2021: History Boy Summer (Part 17) First Battle of Independence Walking Tour

Sometimes, it’s good to get outside and take a walk around, I like to do it in conjunction with looking at Historic markers since it gives me a little goal to achieve when walking from point to point. As with my Second Battle of Independence Driving Tour, this was originally from a really old pamphlet that I assume was given out by the city at some point.

Background

According to ol’ Wikipedia:

“During the summer of 1862, many Confederate and Missouri State Guard recruiters were dispatched northward from Arkansas into Missouri to replenish the depleted ranks of Trans-Mississippi forces. Among these were Captain Jo Shelby, Colonel Vard Cockrell, Colonel John T. Coffee, Upton Hays, John Charles Tracy, John T. Hughes, Gideon W. Thompson and DeWitt C. Hunter.

Various guerrillas and bushwhackers, most notably those under William Quantrill, had gathered in Missouri and assisted these recruiters as they worked in the region. For example, Upton Hays was aided by thirty men from Quantrill’s command under the brutal George Todd.[2] By August 1, Hays was camped near Lee’s Summit with 150 men. Additional Confederates continued to infiltrate the area throughout the days that followed.

[…]

Lt. Col. Buel for his part had sent one of his officers, a Captain Breckenridge, scouting for eleven days, but Breckenridge found nothing. Buel became aware of Hays’s camp, however, and prepared to attack it. On the evening of August 10, several citizens warned Buel of an impending assault on the city; many Union residents had already fled. Buel ignored these warnings, but another of his officers, a Captain Rodewald, did not.

[…]

Col. John T. Hughes’s Confederate force, including the partisan leader William Quantrill, attacked Independence before dawn, in two columns using different roads. They drove through the town to the Union Army camp, delivering a deadly volley to the sleeping men. Captain Breckenridge suggested surrender, but Captain Jacob Axline formed the Federal troops behind a rock wall and a nearby ditch while the Confederates rifled through their camp, looking for ammunition. The Rebels made several attacks against Axline’s wall, but never succeeded in taking it. Here Colonel Hughes was killed, while Thompson and Hays were wounded.

Lt. Col. Buel attempted to hold out with part of his force in the bank building he used as his headquarters. He was forced to surrender after an adjacent building was set afire. Through a flag of truce, Buel arranged a meeting with the new Confederate commander, Col. Gideon W. Thompson, who had replaced Colonel Hughes, killed earlier. Buel surrendered, and about 150 of his men were paroled; the remainder had escaped, hidden, or been killed.

Reading

The First Battle of Independence is basically the first half of the Battle of Lone Jack that I visited earlier in the summer. Both books used in that overview hold the same importance here. Lockdown by Paul Kirkman, and Blood on the Streets by Ralph Monaco II.

The trip

The easiest way to go about this, is to make it to the Independence Truman Courthouse, then find a good place to park, the entire thing is only a few blocks and should not take too long. Using the pamplet as a guide, I embarked on my quest – The descriptions are directly from the tour.

Stop 1

1859 Jail & Marshal’s Home 217 N. Main

Looking much like it did the morning of the battle, this building served as headquarters for the Union Provost Guard under the command of Lt. Charles Meryhew. As the rest of the Confederate command continued on to the Union Headquarters George Todd and his men stopped at the jail to attack the guard. Lt. Meryhew’s men fired one volley and abandoned the jail. As Todd was freeing the prisoners he discovered Sheriff Jim Knowles incarcerated in his own jail on a murder charge. Todd promptly killed Knowles as revenge for the earlier ambush killing of Ed Koger and John Little.

Stop 2

Headquarters Guard Building

Under the command of Captain W,H. Rodewald, this is the site of the Headquarters Guard. Here in the early morning hours of August 11, 1862 the Confederate attack was first discovered. The Confederates, tying their horses around the Courthouse Square, began their advance on Buel’s headquarters and the sleeping
Union camp. Firing first from the second story, Rodewald led his men into the street where they fired into the rebels killing Confederate Kit Chiles. Rodewald held this intersection for two hours repulsing three attacks. Buel ordered him into the headquarters building across the street. In the last attack Confederate Major John R. Hart of St. Joseph was mortally wounded.

Stop 3

The McCoy Bank Building

Inside the two story brick bank building LtC Buel made his stand. At approximately 6:30 a.m. when all of the Federals were inside the building Quantrill completed his encirclement. Firing was deadly to anyone showing himself to the enemy. At 7:30 a.m. Buel ordered that the headquarter’s flag be raised to signal the
camp. Discovering the flag was left in the guard room, 16 year old bugler William Bufoe volunteered to retrieve it and in a barrage of bullets he made a barefoot dash across the street returning with the flag. The fight continued for another hour and a half until Quantrill decided to smoke the Federals out. Setting fire to an adjacent wooden structure Quantrill waited. With his position untenable at 9 a.m. Buel surrendered and sent a messenger to the camp with orders to surrender.

