September 30, 1862: First Battle of Newtonia

The first notable battle in the Trans-Mississippi theater of operations after the battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March of 1862, the battle was fought at Newtonia, Missouri in the southwest portion of the State, near the border with Arkansas and the Indian territory.  A brigade of Confederate troops under  Colonel Douglas H. Cooper occupied Newton on September 27, 1862.    They were attacked by Union Brigadier General Frederick G. Salomon, a German immigrant, leading two small brigades totaling 1500 men, on September 30.

Initially the Union attack made headway, but Confederate reinforcements arriving turned the tide, and the Union brigades retreated.  A strong Confederate pursuit turned the retreat into a rout.  Total Union casualties were 250 compared to 100 for the Confederates.  In spite of the Confederate victory, the Confederate stay in Southwestern Missouri was brief, due to being heavily outnumbered by Union troops in the area.  The battle today is chiefly remembered as a result of the large number of American indians that fought on both sides.  Colonel  Cooper, the commander of the Confederate troops, was a former Indian agent and  led Confederate Indian troops throughout the War.  After the War he lived in the Indian Territory and was an ardent supporter of Choctaw and Chickasaw land claims against the Federal government.  Here is his report on the battle:

HEADQUARTERS FIELD DIVISION, Camp Coffee, Mo., October 2, 1862.

GENERAL: In conformity with orders from Brigadier-General Rains the troops under my command marched from camp at Scott’s Mill, Mo., on the morning of September 24, and moved northward by way of Pineville, for the purpose of forming a junction with Colonel Shelby (who was at that time in command of a brigade of Missouri cavalry), which was effected on the evening of the 26th at the Big Spring, head of Indian Creek.

I assumed command on the 27th. Colonel Hawpe’s Texas regiment and Major Bryan’s Cherokee Battalion were ordered to Newtonia, having made it an outpost, and the mill at that place was put in operation for the purpose of supplying the command with breadstnffs, which it did abundantly.

Everything remained quiet until the 29th, when the enemy’s scouts appeared near Newtonia, but were at once driven back by a detachment from that place. It was reported at the same time that a body of Pin Indians and Federals were at Granby. It being important that we should hold Granby, on account of the valuable lead mines at that place, Colonel Stevens was sent, with his regiment of cavalry, to make a reconnaissance of the place, and if practicable to dislodge the enemy. He reached the vicinity of Granby after dark, but found no enemy.

On the morning of the 30th the enemy appeared in force in front of Newtonia and made a vigorous attack upon the troops at that place both with artillery and small-arms, which was promptly replied to by Captain Bledsoe’s battery of two guns, supported by Colonel Hawpe’s and Major Bryan’s commands, who were posted behind the stone fence. At the time of the attack I was en route for Granby, having with me Colonel Alexander’s Texas cavalry regiment, with the intention of taking possession of and holding that place. Upon hearing the firing we hastened to the scene of action. We found our forces hotly pressed by superior numbers of the enemy. Colonel Alexander was at once ordered to take position below the mill on the right, which was obeyed with alacrity under a strong fire of grape and Minie balls. The enemy’s infantry had now possession of some of the buildings in the suburbs of the village, their sharpshooters being near enough to pick off our artillerymen from their guns. Colonel Alexander’s regiment was forced to remount and fall back to the support of Bledsoe’s battery, taking position behind the stone fence east of Ritchie’s house to the right of the battery, Major Bryan’s battalion being on the left, Colonel Hawpe’s regiment occupying the stone barn and yard in front of Ritchie’s house. Captain Bledsoe, with his artillerymen, stood gallantly to their guns until the last shot was expended, showering grape and canister among the advancing foe, and when forced to fall back out of range of the enemy’s sharpshooters, when ordered to do so, came promptly into battery on the ridge about 150 yards to the right and rear of their former position, near the road from Newtouia to the Big Spring (Camp Coffee), by the way of Dr. Harmon’s, though without a solitary shot in their caissons. The effect of this was at once apparent in checking the Federal cavalry on our left, who had commenced advancing the moment they saw the battery retiring. Captain Bledsoe continued to occupy that position under a heavy fire from the enemy’s batteries until the close of the action. Colonel Hawpe at this juncture received orders to charge the enemy’s infantry, and at the head of his men at once went gallantly into the charge. Leaping the stone fence, they met the enemy, when a sharp fight took place; but being exposed to the fire of the enemy’s artillery, as well as infantry, were compelled, after succeeding in checking his advance, to fall back to their original position, under cover of the stone fence. At this moment the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, entered the town at full gallop, passed through without halting, singing their war-songs and giving the war-whoop, and under my personal direction at once engaged the enemy under a heavy fire from artillery and infantry. Colonel Shelby’s Missouri regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon commanding, had in the mean time arrived on the field and taken position on the right, flanking the enemy. That, with the charge of the Choctaws, soon drove them from the town and put them to flight, followed by Lieutenant-Colonel Walker and his men.

