Colonel Guitar's account of the Battle of Moore's Hill

Excerpt from With Porter in North Missouri by Mudd, Joseph A.

 
 

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HEADQUARTERS,

COLUMBIA, Mo., October-, 1862.

SIR:-I improve this, the earliest opportunity, to report

 

 
 

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operations of troops under my command at Brown's Spring, July 27, and Moore's Mill, July 28, 1862.

On July 27 I received at Jefferson City, of which post I was then in command, a dispatch from General Schofield, ordering me to send without delay two companies of my regiment to join Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer, Merrill's Horse, at Columbia, advising me that Porter was in the north part of Boone County with a large rebel force. In pursuance of this order I at once started Companies A and B of my regiment to the point indicated. Upon the same day, and close upon the heels of this dispatch, I received a message from Captain Duffield, Third Iowa Cavalry, com- manding post at Fulton, advising me that Porter, Cobb, and others were at Brown's Spring, eleven miles north of that post, with a force variously estimated at from six hundred to nine hundred men; that they were threatening an attack upon the post and that the strong probability was it would be made before the following morning. Notwithstanding the absence of General Totten, then commanding the Central District, and the very small number of available troops at the post (then not exceeding five hundred men of all arms), I felt that the emergency demanded prompt action and justified the assumption of whatever responsibility might be necessary to secure it. With one hundred picked men from my own regiment, consisting of twenty-five each from Companies E, F, G and H, respectively, under command of Lieut. J. Pinhard, Capt. H. N. Cook, Lieut. J. V. Dunn and Capt. H. S. Glaze, and one section of the Third Indiana Battery, thirty-two men, under Lieut. A. G. Armington, I crossed the river at Jefferson City, reaching the op- posite shore about 10 p. m. Without halting, I continued to march over a broken and rough timbered country, arriv- ing at Fulton about daylight in the morning, the distance being about twenty-seven miles. I found that the post had

 

 
 

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not been attacked, and that the rebel force was still posted at Brown's Spring and receiving accessions hourly. The force at Fulton consisted of about eighty men, under Capt. George Duffield, Company E, Third Iowa Cavalry. Prominent Union men of Fulton advised that my force was too small to proceed farther, and insisted that I should wait at Fulton for re- inforcements. Knowing of no available force in reach, and that delay would encourage the rebel element and greatly increase their force, I determined to advance with the troops at my disposal. After feeding and refreshing men and horses I started for their camp, having augmented my force by the addition of fifty men of Company E, Third Iowa Cavalry, under Capt. Duffield, making my aggregate force one hundred and eighty-six men.

Our route lay through comparatively open country until we reached the vicinity of the camp, which we did about 1 p. m. Here I learned, from rebel citizens brought in, that Porter was still encamped at the Spring with his whole force, numbering from six hundred to nine hundred, and that he would certainly give us battle. I found the Spring situated on the south bank of the Auxvasse, in a narrow horseshoe bottom, completely hemmed in by a low bluff, covered with heavy timber and dense undergrowth, being about one mile east of the crossing of the Mexico and Fulton roads.

Advancing cautiously, when I had reached a point about one mile south of the camp I ordered Captain Duffield to move with his company along the Mexico road until he reached the north bank of the Auxvasse, to dismount, to hitch his horses back, and post his men in a brush along a by-path leading from the Spring to the Mexico road; when there, to await the retreat of the enemy or to come up in his rear in case he made a stand at the Spring. With the rest of my force, after waiting for Captain Duffield to reach

 

 
 

