Tales of the War: Maj. Emory S. Foster’s
Graphic Account of the Battle of Lone Jack
The part of the village occupied by the Federal force is known as New Town, the older part of
the village lying farther northward. The new town is located on the summit of a high prairie ridge,
overlooking the surrounding country. On the east of this new town is a field of growing corn,
surrounded by a hedge of Osage orange, strong and tall. The hedge row, which bounds this field
on the west, lies only a few yards behind the houses along the eastern line of the street. These
buildings, abandoned by their owners who find shelter farther north, are at once occupied by the
Federals, expecting an attack from the west. Behind these buildings—between them and the
hedge—they take position, the center of their line resting on a blacksmith shop—an excellent
support. Here is the artillery commanding the street from end to end. This line, protected by
wooden walls in front, is guarded from attack in the rear by the hedge, impassable save at the
entrance to the field in the rear of the blacksmith shop. The horses are in the field east of us
among the growing corn, surrounded by the hedge. This disposition of the small force seems to
one without military experience or special strategic ability not wanting in advantage, and perhaps
the best that could be made with so short a time for examination of the field.
On the western line of the street are buildings, and behind these a field of hemp, or rank-growing
weeds. It is the season when such vegetation has reached its largest growth, and a man on
horseback might hide himself in this field.
I passed along the whole line, observing the temper of the men. Many of them had never been
under fire. Their very inexperience gave them an air of confidence and enthusiasm. Others,
however, had seen service, and these, after the manner of experienced soldiers, having, since
the coming of daylight, quietly accepted death, were no longer either enthusiastic or afraid. Such
men are cool and efficient fighters. It may be a fault in a commanding officer to be careless of
danger, but it certainly lends strength and courage to the soldier to no longer fear wounds or
On the right of our line were the detachments from Colonel Huston’s regiment. On the left were
the companies of the Sixth M.S.M., and in the center with the artillery were the men of the
Seventh and Eighth and of Nugent’s battalion. Perhaps 740 men are in line.
About forty minutes after the pickets came in the battle was commenced with fury by the left
wing of the Confederate force, which, advancing through the hemp field on the west, attempted
to turn our right. Crossing the street without order, a considerable body of men on foot, and
armed with shotguns, gunning and firing as they ran, sought to pass on the north of our position
to our rear, a plan well conceived but prevented in execution by an unlooked-for obstacle. They
found the hedge impenetrable, and they found behind the hedge—hurried there from the center—
Captain Long with part of his battalion.
Suddenly the assailants found themselves assailed by Brawner on the south and by Long on the
east, and being without shelter they quickly recrossed the street and disappeared in the tall
hemp. Thus the attack was perhaps intended to deceive us as to the real intention of the
Confederates, and while it was in progress was supplemented by a similar maneuver south of
us. There several hundred men, well mounted and apparently well armed, crossed the street
from the west, and passing into the corn field, which at the point was protected only by a rail
fence, threatened our left. Captain Slocum, with two companies, was sent southward on the
east line of the hedge in our rear to a point perhaps a hundred feet south of the left of our line,
where the hedge, turning sharply, ran through the tall corn eastwardly. Behind this hedge—on
the north side of it—Slocum, with his men lying silent and immovable, awaited the horsemen
riding up from the south through the corn.
This cavalry force was Quantrill’s battalion, three hundred strong, the most reckless fighters ever
known in Missouri. As they came onward they called to each other in wild, half-barbaric fashion.
Suddenly a strange and deadly thing occurred. The charging column, reaching the unseen and
treacherous hedge, recoiled upon itself. Furious cries and fearful maledictions, mingled with the
sharp rattle of Slocum’s rifles, told of confusion on the one side and deadly determination on the
other of that green wall. Here was one of the deadliest spots on the bloody field of Lone Jack.
But the killing here was all done by Slocum, for so great was the confusion amount the
guerrillas—those behind crowding forward upon those checked by the hedge—that not a
hundred shots, all told, were fired by them. Finding this route impracticable they returned to the
main body of Confederates massed on our front.