At this moment Colonel Stevens’ regiment from Granby appeared on our left, and having received orders to charge the enemy, moved forward rapidly and arrived in time to participate in the pursuit. Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, not being aware that Colonel Stevens was in that direction, mistook his for a Federal regiment. Perceiving this, my son (Dr. Cooper) and my aide (Lieutenant Heiston) were sent by different routes to inform him that it was one of our own regiments, when he again moved forward. The delay occasioned by this mistake alone enabled the Federals to get off the field with their batteries and the reminant of their troops. The enemy now fled in confusion from the field, closely followed by our troops, the Choctaws in the center, the Missourians on the right, and Stevens’ regiment on the left. We captured a number of prisoners and strewed the woods and road with dead and wounded. Large numbers of arms were also captured, thrown away by the enemy in their flight. The enemy’s infantry (Ninth Wisconsin) were nearly all destroyed, being either killed or taken prisoners. The pursuit continued near 6 miles, when the enemy, meeting heavy re-enforcements, rallied his broken columns and again returned to the field.

I had in the mean time been re-enforced by Colonel Jeans’ Missouri cavalry and Captain Howell’s four-gun battery, which took position at the grave-yard on the north side of the town, the enemy occupying the elevated ridge 1 mile north. His force was greatly superior to ours. His artillery consisted of three batteries, which soon opened upon us, and was ably replied to by Captain Howell, who sustained their concentrated fire during the afternoon engagement, never abandoning a position except when ordered to do so. The men handled their guns with the greatest coolness and celerity. He lost many of his horses and some of his men; among them Sergt. Felix S. Heiston, who was particularly distinguished for his bravery and soldier-like bearing. He was killed at his gun by a cannon-ball. Stevens’ and Jeans’ regiments were ordered to attack the enemy’s cavalry on their right, assisted by Bledsoe’s battery. At this time a large body of men were seen coming in on our left and rear, which proved to be Colonel Folsom who had been ordered up from Scott’s Mill. Colonel Stevens was ordered to reconnoiter and ascertain who they were. In the mean time a few shots from Bledsoe’s battery, supported by Gordon’s cavalry, dispersed the enemy’s cavalry, who were threatening our left on the Granby road.

About this time the enemy had sent unperceived two regiments of Pin Indians and jayhawkers upon my right, supported by masses of infantry. They obtained possession of some bushes and stone fencing on the spring branch below the mill. Their object was to turn my right, where the Choctaws were posted. Just at this time Colonel Folsom’s Choctaw regiment arrived, and by passing through a corn field succeeded unperceived in getting very close to the enemy on our right. The engagement soon became general between the two Choctaw regiments and the jayhawkers and hostile Indians. At the same time the enemy opened all his batteries, under cover of which he advanced blocks of infantry to the support of those regiments which had been previously sent to my right. The battle was now raging in all parts of the field. Their masses of infantry could be plainly seen advancing in perfect order, with guns and bayonets glittering in the sun. The booming of cannon, the bursting of shells, the air filled with missiles of every description, the rattling crash of small-arms, the cheering of our men, and the war-whoop of our Indian allies, all combined to render the scene both grand and terrific.

Seeing the enemy’s infantry advancing at double-quick to re-enforce their left, I at once ordered Captain Howell to send two of his guns to take position in the corn field and shell the enemy out before their infantry could arrive. This was soon effected and the enemy fleeing from the field. At the same time the other guns under Lieutenant Routh were turned upon his advancing columns and on the jayhawkers and Pin Indians, who had been thrown in advance, but were now in full flight. Lieutenant-Colonel Buster, with his battalion, now arrived, and throwing out on the right the two Choctaw regiments and Colonel Stevens’ regiment, on the left Colonels Jeans’ and Gordon’s Missouri regiments and Hawpe’s Texas regiment, placing Colonel Alexander’s regiment and Buster’s battalion with the artillery in the center, the enemy was pursued over the prairie a distance of 3 miles to the timber.

