Saturday, August 11, 2012

Bushwhackers win bloody First Battle of Independence

Upton Hays was the son of Boone Hays and the grandson of Daniel Boone. He lived near Waldo, two miles south of Westport, and was a freighter on the Old Santa Fe Trail. Upton became a brilliant military officer during the Civil War and soon found himself in the First Battle of Independence on the Jackson County Square.

Independence, the Paradise of the Frontier, had become a holocaust. The once-thriving prairie schooner depot, which was Southern to its very core, was now occupied and converted to a federal military post. Consequently, its inhabitants were seething in silent indignation.

Col. James T. Buel of the Seventh Missouri Calvary commanded a force of nearly 500 Union soldiers who were camped in tents near Pleasant and Walnut streets on what is today known as the campus. His headquarters were in the old Southern Bank building near the southwest corner of the square.

Federal troops under the leadership of Lt. Charles Meryhew and 25 Union guards had been using the old county jail on North Main as a prison since the beginning of hostilities. Prison conditions were so deplorable that it gained the reputation as one of the worst federal prisons. It was so crowded with men that no one could even lie down.

Since a number of the Confederate prisoners were Bushwhackers who rode with William Quantrill, he called his guerrillas together and joined with Col. Upton Hays to capture Independence. In the early morning hours of Aug. 11, 1862, Quantrill and 25 of his men, along with 375 farm boys freshly recruited from the neighborhood, Colonel Hayes and other Confederate officers, took Independence by surprise. Col. James T. Buel and his troops stationed in Independence found themselves under siege.

Quantrill and his men entered the town from North Spring Street, knocking out the pickets along the way and proceeding directly to Buel’s headquarters at the bank. The streets around the square were soon filled with Bushwhackers and Confederate soldiers. Considerable gunfire erupted for about an hour and a half as the soldiers took up positions.

In the meantime, Col. John T. Hughes, a regular Confederate officer, attacked the Federal troops at the tent camp over on the campus with the main body of Confederate recruits. The surprised Union soldiers of the pasture withdrew behind a stone wall as the gunfire erupted there. Some of the Union boys fought bravely that morning, while many others fled toward Kansas City.

Some of the Bushwhackers headed straight for the old jail on North Main. The firing had no sooner begun on the jail when those defenders fled westward, opening the way for the great jailbreak, as the imprisoned Bushwhackers were set free to join in the fracas.

About 9 a.m., the colonel in the bank was in serious trouble. The building was completely riddled with bullet holes, every pane of glass was broken, the walls and floors were covered with spent bullets.

Quantrill finally set fire to a small building attached to the east side of the bank, effectively forcing Buel and his men out into the street, where they had no choice but to surrender.

When the gunfire finally ceased, the dead and wounded soldiers were scattered from one end of town to the other. The women and children proceeded from nearby homes to try and help those that they could.
The Union lost about 25 dead and 75 wounded. Eleven of the wounded died later from those injuries. The Confederates and Bushwhackers had 23 dead men and nine mortally wounded.

The winners cleaned out the town of weapons and carried away 20 or more wagon loads of arms, ammunition and camp plunder toward the south.
Reference: “Civil War and Reconstruction in Independence, Missouri,” by Donald R. Hale.