Elements of the First Battalion, Army of the Willamette, crushed the Confederate First Battalion, Army of Northern Oregon, over the course of two days in a verdant meadow at Metolius River in the Cascades.
Students of strategy debated whether the Confederates were marching through the Cascades to the rich grain fields and cattle ranches of Eastern Oregon, or whether they were trying to link up with Confederate forces elsewhere.
Colonel Kevin Burton, new commander of the Army of the Willamette, tracked Colonel James Stanovich, The Stonewall of the West, along with some fifty members of the Army of Northern Oregon to a meadow near the Metolius River on the evening of Friday, May 18th. The next morning, Saturday the 19th, began a series of four actions which culminated in what appeared to be the complete annihilation of the Confederate force.
During the two days of battle both sides endured high casualties, and by the afternoon of Sunday the 20th, the Federals were in no mood to let the Confederates escape. A small, abandoned cabin at the meadow (dubbed Metolius Court House by some wags) was being used by Federal Chaplain Donald Cameron, an older civilian couple, and two young ladies for a prayer meeting. Union scouts reported that soldiers from a Louisiana unit appeared, shot the chaplain and forced the four civilians into the cabin, where gross indecencies were perpetrated.
This has been confirmed from an interview with the Union battalion’s bugler, whose name has somehow been lost from the reporter’s notes.
Colonel Burton, who has been dubbed “Butcher Burton” by the Gray, vowed to rescue the civilians, and was prepared, by his own admission, to earn his nickname, if the Confederates wished it.
Burton’s column came into the meadow from the North, and four volunteers led by First Sergeant Archie Napier of the 69th New York, dashed to the cabin to affect a rescue. They were all mortally shot for their gallantry. Colonel Burton then ordered up a field piece, and the Confederates came out of the tree line from the south of the meadow. A fierce exchange of fire began. Burton then brought up a second field piece, and Colonel Stanovich brought two pieces out to engage in an artillery duel.
As the full Federal force gradually pushed the Confederates back, the Blue gained possession of the cabin. According to the battalion’s bugler, all four civilians were rescued alive, and the chaplain’s body was recovered. “It was,” the bugler said, “a sight no decent man should ever have to see.”
As news of the rescue swept through the ranks of the Blue, a fierce determination grew in their hearts. The prosecution of the advance thereupon got a flavor of vengeance, and the Federals poured a deadly volley into the Gray.
Confederate cavalry videttes tried to outflank the Union right, but the 69th’s Captain Robert Heenan and the valiant bugler drew their pistols and fired into the mounted men, who decided to ride west.
Colonel Burton and Major John Leaton held the Union center, plugging gaps and ordering various companies to counter the shrinking Gray force, which fought with a grim resolution. Sergeant Major Russell Stoll waved the Stars and Stripes through the din of shot and shell, never wavering from his duty. For his courage and fidelity to duty he sustained no wounds; an amazing feat in the heat of battle.
Victory was guaranteed when Colonel Stanovich and perhaps half a dozen men made a last stand near the treeline at the south end of the meadow. Some Federals who were present thought Colonel Stanovich was about to raise his saber with a white flag, but the issue was almost instantaneously settled by a volley from the front rank of the 69th New York and a shot from the bugler’s pistol.
The freed civilians were gently treated by the victorious Army of the Willamette. Colonel Burton appears to be cut from the same bolt of cloth as General Zachary Taylor; a soldier’s officer, who keeps military ceremony to a minimum and an aggressive fighting spirit to the maximum.