Gettysburg of the West

General Sterling Price
General Sterling Price

The Battle of Westport pitted Confederate General Sterling Price against Union General Samuel Curtis in the largest Civil War battle fought west of the Mississippi River. General Price had begun the invasion of Missouri in September 1864 and intended it to force the Union to send more troops to the Western theatre, thereby relieving pressure on the Confederate armies in the East and weakening Northern political solidarity. Price’s raids at Pilot Knob in the eastern part of the state and Jefferson City in the central part of the state were repulsed by strong Union resistance, so he set his sights on Fort Leavenworth in northeast Kansas.

General Curtis’s Union forces formed a defensive line at the Blue River on October 21, 1864, to stop Price’s westward march toward Leavenworth. On October 22, Price’s army of 9,000 crossed the Blue River at Byram’s Ford near present-day Swope Park, forcing the Union garrison to retreat to the northwest. Curtis set up a new defensive line along the south side of Brush Creek, just south of Westport. Better fortunes arrived later that day as a Union cavalry division led by General Alfred Pleasonton arrived from the East, bringing the Union forces to more than 20,000 soldiers.

The Battle of Westport culminated the next day as Price’s army pushed Curtis’s troops north across Brush Creek to the location of the present-day Country Club Plaza. The brief Confederate advance ended, however, as Pleasonton’s cavalry pressured the Confederates from the east at Byram’s Ford, and Curtis led a counterattack back south across Brush Creek. Price’s army retreated across present-day Loose Park. An outdoor exhibit on the south end of Loose Park interprets the battle in greater detail.


Battle of Westport re-enactment

Each side lost about 1,500 soldiers that day, but the battle took a greater toll on the smaller Confederate army, which was forced to retreat southward. Pleasonton’s pursuing cavalry then overtook Price’s army at Mine Creek in Linn County, Kansas, on October 25. This time the Union forces were outnumbered two-to-one, but a swift cavalry attack while the Confederates crossed Mine Creek brought another victory for the Union. In one of the largest mounted cavalry battles of the war and the only major battle fought in Kansas, Price’s army lost another 1,200 soldiers who were injured, captured, or killed. After the Battle of Mine Creek, Price’s beaten army of about 6,000 retreated to Arkansas, where it dispersed in early November.

Even though the Battle of Westport has been called the “Gettysburg of the West,” it is not remembered as a major turning point in the war. Instead, it was an indication of the war’s looming end. Price’s raid was the last major Confederate offensive into Northern territory, and his defeat at Westport solidified Union dominance in the West.

 

View images relating to the Battle of Westport from the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

 

Check out the following books about the Battle of Westport and the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri:

 

Check out the following video about the 1989 reenactment of the Battle of Westport:

 

Follow the Batttle of Westport self-guided tour created by the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund.

 

Continue your own research on the Civil War near Kansas City using the following archival resources from the Missouri Valley Special Collections.

 

References:

Rick Montgomery & Shirl Kasper, Kansas City: An American Story (Kansas City, MO: Kansas City Star Books, 1999), 54-56.

Sherry Lamb Schirmer & Richard D. McKinzie, At the River’s Bend: an Illustrated History of Kansas City, Independence and Jackson County (Marceline, MO: Walsworth Publishing, 1982), 39.

Howard N. Monnett, Action Before Westport, 1864 (Kansas City, Mo: Westport Historical Society, 1964), 21-24, 26-28, 79-80, 85-86, 95-96, 111-117, 128-138.

Donald L. Gilmore, Civil War on the Missouri-Kansas Border (Gretna, LA: Pelican, 2006), 286-289.

About the Author

Dr. Jason Roe is a digital history specialist and editor for the Library’s digitization and encyclopedia website project, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. He earned a doctorate in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012 and is the author of the Library’s popular “This Week in Kansas City History” column. For assistance with general local history questions, please contact the Missouri Valley Special Collections.
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Comments:

Battle of Westport Visitor Center and Museum

On October 18, 2008, the Battle of Westport Visitor Center conducted its Grand Opening Ceremony at which Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II was the principal speaker along with Connie Langum of the National Parks Service. The Visitor Center and Museum is located at 6601 Swope Parkway, Kansas City, Missouri in Swope Park on a portion of the Westport Battlefield. The Visitor Center and Museum is operated by the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund. For images of the new facility please go to http://www.windingriver.com/photogallery/BattleWestportVisCenter/Photoga...

The Visitor Center and Museum's anticipated hours are Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please telephone to 913 345-2000 on weekdays and to 913 648-0952 to confirm the museum's availabilty.

Daniel L. Smith
Chairman
Monnett Battle of Westport
battleofwestport1864@yahoo.com

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