The battlefield of Mine Creek, Kansas, is
the final resting place to a number of Confederate prisoners murdered in
Mine Creek was a devastating defeat for the
Confederate force of General Sterling Price, former governor of Missouri
and Mexican American war hero. Price was turned back from capturing
Fort Leavenworth at the Battle of Westport (now Kansas City).
Bickering among the Union commanders caused a delayed pursuit.
However, Federal cavalry caught the Confederate force trying to cross
Mine Creek on the morning of 25 October 1864. Many Confederates were
unarmed and poorly equipped. The Federal cavalry over-ran much of the
Confederate force on the north side of Mine Creek.
Confederate prisoners were herded together
and then systematically shot down in a war-crime which has been largely
overlooked. Confederate dead were quickly buried on the battlefield,
mostly in a mass grave which is unknown to this day.
The significance of this action is that it
did not occur between the irregular forces of both sides. Mine Creek
is the only major battle fought between "regular" (volunteer / "regular"
Army) Confederate and Union forces in Kansas. The wholesale slaughter
of prisoners by uniformed members of the Federal Army was never
investigated, nor were leaders prosecuted. The war ended less than a
year later and the event was covered up and forgotten, except by those
who were directly involved.
The number of Confederate dead can only be
speculated. However, numbers as high as 100 can be extrapolated from
the prisoner returns and number reportedly killed in battle. The
rationalization provided by the Federals was that the Confederates were
captured wearing "Union uniforms". Not unlikely in the cold weather of
the early morning and the complete lack of supplies that the
Confederates suffered from in the Trans-Mississippi Theater. Many
Confederates had few cold weather clothes having begun their march in
August. They were supplied by captured materiel. More likely
however, it was murder out of vengence, pure spite, and hate. Although
Kansas militia troops were not present in organized units, they were
seen at the battle and their complete prejudice against Southerners
(Missourians) was likely the cause of sanctioned murders in the guise of
This shameful episode of American military
history tarnishes the reputation of the US Army under which these units
were organized. While they were not "regulars", they wore the blue
uniform of the United States and consequently acted under the law and
authority of the US government.
LtCol Edwin L. Kennedy, Jr
US Army (retired)
former associate professor of history, US
Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
(913) 651 - 7685