Topeka Smoke from two howitzers drifted across 14 small gravestones Thursday while a bugler's notes penetrated the field of fire.
The Kansas National Guard service in Topeka Cemetery honored men of the Kansas State Militia who gave their lives Oct. 22, 1864, in the Battle of the Blue to slow the advance of thousands of Confederates under command of Gen. Sterling Price.
Maj. Gen. James Rueger, the current adjutant general of Kansas, said the militia members who fought Price's troops understood the cost of liberty.
"They didn't know if they would survive. That didn't matter," Rueger said. "They loved their state, freedom and nation and they were going to defend it at all costs."
Price had swarmed into Missouri from Arkansas on a route to Kansas. A wagon train accompanied his troops to take home plundered wealth from both states.
The 269-man militia had been composed mostly of farmers after the sacking of Lawrence in 1863 by William Quantrill's raiders.
"That was a little too close to home," said the Rev. Richard Taylor, an organizer of the tribute and resident of a house once owned by a militia member who survived the battle.
When news of Price's presence reached Kansas in October 1864, the militia was called to take up arms. The men camped in Lawrence on Oct. 12 before marching to Russell's Ford on the Big Blue in what is now Kansas City, Mo.
They were supported by one 24-pound brass cannon. Capt. Burns and his men of the 2nd Regiment were ordered to move the gun from Russell's Ford to Westport, but ran into Price's soldiers on the road.
"I found my artillery, in the lane, unsupported, with the enemy in his front," Kansas Militia Col. Veale reported. He formed his troops to the right of the howitzer and ordered Burns to fire on attacking rebels.
The militia's cannon and rifle fire forced the Confederates to retreat. The Southerners charged and were driven back again. A final assault by 2,000 rebels overwhelmed the Kansans. Twenty-four militia members were killed, 20 wounded and 88 taken prisoner.
The battle consumed only an hour, but the confrontation forced Price's men to camp overnight and gave Union troops dispatched from St. Louis time to reach the area. Price's troops were defeated in subsequent skirmishes and headed home.
The militia dead were buried at Wyandotte. Fourteen were later moved to Topeka. On Memorial Day 1895, a monument was dedicated to the men in Topeka Cemetery.
Taylor said the militia, especially those who perished, should not be forgotten.
"Texas has the Alamo. New England has the Minutemen. Kansas has the 2nd Regiment," Taylor said. "They were ... citizen soldiers who have earned and deserve much more recognition than they have received the past 134 years."
-- Tim Carpenter's phone message number is 832-7155. His e-mail address is email@example.com.