The Negro soldiers discovered an encampment of Tom Livingston and his renegade band. An engagement resulted in the 1st Kansas being routed. Nearly 30 of the 1st Kansas were killed. Retribution was quick and certain. Nearly 300 soldiers were ordered from Baxter Springs to Sherwood. The town was completed leveled, and many lives were lost. This event proved an inflammatory event, not forgotten by either side. 

But significantly, this greatly proved that a permanent garrison was needed at Baxter Springs. Within months Ft. Blair came into existence, manned by a predominantly black contingent. 

Several military encampments had been deployed around the Baxter Springs area in the summer of 1863. The most recent was constructed in August of 1863. Lt. Crites had a rudimentary containment made on the hill north of Spring Branch. The fort site at the present location along Military Avenue is a replication of the "permanent" site as nearly possible of all the descriptions available. The fort was approximately 100 feet wide by 200 feet in length, constructed of logs three to four feet high. Within the breastworks, firing pits were dug and the dirt cast over the sides to form an embankment outside the walls. Within the compound, a small wooden blockhouse was centrally located, the purpose of which was to provide quarters for a hospital and possibly an ammunition supply depot. 

This outpost was the temporary encampment for the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. Nearly 50 black soldiers were under the command of Lt. Ralph Cook. There were an additional 50 white soldiers under the command of Lt. Crites. 

Upon his arrival at Baxter Springs, Lt. Pond, as senior officer, took command and immediately named the encampment Ft. Blair after his commanding officer at Ft. Scott, Maj. Charles Blair. 

Lt. Pond realized the size of Fort Blair was inadequate to house the expanded operations emanating out of the site. He first ordered that the west breastwork be torn down to expand the dimension of the fort a greater distance to the west. Lt. Pond had brought his wife and an infant along. Their tent was erected about 200 feet west of the fort. 

On the morning of the 6th, Lt. Pond ordered his cavalry contingent to go on a foraging detail over in Missouri. Nearly 50 soldiers mounted to leave. Twenty five had reported as being sick. They remained in camp that morning. The fifty black soldiers from the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry remained to defend the fort. Being infantry, the black soldiers had no horses. They were forced to defend the fort from the trenches. 

Below the fort itself, the dining area was constructed as a brush arbor along the north side of the Spring Branch. The black soldiers and the "sick" white soldiers were about to eat their noon meal. 

Earlier in the morning, General Blunt and his entourage was progressing south from their camp north of Pittsburg. At the same time, the guerilla band of Col. William Quantrill was also progressing south paralleling the route of General Blunt. Each was oblivious to the other's movement. 

Upon reaching the area near Redding's Mill in Missouri, Quantrill elected to move west to reach the Military Road of which he and his men were quite familiar. It is not known if Quantrill made the move intentionally to seek an easier route to his winter destination near Sherman, Texas. It has been suggested that Quantrill was aware of Union buildup of troops further south. Both theories are suggested. At any rate, Quantrill did, in fact, make a direct westerly move and head into southern Kansas, known then as the Cherokee Nation. 

Lt. Pond's foraging patrol was moving east towards the Redding's Mill area at the approximate time. Both companies were near one another, but passed undetected. Upon nearing Baxter Springs, Quantrill did intercept a sole wagon. The teamster provided Quantrill with the information that a Union fort was situated only a few miles in his direction. Fortunately for the teamster, his life was spared. 

Spring River was not far in the distance, and upon hearing gunshots, the guerrillas approached cautiously. Advancing across the river, Quantrill's scouts located two individuals, one military and one civilian, practicing at a firing range. One of the two was Lt. Cook, the commander of the black unit at Ft. Blair. The other man was Johnny Fry. Fry was also known by the nickname "Pony Johnny." Johnny had the distinction of being the first Pony Express rider to depart St. Joseph when the famous mail route was inaugurated. Fry maintained his route throughout the short existence of the Pony Express. 

Surprising the two unsuspecting marksmen, Quantrill's men immediately recognized Cook as being the leader of a black unit. Both were summarily executed on the spot, their bodies left lying in the woods. When located the following day, their bodies had been riddled by so many bullets, as if they were intended for target practice. 

