Friday, September 16, 2011

September 17, 1861 (Wednesday): "President" and "General" Atchison Wins at Liberty

Senator (No Quotation Marks) Atchison

Report of “General” D. R. Atchison,* Confederate service

Lexington, MO., September 21, 1861.
   SIR:  In pursuance of your orders I left this place on the evening of the 15th instant, and proceeded forthwith to Liberty, Clay County, Missouri, where I met the State Guard, on the march from the northwest—five regiments of infantry, under the command of Colonel Saunders, and one regiment of cavalry, under the command of Colonel Wilfey, from the fifth district; five regiments of infantry, under the command of Col. Jeff. Patton, and one battalion of cavalry, under Colonel Childs, from the fourth district.  I delivered you orders to the above commands to haste to this point (Lexington) with as much dispatch as possible.  They marched forthwith, and arrived at the Missouri River about 4 o’clock in the evening, when Colonel Boyd’s artillery and battalion and baggage were crossed over to the south side, where the colonel took his position, Captain Kelly planting his artillery so as to completely command the river.  The crossing continued all night without interruption, every officer and man using his best exertions.  We received news during the night that the enemy would be in the town of Liberty, about 6 miles distant from Blue Mills Ferry, at an early hour the ensuing morning.  We were crossing in three small flats, and much time was necessary to move the large train, of some hundred wagons.  Colonel Childs, with his command, had taken post for the night about 2 miles from Liberty, on the road to the ferry.  Here he engaged the enemy’s advance or pickets in the morning, killing 4 and wounding 1, with no loss on our side.  The enemy fled, and we heard no more of them till 3 or 4 o’clock, when their approach was announced, in large force, supposed to be about 900 men, with one piece of artillery (a 6-pounder).  The men of our command immediately formed, Col. Jeff. Patton leading the advance, to meet the enemy.  After proceeding about 3 miles from the river they met the advance guard of the enemy, and the fight commenced.  But the Federal troops almost immediately fled, our men pursuing rapidly, shooting them down until they annihilated the rear of their army, taking one caisson, killing about 60, and wounding, it is said, about 70.  The Federal troops attempted tow or three times to make a stand, but ran after delivering one fire.  Our men followed them like hounds on a wolf chase, strewing the road with the dead and wounded, until they were compelled to give over the chase from exhaustion, the evening being very warm.  Colonel Saunders, Colonel Patton, Colonel Childs, Colonel Cundiff, Colonel Wilfey, Major Gause.  Adjutant Shackleford, and all the other officers and men, as far as I know, or could learn, behaved gallantly.+

                                                                                                D. R. ATCHISON.
General Price

+A return of casualties for Fourth Division Missouri State Guard reports a loss of 2 killed and 3 wounded in this action.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 3, Page 195

The action at Blue Mills Landing in Missouri is typical of events in 1861 in Missouri.  After the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Confederate forces under Sterling Price seemed to gain momentum.  In this instance, a force of around 3,500 men under former President pro temp of the Senate, David Rice Achison moved to unite with Price’s men and were blocked by 600 Union troops under Lieutenant-Colonel John Scott.  Scott’s artillery held Atchison back for a time, but aggressive moves against the right flank of the Union force compelled a fighting retreat.  Typical of such engagements, Scott claimed Atchison had 1,000 more men than he did, Atchison thought he was fighting a force one-third again larger than he had, Scott believed he had inflicted 160 casualities (the real Confederate loss 70), and Atchison believed he had taken out of action 74 more men than the 56 casualties Scott suffered.  Scott’s men were in the area keeping an eye on the Platte River Railroad Bridge near Saint Joseph, which had been sabotaged on September 3, causing a train to plunge into the river, killing 17 and injuring 100.  Achison, while speaker pro temp of the Senate is often described as having been President of the United States for one day (Sunday, March 4, 1849).  James Polk’s term ended at noon, and his successor (Zachary Taylor) refused to be sworn in on a Sunday.  Since the new Vice-President, Milard Filmore, hadn’t taken office, the President pro temp should have become President, excepting that Atchison had not taken his oath either.  Atchison never considered he had been President and maintained a good sense of humor on the topic.  There is question also as to whether Atchison was ever a general in the Missouri Guard, hence the quotation markers around “general” in the O. R.

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