Buel's Headquarters First Battle of Independence

The 1st Battle of Independence, Missouri on August 11, 1862, was the first of three Confederate victories within a week's time: the others being the Battle of Lone Jack and the Battle of White Oak Creek. On June 7, 1862, Union Brig. Gen. James Totten, commanding the Central Military District that included Independence, assigned Lt. Col. James T. Buel to the command of the Federal post at Independence. Buel knew of Southern recruitment efforts taking place within sight of Independence and on August 10, issued an order that all Jackson County citizens should be disarmed. His men were prepared to carry out his order the following day. Knowing this, Colonel William Clarke Quantrill and his guerrilla company wanted to catch all the Federals together in garrison. Buel's command structure was decentralized and scattered throughout the town. His headquarters was in the southwest corner of the town square in the Southern Bank building, a brick building 40 by 60 feet, two stories tall. On the opposite side of the square was his provost marshal office located in the city jail. Portions of his command were stationed in the courthouse on the city square. The disjointed command structure resulted in poor communication, which served to hinder Buel’s defense of the town. The bulk of his garrison was quartered in tents a half mile west of the town. In all Buel commanded more than six hundred men.
Confederate Colonel John T. Hughes was present coordinating recruiting efforts for the South. He knew if he could quickly gather enough men to attack and defeat Buel at Independence, then the victory would encourage young men to enlist in his new brigade. Failing to garner enough men by himself for an attack on Independence, Hughes turned to Colonel Upton Hays and Quantrill for assistance. On Saturday, August 9, Quantrill joined Hughes at Blue Springs and gave him as much up-to-date intelligence as he could gather.                                                                                                                                                                            
Hughes assigned Quantrill the most important part of the mission: spearheading the assault. He would first engage the pickets without raising an alarm then charge on the town and secure the Federal headquarters across the street from the courthouse. It was Hughes’s plan to have Quantrill seal Buel and his company of headquarters guards in town then interpose his men between the Federal commander and his troops. This action would cut the Federal commander off from the rest of his command. Quantrill was then to post a picket throughout the town to guard against counterattack. At ten o’clock Sunday night, three miles north of Blue Springs, Upton Hays and about three hundred men marched to join Hughes.                                                                                                                                                                                           
Quantrill and sixty men led the column toward Independence from Blue Springs at 4:30 in the morning of August 11. In the early morning darkness Quantrill’s advance scout quietly crept in and killed the Federal pickets on the eastern side of town, allowing Quantrill to continue along the Spring Branch road into Independence. Then, just east of the square, he formed his men into platoons. One platoon would help Hughes to attack and defeat the Federals west of town while Quantrill would lead the other platoon against Buel’s headquarters. Hughes’s men followed Quantrill on foot through the square. The guard in front of Buel’s headquarters saw the soldiers approaching and yelled out for them to halt. When they ignored his command, he fired a shot in alarm and ran to alert his comrades, who had been awakened by the noise and were already running for their weapons.
Captain Rodewald, in charge of the guards on the second floor, ran to a window and fired at the Confederate soldiers below. In the darkness and confusion a Confederate shouted at the Federals, “For God’s sake don’t fire; it’s your own men!” Not knowing if in fact the moving body of soldiers were indeed Union comrades or not, Rodewald had his men cease fire then led them downstairs to the street below. In the fading darkness, Rodewald discovered the ruse and ordered his men to fire at the rear of the Confederate column that was moving to the west of town to engage the Federal camp. Rodewald immediately realized that he was surrounded by a vastly superior force, but he continued to make a gallant effort at defense. Some of his men were across the street and inside the brick courthouse. These men were able to fire at Quantrill’s men from a different angle. Colonel Buel, awakened from a sound sleep, saw from his window what was transpiring. He hollered at Rodewald to get his men into the headquarters building where they could make a more defensible stand. Rodewald complied straight away but soon learned that it was a mistake. Quantrill’s men surrounded the building as soon as the Federals were inside and started firing at any soldier they saw in a doorway or window. Buel was cut off and trapped. The Federals inside were pinned down and unable to return fire.
Quantrill rejoined his men on the square firing at the Federals in the bank building. The men inside realized they were in desperate straits. Every window had been shot out, and the building was completely riddled with bullets. Trying to rally his men, Rodewald sent two soldiers to the roof to secure their flag to the chimney in hopes that the men west of town would see it and take heart. Both men were quickly shot down by Quantrill’s sharpshooters.
Seeing that it was going to be difficult to dislodge Buel out of the bank building with only small arms, Quantrill called for volunteers to set the building on fire. Jabez McCorkle and Cole Younger immediately stepped forward. Both men ran under a hail of bullets to a nearby carpenter shop and gathered up armfuls of wood shavings and piled them against the doors. John T. Noland, a black soldier in Quantrill's command and four other volunteers crawled more than two hundred yards to a stable on the northeast corner of the public square where each of them gathered up an armful of straw and stuffed it into some dry-goods boxes that were under the eaves of the bank building. They then placed the boxes in the doorway and set them on fire. As soon as the Federals saw the smoke, they knew they were doomed. One Federal soldier was ordered to hoist a flag of truce over the building, but he was shot in the attempt. Buel then tied a white flag to a bayonet and held it out a second-story window.
 Quantrill yelled out to his men, “Cease fire.” After the firing died down, Buel hollered out the window that he would surrender if his men were treated as prisoners of war. To this Quantrill readily agreed. Buel emerged from the building with tears in his eyes as he offered up his sword. As the guerrillas lined the Federals up along the town square awaiting parole, Buel commented that they would have surrendered earlier, but when they saw that they were fighting Quantrill’s men, they were afraid.
Quantrill had his men hoist the Confederate flag above the courthouse. Seeing the Confederate banner and hearing the firing ended in town, the Federals west of town knew that Buel had given up. Even though they had an almost impregnable position, they lost their fighting spirit once they knew their commander had surrendered.
The enemy dead and wounded filled the town. The Federal loss was twenty-six killed and seventy-four wounded. Eleven of the wounded later died from their wounds. The Confederates lost twenty-three killed and nine wounded. Colonel Upton Hays paroled Buel and his men. They marched off to Kansas City then were sent to St. Louis where they were mustered out of the service. Only about one hundred of the six-hundred Federals were present and able to surrender. The remaining Union soldiers had fled rather than face Quantrill’s command.

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