James Burton Pond Collection: Pond's Letter to Janesville Gazette Describing Baxter's Springs Massacre

 

JANESVILLE GAZETTE, 10/28/1863
Letter from Lieut. Pond—The Baxter Springs Affair

 

I send you a copy of the Fort Scott Union Monitor, which contains an account of the recent fight (or slaughter) at Baxter's Springs. I would like very much for you to publish the list of killed and wounded as they are nearly all 3d Wisconsin men. You will doubtless remember Henry Pelage, the leader of Pelage's Band of Madison. He was shot through the head after having surrendered. Also James K. O'Neil. I think he has a mother living in Kenosha. He was formerly with Langrishe & Atwater's theater, as scenic artist, and was known by nearly everybody in Wisconsin. He was shot through the heart with a Sharp's rifle ball. He was with General Blunt's artist. I saw his eyes closed and had him buried in a separate grave, and had it marked, so that his friends can find him at any time. He was universally loved by all who knew him in the army, and his sketches of the Frontier Army, in Frank Leslie, have afforded us amusement many times during the past six months. I don't know as it is worth while to attempt to give you a description of the affair at Baxter's, as you are probably bored with more of these prolix communications than you could possibly publish, provided you devoted your columns to nothing else. But being in the hottest of the engagement and the only one that kept the stars and stripes flying, I will give you a few facts and if you see fit you can make what you like of it?

On the 1st of October, I was ordered with my entire company, and a mountain howitzer, to Baxter's Springs, 80 miles south of Fort Scott, there to assume command of that post, which was then being held by company D, 9th Wisconsin, and company A, 2d regiment, Colored Volunteers. In all making my command two hundred and twenty-five men. I arrived at Baxter's (lately known as Fort Blair,) on the 5th, and proceeded to extend fortifications, and make preparations for a winter camp. On the 6th, at 12 M, my camp was attacked from the timber on the east side, and surrounded in less than one minute, with a force of not less than five or six hundred, who charged in at full speed, firing revolvers and double barreled shot guns. I rallied my men as well as I could, who were among the rebels so thick that it was almost impossible to tell them apart, and get them behind our entrenchments which were small, and the darkies opened a volley on them with their long guns, that compelled them to fall back a little. This gave my men a chance, who immediately rallied to the work, and we drove their line back to the timber. I then saw that they were preparing for a second charge, and called for me to help man the howitzer, which was outside the entrenchment, between my men and the enemy. Every one seemed busy shooting, and I was obliged to open a box of shell, and run the howitzer alone, which I managed to get along with, under the circumstances. I loaded and fired at them three times, the first shell bursting in their ranks, and killing a man and a horse. This drove their line still further back to the north of east, over a hill, in order that they might avoid my shell. Shortly after they had disappeared over the hill, I heard brisk firing, and not knowing what it could be, I started out, when I saw Major Henning of the 3d, come riding in informing me that the enemy were driving Gen. Blunt, who with staff and body guard were enroute for Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Major called for cavalry, but as my cavalry had all gone out on a forage expedition in the morning, I had none to give him, and the best I could do was to hold the post.

I got where I could see the whole massacre and saw the guerillas take in one after another, and after disarming them, shoot them. They were not long in finishing what they had to do, for they so completely surprised the general and party that they had them surrounded and cut to pieces in less than five minutes. Gen. Blunt and Major Henning, miraculously cut their way through and escaped, and reached my camp safe in the evening. The casualties of Gen. Blunt’s command were 82 killed and 4 wounded. Six of my company were killed, and three wounded. Lieut. Cook, of the 2nd colored and one of the negroes were killed, and eight negroes wounded which were the casualties of my camp. I killed five of the enemy and wounded several, who were picked up by their own men. The negroes fought the best of any men I ever saw, not one would give up after they were wounded, but kept shooting as long as they could see a rebel. I think that if our northern pro-slavery friends could serve a few weeks with a colored regiment and witness the soldier like appearance of the darkies, all prejudice against them would be removed. It has cured all that have seen them, and I don’t want to be without a company of negroes if I can help it. Since the affair at Baxter’s I have been recalled with my command and am now stationed on the Dry Wood, Mo., twelve miles south of Ft. Scott, preparatory to making a raid into Missouri. My command now consists of two companies of the 3d Wisconsin, three companies of the 12th Kentucky volunteers, one company 2nd Kansas colored volunteers, and one section of Blair’s 2nd Kansas battery, in all, about 500 men. The rebels are making quite a route through this portion of Missouri. Shelby, with 1000 men, is being chased out on double quick. He has lost over half of his command within the last three days. Brig. Gen’ls. Ewing and Weer are after him with 2000 cavalry, running him from the Missouri river. I expect to join the chase and cut off the rebel general within the next 48 hours. Everybody is a soldier now-a-days, every man a rebel that is not Kansas is "sound on the goose" and rebels will soon get sick of invading her sacred soil. I see that this is too much extended to be interesting, so I will close by promising a report of my future campaign.

J. B. POND


NOTE: Thomas Leach, a Fairwater enlistee, was killed during the attack on General Blunt's wagons. G. M. West, editor of the Brandon Times, described the event as follows in his 1867 publication, Metomen, Springvale, Alto and Waupun, During the War: Thomas P. Leach enlisted at Fairwater, February 22, 1862, under J. B. Pond, who was recruiting for Captain Stephens Company of Kingston, which was mustered in as Company C, 3d W. C. He was with the Regiment in all of the campaigns and engagements, part of the time acting as teamster. He was killed while driving his team near Baxters springs, C. N., in the assault made by the notorious Quantrell on that place on October 6, 1863. He surrendered when surrounded by the rebels, but they gave no quarter, but murdered him in cold blood and burned his wagon. He was buried near Baxters Springs.

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