The Battle of Baxter Springs, Kansas (Fort Blair)

Buckeye Bill

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On October 6th, 1863, Captain William C. Quantrill and his force of roughly 400 Confederate soldiers were headed to Texas to spend the winter when his scouts reported a wagon train ahead. Quantrill sent the scouts back for more information when they discovered the Federal encampment at Baxter Springs. Quantrill split his force into two parts. One half was to attack the camp while Quantrill himself would lead the rest around to the north side of the Federal position. At noon, U.S. Army First Lt. James B. Pond’s command was preparing to eat lunch when they were surprised by an attack from three sides by Quantrill’s men. Pond had sent about 60 cavalrymen out on a foraging expedition earlier in the day, leaving the post with less than 100 soldiers. Most of the soldiers were outside the fort and quickly ran back to it closely pursued by the Confederates. Pond rallied his men, who returned fire and drove the attackers out of the fortifications. Pond became a one man artillery crew, loading and firing the mountain howitzer by himself. Quantrill’s men took up positions in the woods outside the fort, and the two sides exchanged fire.

Meanwhile, U.S. Army Major General James G. Blunt’s wagon train halted about 400 yards from the site of Fort Blair. The fort was behind a ridge and not visible. As Blunt waited for the wagons to close up, he noticed a line of about 100 cavalrymen a few hundred yards to his left. They were dressed in U.S. Army uniforms, and Blunt assumed they were part of Pond’s command. But Blunt became suspicious and ordered his cavalry escort into line and slowly advanced. The line of blue clad cavalrymen were the other half of Quantrill’s men, and they opened fire on Blunt’s escort. Taken by surprise, Blunt’s men managed to fire some shots as the Confederates closed in, but then took off in a panicked attempt to escape. Quantrill’s men, reinforced by a second line of horsemen, immediately gave chase and overtook the U.S. soldiers. Many were ordered to surrender, only to be shot when they did so, according to some wounded survivors. In all, 23 members of the 3rd Wisconsin cavalry and 18 of the 14th Kansas Cavalry were killed. Quantrill’s men then went after the wagons. The wagon containing the brigade band tried to get away, and when bushwhacker William Bledsoe rode up and demanded its surrender, he was shot and killed. Bledsoe was a popular member of Quantrill’s band, and his enraged friends chased after the band wagon. After only 50 yards or so the wagon lost a wheel. The wagon contained 14 musicians and the bandleader, one war correspondent, the wagon driver, and a 12 year old drummer boy. They attempted to surrender by waving white handkerchiefs, but all were shot and killed except the drummer boy who was shot and passed out, though still alive. The bodies were robbed of belongings and some were mutilated and stripped of clothing before being thrown under or into the wagon. The wagon and bodies were then set on fire. The drummer boy regained consciousness and with his clothes on fire, managed to crawl about 30 yards before dying.

Major General Blunt was able to escape, and he and the survivors of his group managed to make their way to Fort Blair. Pond had successfully defended his position, and Quantrill elected not to renew the attack. Federal casualties were listed as 80 killed, including six in the attack on the fort, and 18 wounded. Quantrill listed his losses as three killed and three wounded. First Lieutenant James Pond was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions at Baxter Springs.

* Kansas State Marker just south of Baxter Springs, Kansas.

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* Kansas State Historical Marker just north of Baxter Springs off US 69.

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* The Battle of Baxter Springs Tour Stop 1.

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* The Spring River (Quantrill and Troopers Crossing)

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* Tour Stop 2 (Quantrill Splits Troopers).

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* Tour Stop 3 (The Death of John Fry).

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* Tour Stop 4 (Fort Blair).

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* Fort Blair Complex with a Monument and Markers.

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* The Battle of Baxter Springs - Fort Blair Monument.

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* Tour Stop 6 (The Attack on Blunt's Wagon Train).

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* Tour Stop 7 (Scattering of Blunt's Troops)

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* The Willow Creek (Site of Dead U.S. Soldiers Along the Ravine).

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* Tour Stop 8 (Site of Dead U.S. Soldier Band Members - 12 Year Old Drummer Boy).

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* Tour Stop 9 (Dead U.S. Soldier's Bodies are Buried).

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* Tour Stop 11 (The Baxter Springs Cemetery : U.S. Soldiers Grave Site with Monument).