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the position assigned him, I moved rapidly in a northeasterly direction, through fields and farms, taking position in a small arm of open prairie, about four hundred yards southeast of the camp and about one hundred and fifty yards from the brush skirting the creek. Here I dismounted my whole force, hitching the horses to the fences in our rear, and, forming upon the right and left of the section, which was brought to bear upon the rebel camp, I now ordered Captain Glaze, with fifty men, com- posed of detachments from the different companies, to move directly upon the camp, advancing cautiously through the brush and along the bluff until he reached the camp or met the enemy, and, in either event, to engage him, falling back promptly upon our line. While this order was being executed I received intelligence that a small party of the enemy was seen in. the brush about half a mile from our right. I immediately sent Captain Cook, with twenty men, to reconnoiter the ground and ascertain what force was there. On reaching the edge of the timber he discovered a party of ten or fifteen rebels, just emerging from the brush. The captain promptly fired upon them, unhorsing three of the party and scatter- ing the rest in confusion. It was afterwards ascer- tained that one of the party was mortally, and another seriously, wounded. After waiting some forty minutes I received a message from Captain Glaze that he had reached the camp and that the enemy had fled. I imme- diately went forward to the camp and found that it had been abandoned in hot haste, the enemy leaving behind them one wagon, a quantity of bacon, meal, several sheep, and their dinner, which was just ready, unserved. I discovered on examining the trail going off, that they had dispersed in squads, going down the creek in a northeasterly direction. I at once called in Captain Duffield and ordered the woods scoured in the vicinity of the camp, which was done, but

 

 
 

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no enemy found. It being near night, I pitched my camp upon the ground where we first formed, intending, after resting and feeding (to pursue and make a night attack upon them.

About 8 p. m. I received information that Lieutenant- Colonel Shaffer was west of me some ten miles with five hundred men. This information together with the ex- hausted condition of my men, having been without sleep for forty hours, induced me to defer any further move- ment until morning. I at once dispatched a messenger to Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer, advising him of my where- abouts, and asking him to join me as early as practicable next morning. Thus ended our operations at Brown's Spring, notable not for what the men did, but what they dared.

At daylight I ordered Lieutenant Pinhard, Company E, Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, with twenty- five men, to cross the creek below the rebel camp, moving down the north side. I at the same time ordered Lieutenant Spencer, Company E, Third Iowa Cavalry, with twenty-five men, to move down the south bank, directing them to proceed cautiously, pursuing the rebel trail as soon as they found it, and advising me promptly of their presence or movements.

After dispatching these parties I ascertained that Porter had encamped during the night on the Auxvasse, about four miles southeast of me, and that his intention was to move down the creek. With the rest of my force I at once moved for his place of encampment. On approaching the old Saint Charles road I discovered a body of troops moving east, and, pressing forward, we soon overtook them. They proved to be the advance of Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer's column, eighty men, under Captain Higdon, the column itself being but a short distance behind. I continued moving along the Saint Charles road until I reached a point about

 

 
 

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one mile east of the Auxvasse. Here I halted until the column of Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer came up. It con- sisted of detachments from Companies A, C, E, F, G, H, I and K, Merrill's Horse, three hundred and six men; de- tachments from Companies F, G and H, Third Iowa Cavalry, under Major Caldwell, eighty-three men; Companies B and D, Tenth Regiment Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, one hundred and twenty men, and an independent company of cavalry, Captain Rice, thirty-eight men.

I at once ordered Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer, with the detachments of Merrill's Horse; Companies B and D, Tenth Regiment of Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, and Captain Rice's Company, Red Rovers, thirty-eight men, to cross the Auxvasse, moving down the east side of the creek, as near to it as practicable, and engage the enemy if he should come up with him, relying on my cooperation as soon as I should hear the report of his guns. My object was to prevent the escape of the enemy and bring him to an engagement at once. With my original column, augmented by the addition of a detachment of Third Iowa Cavalry, eighty-three men, I moved down the west side of the creek. I had already been advised that my advance was on the rebel trail and that his pickets had been seen moving forward to reach the head of my column. I found it detached. Through some mis- apprehension of orders, and in their eagerness to follow, my original column shot ahead, leaving the reinforcements more than a mile in the rear. Galloping forward to halt the advance and to order out flankers, I arrived within about forty yards of it, when a terrific volley was pored upon it from the woods on the east side of the road. The advance instantly wheeled into line and returned the fire from their horses. I ordered them to dismount, which they did with as much coolness and composure as if going to walk into a country church; that, too, upon the very spot where they

 

 
 

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received the first fire. This advance was composed of twenty-five men of Company E, Third Iowa Cavalry, under Lieutenant Spencer.