By this time it was night. The enemy had planted a battery so as to command the road and as we approached opened on us, but owing to the darkness did little execution. Getting the direction from the flash of the guns, Captain Howell was ordered into battery and threw a few shells into them, fired somewhat at random, but which it was afterward ascertained exploded among them, killing a number of men and horses. They now fled in confusion, leaving the road, passing through fields and woods, and abandoning loaded wagons by the way wedged between trees. Their flight continued until they reached Sarcoxie, Jasper County, a distance of 12 miles. The engagement lasted from sunup until dark, with the exception of an interval of two hours. The enemy’s force in this engagement, from the best information, derived from Federal sources, amounted to from 6,000 to 7,000 men, with eighteen pieces of cannon while our own force did not exceed 4,000 men during any part of the day, with only six pieces of cannon.

The thanks of the country are due the troops engaged in this battle for the bravery and coolness displayed in the face of an enemy greatly their superior in numbers. Of the officers it is enough to say that all, with a few exceptions, did their duty.

It is difficult to particularize where each seemed to vie with the other in deeds of bravery; but I cannot close this report without mentioning the gallant bearing of Lieutenant-Colonel Walker, of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment. He was always found at the head of his regiment in the thickest of the fight, encouraging his men by his words and actions. He remained on horseback during the whole day and escaped unhurt. My acknowledgments are also due to Colonels Alexander and Hawpe, and to Lieutenant-Colonel Lewellyn and Major Stone of Stevens’ Texas regiment, and to Colonel [B. G.] Jeans and Lieutenant-Colonel Gordon of the Missouri Brigade, and Major Bryan, of the Cherokee Battalion, for the coolness and courage displayed by them on the field wherever duty called them, and to Lieutenant-Colonel Buster, who arrived by forced marches from Maysville in time to participate in the pursuit.

Colonel Shelby was left in command at Camp Coffee, and deserves great credit for his promptness in sending re-enforcements and guarding the camp from an apprehended attack of the enemy. Capt. John Wallis, Colonel Stevens’ regiment, was severely wounded while charging the enemy at the head of his company, but his wound is not considered dangerous. Captain Duncan, of Colonel Hawpe’s regiment, lost a leg in the engagement while gallantly charging the enemy. Much praise is also due Capt. Martin Folsom, of the First Choctaw Regiment, for the distiuguished bravery shown by him in the engagement in the corn field. We have to mourn his loss, which will be severely felt by his regiment. He was wounded late in the day and has since died. Capt. William B. Pitchlynn, of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, also behaved with distinguished gallantry. My acknowledgments are also due Captain Crisp, of Colonel Coffee’s Missouri regiment, and to Lieut. Col. John Henderson, of the Missouri State Guard (General Rains’ staff), who reported to me on the field, for the valuable services rendered in carrying orders, in leading troops, and placing them in position. My son, Dr. D. J. Cooper, of the First Choctaw and Chickasaw Regiment, was constantly with me, and rendered efficient service on the field. The artillery of Captains Howell and Bledsoe was admirably handled, and much credit is due those officers for the efficiency of their batteries.

Of my personal staff I can speak in the highest praise. They behaved with their usual coolness and courage. Capt. J. W. Wells, my adjutant-general, was left at the camp in the morning, a battle not then being expected, and afterward assisted Colonel Shelby in forwarding re-enforcements. He joined me before the evening engagement and rendered valuable services during the action. Lient. C. H. Tiner and my aide, Lient. T. B. Heiston, were also conspicuous for their gallantry and courage, and rendered efficient service. To Capts. J. W. Coarser and F. W. Miner my acknowledgments are also due for valuable services rendered during the battle in bearing orders.

The medical staff, under the direction of Dr. J. G. Russell, were prompt in their attention to the wounded. Not only our own but those of the enemy were removed from the field and had the same care shown them as our own.

Referring to the accompanying report for a list of the killed and wounded, I am, general, very respectfully,

DOUGLAS H. COOPER, Colonel, Commanding

Published in: on September 30, 2019 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on September 30, 1862: First Battle of Newtonia  
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