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Then And Now: A Look Back At The Battle Of Westport

If you've ever noticed plaques in Kansas City's Westport district describing Civil War-era events, then you have at least a little background on the Battle of Westport, a series of battles that ended in a decisive Union victory and emancipation for slaves in Missouri.

The battles stretched from Oct. 21-23, 1864, at the end of Confederate General and former Missouri Gov. Sterling Price's month-long campaign to take Missouri for the Confederacy. In an interview with Up to Date's Steve Kraske, Daniel Smith of the Monnett Battle of Westport Fund said that the point of "Price's Raid" was to turn public opinion.

"General Price thought that if he raised the [Confederate] flag in Kansas City, it would rally citizens around the Confederacy," Smith said. "He never really got that chance though."

The Confederates begin their march

Price and nearly 12,000 Confederate troops started their campaign in late September 1864 by heading northeast through Arkansas to St. Louis, Jefferson City, and eventually the Kansas City area, engaging in small skirmishes along the way.

When the Confederates got as close as Lexington, Union Maj. Gen. Samuel Curtis sent a force led by Gen. James Blunt to try to stop the advancing rebel troops.

Blunt's men were much more well-equipped than the rebels, but they failed to stop them. Their efforts did slow the advancing Confederates enough for a pursuing force of Union troops under Gen. Alfred Pleasonton to catch up.

Though Price was determined, and many of his men knew the area through trading and driving cattle, the combined forces of Price, Pleasonton and eventually 10,000 additional Kansas militiamen were too great. Battles at Byram's Ford, the Little and Big Blue rivers and Brush Creek near what is now Loose Park all ended with Union victory.

The price of war

By the time the fighting stopped, there were nearly 3,000 casualties, 1,500 from both sides.

"One soldier said there were dead bodies along Wornall for nearly half a mile," Smith said. 

Many of the wounded were treated at the Wornall House at 6115 Wornall Road and other houses converted into field hospitals. Bridget Dixon Turgeon, a woman who was 6 or 7 years old at the time of the battle, remembered the scene well. 

"On every bed, on cots in the halls, and on pallets lay strong, fine young men, their life blood ebbing away," Turgeon recounted for the Annals of Kansas City. "Those indeed were harrowing times."

The legacy of the battle

Now, many of the locations of the battles have changed or disappeared completely. The Harris House Hotel where Curtis commanded from is now McCoy's and The Foundry in Westport. Loose Park isn't an open pasture, but a large park full of trees and happy visitors. 

Some places like the Wornall House haven't changed much, and remain as reminders of the Americans who fought and died in the battles. 

You can find theentire Up to Date interview with Daniel Smith about the Battle of Westport here.

If you'd like to see the remaining sites of the Battle of Westport, The Monnett Battle of Westport Fund has a self-guided tour that starts at Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue. It takes visitors to most of the major sites of the battle.

Cody Newill is part of KCUR's audience development team. Follow him on Twitter @CodyNewill or email him at cody@kcur.org.
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