Curiously for a work that is at least in part the regimental history of a cavalry unit, its author was a woman, Ellen Williams, who was not only a mere chronicler of the horse soldiers fortunes but who also campaigned with them as the wife of a bugler of the regiment. This remarkable camp follower recounts the activities of the Colorados in combination with her own first hand experiences which illuminate the text with a unique female perspective. The 2nd Colorado Cavalry’s campaigns during the American Civil War involved combats with the Confederate Army, guerrillas and the hostile Indians of the western frontier. Organised in St Louis, Missouri in late 1863, the regiment was principally put to use as detached companies working in concert and numbers as the task required. For example three companies were despatched to Fort Lyon in the Colorado territory and then to various posts before being assigned to the protection of the Kansas border region from depredations by guerrillas which put them perpetually on the firing line until late 1864. Other companies were involved in the scout from Pleasant Hill, the expedition into Missouri, the scout to Lafayette and Jackson county and more. The principal engagements of the regiment against the Confederates were the battles of Camden Point, Second Lexington, Little Blue River, Second Independence, Byram’s Ford, Westport, Marais des Cygnes, Mine Creek and Second Newtonia. The regiment then moved to the District of the Upper Arkansas to engage in operations against hostile Indians around Forts Riley, Zarah, Ellsworth and Larned. It took part in numerous skirmishes including Godfrey’s Ranch, Pawnee Rock and Plum Butte whilst also protecting the overland stage route from Denver to Julesburg until September of 1865.
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About the twentieth of September, General Sterling Price, with a cavalry force some twenty thousand strong, invaded Missouri from the south, meeting with but little opposition until reaching Pilot Knob—a small town of about four hundred inhabitants, situated in Iron county at the terminus of the Iron Mountain Railroad and eighty-six miles south from St. Louis—where he arrived on the twenty-seventh day of September, and immediately commenced an attack on the Fort at that place, garrisoned by about eight hundred men under command of General Ewing.<br>
The attack began at six o’clock in the morning and lasted until dark, our gallant little band foiling the repeated attempts of the enemy to take the place, repulsing their vastly outnumbering forces with tremendous slaughter. The fort was septangular in form, with earthworks thrown up to the height of nine feet, and ten feet in thickness, and surrounded by a deep ditch with almost perpendicular sides, from which the earth was taken to raise the embankments. It was compactly built and mounted seven guns in all, four thirty two pound siege-guns and three twenty-four pound field-pieces, also, two mortars of six-inch calibre for throwing bombs. The magazine was located underground in the centre of the fort, and one twenty-four pound gun mounted upon its roof, which was of solid earth four feet in depth, to protect the ammunition from the effect of the enemy’s fire.<br>
On the south-west side of the fort was the passage-way leading outside into the rifle-pits, that were dug for the protection of our marksmen while disputing the passage of the enemy to the right and rear of the defences. The enemy made several successive charges, but were repulsed each time leaving many of their number dead on the field.<br>
Our loss during the day was ten killed and twenty-one wounded. The entire loss of the rebels reached near fifteen hundred! Nearly twice the number of the garrison! This terrible slaughter was accounted for by the fact that the guns were so arranged that their fire could be concentrated on any given point, and as the columns advanced they were greeted with a most deadly reception, in the shape of shot, shell, grape and canister, that utterly mowed the enemy down and caused utter confusion in their broken ranks.<br>
At dark Price drew off his forces to Arcadia, a small town two miles and a half below, intending to make a combined effort to take the fort by assault the next day. General Ewing not having received any reinforce ments, and knowing it would be impossible to hold out for a much longer period against such fearful odds, wisely removed our dead and wounded and such property as could not be abandoned, and evacuating at half-past two o’clock in the night, blew up the fortifications and retired, and the place was occupied by the rebel forces next day.<br>
Exasperated at our stubborn and successful resistance and their severe loss in the action, the rebels wreaked their vengeance upon the Union citizens living in the vicinity, by entering their houses and appropriating such of the articles contained in them, that they coveted, to their own use and destroying the remainder, and in some instances burning the houses to the ground.<br>
In the meantime General Ewing retreated in good order in a north-westerly direction, leaving the enemy in possession of the Iron Mountain Railroad running to St. Louis, care having been taken to remove the rolling stock, thus rendering it useless to the enemy as a means of conveyance to the city or intermediate points. The object of the invasion of the rebel army was to ascertain the number and to collect together all who were willing to fight under the rebel colours, and if possible hold the State as belonging to the rebel Confederacy. From numerous letters written in different parts of the State, the commander of the rebel force had assurances that a large number of rebel residents were only awaiting an opportunity to fall into line and march to the music of secession.