I have never seen an account of the battle written by a Confederate officer or soldier who took
part in it, or heard a full description of the engagement form a Confederate having personal
knowledge of it. I talked with a with a number in authority, however, after I had fallen into the
hands of the Confederates that day. But I was severely wounded and at times entirely
unconscious, it is not surprising that I got no definite knowledge concerning the plan of their
operations. I must speak of the matter, therefore, as it appeared to me then and in the light of
such information as has reached me indirectly since that time I find a very impartial account of
the battle of Lone Jack in a history of Jackson County, printed in 1881 by a publishing company
in Kansas City. The writer of this account located the Confederate forces in the neighborhood of
Lone Jack on the evening of the 15th as follows: Thompson and Hays, with 500 men or more,
were encamped on the eastern banks of the Little Blue, some fifteen miles away; Quantrill, still
farther off; and of the reinforcements just from the South—Cockrell was northwest of the village
three or four miles; Tracy and Coffee south of it about a mile on the farm of David Arnold; Lewis
still farther south; Jackman was also in the neighborhood." This writer says the Confederates
claimed, the day before the fight, to number 4,000. General Blunt says he found them 4,000
strong the day after the fight. (Rebellion Record, vol. 5, pg 582) The Confederates with whom I
talked the day after the fight said they were about 3,000 strong.
It seems to me very probable that the Confederate forces had not all reached the field when the
unsuccessful attempts to turn our position were made. At any rate, I am impressed with the
belief that about the time Slocum repulsed Quantrill, someone, either by right of his rank or by
reason of the personal force that was in him, put in operation a plan well calculated to affect the
desired end—the capture or annihilation of the Federal force. I think this commanding man
Colonel Vard Cockrell, a very able man and a very good and brave one. He did not, in my
presence, claim to be in chief command. But I say that Jackman, Hays, Lewis, Quantrill, and
others obeyed his orders and recognized him as chief. I conceive therefore, that it is to his
tenacity and ability that we owe the pounding we received that day.
Almost directly opposite the blacksmith shop upon which rested the Federal center was the
hotel, used as headquarters by us the night before. This being on the west side of the street,
had been abandoned when our line was formed, and in it were left the three wounded
Confederates captured in the attack upon Coffee. This hotel was flanked on either side by
buildings extending along the west side of the street. The Confederate plan as now developed
was ably conceived. Advancing in line with an even movement almost as one man, they leave the
cover of the hemp field and occupy the houses on the west side of the street, their center resting
upon the hotel and their wings extending far to the north and south of us. They open upon us with
their rifles and shotguns a most persistent and destructive fire, "continuing in season and out of
season." Under the cover of this deadly fusilade a column of men coming from behind the hotel
march straight upon the center of our line, intending to pierce it, to cut us in two, to make of us
two fragments, and, capturing our guns, to drive one detachment of our force to the south and
the other to the north, to scatter us on the prairie, to destroy us. A masterly plan, but a plan
which does not succeed because there is another plan which disarranges it.
Sergeant Scott handles his guns magnificently. With nothing but round shot, he finds round shot
amply sufficient. Ball after ball, with unerring, deadly aim plunges through the hotel, through the
houses to the north and south of it. Wherever a Confederate fusilade bursts from a window a
cannon ball crashes. The advancing column no longer covered by a protecting fusilade withers
and shrivels before the scorching from our entire line and drifts back into the field of hemp.
At half-past 6 the engagement has become general. The Confederates facing eastward, fight
with the August morning sun full in their eyes—a serious disadvantage. But this is not so serious,
as they are armed almost entirely with shotguns, good to kill at short range, even without
accurate aim. This accounts for the fact so often noted of this engagement—there was no
skirmishing at long range at Lone Jack. The bloody work went on full five hours across a street
only sixty feet in width—when it was not a hand-to-hand encounter. The shotguns made this
close work a necessity. There was not a cloud in the sky and the heat was terrible.
The accompaniment of this prolonged struggle is a continuous, gloomy, monotonous roar of
shotguns, enlivened at intervals by sharp, staccato pistol passages and brilliant runs of rifle
practice. The growling bass notes of this monstrous melange are from Scott’s guns at the shop.
