15 January 2007 by Published in: Battlefield preservation 5 comments

Hat tip to Mike Koepke for bringing this to light…

In late October 1864, Sterling Price’s Missouri raid reached modern-day Kansas City. Price was repulsed at Westport and then along the banks of the Big Blue River. I spoke to the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable in March 2005 and had an opportunity to tour the battlefields with Kansas City lawyer Dan Smith. With my interest in Alf Pleasonton and in cavalry operations in general, this was a natural for me. However, the tour was just a week or so after I had arthoscopic surgery on my left shoulder, and I was still in a sling and not an especially happy camper, but I really enjoyed my tour.

Most of the Westport battlefield is preserved in a municipal park in a very nice residential area of Kansas City, although the entire battlefield is not in the park. You can definitely see the lay of the land and get a pretty good idea of how the terrain impacted the fighting. Westport was Samuel Curtis’ infantry against Price’s main body and Marmaduke’s cavalry.

The Big Blue fight was primarily a cavalry fight between Pleasonton’s cavalry and Shelby’s Confederate horsemen that lasted over parts of two full days. The Confederates won the first day’s fighting, and the Union the second, when Pleasonton, in what was probably his finest moment, drove the enemy horsemen off. There were about 3,000 casualties between the Big Blue and Westport fights, and Price was driven away, his raid a failure. Thus, the fights at Westport and the Big Blue are the critical events of Price’s Raid.

Unfortunately, very little of the Big Blue battlefield has been preserved; most of it is an industrial park, and a highway cuts through the middle of it. About all that’s really preserved is the actual river crossing site, which is completely pristine. There is very little interpretation there, other than a few strategically placed cannon and a couple of roadside historical markers. It is, consequently, very, very difficult to get a good understanding of the terrain and how the fighting played out.

Fortunately, Dan Smith is leading the charge to preserve and protect the Big Blue battlefield. Fortunately, about 240 acres has come into public ownership, and one of the buildings blocking the view to the river has been razed. They plan to raze at least one more building, and hopefuly two. The local preservation group has an admirable agenda: “The plan seeks to open and restore the vistas across the battlefield to conditions existing in 1864 to provide a sense and feeling to the visitor of the historic context of the site,” the group’s development plan says.

The group hopes to raise $300,000 in private donations, $300,000 to $500,000 in city capital-improvement dollars and $1 million to $1.5 million in federal money. They hope to have an interpretive center and to bring attention to an important battle.

I commend Dan Smith and his group, and wish them nothing but the best in their efforts. I hope that they succeed and preserve an important battlefield site that easily could have been destroyed forever. And for those who have an interest in the Trans-Mississippi, and in Price’s Raid in particular, a trip to Kansas City to visit these two battlefields is a must. They are well worth a visit.

Scridb filter

Comments

  1. Steve Basic
    Tue 16th Jan 2007 at 2:45 am

    Eric,

    Thanks for the information. As you may know, our CW Chat room had its annual muster out there a few years ago, and while we did not have the time to venture to the Kansas City area, The Battle of Westport was brought up in a talk by Civil War Artist Andy Thomas. Mr. Thomas has done a very fine print of the Battle of Westport, and I pried open the wallet here, and bought one for myself. The print features General Shelby in action at the Battle.

    I have made 2 trips out to that area, and I was very much impressed by some of the Civil War sites I visited. Like everywhere else, the sites out there are facing much the same crises as other CW sites throughout the country.

    Hope all is well.

    Regards from the Garden State,

    Steve

  2. Wade Sokolosky
    Tue 16th Jan 2007 at 11:29 pm

    Eric,

    Glade to see the preservation efforts in KC. Several years back I had the good fortune to visit the Big Blue. Your right – smack dad in the middle of an industrial park. My four years at Fort Leavenworth afforded me the opportunity to visit the MO, KS and ARK battlefields quite often. Such a treat for a Tarheel!!

    Wade Sokolosky

  3. Wed 17th Jan 2007 at 3:06 pm

    The state park at Lexington is wonderful.

  4. Jim Chandler
    Thu 09th Jan 2014 at 1:42 pm

    I am quite familiar with this site having worked as a Land Surveyor in this area. Perhaps some things can be clarified.
    Firstly, the fighting at the Big Blue River crossing at Byram’s ford preceded the Battle of Wesport, also known as the Battle of the Hemp Bales as bales of hemp were used for cover.
    The fighting took place in two phases, first the Confederate forces meeting artillery fire from the Kansas Militia, and driving them back, then meeting the trailing Union Cavalry the next morning with their own artillery from basically the same position overlooking the ford.
    There is actually a brick monument at the turn of the road with 3 plaques that describe the battle, the middle one being a brass map of the troop movements as one faces the hillside where the final cavalry charge forced the Confederates to retreat.
    Yes this is an industrial park area, but the buildings are spread out, and the open flood plane between the ford, and the stone outcropping at the base of the bluff is well apparent and easy to see how crossing it under fire might have been difficult.
    The ‘highway” is actually a Parkway, and the border of Swope Park, the 2nd largest municipal park in the U.S., and currently the new Soccer Villiage run by the MLS’ Sporting KC.
    When the new bridge was built several years ago, no Civil War artifacts were found in the roadway area that is upstream from the ford.
    Currently access to the actual ford site is fenced off, but one might get to it roughing it through the woods to the left bank.
    Besides the brick monument with the map display, there’s a commemorative stone wall, and 4 or 5 historical signs that identify key areas to the battle.
    So as sites within a city go, if one gets in the right spots, its not hard to envision it all unfolding before you.

  5. Jim Chandler
    Thu 09th Jan 2014 at 1:54 pm

    p.s.
    The monuments, signs, etc. have been in place since before the original article, and maybe 1 or 2 one story buildings may have been razed, but the area immediately east of the railroad tracks the the current road along what would have been the main road to the ford has been vacant for many years.

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