Blunt, James Gillpatrick

Encyclopedia entry by ,
U. S. Air Force Command and Staff College

Maj. Gen. James Gillpatrick Blunt led the Union Army to victory over Sterling Price during Price's Missouri Expedition.  Photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Biographical Information:

  • Date of birth: July 21, 1826
  • Place of birth: Trenton, Maine
  • Claim to fame: Lieutenant Colonel and Brigadier General in the Kansas Brigade, 1861-1863; Major General in the Army of the Frontier, 1863-1865; fought in Price's Raid
  • Political affiliations: Republican Party
  • Date of death: July 27, 1881
  • Place of death: An asylum in Washington, D.C.
  • Cause of death: "Softening of the brain"
  • Final resting place: Mount Muncie Cemetery, Lansing, Kansas

James Gillpatrick Blunt was a major figure in the Civil War in Kansas and Missouri. Blunt was a jayhawker during the “Bleeding Kansas” period and later rose to become a major general in the U.S. Army, winning several key victories. He is most famous for his roles in the battles of Prairie Grove and Honey Springs, as well as the part he played in repulsing Sterling Price’s 1864 cavalry raid. Blunt was the only major general from Kansas during the Civil War.

Blunt was born in Trenton, Maine on July 21, 1826. He went to sea for four years at age 15 before returning and following his maternal uncle, Rufus Gillpatrick, to Columbus, Ohio. Gillpatrick was on the faculty of Starling Medical College in Columbus, and Blunt graduated from there in 1849. Blunt moved to New Madison, Ohio, opened a practice, and married Nancy G. Putnam. The Blunts followed Gillpatrick to Anderson County, Kansas, in 1856 and became embroiled in the violence of Bleeding Kansas.

Blunt played a role in Kansas becoming a free state. He joined a militia group of abolitionists led by James H. Lane and John Brown, was an active participant in the Underground Railroad, and eventually took part in the Wyandotte Constitutional Convention of 1859. At the convention, Blunt was the Chair of the Committee on Militia. When the Civil War broke out, he was elected the lieutenant colonel of the 3rd Kansas in Lane’s Kansas brigade, despite having little formal military experience.

Blunt’s pugnacity paid dividends. Thanks to Lane’s influence, Blunt was promoted to brigadier general on April 8, 1862. He was placed in command of the Department of Kansas on May 15, 1862, but in one of many departmental re-shufflings by the Abraham Lincoln administration, the old Department of Kansas was made into the District of Kansas as part of the Department of the Missouri. Blunt was given the option of going to Fort Leavenworth to administer his district, or report to Major General John Schofield, head of the Department of the Missouri and command the 1st Division (Kansas Division) of the Army of the Frontier. Blunt chose the latter because it gave him more opportunity to fight.

Blunt compiled an impressive record as the commander of the Kansas Division.

Blunt compiled an impressive record as the commander of the Kansas Division. He decisively defeated Colonel Douglas H. Cooper’s Allied Indian-Confederate force at the Battle of Old Fort Wayne, Indian Territory (present-day Oklahoma) on October 22, 1862. Blunt’s victory garnered him promotion to major general on November 29 and secured territory north of the Arkansas River in Indian Territory and southeast Kansas and Missouri.

After Schofield became ill and returned to St. Louis in November 1862, Blunt took the Kansas Division deep into northwest Arkansas and beat Brigadier General John S. Marmaduke’s rebel forces in the running Battle of Cane Hill on November 28. Seeing Blunt isolated from the rest of the Army of the Frontier, Confederate Major General Thomas Hindman envisioned an opportunity to destroy the Kansas Division. He took the I Corps of the Trans-Mississippi Army on a quick march to crush Blunt, but failed when the 3rd Division of the federal Army of the Frontier, under Brigadier General Francis J. Herron, marched between 105 and 120 miles from Springfield, Missouri, to Prairie Grove, Arkansas, in three and a half days. Hindman, although surprised by Herron, turned to attack him. Blunt reacted quickly and marched six miles toward the sound of the artillery and the already in-progress Battle of Prairie Grove, Arkansas on December 7. Blunt arrived just in time to save Herron from destruction. Hindman decided to evacuate the field, leaving it to Blunt and the federals. The Battle of Prairie Grove was the last time until Price’s Raid in 1864 that the Confederates seriously attempted to recapture Missouri.

Blunt’s aggressiveness could be a mixed blessing. Blunt attacked a larger Native American-Confederate force under Brigadier General Douglas Cooper and decisively defeated them at the Battle of Honey Springs, Indian Territory, on July 17, 1863. The Indian-Confederate depot at Honey Springs was destroyed during the battle and its loss crippled the Indians and Confederates’ ability to raid into southeast Kansas. On the other hand, Blunt and a small force were surprised by Captain William Quantrill’s Raiders just outside of Baxter Springs, Kansas, on October 6, 1863. Blunt barely escaped death, but most of his command was killed. For this and his continued quarrelling with his superiors, Blunt was removed from command of the Kansas Division on April 18, 1864.

Exiled to Fort Riley, Kansas, and the District of the Upper Arkansas, Blunt hoped for redemption, and it came during Price's Raid.

Exiled to Fort Riley, Kansas, and the District of the Upper Arkansas, Blunt hoped for redemption, and it came during Price’s Raid. Blunt played a key role in delaying and eventually defeating Price’s forces in a series of battles around Kansas City, including the Second Battle of Lexington (October 19), the Battle of the Little Blue (October 21) and finally Westport (October 23). He also participated in the pursuit of Price’s defeated Confederate forces, but he did not participate in any more major actions after Price’s Raid, and he was mustered out of service on July 29, 1865.

After the war Blunt returned to Kansas, passed the bar exam, and served as a Solicitor of Claims agent. He was sued by the Department of Justice for conspiracy to defraud the Cherokee Nation, but the case was later dropped. Blunt was eventually committed to an insane asylum prior to his death on July 27, 1881. He is buried in Mount Muncie Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas.

Suggested Reading: 

Collins, Robert. General James G. Blunt: Tarnished Glory. Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing Company, 2005.

Etcheson, Nicole. Bleeding Kansas: Contested Liberty in the Civil War Era. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2004.

Monnett, Howard N. Action Before Westport 1864. Boulder, Colorado: University Press of Colorado, 1995, revised edition. Originally published in 1964.

Shea, William L. Fields of Blood: The Prairie Grove Campaign. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Cite this page: 
Beckenbaugh, Terry. "Blunt, James Gillpatrick" Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. The Kansas City Public Library. Accessed Jun, 23, 2017 at http://civilwaronthewesternborder.org/encyclopedia/blunt-james-gillpatrick

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