Skirmish at Rader's Farm
On May 18, 1863, about 70 men under Jasper County guerrilla leader Thomas R. Livingston attacked a Federal foraging party consisting of about 25 soldiers of the 1st Kansas Colored Infantry, about 20 soldiers of the 2nd Kansas Volunteer Artillery, and 5 or 6 teamsters. The black soldiers had stacked their arms and were throwing corn into the wagons when Livingston attacked. Many of the unarmed black soldiers and one or two of the white artillery soldiers were killed in the initial attack, and the rest of the Federals were routed.
The black men were on foot, while most of the white soldiers were mounted, and the popular version of this incident that has been perpetuated for many years is that the white men on horseback galloped for their lives, deserting their black comrades, and that the black men fled in panic. There's probably a grain of truth to this account, but it's not the whole story and maybe not even the main story.
The plot of land that the Jasper County Civil War Rader's Farm Association maintains (which by the way was donated by Joplin lawyer Ed Hershewe) is actually located about a quarter of mile west of where the Rader farm was, and our group was disappointed at first that we were unable to obtain land at the actual farm site or nearer to it. However, a project recently completed by Chris Dukes, a graduate student in archaeology at Missouri State in Springfield, for his master's degree has made us appreciate the site we do have, because his work has also changed the narrative of what happened at the Rader's farm. At least it has changed the popular conception of what happened. Contrary to the generally accepted idea that all the Federals fled in confusion and panic, Chris has shown that at least some of them, as they retreated toward Kansas, rallied and mounted a defense about a quarter of a mile west of the farm, where the Jasper County Civil War group's land is. Chris discovered 57 artifacts, primarily rounds of ammunition, bunched in a small area, which he identified as most likely coming from Union weapons. This, of course, suggests that at least some of the Federals did not flee in pure panic as the popular version of the story goes but instead retreated in a more orderly fashion, stopping to make a stand along the way, before resuming their withdrawal. It also means that our land was actually part of the battlefield.
Actually, though, if one examines Union newspaper accounts of this skirmish that were published in the immediate wake of the event, one finds that the Union side of the story all along was that the Federal soldiers, both black and white, tried to mount the best defense they could in the face of a surprise attack by a well mounted, well-armed enemy that was superior in numbers. So, Chris's recent discovery does not so much change the narrative as it tends to confirm, at least to some extent, what the Union said from the beginning. It's just that, in this case, the Southern side of the story (i.e. Livingston's report) was about the only record of the Rader's farm incident that made it into the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies to become the basis of the popular narrative. That, of course, is a reversal from the norm, in which the Union side is often the only written version of Civil War events that survives.