Quantrill's scouts were then able to report to the Colonel that there was indeed a small fort within a short distance. Quantrill ordered two of his most trusted lieutenants, William Gregg and also Dave Poole to take nearly 100 men and approach the fort from the southeast. The remainder of his command, perhaps 300 in number, advanced to the north along the tree line, intending to circle the fort from the north. 

It was about noon. The troops had stacked their rifles within the timbered breastworks of the fort. They were eating their noon meal. Suddenly the charge was ordered by the rebels who descended the hill to the south and also from the east. The startled soldiers fled up the hill to the safety of the walls of the fort amidst a hail of wild, raucous, and a totally undisciplined enemy gunfire. Quantrill's mounted attackers, although superior in numbers, were no match for the disciplined and determined sharp shooting black soldiers. The white soldiers, aroused from their sick bay, joined their black comrades, to take up arms. Black and white soldiers fought a common opponent in the trenches and throughout the fort site. 

This was indeed an event that set the Battle of Baxter Springs apart from battles being waged in the East. Black and white soldiers fought side by side, oblivious to color. 

Lt. Pond was also dining with his wife and infant at the time of the attack. He emerged from his tent and immediately took control of the situation. Dashing gallantly amid the hails of gunfire, Lt. Pond issued orders to his men to hasten to their rifle pits. He had, himself, brought with his command two days previously a small 12 pound mountain howitzer cannon. Although Pond was not trained in artillery, he nonetheless survived the wild bullets flying about him and rushed to the cannon. He fired one round which got the attention of the rebels. He then fired another which sent the guerrillas rushing away from the fort to join forces with the remainder of Quantrill's band further north. 

The fort was saved with very few casualties. Likewise, the rebels sustained few fatalities. The reports are all inconsistent as to the number killed. But very likely, the number of Quantrill's men killed exceeded the men defending the fort. His report listed ten enemy killed. Miraculously, the black soldiers lost only six men, and ten men injured, despite their mad dash among the rebel horses and gunfire in their pursuit to retrieve their weapons. Pond reported at least ten enemy killed altogether. 

Lt. Pond wrote in his official report that the American flag still flew over Ft. Blair at Baxter Springs. Lt. Pond also was very gracious and sincere when he lauded the heroics of the men from the 2nd Kansas Colored Infantry. In his official report, Lt. Pond wrote, "The coloreds fought like devils. Thirteen of them were wounded the first round, and not one but what fought the thing through." The black soldiers would have fought to the death rather than run the risk of being taken prisoner. 

A marker has been placed by the Baxter Springs Heritage Center and Museum at the fort site commemorating the action which occurred at this place. It states as follows: "The action in Baxter Springs was the first real test for these men of the 2nd Kansas. Following the attack, Pond praised the 2nd Kansas Colored saying 'they fought the best of any men I ever saw. Not one would give up after they were wounded, but kept shooting as long as they could see a rebel. I think that if our northern pro-slavery friends could serve a few weeks with a colored regiment and witness the soldierly -appearance, all prejudice against them would be removed. I don't want to be without a company of coloreds if I can help it.' The men of the Second Colored Infantry were the true heroes of the Battle of Ft. Blair, October 6, 1863."

Lt. Pond was very magnanimous in his praise for his troop's gallantry. But for his leadership, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. His brother, Homer Pond, was also awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery at the Battle of Drywood Creek, near Ft. Scott. This is the only incident of two brothers receiving the honor in the same conflict. 

The fort was safely in control of the stars and stripes. Quantrill's men, however, converged north of the fort, perhaps a half mile distant. Quantrill's units observed a wagon train supported by armed cavalry approaching from the north. As the caravan neared, Quantrill realized that he had inadvertently happened upon a Union wagon train. Quantrill immediately realized that he had happened upon a very a very significant one. He immediately suspected that this was the entourage of the despised Union commander, General Blunt. With most of his men concealed among the timber to the east, a contingent of Quantrill's men dressed in northern uniforms neared Blunt's caravan. General Blunt was escorting one Mrs. Chester Thomas in her buggy when the approaching riders were brought to his attention. 

Seemingly unaware of the potential danger, General Blunt ordered his scout, William Tough, who was, himself, a rather unseemly character, to ride out to meet, or identify, the advancing troops. Tough immediately recognized the approaching riders as being Quantrill's rebels and rushed to report to Gen. Blunt. 

