A series of errors 147 years ago led to a Civil War incident that both the Union and Confederate forces had been trying to avoid.

A series of errors 147 years ago led to a Civil War incident that both the Union and Confederate forces had been trying to avoid.

Jerry Lomshek, Chicopee, recounted details of the Cow Creek Skirmish during a presentation Monday night at the Pittsburg Public Library. His talk was sponsored by the Crawford County Genealogical Society.

The encounter was between the Sixth Regiment, Kansas Cavalry, headed by Lt. Col. William Campbell and the First Indian Brigade, a Confederate unit under the command of Maj. Andrew Jackson Piercy. It occurred on Oct. 23, 1864, starting near the site of the current Pittsburg Waste Water Treatment Plant.

Lomshek said he was introduced to the skirmish by the late Dudley Cornish, a noted Civil War historian and history professor at Pittsburg State University, and gained much of his information about the event from a series of articles published 40 years after the fact by Robert Morris Peck, one of those involved in the skirmish.

“Peck’s writings are a gold mine of information,” Lomshek said. “In all the research I’ve done over the last 30 years, I’ve never found an error in anything Peck wrote.”

He explained that the First Indian Brigade had been up north on Oct. 22, 1864, conducting an early raid on the town of Marmaton.

“Then Piercy headed southeast, back down to the Spring River area,” Lomshek said, adding that the Confederate officer was trying to avoid encounters with Union troops.

At the same time, 200 men of the Sixth Kansas Cavalry were escorting a wagon train of about 500 civilians headed north from Arkansas to Fort Scott. Moving ahead of the wagon train were horses being taken to winter at Fort Scott, where food was more plentiful for them, and a large herd of cattle.

Robert Peck was not in the military, but was a civilian employee hired to take charge of the herd. With him were eight herders, three white men and five Cherokees.

“A messenger from Fort Scott advised Campbell to approach Fort Scott from the west,” Lomshek said. “Peck didn’t want to do that, but Campbell sent word that if he didn’t, he would be arrested.”

This change in direction put the wagon train on a collision course with Piercy’s unit.

“If they had stayed on the Military Road, they would have been fine,” Lomshek said.

Peck and his herders, being in front of the wagon train, were the first to encounter the Confederates.

“Some of them were wearing Union uniform jackets, so at first he thought they might be Union soldiers,” Lomshek said. “Then he saw that they had butternut color trousers, and realized they were Confederate.”

Since he was outgunned 13 to 80, Peck decided that surrender was the best option, but gave his men the option to run for it if they wished. Two of them did, and one fell into a ravine. Peck assumed he was shot, but discovered later that he had survived and made it to Fort Scott.

“The other man, a Cherokee named John Sickiky, was shot and killed, the first man to die in the skirmish,” Lomshek said.

Peck’s black cook, named Leonard Bowles, was also threatened by the Confederates.

“One of the Indian Brigade recognized Bowles, apparently he had been a slave belonging to a friend of this man, who liked him, so he was spared,” Lomshek said.

Others were not so fortunate. Piercy’s men went through the wagon train, killing as many men as they could find, though Lomshek said they wouldn’t enter the woods to hunt down those who fled.

In all, 13 civilian men were killed, along with three Union soldiers and, most likely, one Confederate.

“One of the Confederates went into the woods after a black man and he never came out,” Lomshek said. “Campbell left his men and fled to Fort Scott.”

Many of the wagons were burned, and many of the survivors had to walk to Fort Scott. Peck and his surviving men were released and also walked to Fort Scott.

Lomshek has been doing research on what happened to those who survived the war. Piercy went to West Virginia, living to the ripe old age of 84, while Campbell went home to Fort Scott and took care of his fruit farm. He died in 1877.

“Peck went to Los Angeles, and it was then when he started writing,” Lomshek said. “I learned recently that he died in 1909. He committed suicide, which was a real surprise to me.”

He plans on going to Los Angeles to do some final research on Peck, then will start writing his book about the Cow Creek Skirmish.

“I don’t want it to be lost to history again,” Lomshek said.

The event was not one of the Civil War’s major battles, but Lomshek said it’s just as interesting as they are.

“When you pass Cow Creek, I hope you’ll remember those who died there for our freedom,” he said.