The advance of my column coming up, composed of the remainder of Company E, Third Iowa Cavalry, Captain Duffield, and detachment of Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, under Captains Cook and Glaze and Lieutenant Dunn, one hundred and twenty-five men in all, I ordered them to dismount and deploy the men in the woods upon the right and left of the road, instruct- ing them to conceal themselves as best they could and not to fire until they saw an object. During this time the rebels kept up a continual fire, chiefly upon the center of our line. Our fire was by volleys and mostly at random. Major Caldwell coming up, I ordered him to form his men upon the right of our line, the object of the enemy seeming to be to flank us in that direction. To do this he was compelled to advance his line into the woods seventy or eighty yards east of the road. Here he was met by a strong force of the enemy, who greeted him with a shower of shot and ball. Our little column wavered for a moment under the galling fire, but soon recovered itself and went steadily to work. By this time the men seemed to have got into the merits of the thing, and the brush which they dreaded so much at first, they now sought eagerly as their surest pro- tection. Our fire, which was at first by volleys, was now a succession of shots, swaying back and forth from one end of the line to the other. As soon as I saw our line steady I ordered forward one gun of the section to our center, which rested upon the road, here so narrow that the piece had to be unlimbered and brought forward by hand. I ordered Lieutenant Armington to open with shell and cannister upon the left of the road, which was done in fine style, silencing the rebel force completely for a time. I now discovered a large body of rebels crossing to the west side of the road,

 

 
 

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evidently with the view of flanking us on the left. Seeing this, I ordered the other gun of the section to take position in our rear and on the west side of the road and to shell the woods upon our left, at the same time ordering the advance of our left wing. The prompt execution of these orders soon drove the enemy back to the east side of the road. This accomplished, there was a lull in the storm ominous and deep.

Our whole line was now steadily advancing. Captains Duffield and Cook were upon the right. Major Caldwell was upon the extreme left. Captain Glaze and Lieutenant Dunn were immediately upon the left of the center. * * * * At this juncture Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer arrived upon the field with his command. I ordered him to dismount his men; to hold one company in reserve; to send one company forward to our extreme right, and to take position with the rest of his force on our extreme left. Company G, Merrills Horse, under Lieutenant Peckham, was sent forward to the right. I am not advised of the order in which the other companies were formed on the left. I know, however, that all the companies moved promptly and eagerly to their positions. I here called upon Major Clopper, Merrill's Horse, to act as aide (not having so much as an orderly after the fall of my chief bugler), which he did during the rest of the engagement, rendering me efficient and valuable assistance.

During the time occupied in making these dispositions the battle continued with unabated vigor. Some of the companies, in their eagerness to get into position on the left, exposed themselves greatly. Among them Company K, Merrill's Horse, and in consequence suffered seriously. Lieutenant Myers fell at this point covered with wounds, from which he since died. He bore himself nobly and fell in front of his company. The companies, however, without faltering, reached their positions. Just at this time a cir-

 

 
 

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cumstance occurred which for a moment occasioned some confusion. The cry was received on the left of the center that they were being fired upon by our own men upon the extreme left. It was kept up so persistently that I ordered the companies upon the left to cease firing. It soon proved, however, to be a mistake, and we went on again with the work. I now ordered an advance along our whole line, which was promptly responded to, and with steady step the enemy were soon driven back. Tired of crawling through the brush, and catching the enthusiasm as they moved, the whole line, raising a wild shout of triumph, rushed upon the enemy, completely routing and driving him from the field.

I immediately ordered two companies mounted and sent in pursuit. They soon found the enemy's camp, but he had fled, leaving his only wagon and a few horses. It was now 4 p. m., the action having begun at 12 m., the men not having food or water since morning. The day was one of the very hottest of the season; the battle-field in a dense unbroken forest, and the undergrowth so thick as to render it impossible in many places to see a man in the distance of thirty feet. Many of the men were almost famished with thirst and exhausted from fatigue and the extreme heat. These circumstances induced me (much against my will) to defer farther pursuit until morning.

