Shelby and his men at Westport
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THE BATTLE OF WESTPORT -
Perhaps no more dramatic scene can be depicted than the situation faced by one of Price's division commanders, Brig. Gen. Joseph O. Shelby, on the decisive third day of the battle: Sunday, October 23, 1864.
Shelby's division, and that of Maj. Gen. James F. Fagan, had been engaged all morning with Curtis' forces along Brush Creek, south of Westport. As the morning wore on, the Confederates were forced back, giving Curtis a foothold on the south side of the creek.
As noon approached, Shelby's left flank was turned, forcing the Confederates to give still more ground. Curtis then ordered up all of his artillery and the Kansas militia, which had been held in reserve.
Couriers arrived with alarming news; the Confederate division and a brigade of Shelby's along with the remaining artillery, were sent east to slow Pleasonton's advance, as well as protect Shelby's route of withdrawal. The units sent were quickly swept away before the advancing Union tide. Shelby, his command heavily outnumbered, now had the enemy in his rear.
The scene depicted is one of danger and confusion. The time is 1:00pm along Wornall's Lane, looking north toward Brush Creek. In the distance can be seen the homestead of Ben Simpson, which had just been the scene of a hard fight. On the horizon, the town of west port can be seen.
Exploding artillery shells pound Shelby's position. Curtis, seeing Shelby's predicament, orders a charge across his entire front, driving the Confederate skirmishers back to their main line.
In Wornall's Lane a scared young soldier has lost his mount and must make his escape on foot. Wounded soldiers are loaded into wagons. To leave them behind would probably mean their death at the hands of the approaching enemy.
Shelby, seated on a sorrel horse at the left of center, gives final instructions to his adjutant, Maj. John N. Edwards. On the right, a bugler vainly attempts to be heard over the roar of the battle. An animated Col. Benjamin Elliott waves his hat to hurry his Missouri regiment into line. In the foreground, in a brown suit clutching his sword, is Brig. Gen. M. Jeff Thompson, commanding Shelby's Iron Brigade.
Moments later, Thompson and Elliott would lead the charge that would break Pleasonton's line. The Confederates would ride for nearly two miles to a distant rock wall. There Shelby rallied his command and faced the combined forces of Curtis and Pleasonton. Although they had made their escape, many of Shelby's bravest men would subsequently lose their loves that day standing by their commander as they slowly retreated, buying time for the remainder of the army to make their escape south along the Missouri-Kansas border.
As written by Gil Bergman
November 21, 2015
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