CDG 54 – Confederate Guerrilla Attack, 1863
The January 2013 issue of Armchair General® presented the Combat Decision Game “Confederate Guerrilla Attack, 1863.” This CDG placed readers in the role of Confederate Colonel William C. Quantrill, commander of a 400-man guerrilla cavalry force during the Civil War. Quantrill’s mission October 6, 1863, was to develop a plan to lead his irregular cavalrymen against Union forces near Fort Blair, Kan.
The guerrilla war that raged in the border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee and western Virginia was a bitter “no quarter” struggle of hit-and-run raids by the guerrillas and ruthless Union reprisals against any civilians suspected of aiding the Confederates. Nowhere was Civil War guerrilla warfare more brutal than in the Kansas-Missouri border area, where bloody clashes between pro-Northern forces and pro-Southern forces dated back to 1854. The two most infamous incidents, which became defining examples of this merciless border region conflict, occurred in 1863: Quantrill’s murderous August 21 raid on Lawrence, Kan., that killed 180-200 of the town’s men and boys; and Union General Thomas Ewing’s notorious August 25 “Order No. 11” that forcibly and with extreme cruelty removed all civilians from five Missouri counties, leaving the region a barren “burnt district” for decades.
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In early October 1863, after increased Union Army operations conducted in the wake of the Lawrence raid made the border region “too hot” for Confederate guerrillas to remain in the area, Quantrill decided to lead his 400 men 200 miles south to Texas to safe winter quarters. On October 6, while traveling through southeastern Kansas, his command unexpectedly came upon Fort Blair, a recently constructed fortification with a 155-man garrison backed by a 12-pounder howitzer. Adding to Quantrill’s predicament, about 100 Union cavalrymen were approaching the fort, escorting Major General James G. Blunt from Fort Scott, Kan., to Fort Smith, Ark.
Quantrill chose to attack Fort Blair immediately with his entire command (COURSE OF ACTION TWO: ONE ATTACK FORCE). At noon on October 6, his 400 mounted guerrillas thundered down upon the unsuspecting Union garrison, catching most of the defenders unarmed and eating lunch at the cooking camp south of the fort’s ramparts. Yet the garrison commander, Lieutenant James B. Pond, who was cut off in the tent camp west of the fort when the surprise attack began, reacted swiftly and decisively, ordering his men to race through the charging Confederates and into the fort. Although Quantrill’s guerrillas shot down some of Pond’s men as they ran toward the fort, killing six and injuring 10 others, most of the garrison’s Soldiers managed to get behind the ramparts, retrieve their weapons and quickly place the 12-pounder howitzer into action. Firing rifles, carbines and the howitzer, they repulsed Quantrill’s guerrillas, who were armed with only pistols, killing or wounding 20-30 of them.
The Battle of Fort Blair, however, was far from over. As Quantrill’s Confederates withdrew, they turned on Blunt and his escort traveling on the road north of the fort. Since some of the guerrillas were wearing blue uniform coats (guerrillas frequently wore captured Union uniforms, often out of necessity when their clothes needed replacing but also sometimes as a deception measure), Blunt initially mistook the Confederates for Union troops from Fort Blair. It was a costly mistake. When Blunt belatedly realized his error, his effort to hastily form a defensive line proved woefully ineffective. The guerrillas quickly rode down the small Union force, killing 85 men and wounding eight. Only Blunt and perhaps 15 other Union Soldiers mounted on fast horses managed to escape. Thus, although the Union force had repulsed Quantrill’s men at the fort, the Battle of Fort Blair was a stunning Confederate victory for the guerrillas.
During the rest of the Civil War, Quantrill continued to lead Confederate guerrilla bands. He was wounded May 10, 1865, during a Union ambush and died as a result of his injuries June 6 in Louisville, Ky. Of his principal guerrilla lieutenants, only Dave Poole survived the war, dying in 1899. George Todd and William “Bloody Bill” Anderson were both killed in 1864.
Lieutenant Pond received the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle and finished the war as a major. He died in 1903 after a successful career as a lecture tour manager (his clients included Mark Twain, Winston Churchill and explorer Henry Morton Stanley).
Blunt was briefly relieved of command after the Fort Blair debacle but was later reinstated. He redeemed his sullied reputation in a Union victory over General Sterling Price’s Confederates at the October 23, 1864, Battle of Westport, Mo. Blunt died in 1881.
ACG judges based their selections for winning Reader Solutions and those receiving honorable mention on submissions that chose COURSE OF ACTION TWO: ONE ATTACK FORCE, or those whose explanations demonstrated a solid understanding of the key principles of a Civil War guerrilla attack. (See “After Action Report.”) Quantrill, by choosing to employ his men as a single force, maximized their numbers, firepower and shock action and facilitated command and control for a more rapid response to the battle’s changing tactical situation.
COURSE OF ACTION ONE: TWO ATTACK FORCES fragmented and weakened Quantrill’s command, reducing its chances of success against the fort or Blunt’s escort. If half the guerrilla force (200 cavalrymen) had targeted the 100-man escort, both of Quantrill’s attacks might have been repulsed.
COURSE OF ACTION THREE: DELAYED ASSAULT was the least likely plan to succeed. The combined force of the garrison and Blunt’s escort numbered nearly 300 Soldiers, reducing Quantrill’s odds to almost 1-to-1 and making any Confederate success unlikely against the reinforced garrison, ramparts and 12-pounder howitzer.
After Action Report
Key Principles For A Civil War Guerrilla Attack
- Deception: Keep forces hidden or in disguise until ready to attack.
- Surprise: Strike suddenly and without warning to shock and confuse the enemy.
- Speed: Keep the enemy off balance through superior mobility and horsemanship.
- Concentration: Mass as many guerrillas as possible against the enemy target.
- Firepower: Deliver a blizzard of overwhelming, close-range pistol fire.
- Violent Execution: Ruthlessly press the initial charge to inflict maximum damage.
- Avoid Fortifications: Don’t risk failure or high casualties by attacking enemy strongpoints.
- Rapid Withdrawal: Quickly vacate the area to evade enemy pursuit/retaliation.