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* Close-Up of The Battle of Baxter Springs Grave Monument.

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Patrick H

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Thanks for this, Bill. I believe I've read that Blunt was in a carriage when he realized what was going on, and literally jumped a small spring branch in the process of escaping. Further, the story said he did this without bouncing his female companion out of the wagon. I don't know if this is true or if it's anti-yankee hype, but it makes a good story. One thing is certain: If Blunt hadn't run for his life, he wouldn't have been around to participate in Mine Creek the next year.

There is a second story about Baxter Springs that I believe. I've read several versions of it.

Riley Crawford, who was the youngest of the guerrillas at this time, walked across the field looking at the dead bodies and scavenging yankee provisions. At one point he either kicked one of the bodies or slapped it with the flat of a saber blade (depending on the version you read.) He yelled: "Stand up, you da..ed yankee! And no one was more surprised than Riley when the man actually did stand up and surrender. He had been feigning death for an hour or so. Unfortunately for the yankee soldier, Riley shot him on the spot.
 

Buckeye Bill

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Johnny Fry (1840 -1863) was the first “official” westbound rider of the Pony Express. Fry was born in Bourbon County, Kentucky to John Fry and Mary Fry in 1840. As a young man, Fry became a skilled horseman. After winning a horse race near Rushville, Missouri in 1860, he was approached by Alexander Major. Major asked Fry if he would be interested in riding for his newly founded Pony Express service. Fry accepted the offer and was assigned to the first leg of the westbound route of the Pony Express. His first delivery route : St. Joseph, Missouri to Seneca, Kansas (80 miles). Fry quickly gained a reputation for never failing to deliver the mail, regardless of weather or danger, and was a fast rider, averaging a speed of 12.5 miles per hour, including all stops. Local lore says that the donut was invented as a cake for Fry to eat while speeding by young girls’ homes near Troy, Kansas. Fry worked for the Pony Express, not only as a rider but also as a dispatcher until the telegraph line construction was completed, ending the Pony Express service in October 1861. Afterward, he was recruited by U.S. Army Major General James G. Blunt to serve as a messenger rider and scout. On October 6, 1863, while on his way from Fort Gibson, Oklahoma to Fort Scott, Kansas, he was attacked by Confederate guerrillas under the leadership of the famed Captain William C. Quantrill. In a hand-to-hand fight with the Confederate soldiers, Fry killed five of his assailants before falling mortally wounded. Fry is buried in the Baxter Springs Cemetery.

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Buckeye Bill

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Thanks for this, Bill. I believe I've read that Blunt was in a carriage when he realized what was going on, and literally jumped a small spring branch in the process of escaping. Further, the story said he did this without bouncing his female companion out of the wagon. I don't know if this is true or if it's anti-yankee hype, but it makes a good story. One thing is certain: If Blunt hadn't run for his life, he wouldn't have been around to participate in Mine Creek the next year.

There is a second story about Baxter Springs that I believe. I've read several versions of it.

Riley Crawford, who was the youngest of the guerrillas at this time, walked across the field looking at the dead bodies and scavenging yankee provisions. At one point he either kicked one of the bodies or slapped it with the flat of a saber blade (depending on the version you read.) He yelled: "Stand up, you da..ed yankee! And no one was more surprised than Riley when the man actually did stand up and surrender. He had been feigning death for an hour or so. Unfortunately for the yankee soldier, Riley shot him on the spot.

Thanks for sharing, Missourian!

Bill
 

Buckeye Bill

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On this day in 1863, Confederate Captain William Clarke Quantrill and his guerilla troopers continued their bloody rampage through the state of Kansas when they attacked Fort Blair at Baxter Springs. Although Quantrill failed to capture this U.S. Army fortification, his troopers attacked a U.S. Army wagon train just north of the town. Some reports state Quantrill's troopers captured U.S. soldiers in this wagon train and massacred the prisioners. This is why some historians label this American Civil War battle as "The Baxter Springs Massacre."
 

donna

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Thanks for information on Fry. He was written up in older copy of magazine I get, "The Kentucky Explorer". Unfortunately the owner and editor of that magazine is quitting. His wife died this year and he is in 70s and says just time to quit. I have enjoyed this magazine so very much. Last issue is to be the Nov.-Dec issue.
 

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