It was in August, 1862, nearly a year after the party at Col. Mockbee’s, that I was formally enrolled in the army of the Confederate States of America by Col. Gideon W. Thompson. I was eighteen, and for some little time had been assisting Col. Hays in recruiting a regiment around my old home.
It was within a day or two after the surrender of Buell at Independence that I was elected as first lieutenant in Capt. Jarrette’s company in Col. Upton B. Hays’ regiment, which was a part of the brigade of Gen. Joseph O. Shelby.
We took the oath, perhaps 300 of us, down on Luther Mason’s farm, a few miles from where I now write, where Col. Hays had encamped after Independence.
Millions of boys and men have read with rising hair the terrible “black oath” which was supposed to have been taken by these brave fighters, but of which they never heard, nor I, until I read it in books published long after the war.
When Col. Hays camped on the Cowherd, White, Howard and Younger farms, Quantrell had been left to guard the approaches to Kansas City, and to prevent the escape to that point of news from the scattered Confederate commands which were recruiting in western Missouri. At the same time he was obtaining from the Chicago and St. Louis papers and other sources, information about the northern armies, which was conveyed by couriers to Confederate officers in the south, and he kept concealed along the Missouri river skiffs and ferry boats to enable the Confederate officers, recruiting north of the river, to have free access to the south.
The night that I was enlisted, I was sent by Col. Hays to meet Cols. Cockrell, Coffee, Tracy, Jackman and Hunter, who, with the remnants of regiments that had been shattered in various battles through the south, were headed toward Col. Hays’ command.
It was Col. Hays’ plan for them to join him the fifteenth, and after a day’s rest, the entire command would attack Kansas City, and, among other advantages resulting from victory there, secure possession of Weller’s steam ferry.
Boone Muir and myself met Coffee and the rest below Rose Hill, on Grand river. Col. Cockrell, whose home was in Johnson county, had gone by a different route, hoping to secure new recruits among his neighbors, and, as senior colonel, had directed the rest of the command to encamp the next evening at Lone Jack, a little village in the southeastern portion of Jackson county, so called from a solitary big black jack tree that rose from an open field nearly a mile from any other timber.
At noon of Aug. 15, Muir and I had been in the saddle twenty-four to thirty hours, and I threw myself on the blue grass to sleep.
Col. Hays, however, was still anxious to have the other command join him, he having plenty of forage, and being well equipped with ammunition as the result of the capture of Independence a few days before. Accordingly I was shortly awakened to accompany him to Lone Jack, where he would personally make known the situation to the other colonels.
Meantime, however, Major Emory L. Foster, in command at Lexington, had hurried out to find Quantrell, if possible, and avenge Independence. Foster had nearly 1,000 cavalrymen, and two pieces of Rabb’s Indiana battery that had already made for itself a name for hard fighting. He did not dream of the presence of Cockrell and his command until he stumbled upon them in Lone Jack.
At nightfall, the Indiana battery opened on Lone Jack, and the Confederate commands were cut in two, Coffee retreating to the south, while Cockrell withdrew to the west, and when Col. Hays and I arrived, had his men drawn up in line of battle, while the officers were holding a council in his quarters.
“Come in, Colonel Hays,” exclaimed Col. Cockrell. “We just sent a runner out to look you up. We want to attack Foster and beat him in the morning. He will just be a nice breakfast spell.”
Col. Hays sent me back to bring up his command, but on second thought said:
“No, Lieutenant, I’ll go, too.”
On the way back he asked me what I thought about Foster being a “breakfast spell.”
“I think he’ll be rather tough meat for breakfast,” I replied. “He might be all right for dinner.”
But Cockrell and Foster were neighbors in Johnson county, and Cockrell did not have as good an idea of Foster’s fighting qualities that night as he did twenty-four hours later.
The fight started at daybreak, hit or miss, an accidental gunshot giving Foster’s men the alarm. For five hours it waged, most of the time across the village street, not more than sixty feet wide, and during those five hours every recruit there felt the force of Gen. Sherman’s characterization—“War is hell.”
Jackman, with a party of thirty seasoned men, charged the Indiana guns, and captured them, but Major Foster led a gallant charge against the invaders, and recaptured the pieces. We were out of ammunition, and were helpless, had the fight been pressed.
Riding to the still house where we had left the wagon munitions we had taken a few days before at Independence, I obtained a fresh supply and started for the action on the gallop.
Of that mad ride into the camp I remember little except that I had my horse going at full tilt before I came into the line of fire. Although the enemy was within 150 yards, I was not wounded. They did mark my clothes in one or two places, however.
Major Foster, in a letter to Judge George M. Bennett of Minneapolis, said:
“During the progress of the fight my attention was called to a young Confederate riding in front of the Confederate line, distributing ammunition to the men from what seemed to be a ‘splint basket.’ He rode along under a most galling fire from our side the entire length of the Confederate lines, and when he had at last disappeared, our boys recognized his gallantry in ringing cheers. I was told by some of our men from the western border of the state that they recognized the daring young rider as Cole Younger. About 9:30 a.m., I was shot down. The wounded of both forces were gathered up and were placed in houses. My brother and I, both supposed to be mortally wounded, were in the same bed. About an hour after the Confederates left the field, the ranking officer who took command when I became unconscious, gathered his men together and returned to Lexington. Soon after the Confederates returned. The first man who entered my room was a guerrilla, followed by a dozen or more men who seemed to obey him. He was personally known to me and had been my enemy from before the war. He said he and his men had just shot a lieutenant of a Cass county company whom they found wounded and that he would shoot me and my brother. While he was standing over us, threatening us with his drawn pistol, the young man I had seen distributing ammunition along in front of the Confederate line rushed into the room from the west door and seizing the fellow, thrust him out of the room. Several Confederates followed the young Confederate into the room, and I heard them call him Cole Younger. He (Younger) sent for Col. Cockrell (in command of the Confederate forces) and stated the case to him. He also called the young man Cole Younger and directed him to guard the house, which he did. My brother had with him about $300, and I had about $700. This money and our revolvers were, with the knowledge and approval of Cole Younger, placed in safe hands, and were finally delivered to my mother in Warrensburg, Mo. Cole Younger was then certainly a high type of manhood, and every inch a soldier, who risked his own life to protect that of wounded and disabled enemies. I believe he still retains those qualities and would prove himself as good a citizen as we have among us if set free, and would fight for the Stars and Stripes as fearlessly as he did for the Southern flag. I have never seen him since the battle of Lone Jack. I know much of the conditions and circumstances under which the Youngers were placed after the war, and knowing this, I have great sympathy for them. Many men, now prominent and useful citizens of Missouri, were, like the Youngers, unable to return to their homes until some fortunate accident threw them with men they had known before the war, who had influence enough to make easy their return to peace and usefulness. If this had occurred to the Youngers, they would have had good homes in Missouri.”
It is to Major Foster’s surprise of the command at Lone Jack that Kansas City owes its escape from being the scene of a hard battle August 17, 1862.
Quantrell was not in the fight at Lone Jack at all, but Jarrette and Gregg did come up with some of Quantrell’s men just at the end and were in the chase back toward Lexington.
In proportion to the number of men engaged, Lone Jack was one of the hardest fights of the war. That night there were 136 dead and 550 wounded on the battlefield.