With little time to mount a defense, the attack began on Gen. Blunt's train. The Fourteenth Kansas Cavalry immediately bolted and fled. The 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, much better disciplined, manned a feeble but brave defense. Quickly, the entire train was overrun by the screaming and rabid action of Quantrill's command. Hardly an organized military unit, rather, it was a rag tag group of undisciplined ruffians, rabble and unseemly characters. Many were in the fray for only the spoils of war, as opposed to any loyalty to the confederacy. Others had joined the famed Quantrill group seeking retribution for acts committed by Union troops in the Kansas City area. Among the notorious followers of Quantrill who participated at the Baxter Springs Massacre was Frank James. Jesse was too young at the time. He would join the band at a later date. 

The entire enemy was named for Quantrill, but it was actually comprised of different groups each loyal to a particular leader. 

The battle was of short duration, actually. It quickly became every man for himself, most fleeing for their lives. The tall grass and small ravines provided cover for a lucky few. Most of the Union men on horseback were ridden down and shot, in many instances multiple times. The victims often had already died. The entire massacre site covered several square miles. It was not a pitched battle. Bodies were scattered over a wide area of the prairie north and west of Baxter Springs. 

Gen. Blunt had proudly displayed his new band wagon in
Ft. Scott prior to their afternoon departure the day before.
His brigade band was accompanying the rest of the headquarters
command from Ft. Scott. The band was also from the 3rd
Wisconsin Cavalry. The director was named Henry Pellage.
Most of the band members were of German descent and
were mustered out of Baraboo, Wisconsin. 

In the mad dash to outrun the enemy, the teamsters fled
the Military Road and drove to the prairie hoping to outrun
the pursuing riders. Running into a slight rut, the wagon lost a wheel, throwing the wagon on its side. The pursuing guerillas caught the band members' wagon. The bandsmen plead for their lives. All were assassinated on the spot. It was reported all were unarmed. Their bodies were removed from the wagon, placed in a heap and then burned. 

One of the saddest tales of this episode emerged. The little black drummer boy, Johnny, although shot and presumed dead, his lifeless body was later found nearly fifty feet from the pile of bodies. The grass was charred where he crawled away. 

Another casualty of note was the murder of famed writer and artist James O'Neill of Fort Leavenworth. O'Neill was a correspondent for "Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper." His death immediately generated much negative publicity nationwide regarding the massacre at Baxter Springs. O'Neill was a highly esteemed journalist and artist. Despite all of the hostilities that were being waged east of the Mississippi, and all the battles being covered by the working press, the only correspondent to be killed in the Civil War action was James O'Neill at the Massacre of Baxter Springs. 

When the carnage was complete, the entire episode was actually very short in duration, Quantrill's men celebrated gleefully. Finding the body of a heavily ornamented officer on the prairie, Quantrill believed that he had done what no other commissioned Confederate officer had been able to do. He was in the belief that he had killed the hated Gen. Blunt. In actuality, the officer was Major Z. Curtis, General Blunt's Adjutant. In their revelry, Quantrill's men scavenged every item they could find in the wagons, taking virtually everything of value. They completed the rout by destroying everything left. Discovering the General's supply of medical alcohol, Quantrill even joined in the drunken revelry. Surviving band members, in later years, stated that this was the only instance that Quantrill was ever observed being inebriated. 

The massacre being complete in their minds, Quantrill and his troops gathered their senses and proceeded south intending to take the fort which had eluded Gregg and Poole on the first wave of activity. Quantrill and his inebriated men passed the fort to the west of Military Road. Lt. Pond could see his adversary. Messages were sent to both sides suggesting an exchange of prisoners. Pond declined since he had no prisoners. Quantrill had in reality had no prisoners to exchange. His band had already murdered any survivors. The rebels, perhaps because of their lack of sobriety, did not mount another attack. Quantrill and his band pushed on south and made their way to Sherman, Texas, their intended destination. 

Miraculously, General Blunt survived. Some said it was from cowardice. That assessment was largely made by representatives of the media, none of whom were present at the Massacre. His own secretary, when writing his memoirs in later years, defended the General. He stated the General preferred wearing civilian clothes rather than a uniform. The rebels were not as interested in him. His last picture, in fact, with the band in Ft. Scott, shows him donned in a white civilian suit. 