Its ever-recurring "musical motif" is the shrill-sustained battle cry, known in history as the "rebel
Such a combat is full of incidents. There was here no swaying back and forth before each other
of uncertain, wavering lines. From 7 o’clock till 10 the opposed forces, like two wrestling
athletes, held each other in a horrible embrace, each striving for advantage, neither seizing it.
In such a struggle soldiers become their own officers and seek adventure on their own account.
A bunch of weeds becomes the hiding place of a sharpshooter who makes the affair a personal
matter. A convenient shed conceals bloody men waiting eagerly for opportunity to kill. A face at
a window is a signal for a shower of balls. A few hours of such fighting bleeds the opposing
forces terribly. The final result of such a contest is only postponed, not in any way rendered
uncertain. That force will yield which first bleeds to death or loses the power to bleed the other.
And here a circumstance is worthy of note. The Confederates, being the assailants, kept up a
continuous fire, never ceasing. The Federals, on the defensive, reserved their fire for occasions
of necessity, to repel assaults, to dislodge sharpshooters, to hold the enemy in check. In this lay
our advantage. We waited for reinforcements, fighting against time and saving our ammunition.
The Confederates, having taken a contract, desired to perform their work in the cool of the
morning. They wasted their strength and blistered and blistered their tongues in repeated efforts
to make a mouthful of a fair average breakfast piping hot and seasoned with pepper. It was,
perhaps, a mistake. It was our advantage. If Warren had obeyed orders it would have been our
salvation and their destruction.
About 9 o’clock the hotel across the street from us is seen to be on fire. At first the flames
spread slowly, creeping along the south end of the house towards the west. A strong wind
drives the fire inward at the first opening, and the building is consumed in an incredibly short
time. Three dead bodies were afterwards found where the west wing of this building had stood.
One of these was the body of the young prisoner whose hip had been dislocated. The others
were, perhaps, those of his two wounded comrades left there with him the night before. It was a
At this time the punishment on the Federal side of the street was severe. But I saw no signs of
discouragement. On the contrary the feeling had grown among us that we could hold the
position. The men now fight with great deliberation and terrible tenacity. A man of Captain Long’s
company, shot through the lower jaw, cannot "bite" his cartridges. He is ordered to the rear.
With furious, inarticulate cries, he refuses to obey. He is seen half an hour afterwards loading
and firing with quiet determination and apparent satisfaction. He had found a comrade disabled
in both arms, but with teeth intact. The two together counted one soldier. A man of Captain
Plumb’s company, shot through the head—mortally wounded—was seen as hour afterwards
attempting to load his carbine. He died with it in his hand.
About half-past 9 a force of perhaps 200 men appeared near a mile south of us on the crest of a
prairie ridge. They were Federals. We sent to them across the green expanse a ringing shout of
welcome. But they came no nearer and in a few moments disappeared behind the hilltop. This
was a force sent out from Lexington after we left that post. I never knew what pressing business
prevented them from joining our picnic.
About 10 o’clock the deadly fire of Confederate sharpshooters, posted in a small log house
some distance north of our center, greatly harassed our right. To make the artillery effective
against this house it must be dragged into the street and there served. Sergeant Scott will do it.
Captain Brawner will support him with riflemen. While preparations are making for this, the roar
of shotguns on our front seems to decrease; almost to cease. Are they then out of ammunition?
Suddenly a man on horseback rides among the men behind the houses west of the street
distributing cartridges from a basket, escaping unhurt. The Federals gave him a rousing cheer in
recognition of his nerve. He was a good one.
The artillery is now in the street doing good work. At this moment Lieutenant Develin, riding up
the street from the south, shouts to the men at the funs, ordering them to fall back. Again
disobeying orders, he assumes command of his men, and they, obeying mechanically, give way.
Sergeant Scott, with blackened face and flaming eyes, and fighting like a devil incarnate,
countermands the order. The men hesitate. Develin is shot from his horse. The Confederates,
seeing now their opportunity again pour across the street. The guns are captured, Captain
Brawner being unable to hold them. This is the crisis of the battle.
