Confederate Forces Commanded by Gen. D.R. Atchison (Atkinson)
Conclusion: Confederate Victory
The Battle of Liberty (also known as the Battle of Blue Mills Landing or the Battle of Blue Mills) was a battle of the American Civil War that occurred on 17 September 1861, in Clay County, Missouri. In this battle, Union forces unsuccessfully attempted to prevent Confederates from northern Missouri from crossing the Missouri River near the confluence with the Blue River to reinforce Sterling Price at Lexington.
After his victory at Wilson's Creek in August, Price began a campaign to take control of Missouri. Union troops had been guarding the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad and its terminus in St. Joseph, Missouri. When these Union forces were pulled away to meet Price's army, Confederate sympathizers from northwestern Missouri seized St. Joseph in the Sacking of St. Joseph.
On 15 September, about 3,500 Confederates of the Missouri State Guard and irregulars from St. Joseph set out for Lexington. In the evening Price sent ex-Senator and now General Atchison from Lexington to help these troops, mostly new recruits, cross the river near Liberty.
Union troops of the 16th Illinois Infantry and the 39th Ohio were guarding the railroad bridge across the Platte River in Buchanan County, which had been sabotaged in the Platte Bridge Railroad Tragedy. These troops started moving to Liberty. At the same time, Union Lt. Col. John Scott led a small force (500 men of the 3rd Iowa Infantry, about 70 Missouri Home Guards, and one 6-pound smoothbore cannon) from guarding the railroad at Cameron on 15 September, towards Liberty. Heavy rain and bad roads limited his progress to only seven miles that day. On 16 September, Scott camped in Centreville (ten miles north of Liberty), where he heard artillery fire in the distance.
Lt. Col. Scott broke camp at 2:00 A.M. on 17 September. He arrived in Liberty at 7:00 A.M., and sent scouts out to find the enemy. Skirmishing began about 11:00 A.M. At noon, Scott marched five miles in the direction of the firing, and approached Blue Mills Landing on the Missouri River.
Atchison, who had lived in Liberty, deployed his men in the brush on either side of the Missouri River bottom land road leading to the landing. About 3:00 P.M., Scott's troops struck the Confederate pickets where they were attacked from both sides.
Scott's artillery fired two rounds of canister into the Confederates inflicting heavy damage. However, a fresh volley from the Confederates scattered or killed most of the gun crew. Scott ordered his outnumbered force to fall back to the bluffs in Liberty, bringing off the gun by hand. Atchison attempted a flanking movement on the Federal right, which resulted in a sharp fight. The Union force continued to withdraw, firing as they retreated, bringing off nearly all the wounded, but abandoning their ammunition wagon and a caisson. The Confederates pursued for some distance, but Atchison did not press the attack. Just before nightfall, Scott's force retired to Liberty, entering the town about an hour after sunset. Atchison and the Confederate troops from northern Missouri crossed the river to reinforce Price in his successful attack on Lexington. After sunset the Union troops retrieved their dead from the field.
Union troops set up a hospital on the campus of William Jewell College in Liberty and buried their dead on the campus.
The fight at Blue Mills Landing lasted for an hour and resulted in 126 casualties (USA 56, CSA 70). Among the latter was the Missouri State Guard's Theodore Duncan, a native of Kentucky, who died on the same day that he had been promoted from captain to colonel. Ten of the sixteen Union field officers fell.