Thus terminated the battle of Moore's Mill, brought on and sustained for more than an hour by a force of less than one third that of the enemy, terminating in his utter defeat and rout by a force largely inferior in numbers; that, too, upon a field of his own choosing, as strong and as well selected as nature could afford. The enemy's force num- bered over nine hundred. They were posted behind logs and trees, under cover of brush, so perfectly concealed and pro- tected that you were compelled to approach within a few steps of them before they could be seen. The battle occurred

 

 
 

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about one mile west of the Auxvasse, and about the same distance from Moore's Mill, from which it takes its name. Of the conduct of officers and men I can not speak in terms of too high commendation. Where every man dis- charged his whole duty it would seem invidious to dis- criminate. It is enough to say that with such officers and men I should never feel doubtful of the result upon an equal field.

The following is a summary of our loss: Third Iowa Cavalry, killed two, wounded twenty-four; Ninth Cavalry, Missouri State Militia, killed two, wounded ten; Merrill's Horse, killed six, wounded eleven; Third Indiana Battery, killed one, wounded three; Red Rovers, Captain Rice, killed two, wounded seven. Total, thirteen killed and fifty-five wounded. We lost twenty-two horses killed, belonging almost entirely to the Third Iowa Cavalry. The loss of the enemy, as ascertained, was fifty-two killed and from one hundred and twenty-five to one hun- dred and fifty wounded. His wounded were scattered for miles around the battle-field. Many of them were carried on horses back to Boone, Randolph and other counties. On our march next day we found from one to a dozen at almost every house we passed, and many who were badly wounded continued with the enemy on his retreat. We captured one prisoner and a number of guns. There were among the killed and wounded a number of my neighbors and county men. A captain and a private of my regiment had each a brother on the rebel side and a lieutenant had a brother-in- law killed.

Porter had studiously impressed upon the minds of his men that if taken alive they would be killed. One rebel was found crawling from the field badly wounded and stripped except his drawers. When approached he said he was a Federal soldier, but finally admitted that he was not, and stated that his object in denuding himself was to conceal

 

 
 

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his identity, and thus avoid being shot as we passed over the field. Others who had been taken into houses along the route of their retreat, hearing our approach, would drag themselves out into the fields and woods to avoid us, thus showing the deep deception which had been practiced upon them.

I encamped for the night near the battle-field, and re- sumed the pursuit at daylight next morning. Moving down the Auxvasse some four miles, I struck the rebel trail, which I followed over a brushy, rugged and broken country until noon. In many places the trail led over ravines and hol- lows, which they no doubt supposed were impracticable for the passage of vehicles. I at length reached a point where the trail ran out, and upon examination discovered that the enemy had doubled upon his track. The result was that, after marching until 2 p. m., we found ourselves within two miles of the point where we had come upon the trail in the morning. In the meantime I had been joined by Companies A and B of my own regiment, and, from information obtained from them, with other circumstances, I became satisfied that Porter had divided his force, which afterwards proved true. A portion, perhaps numbering three hundred, under Cobb, Frost and Purcell, had gone northwest through Concord. The remainder, led by himself, had gone northeast in the direction of Wellsville. I therefore .determined to move directly to Mexico and endeavor to intercept the main body in the vicinity of Paris, being advised that there was a body of some 400 rebels near that place organized and ready to join Porter. I reached Mexico at 8 a. m. the following morning, and on the same day received a message from Colonel McNeil advising me that he was in Paris with three hundred and fifty men, and that Porter was in the immediate vicinity with a large force, and asking cooperation. I at once telegraphed to Lieutenant-Colonel Morsey at Warrenton to

 

 
 

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move up with his command, numbering about one hundred and fifty men, and on the following day the column moved for Paris, under command of Lieutenant-Colonel Shaffer. Prostrated by sudden illness, I was here compelled to abandon the expedition, well begun, and afterwards so hand- somely consummated.

Respectfully submitted,

O. GUITAR,

Colonel Ninth Missouri Cavalry, Militia.

COL. LEWIS MERRILL.

 

 
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