The Battle of Fredricksburg

A skirmish, later referred to as the Battle of Fredricksburg, was fought between the Blue and the Gray, on the O'Dell family homestead, now the City of Excelsior Springs Golf Course. Research by local historian, Harry A. Soltysiak, points to two different skirmishes in this same location. He believes the first skirmish, the Battle of Fredricksburg, was fought on Sunday, July 17, 1864. The second skirmish was fought on August 12, 1864, but over time, they were confused and a commemorative two-ton boulder with bronze plate is inscribed with: "In memory of the soldiers of the Civil War who gave their lives at the Battle of Fredericksburg - August 12, 1864."

Following is Harry A. Soltysiak's research, first published in The Marketplace, June 1989.

Sensible men really had little to do with the Civil War. One can stoically assume that it was fought with such fanaticism merely because fundamental changes in basic laws were necessary, and their achievement under normal conditions impossible. But in truth, the war itself did not make much sense; by turns the truth was greed, and baseless, and pain, and incredible heroism by men who held many of the same virtues and vices in common, and had shared the same political process until the tragic North-South split in late 1860. The war in Missouri was infinitely complex. A Union slate state, it was unaffected by President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which only freed slaves in states rebellious to the federal government. In divided Missouri there was fighting enough for everyone. Soon its soil had soaked up so much blood that revenge, to most Missourians, meant more than politics.

On the afternoon of July 17, 1864, a column of Union calvary rode north on the road straddling the Clay-Ray County line. Commanded by Captain Thomas Moses, the patrol consisted of detachments from Companies A, C, D, and M of the 2nd Colorado Regiment, 47 hardy miners and plainsmen from the distant territory. They had been in the saddle pursuing Confederate guerrillas for four days, and were now commandeering food and serviceable horses to replace their Regiment's worn stock.

The lazy hamlet of Fredericksburg sat astride a rocky ridge about a mile northeast of the Federal patrol. The town had a post office, a livery stable operated by the Butterfield Stage Lines, a blacksmith shop, Jerry Isley's general store, half a dozen weathered dwellings and a saloon known as the Essex House. It was a Sunday, and chuch had adjourned at the nearby Pisgah and New Garden meeting houses. Richard Bates, who lived south of Fredericksburg at the time, recalled in the September 30, 1936, Excelsior Springs Daily Standard:

"A bunch of us had been returning from a church meeting when we ran into a group of the Redlegs (2nd Colorado). One of them stopped us and demanded a horse one of the party was riding. It happened that this man's sister was riding a mare that had been raised with his horse, and no one could separate the two. And when the Redleg tried to lead this man's horse away, he just doubled up and wouldn't go."

The Federal soldier finally relented, and passed up the road with his comrades. Bates' party soon heard a burst of firing break out behind them. Approaching the Liberty-Richmond road west of Fredericksburg, Captain Moses observed what appeared to be a friendly force -- garbed in Union blue -- confronting him at the crossroads. The Captain later reported:

"I immediately rode to the front, and made the signal used by our troops, which was answered correctly ... I (then) desired Capt. (Lyman) Rouell, who was with me as a volunteer, to ... learn who they were while I formed the men in line in case of (a) mistake."

Rouell rode up to within 50 yards of the unidentified horsemen, halted and waited for someone to ride out and confer with him. Instead, they stared blankly at the Captain ... then one said, "Come on!"

"You ride out!" replied Rouell. Then came a shot, and a bullet whizzed by him. He threw up one hand and yelled, "You are mistaken!"

A bushwhacker swore back at him, "God damn you, we will show you who is mistaken!"

The Union calvary had stumbled across the largest Rebel force in north Missouri; a mixed lot of some 300 guerrillas, raw Confederate recruits and mutineering Enrolled Missouri Militias. (Portions of the 82nd E.M.M., the so-called Paw Paw militia, had changed sides a week earlier when Confederates briefly occupied Platte City.) Colonel John C. Calhoun Thornton held the highest official rank in the command, but his influence had recently been crippled when 800 Union calvary routed him from Platte County, burning Camden Point and a large section of Platte City. Afterward, the actual leader of the Confederates was Captain John Thrailkill, a 24-year-old veteran of the 1st Missouri Calvary who had, only five weeks before, escaped from the U.S. military prison at Alton, Illinois. Captain Charles "Fletch" Taylor, one of guerrilla William Quantrill's original band, led the 70 irregulars who made up the advance guard. Frank and Jesse James were members of his company. They wore captured Federal uniforms to mislead Unioniests, who usually could not tell them from Yankees, and consequently would not report their movements. Some carried as many as half a dozen Colt and Remington revolvers in their belts and saddle holsters.

Taylor's men opened fire and charged, chasing Captain Rouell downhill toward Captain Moses' thin line of dismounted troopers. The guerillas were struck at 25 yards by a volley of rifle fire from the Federal's Starr carbines. Moses later reported that he saw "15 saddles emptied ... (but) as far as we could see up the road, they were still coming." The guerrillas mixed with the troopers, and the fight degenerated into a confusing brawl with revolvers and rifle butts. The Federal horse-holders let their confiscated herd loose, and the frightened animals plunged wildly about the congested battleground. Moses emptied three revolvers, then ordered his men to fall back and reform at the edge of a forest. But the Rebels surged after them without respite, and the Federals were forced to separate, abandoning most of the horses and equipment. Singly and in small groups, they made their way south and west through primeval walnut timber toward the Fishing River bottoms.

The 2nd Colorado Calvary lost six killed, four wounded and two men missing in the Fredericksburg fight. Nearly everyone who escaped bore scars from the close combat. Captain Moses' forehead had been grazed by a bullet, another severed his sabre belt, a third cut into his coat and his horse was shot four times. Although Taylor and Thrailkill won the battle, their casualties appear to have been considerably heavier. When Major Jesse Prichard led 250 of the 2nd Colorado through Fredericksburg the following day, citizens told him the Rebels hauled off two wagons loaded with wounded, and that they had helped to bury 16 bodies near the battlefield. Tradition has it that Louis Seybold, the pro-Southern proprietor of the Seybold Tavern, allowed the Confederates to bury their dead behind his renowed halfway house. Fredericksburg merchant Jerry Isley was hired by the citizens to gather and bury the bodies of the Union dead. He hauled them in a lumber wagon to Pisgah Church, where Major Prichard found them lying on benches "preparatory to interment." They were buried in a single grave, and today the mount that once marked their resting place is no longer evident.

Leaving their dead behind, the soldiers moved on. Like a reoccurring nightmare -- more were to come.

Return to top