Stop 4

The Union Encampment – Lexington & Pleasant

The Union camp — under the command of Captains Jacob Axline and Aaron Thomas — consisted of two companies of the 7th Missouri Cavalry and three companies of the 2nd Battalion Missouri Provisional
Militia. It was located where the Shrine building sets today. The Confederates approached the camp from two directions, Colonel Hughes on Walnut Street and Colonel Thompson on Lexington Street. Taking positions at a board fence behind the houses on Pleasant Street, the Confederates fired a volley into the sleeping Federals. Pandemonium erupted. Captain Axline yelled “Boys get your guns and rally behind the rock fence.”

Stop 5

Union Rallying Point –

Stretching for a mile the rock wall was located down the center of Walnut Street. At the Mormon Visitors Center a gully behind the wall became the Union rallying point. The Confederates charged from the west. Colonel Hughes was killed. Colonel Thompson took command ordering another charge. He fell wounded. Now in command, Colonel Hays ordered five charges against the wall. The Federal position held. Axline, forming his troops to go to the relief of Buel received the surrender order. The First Battle of Independence ended.

Aftermath

Union
26 dead; 74 wounded; 11 later
died; 150 surrendered
Confederate
23 dead; which included 3 Colonels, 2 Majors, 3 Captains, 2 Lieutenants; 9 mortally wounded; 20 wagonloads of much needed supplies were captured Colonels Hughes, Chiles and Boyd were all buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, Hughes and Boyd next to each other.

The Historic Marker

On my driving tour of the Second Battle of Independence sites, I came across the historical marker for the first battle. Unfortunately, it is sun-bleached, worn down, and somewhat hard to read. I did however find a better image of it on HMdb.org. Of all the memorials and such outside of the courthouse, this one sadly needs the most repair, here’s hoping it can get a “fresh coat of paint” before too long.

The Battle of Independence was fought at this and other locations on Aug. 11, 1862. On that day, a force of Confederate soldiers launched a dawn surprise attack on the Union garrison stationed at Independence and compelled it to surrender. It was the worst Federal defeat in Missouri since the Battle of Lexington in September of the preceding year. Assisting in the attack was the guerrilla leader, William Quantrill. The Confederate victory was a costly one. Any strategic gain was offset by the loss of several able officers including the commander, Col. John T. Hughes.

The year of 1862 started well for the Northern cause in the Trans-Mississippi West. Victories at Pea Ridge, Ark. in March and at Island No. 10/New Madrid, Mo. the following month seemed to point to secure Federal control of this theater. Two developments, however, were to dispel any such hope for the Union high command. The first was the eruption on Missouri’s western border of a guerrilla warfare that was to grow in viciousness with each succeeding year of the war. The most notable of the guerrilla leaders, William C. Quantrill, was, in early 1862, already acquiring a fearsome reputation for ambushing and killing Yankees. The second development was rooted in the campaign being planned by the Confederate commander of the Trans-Mississippi theater, Gen. Thomas C. Hindman. By the middle of the summer, this energetic and resourceful officer was developing a strategy to create a third front in the war west of the Mississippi. He proposed to launch an invasion into Missouri from his Arkansas base of operations. A part of his plan called for sending officers, who had been notable Missourians before the war, back into the state to recruit and enroll men in their home neighborhoods and bring them back to Arkansas by fall. They were to cover their operations by fostering an escalation in the guerrilla war. This would keep the Unionists diverted while they went about recruiting.

By late June, the first of these officers, Col. Upton Hays, returned to his home county of Jackson to raise a regiment of cavalry. He sent word ahead to Quantrill to move his band out of the immediate area and keep the Federals occupied; on July 11, Quantrill got into a hot firefight with Union troops at the Battle of the Ravines in northern Cass County.

In the meantime, Hays had managed, by the beginning of August, to gather about 150 men. At their camp, near Lee’s Summit, a Confederate flag flying from a high pole could easily be spotted by potential
recruits but also by Federal lookouts in the cupola of the courthouse in Independence.

On the first of August, Col. John T. Hughes, the ranking Confederate officer, arrived at Hays’ camp with 75 men. He intended to raise a brigade north of the Missouri River, but he feared that his return back across the river would be blocked by the large Federal garrision at Independence. He decided to attack the garrison at once.

Time was of the essence, for if he did not attack the Independence garrison immediately, they could turn the tables by attacking him. Indeed, at that very moment plans were being laid by the Federal commander at Independence, Col. James T. Buel, to clean out the Confederate’s encampment and scatter or capture their recruits.

To carry off his planned assault, Hughes enlisted the aid of Hays and Quantrill, who was back from his diversionary foray. On Aug. 10, this combined force rode to Blue Springs, the staging area for the next day’s assault. Hays’ 300 recruits, plus Quantrill’s 25 guerrillas and Hughes’ force of 75, added up to an attack force of 400 men.

