Henry Lovelace sprang forward and the two or three of us who were not quick enough, fell back into our places. I wished to go because I had never done anything of the kind and because I felt curious to know whether or not Captain McElroy had faced us, and if he had I might possibly see some of my acquaintances who were in his company, but Henry had fairly won the privilege. The pickets returned in about a half hour and reported that the enemy had also thrown out pickets on foot, who retired before ours and soon the whole force had gone out of sight. After the war, in conversation with Charles H. Cummins, who had been my schoolmate and who enlisted in the Third Cavalry, reaching a first lieutenancy in the Forty-seventh Infantry near the close of the war, I learned that he was one of the pickets who met ours. Two years before the war, in consequence of an unfortunate quarrel, our families became enemies and we thought at the time that that was the reason why his father espoused the cause of the Union. The opinion may have been unjust to Mr. Cummins. It was, however, the common practice for personal enemies to take opposite sides in the struggle. I wished at the time and I have since wished that Henry Lovelace had not been so quick. Had I met Charlie on the picket line I am sure that notwithstanding our political and personal enmity, I should have hailed him in a friendly spirit and I am equally sure he would have met my advances in the same spirit. When I returned home, two years after the war, his father and mother were the first acquaintances I met and they spoke in an exceedingly kind manner, which was the first time in eight years, the friendly relations between the families having been reestablished at the suggestion and through the medium of Charlie, who, though hot-tempered, was a warm- hearted boy.

While we were waiting for the return of the pickets Tom Moore said:

"Boys, you see that man lying yonder behind that tree? He's mine. You know the colonel's orders have always been to fire behind trees and that's the reason why he won't let us stand behind trees, afraid the Feds might get onto the same practice. Well, when "Ready" came, I covered this man and as soon as we are allowed to break ranks we'll go over there and you'll find a small bullet wound in his belly. You know I have the only rifle in the crowd. If you don't find the little bullet hole just where I say I'll own up that somebody else got him."

Concerning this affair Captain B. F. Crail, of the Third Iowa Cavalry, writes: "On the 24th of July Major Caldwell mustered up eighty men and pursued Porter and ran into him at Santa Fe. I had the advance and ran your pickets off the road in toward Salt River. When the major came up he ordered me to dismount with part of my men, go in and reconnoiter to find out your location. I proceeded with seventeen men. I was within a hundred feet of you before I saw you. You had piled up some old logs on a bank and fired a volley of buckshot into us the first thing. I ordered my men to lie down, but was too late. I had one man killed and ten wounded. You had one man killed that I saw later. We buried him on the widow Botts' farm by the side of my man, Case. The Major thought we did not have enough men to meet you then. We followed Porter south, but stopped at Mexico to care for our wounded."

The Official Army Register, Volunteer Force, United States Army, volume VII, page 232, gives the casualties of the Third Iowa Cavalry at Santa Fe, Mo., July 24, 1862: Killed, two enlisted men; wounded, thirteen enlisted men.

Colonel Richard G. Woodson, of the Third Regiment Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, in compliance with the request of Colonel John B. Gray, Adjutant-General of Missouri, writes from headquarters at Pilot Knob, December 19, 1863, a history of the battles, marches, etc., of the regiment, in which occurs the following: "As soon as the rebel Porter commenced organizing his forces in Northeast Missouri the regiment was placed in the field, and continued there continually until the following November. A part of the command was in the first engagement with Porter the latter part of July, on Salt River, Monroe County, Mo., in connection with the Third Iowa Cavalry, Major Caldwell in command. It was next engaged with Porter's forces a few days after at Moore's Mill, in Callaway County, Mo., Colonel O. Guitar commanding." No reference is made to the casualties suffered anywhere. Nearly all of my acquaintances in Lincoln County who went into the Federal army were in this regiment. Colonel Edwin Smart was its first commander. He resigned in May, 1863, as did Lieutenant Colonel Frederick Morsey, and Major Woodson became colonel. He was dismissed by Special Order No. 35, Headquarters of Missouri, February 27, 1864. Company G was composed entirely of Lincoln County men and Companies C and D, commanded respectively by Captains S. A. C. Bartlett and Robert McElroy, had each many recruits from Lincoln County.

I saw very many more than seventeen Federals before we fired and probably I did not see them all, as the undergrowth was thick in places. I remember hearing Charlie Cummins speak on several occasions of having been in this action. Bill Rector, a distant relative of Green Rector, of our company, also told at Millwood of having the same experience. I don't think I ever saw Bill after the war. I think he did not survive it. There were others who told me of having faced us at Santa Fe, but I have forgotten them.

We did not have any pickets out. Our company was in the lead and we left the road in quick time for our position, before we saw the Federals and before they saw us. What they saw and took to be our pickets were the rear men of Captain Porter's company. The piled up logs mentioned by Captain Crail were the two separate logs, where they had lain since they were felled. I know the captain aims to tell the truth, because that is his character, but we had a better and much longer view of the logs and the whole surrounding than he had.

I did not go with Tom Moore to verify his contention that he shot the man behind the tree, but one or two from our company did and a few others fell in with them. I was shortly afterwards told of a circumstance that reflected little credit on one of our boys and revealed a very discreditable record of the unfortunate victim of Tom's bullet. When the man was reached he was unconscious and his death seemed to be a question of a few minutes. Some one suggested that his pockets be searched for a possible letter to identify him and the name and address of some relative whose notification would be an act of kindness. There was a letter. It was disgustingly filthy and I shall not tell the relationship of the writer to the recipient. The soldier who discovered it-I cannot believe that he was a member of our company-giggled over its contents and gleefully read it aloud. The wounded man opened his eyes, feebly asked for water and, when it was given him, feebly murmured his gratitude.

