By Jerre Repass
The whole era of “Bleeding Kansas” was a dress rehearsal for the Civil War. All the players were in place with minds made up by the time the conflict began. People like John Brown displayed fanatical zeal in a violent struggle against slavery. Both pro and anti-slavery movements were not against shedding blood for the cause.
So when we visited the Mine Creek Battlefield State Historic Site in Pleasanton, we were surprised to learn that this was the site of the only major Civil War Battle on Kansas soil. Brief as it was, lasting less than an hour, it was pivotal in the outcome of the war.
The site is peaceful now, but in October of 1864 this pastoral setting was an immensely ferocious place! Ten thousand men were contained in an area of only about one square mile. During the conflict 300 were killed, 400 were wounded, and 600 confederates were captured. What led to such a defeat for the South?
Several months earlier, Confederate General Sterling Price led his troops across Missouri, foraging and recuriting as they went along as they had no supply lines.
The army got slower and slower as their burgeoning numbers included an estimated 500 wagons carrying the supplies that seemed so necessary only days before. The Southerners had been constantly on the move for days and were tired out.
Union Forces had the element of surprise on their side when the sun came up the morning of October 25, 1864 when they came upon the Southern Army trying to cross Mine Creek. The area was so congested with military men and their equipment that a bottle neck occurred, grid lock! Finding themselves in a very poor defensive position, the 7,000 Confederates were charged by only 2,700 Union boys, but that was enough to break the lines and capture hundreds of the Southern boys. Historians say that was the moment that any hope for Confederate victory in the West was lost.
A visitor’s center was opened in 1998 with the goal of honoring the war dead on both sides and linking visitors to the acual battlefield without being intrusive on the location.
Today’s historic site is an area of over 300 acres. Maps from the time of the engagement still correspond to observable features of the land. The creek still has the same curves proving that the spot is authentic.
And there are other proofs, relics that are much closer to the event itself. Archeologists find bullets, some fired, and some just dropped in the heat of battle. Then there are buttons and the bits of uniforms that make us know how it must have felt to be a part of one of the largest cavalry battles of the entire conflict. More information is available online at http://www.kshs.org/places/minecreek.