Brawner, being reinforced, retakes the guns. They are captured again, and again retaken. The
Federals swarm into the street, and, fighting with revolvers and clubbed rifles, drive back the
Confederates and return toward the shop with the guns. But they are set upon by a largely
superior force, and again the guns are in Confederate hands and crossing the street to the west.
Captain Long at this time was ordered up from the left center of our line. He fought hard all
morning and had been wounded more than once. His coat had been thrown aside and his shirt,
open at the collar, exposed his breast bathed in blood and powder stained. He had a strange
light in his eye, and his parted lips showed his teeth set sharply together. I asked him if he could
go with me to retake the guns. He said: "I would go with you to hell!" He had in his hand an
empty revolver. He was superb and had with him sixty men of the same metal.
We fall upon the rebels in the middle of the street and struggled with them for the guns. The
carnage here is frightful. In less time than is required for the telling of it the sixty Federals are but
forty, and of these all but a dozen are disabled. Captain Long is mortally wounded. Lieutenant
Rogers is sorely hurt. Others lie in heaps—dead and dying. My brother and I, with ten others,
remain unhurt, and the guns are in our hands. We seize them to drag them eastward to the shop.
At this moment a ball passed through my body. The sensation was not disagreeable. I
remember that I had experienced a similar feeling when passing into unconsciousness from the
inhalation of ether. When I fell upon the ground I had no sense of touching the earth, but felt as if
floating in the air. All this time I was conscious. Believing myself mortally wounded, the one
thought above all others was that I was no longer responsible for the result of the battle. It was
an indescribable feeling of relief.
When the guns were safely returned to the Federal lines, my brother came back to me in the
street. He returned alone through a storm of leaden hail, smiling, his hat thrown aside, and
without arms. As he bent over me I saw him place his hand quickly on his right breast, and
between his fingers I saw issuing a small stream of blood. A ball had passed entirely through his
breast, coming out through the right shoulder blade. He lifted me in his arms and carried me to
the blacksmith shop, receiving the way there another ball through the right thigh. He was the
grandest man—boy as he was—I ever knew. He died afterwards from the wound through the
For another half hour the fight went on with blind fury, Captain Brawner being in command of the
Federal force. About 10:30 I heard, where I lay, a rousing Federal cheer—not the rebel yell—
quite a different thing. I perceived also that the sounds of battle moved northward. Gradually the
roar of shotguns ceased and I heard only an occasional Federal cheer or an explosion from one
of Scott’s guns. The Confederates had abandoned the field, moving northward through the town.
It was ended—the bloodiest battle for the numbers engaged ever fought in Missouri.
The Federals, returning to the field, gathered up the wounded of both forces, placing them in the
vacant houses. The entire village became a hospital. Dr. Cundiff, the only surgeon on the ground,
had more than he could attend to. About an hour after the battle had ended a council of Federal
officers [was called, and together they] determined that an attempt should be made to join the
force under Warren, or failing in that, to return to Lexington; and it appearing that there was not
men able to do duty, it was determined that the guns should be spiked and abandoned. They
were, therefore, disabled and concealed. They could no longer do service as the ammunition
was about exhausted.
About two hours after the Federal force left Lone Jack the Confederates returned to the field. I
saw and talked with a number of them. Colonel Cockrell I had known from childhood. Colonel
Lewis I had captured in 1861, and had so treated him as to make him as to make him a personal
friend. These two being Methodist preachers—they and my father having been members of the
same conference—and seeing me, as they believed, at the point of death, prayed at my beside
as thy would have rayed in time of profound peace. They were both earnest, religious men. They
were both courageous soldiers. To my personal knowledge they ordered Quantrill to observe the
laws of war strictly in the treatment of prisoners and to fail in this at his peril. I had with me a
considerable sum of money and a valuable watch, which, with my sidearms, they took
possession of and so bestowed that I received everything safe again. The watch and arms I
As the force which I commanded was made of detachment from several different regiments no
official report was ever made to me of the number of killed and wounded, I therefore have no
knowledge of that matter, save that which has come to me indirectly.
The Missouri Republican; (St. Louis) 1 August 1885—Supplement, P.1.