Many differing accounts have been written regarding the events that took place on that afternoon, October 6, 1863. And there are many variations of what exactly did take place. We will never know exactly all the details in every respect. However, one of the survivors Private Lewis Coon, 3rd Wisconsin Cavalry, probably sums up in his recollections adequately as to what actually occurred that afternoon on the prairie. 

"We were outnumbered, surprised, and practically surrounded and every man knew his only chance was to fight his way through and get away. Under these circumstances no two men saw it alike--Each had his own work to attend to which kept him mighty busy for a while." 

Blunt did manage to gather about 15 survivors and collectively they followed Quantrill's men down into Indian Territory about 10 miles. After returning at dusk Blunt resumed control of Ft. Blair, and ordered the search of the battle grounds. Speedy couriers were sent to Ft. Scott to report the Massacre and order replacement troops. 

It was not until the next day that the search patrol was able to see the full extent of the preceding day's events. Bodies were strewn over a wide distance from the onset of the debacle. It was not a pitched battle. As has been mentioned, it was every man for himself. The massacre occurred over several square miles of prairie. 

The few wounded survivors were taken to the fort hospital which was tended by Dr. W. Warner. A huge burial site was dug north of the fort itself. The bodies were  placed in a common grave. James O'Neill was buried in a separate grave and a marker placed over it. The other bodies were placed together in a common and unidentified grave. The number is not exact. In almost every report there were inconsistent numbers. But somewhere near 100, it is presumed, were killed either at Ft. Blair or on the prairie north of Baxter Springs. No exact number of guerilla casualties could ever be ascertained. 

Although official reports were submitted to the military, General Blunt in a private letter defended himself and confidently boasted, "I believe I am not to be killed by a rebel bullet." This was true. But he lost his command shortly thereafter. And this former doctor, turned soldier, died in 1881 in a mental institution. 

The Massacre of Baxter Springs was the zenith of Quantrill's career. His band of guerrillas abandoned his leadership. His command fell apart in their winter quarters of 1863. He was never able to command a loyal and organized following thereafter. Quantrill did continue to wage his private "confederate" conflict throughout the duration of the war. 

William Quantrill, a former Kansas teacher turned guerilla leader, was shot in the last few weeks of the war in Kentucky. He died a long and agonizing death from a round shot by a Union soldier which had penetrated his spine. 

In 1869, the city of Baxter Springs deeded to the government about an acre of  land in the center of the new city cemetery to be known as the National Plot. The soldiers who died in the Battle and Massacre had been buried north of the fort in a common grave immediately following the disaster. Their bodies were exhumed and interred in the Baxter Springs National Plot that year. 

The Baxter Springs National Plot is sometimes confused with a national cemetery. National Plots which are found locally where battles were fought were intended to be the resting places of Civil War dead only. National Cemeteries such as at Ft. Scott and Ft. Leavenworth are the burial sites of veterans from any conflict. In 1885, an imposing marker was placed in the center of the plot by the DAR. The marker is inscribed with the names of those known to have died on October 6, 1863. The dedication was attended by the few survivors of the massacre. 

Ft. Blair remained an entity for only a short time following the Battle and Massacre of Baxter Springs. Within weeks, the site was decommissioned, and the fort was demolished. Baxter Springs was then only a wayside stop on the Military Road between Ft. Scott and Ft. Gibson until after the Civil War. 

An entire region had been decimated by the ravages of war. Following the cessation of the Civil War, settlement was then possible, and the town then emerged from the ashes of Ft. Blair. 

The Day of Conflict
Tuesday - Saturday
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1:00 pm - 4:00 pm
740 East Avenue
P.O. Box 514
Baxter Springs, KS 66713


The morning of October 6, 1863 promised to be an uneventful day for Major James B. Blunt and Lieutenant James G. Pond; or this they thought. General Blunt, in civilian life a medical doctor, had been a highly touted and successful Commander of the District of the Frontier, headquartered in Fort Scott. His reputation had been bolstered in previous months by successful campaigns in Arkansas and Indian Territory. 

Upon hearing of gathering Confederate strength in the southern region of his command, General Blunt opted to relocate his headquarters from Ft. Scott, Kansas to Ft. Smith, Arkansas. On the previous afternoon, General Blunt had mustered his staff and personnel to move his entire command to Ft. Smith.