Meanwhile, at Independence, Lt. Col. Buel had between 400 and 500 men to defend his position. This force consisted of three companies of the Seventh Missouri Cavalry, two companies of Col. Newgent’s Second Battalion, Missouri Provisional Militia commanded by Capts. Jacob Axline and Aaron Thomas, and Capt. W. H. Rodewald’s company of the Sixth Regiment of Missouri Militia attached to the Seventh Cavalry.Buel ignored warnings of imminent attack and left his command widely dispersed. He was headquartered in the three-story Southern Bank Building while Capt. Rodewald’s company was across the street in a two story brick building. Both buildings faced Lexington Street and were located approximately in the middle of the next block to the west from where you are presently standing. Lt. Maryhew, acting Provost-Marshal, was stationed a few blocks away at the jail. Located at 217 N. Main St., the jail building is currently a museum operated by the Jackson County Historical Society. One-half mile distant, out of view and earshot of headquarters, the rest of the command was encamped in tents south of Lexington St. on the western edge of the city. The dangerously exposed camp was in a depression; the only protection for the camp was a nearby half-mile long stone fence that ran east-west and came within 90 feet of the southwest corner of the camp. This area is presently occupied by the temple and grounds of the Community of Christ Church, formerly known as the Church of Reorganized Latter Day Saints.

At 4:30 a.m. on Aug. 11, the Confederates quietly rode into town and hitched their horses along the courthouse square (at approximately this location); the attackers then formed up and marched west along Lexington Street and past Buel’s headquarters. This unidentified force of soldiers was nearly past the headquarters before they were finally recognized as the enemy by Capt. Rodewald’s sentries, who opened fire. Capt. Rodewald managed to form his men in the street and fire a volley into the rear ranks of the Confederates. He held his position until about 6 a.m., at which time Buel ordered him into the headquarters building. Quantrill’s men immediately surrounded the building and began to pour a hail of fire into it. The commanding officer was now unable to communicate with his main force or direct a defense against his attackers.

Meanwhile, Hughes’ main force marched in two columns down Lexington and Walnut streets and arrived undetected at the Union camp where they formed behind a wooden fence and opened fire. A murderous volley poured into the tents of the sleeping federals, many of whom were killed or wounded. Capt. Jacob Axline managed to rally the soldiers erupting from their tents and form them behind the nearby stone fence. Behind this shelter, they were able to beat off repeated onslaughts by the enemy.

A Confederate charge at daybreak left the commander, Col. Hughes, dead with a shot through the forehead. Col. G. W. Thompson, next in command, led another unsuccessful charge and took a wound in the knee that put him out of the action. Col. Hays then assumed command. Wisely, he ordered no more charges, but instead exchanged rifle fire with the enemy for the remainder of the engagement. Hays received a wound in the foot. Meanwhile, Capt. Axline was preparing to move his force towards the square to try to reach Buel.

Before Axline could set his force in motion, he received orders from Buel to surrender. Quantrill threatened that he was going to set fire to a small building next to the headquarters building and roast Buel and his men alive in the spreading conflagration. In the sure knowledge that Quantrill could and would carry out this threat, Buel hauled up the white flag and surrendered his whole command.

The aftermath of the Battle of Independence found some 26 Federals dead and 74 wounded; 11 of these later died. A good part of the garrison managed to escape by slipping away before or during the fight, and Lt. Maryhew withdrew his force up Main St. at the beginning of the battle. About 150 troops surrendered. The Union commanders, Buel and Breckinridge, were later tried for conspiracy and cowardice but never convicted.

The price for Confederate victory was 23 killed, and nine mortally wounded. Ten of this number were officers. The dead included three colonels, two majors, three captains, and two lieutenants. Hughes was an especially sad loss as he was one of Missouri’s ablest officers. For this toll, the Confederates secured enough arms and ammunition to equip Hays’ slim regiment, and drove away with 20 wagonloads of plunder.

Five days after the Independence battle, Union and Confederate forces clashed again in Jackson County, this time at the fierce and bloody Battle of Lone Jack. Although the Confederates were again the victors, their triumph was gained at the cost of many casualties and few advantages. Shortly thereafter, in the face of a Union troop build-up in western Missouri, the Confederates, and what recruits they gathered, returned to Arkansas.

To Quantrill and his guerrillas could go much credit for the victory at Independence. Their scouting had revealed the enemy strength and positions and they ably guided Hughes’ force to the battle site. Finally, they forced Buel to surrender, when it appeared that the Confederates would be unable to capture Axline’s command. On Aug. 15, Quantrill’s band was mustered into the Confederate army as partisan rangers, and Quantrill, himself, received a captain’s commission. This mustering hardly meant that Quantrill and his band were now disciplined regulars in the Confederate Army, but they would continue to carry on their bloody style of guerrilla warfare against Federal forces in Missouri with deadly effectiveness.

Conclusion

This is a VERY easy walking tour, and takes just a few minutes to accomplish. While my driving tour of The Second Battle of Independence was sort of a pain, I would definitely recommend this one. If you are getting really frisky, mix this one with a trip to the Historic Truman Courthouse or the 1859 Jail to maximize your day. Hopefully, at some point the historic marker is replaced in front of the court house, that is perhaps the only part of this that was somewhat underwhelming.

This article is part of my summer series History Boy Summer, which you can keep up with by following this LINK.

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