Myopia: (n) a lack of foresight or discernment: a narrow view of something
Friday, April 10, 2009
The Union response to the Lawrence Massacre was as swift as it was predictable. Senator Lane raced back to Leavenworth to raise a Kansas army for “extermination of the first tier of counties in Missouri, and if that won't secure us, the second and third .” General Thomas Ewing, now in charge of the border, quickly and wisely quashed that idea, replacing it with his own plan to deprive Quantrill of material support. Announced on August 25, 1863, General Order Number 11 required the removal of non-loyal families from the border area, effectively depopulating the same “first tier” about which Lane had raged.
Hoyt and Jennison, while giving lip service to Lane's irregular army, together traveled the eastern border of Kansas for the rest of 1863, holding rallies in every city and raising men for the newly-organized Fifteenth Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. Jennison would serve as colonel of the regiment, and Hoyt, who had been Jennison's shadow since the day he first arrived as one of John Brown's Boys, became his lieutenant. Like Lane, Hoyt expressed a fervent desire to invade Missouri, “burning everything in the two border tiers of counties .” Perhaps fortunately for those counties, Sterling Price invaded Missouri first.
Newly-organized does not mean fully-supplied, so while the Fifteenth moved into its winter quarters in Leavenworth almost immediately, it was not until February of 1864 that they received sufficient weapons to properly arm the regiment . The Fifteenth spent the next few months marching up and down the Kansas side of the border. With the arrival of spring, the Bushwhackers returned to Missouri from Texas; by May, the Fifteenth was entering Missouri to guard Santa Fe trains heading for Kansas City . By June, enough scouts had reported Bushwhacker recruiting and organization near the border that Hoyt led the Fifteenth into Missouri to scout along the Little Blue River near Raytown to prevent incursions into Kansas . Repeatedly over the next few months, the Fifteenth returned to Missouri and “frequently administered such good and wholesome admonition to [Bushwhackers] as to cause the name of the Fifteenth to become a terror to those 'enemies of the human race .'”
In August, Jennison was reassigned to district headquarters in Mound City , leaving Hoyt in official command of the cavalry he had in reality been leading since its inception. And when Major General Sterling Price turned his forces toward Kansas City in Mid October, George Hoyt led his Fifteenth back into Missouri for what would be their first battles against regular Confederate troops.
Price, a former governor of Missouri, brought the last Confederate army to trouble the western theater toward St. Louis in late September of 1864. Frustrated in his efforts to approach the nation's seventh largest city, he turned westward, following the Missouri River toward Kansas City. With General JO Shelby's “Iron Brigade” anchoring his cavalry, Price effortlessly pushed through Glasgow and Centralia, reaching Lexington, Missouri, on October nineteenth to face Union troops from Kansas for the first time.
Overwhelming the Union cavalry, at two thousand men barely one-sixth the size of his army, Price and Shelby pushed them back to the Little Blue River, where on October twenty-first, Hoyt's Fifteenth turned to fight again. Though at that river, Hoyt led the Fifteenth with “cool daring ” in “one of the most gallant sabre charges recorded in the history of the war ,” Price overwhelmed them again. He was also victorious at Independence the next day. Price then fought his way across Byram's Ford on the Big Blue River and turned toward Westport, where the battle for control of western Missouri got underway.
Though he had won every battle in his campaign, Price suddenly found himself on the verge of losing the war. The troops under General Blunt that he pushed in front of him, including the Fifteenth, had slowed his advance enough that Union General Alfred Pleasanton's pursuing army was close to catching him from behind. Hoping to quickly defeat the cavalry in his path before he could be pinned between two forces, Price attacked, and was attacked ferociously in return.
General Shelby sent Colonel James McGehee's Arkansas Cavalry against Hoyt, who led repeated charges on the enemy with the battle cry, “Remember Lawrence! ” “The cavalry charges led by Lieutenant-Colonel Hoyt . . . dashed forward with a terrible shout, carrying the heights and the stone fences .” Other units, inspired by the noise and spirit of the Fifteenth, took up similar cries in their own charges, with nearby Missouri Union troops screaming, “Come on, boys, remember Lexington! ” After four murderous hours, the Union forces combined; Price's newly-broken army had no choice but to retreat. He did so down both sides of the state line, fighting battles in quick succession at the Marais des Cygnes River, then Mine Creek, then on the Marmaton River near Fort Scott.
Crossing back into Missouri below that Union fort, he rested his army just south of Newtonia. Here, General Blunt, with fifteen hundred men in his advance command, surprised the camp, which hurriedly came to line in full force. Hoyt was now in charge of Blunt's Second Brigade , made up of the Fifteenth Kansas and the Third Wisconsin cavalries. For the next three hours, his men held off a flanking movement of the Confederate cavalry that, had it been successful, would have routed the vastly outnumbered Union troops. As the Union forces were pushed backward several hundred yards, more Union troops started to catch up to the advance cavalry and buttress their desperate lines from behind. Seeing his numerical advantage melting away, Price withdrew, leading his troops toward Indian Territory, then south and east into Arkansas whence his campaign had originated. The last Confederate offensive west of the Mississippi stumbled to an inglorious end.
For his leadership at the Battle of Newtonia, Lieutenant-Colonel Hoyt would later be commissioned a brevet brigadier general by President Johnson . But it was at the earlier Battle of Independence that Hoyt's war at the border reached its climax. As Price crossed Missouri in early October, he had gathered about himself a large number of the guerrilla companies that had so harassed both Kansas and Missouri throughout the war. The feared Quantrill was not among them; control of his Partisan Rangers had devolved to his lieutenants during the prior winter. One of those lieutenants was George Todd.
As vicious as he was bold, Todd had the prior year led an attack on a steamship, the Sam Gaty, on the same river he was now following toward Kansas City. After trailing and firing on the ship for more than forty miles, he finally succeeded in stopping it near the river town of Sibley, Missouri. Todd's men quickly relieved the passengers of their valuables and jettisoned all the army supplies they found. After shooting two Union soldiers, they gathered up the “contrabands,” black men and women who were riding the boat to expected freedom in Atchison, Kansas. The attackers marched the frightened former slaves off the ship and, holding lanterns in front of their faces, began shooting each in the head, one by one, in full sight of the screaming passengers still aboard the ship. Nine fell dead, eighty fled into the night . Todd had also been at Lawrence; he and sixty of his best men had formed the rear guard during Quantrill's flight to the border. As they crossed the state toward Kansas City, Todd's men provided much the same cavalry and scouting support to Price that Hoyt's Red Legs had provided Union forces before Lawrence and his Fifteenth had afterward.
Now Todd and many of the men he inherited from Quantrill had joined Shelby’s cavalry and were pushing Hoyt, with the Kansas Fifteenth, Colorado Second, and the Wisconsin Third cavalries under his command, “over every foot of ground between the Little Blue and Independence .” Before the final Union retreat, both lines stared at each other across the court square in the center of Independence. When Todd trotted to the front of the Confederate line to scout in preparation for the final Confederate charge, shots cracked from the Union line, and Todd fell from his horse, dead. Hoyt had shot the guerrilla captain through the neck.
Lieutenant-Colonel George Hoyt of the Fifteenth Kansas Cavalry led his men from the field to prepare them for the next battle. This is what he had come to Kansas to do.