A stately man came carelessly by without a glance at the little group; it was Lucian Durkee's companion-he who never smiled. The giggling idiot with the letter arrested his attention. One look at the name on the envelope lighted the hottest fire of the inferno. "Is this your name ?" reading it to the prostrate man. "Yes."

"You are the damned scoundrel that murdered my brother because in the over-crowded foul-smelling prison [ii] at Palmyra he came to the window for a breath of fresh air. If you have a prayer to say before you die, say it now. Your black soul has only one minute more to pollute this earth." The watch; one minute, then the revolver. They said the handsome face mirrored the demon, and the writhing form of the victim was horrible to see.

The names connected with this incident dropped out of my memory, but the other details are as vivid as they were when first told to me. Not one of Porter's men with whom I have communicated-and I have corresponded with known survivor-remembers the incident. Probably not one now living, except myself, ever heard of it. Frank McAtee, of Portland, Oregon, in writing his recollections, mentions that Tom Moore mortally wounded a Federal soldier named Jack Case. When Captain Crail told of burying "his man Case," as before quoted in this chapter, I asked Frank how he learned the name of Tom Moore's victim. In reply he writes: "I do not remember which one of the boys it was that told me the name of the man wounded by Tom Moore at Botts Bluff  [iii] was Jack Case. It might have been some one in the military prison in St. Louis." So it is established that our men knew the name of the Federal soldier who was killed. This slight corroboration is all the verification of this story I have been able to get after very considerable effort. I have failed to learn if Case had a wound in the temple as well as in the stomach, and failed to learn if he ever did guard duty at a military prison. I have no criticism for the man who did the horrible deed. Had his position been mine I believe that the admonition "Vengeance is mine, and I will repay," would have guided my action, but I do not know.

When the pickets returned Colonel Porter sent two mounted men to make a more extended reconnaissance. They returned in a short time with the report that the enemy had gone for good. Captain Penny proposed a dash after them and Captain Porter thought it would be a fine thing to do and he was sure his men would like to have the opportunity. Colonel Porter would not consent.

"No, I can't see that anything could be accomplished by following the enemy. We might give them a drive and kill a dozen of them and we might lose a man or two, and I wouldn't give one of my men for a dozen dead Federals unless to gain some particular purpose."

"We haven't had a chase for a month," suggested Captain Porter. "The boys would like a lively chase and it would have a good effect on them." "I know the boys would like it all right, but they don't need it for the experience. They can be depended upon for any kind of work that will ever be required of them. One reason, and a good one, why we ought not to give chase is that it would be a heavy expense on the endurance of the horses and just now we must be economical of that, because in the next week or ten days we shall need it all."

We continued our course southward, making good time, until near daybreak, when we went into camp not far from the southern boundary of Audrain County. We rested the entire day, but Colonel Porter did not rest a moment. With the sending out of scouts and receiving their reports and the interviews with the neighborhood guides and couriers he was kept well occupied. I never saw a man who could accomplish so much with so little apparent effort or so little impatience. The History of Lewis County, page 115, truly says he "was a brave and skillful soldier, a man of mature years, of great personal bravery, of indomitable will and perseverance, and endowed with remarkable powers of endurance and indifference to exposure and every sort of hardship."

I thought there were signs of lively times ahead and that the command was not given another day's rest for nothing. The camp was in a pretty forest not far from the head of the South Fork of Salt River. The day was a beautiful one; the warm sunshine and the half unwilling breeze invited repose. As did nearly every one in camp, I observed the proprieties and was lying in the shade of a giant elm, on my blue blouse-the same that nearly proved my undoing at Florida. I had not been asleep long before an unusual noise in camp aroused me. I recognized it as the sound of horses in a stampede and I well knew what a frightful thing that was. With a bound I hugged the elm whose shade had soothed my slumber, but not a second too soon. Half a dozen horses, in a fury of fright, came dashing by and the calked heel of one left its imprint on the sleeve of my blouse. That afternoon a remark made by Colonel Porter impressed me deeply, and revealed an element in his character which I did not before suspect. He, Captain Penny, myself and one or two others, were talking about the skirmish of the previous day at Santa Fe and some of its incidents. I had observed Colonel Porter's bearing in battle, especially in this affair; his perfect poise, his quick grasp of situations, his close attention to details and his reckless exposure of himself. I said to him: "Colonel, I don't believe you know what fear is."

"Fear? Why, I am the biggest coward in the world. I never go under fire that I don't suffer the tortures of the damned. If I didn't believe it my duty to be here, I'd go home today."

[i] I have little patience with profanity, but these were the exact words
of the officer.

[ii] Every Over-crowded, ill-ventilated prisons were very common in Missouri. There was so much sickness from typhoid fever and other diseases in the Gratiot Street military prison in St. Louis that Surgeon J. B. Colegrove, Medical Examiner, U. S. Army, inspected it and his report was published In the Missouri Democrat of September 20, 1862. Among other criticisms he says: "The number of persons here confined is large-too large even for the occupation of a room twice or thrice the size of this; but with no facility for the renewal of fresh atmosphere, the constant accumulation of stagnant air, loaded with impurities, necessarily arising from the presence of so many people, how is it possible to prevent the occurrence of disease? It is impossible."

 [iii] 1 We called this engagement Botts Bluff; the Federal records call it Santa Fe.