Book Review: The Battle Of Westport

The Battle of Westport, by Paul B. Jenkins

Westport was a decisive battle, marking the defeat of the final Confederate effort in the West to gain control of Missouri, but it is not a battle that much has been written about or that many Civil War buffs know about.  My own knowledge and interest in the battle is thanks to my fondness for Union General Samuel Curtis [1], who led Kansas militia in this battle and helped to protect the free state while other Union forces joined together from Missouri to corner Price and end his raid.  If the battle was not a spectacular one, it offers some sizable numbers of nearly 30,000 combatants as well as a mixture of defensive fighting and dramatic charges.  As was common in Confederate efforts in the Trans-Mississippi theater, the South’s efforts at logistics were dodgy and best and the results painful and predictable.  Still, the battle itself was compelling and this book does a good job of setting up the battle and then discussing how it happened as well as the aftermath of the battle, which proved to be as contentious for the victorious Yankees as it was for the defeated rebels.

This book is between 150 and 200 pages in length.   It begins with a preface that lays out a good case for the importance of the Battle.  After that the author discusses the early life of Sterling Price (1) as well as his first services to the Confederacy in Pea Ridge and the Mississippi front during the Vicksburg campaign (2).  After that the author discusses the plan and first movements of his invasion of Missouri in 1864 (3), including his invasion of the state to the outskirts of Jefferson City, after which preparations were made by the Union against his advance (4).  His repulse from that area led to a change in targets to Kansas, after which he fought Curtis’ troops in fierce engagements at the Little Blue River, the town of Independence, and the Big Blue as Curtis conducted a planned fighting retreat (5).  The next few chapters look at the three phases of the Battle of Westport, including the early morning fighting when Price initially attacked Curtis (6), the heat of the battle in late morning when Pleasanton’s troops entered into the fray (7), and the latter parts of the battle as the Confederate troops were in a retreat themselves (8).  The book then ends with a discussion about the disastrous retreat and end of the campaign (9), as well as appendices that look at the organization of the three armies involved in the Battle (i, ii, ii) and a comparison of numbers engaged in important Trans-Mississippi battles (iv) and a manuscript on Sterling Price (v), as well as an index.

One of the more fascinating aspects of this battle was the reluctance that many Kansas troops had in leaving the state of Kansas to head off the attack of Price in Missouri.  Facing near-mutinous troops, Curtis had his work cut out for him simply in presenting the state of Kansas with a foreword defense even as Price was deliberately setting out to invade Kansas after having been turned back in Missouri by superior numbers after having made an effort to take the state capital at Jefferson City.  Union success was notable here because a great many of the troops that the Union had managed to get together were not the A-team of Union military efforts, and included a large number of militia, especially among Curtis’ forces, that were called up for only a short time to defeat the Confederates and then go home to their farms and towns.  This is a work worth getting to know and as it occurs on the outskirts of Kansas City it is one that is not particularly difficult to find if one has the interest in doing so given how close it is to a major city, albeit one that is not usually associated with Civil War glory.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/09/24/civil-war-fantasy-roster-samuel-curtis/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2020/05/22/book-review-in-memoriam-maj-gen-samuel-ryan-curtis/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2020/05/22/book-review-pea-ridge-civil-war-campaign-in-the-west/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American Civil War, American History, Book Reviews, History, Military History and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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