Tag Archives: Nathaniel Lyon

The Second Session of the Thirty-Seventh U.S. Congress

December 2, 1861 – The second session of the first Republican-dominated Congress opened amid growing discontent with the way the Lincoln administration was prosecuting the war.

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

U.S. Capitol Building under construction, circa 1861 | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

The Republican majority in this Congress included an unprecedented number of New Englanders, most of whom belonged to the party’s Radical faction. Of the 22 Senate committees, 16 were chaired by senators either from New England or born in New England but representing other states. The two most powerful members of the House of Representatives, House Speaker Galusha Grow and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Thaddeus Stevens, represented Pennsylvania but had been born and raised in New England.

Debate quickly focused on more effective means to wage the war. For the Radicals, this meant transforming the conflict from preserving the Union by destroying the Confederacy to destroying the southern way of life by crusading against slavery. This was evidenced by the House rejecting a motion to reaffirm the Crittenden-Johnson Resolution of July 25, which had declared that the war was being waged solely to preserve the Union.

Members of Congress introduced several petitions and bills emancipating slaves, especially those belonging to masters “in rebellion.” Senator Lyman Trumbull of Illinois introduced a bill providing “for the confiscation of the property of rebels, and giving freedom to the persons they hold in slavery.” This would expand the Confiscation Act by seizing and freeing the slaves of anyone supporting the Confederacy (the current act only provided for seizing slaves actively serving the Confederacy and placing them under Federal supervision).

Trumbull had once been a close political ally of President Lincoln, but they had since clashed on the slavery issue, prompting Trumbull to declare that the president lacked “the will necessary in this great emergency.”

Aside from slavery, financing the war dominated debates. It was estimated that by the end of the fiscal year of June 30, 1862, the Federal debt would be $750 million, with only $165 million in revenue generated by taxation. Unprecedented tax increases were proposed, along with other measures such as increasing import tariffs on coffee, tea, sugar, and molasses. More proposals would be forthcoming upon receiving the Treasury Department’s annual report.

Regarding the military, Congress authorized the navy secretary to award the Medal of Honor to enlisted men in the Navy and Marine Corps. Creation of the Medal came about due to pressure from servicemen and the public. This was the highest military award ever granted by the U.S. Congress also approved an official thanks for “the gallant and patriotic services of the late Brig Gen Nathaniel Lyon, and the officers and soldiers under his command at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.”

In addition, the Senate held a memorial service for Edward D. Baker of Oregon, a fellow senator-turned-colonel, killed at Ball’s Bluff in October. In an unusual occurrence, President Lincoln visited the Senate chamber to attend the service.

The Senate addressed the defection of John C. Breckinridge to the Confederacy by approving a motion: “Whereas John C. Breckinridge, a member of this body from the State of Kentucky, has joined the enemies of his country, and is now in arms against the Government he had sworn to support,” it was resolved “that said John C. Breckinridge, the traitor, be, and he hereby is, expelled from the Senate.”

Breckinridge, the former U.S. vice president under James Buchanan, had attended the special congressional session the previous summer but had since disavowed the Union and accepted a military commission as a Confederate brigadier general. Senators unanimously voted to expel him from the chamber, 36 to 0.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 99; Donald, David Herbert, Lincoln (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, 2011), Loc 6818-29; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 88, 92; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 145-48, 151; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 358, 495-96; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 267-68; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 751-52; Stanchak, John E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 213-14; Sylvia, Stephen W., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 484; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q461

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Federals Reclaim Lexington and Springfield

October 25, 1861 – Major General John C. Fremont touted the Federal recapture of Lexington and Springfield as great victories, but they did little to change the military situation in Missouri.

Gens John C. Fremont and Sterling Price | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Gens John C. Fremont and Sterling Price | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

General Sterling Price had withdrawn his secessionist Missouri State Guards from Lexington under pressure from Fremont’s larger force. Price moved southwest, seeking to join forces once more with the secessionist army under General Ben McCulloch in Arkansas. Price had no more than 12,000 ill-equipped men in his command. Fremont, whose Federals were also ill-equipped and trained, had nearly 40,000.

Price left a small garrison at Lexington, which was overrun by Major Frank J. White’s First Squadron Prairie Scouts on the early morning of October 16. White reported that “the rebels ran in every direction” while his Federals freed their imprisoned comrades and seized arms, 25 horses, two steamboats, and several Guards who could not escape.

While the Federals resumed their occupation of Lexington, Fremont’s main force continued southwestward toward Springfield. Price fell back to Neosho, where a “rump session” of the popularly elected Missouri legislature was scheduled to take place. This was on the way to join McCulloch, whose men were 20 miles south at Pineville.

McCulloch wrote Price that he sought to advance on Springfield while directing “Col. Stand Watie, with one regiment of Cherokees, to move into the neutral land and Kansas, and destroy everything that might be of service to the enemy.” McCulloch urged Price to destroy Federal resources around Carthage and concluded, “If the enemy should not advance beyond Springfield, we might with our cavalry lay waste Kansas.”

Price responded that although he agreed Kansas’s support for the Federals “should be broken,” he would not “destroy that which is absolutely necessary for the subsistence–I may almost say the existence–of the surrounding inhabitants.” Price proposed destroying the Hannibal & St. Joseph Railroad, which would cut Fremont’s supply line from the east.

He argued that Kansans were aiding the Federals along the Missouri River: “It is there that abolition reigns; it is there her wealth is held; it is there her fighting men are raised; in short, it is the center from which all her depredations upon Southern rights and Southern property radiate.” If McCulloch’s “gallant men” advanced there, they would bring the “thorough establishment of Southern independence to the Mississippi Valley.”

While Price and McCulloch debated strategy, Major Charles Zagonyi’s Federal cavalry under Major Charles Zagonyi of Leuchtenburg routed a token secessionist force and occupied Springfield on October 25. The Federals consisted of Fremont’s Kentucky bodyguard; the men rode bay chargers and wore colorful feathers in their hats. They drove through the Confederate pickets and into the courthouse square before the secessionists knew they were being attacked. The Federals sustained about 100 casualties.

Fremont’s main force arrived at Springfield two days later, with Fremont setting up headquarters in the same red brick building that Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon had used as headquarters before his death at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Fremont sent a message to Washington boasting that retaking Springfield was “an atonement for Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek and Lexington.”

He further declared that he would “clear the state entirely of the enemy.” Fremont based this on false information that Price’s Guards were just nine miles away and advancing on Springfield from the southwest. In reality, Price was still at Neosho, over 50 miles away, having put a considerable distance between himself and the Federals due to Fremont’s lethargy.

Back at Springfield, an apparently insane man hurrahing alternately for Jefferson Davis, Jesus Christ, and Satan burned down the court house in the town square, where Federals had jailed several alleged secessionists. As Federals tried extinguishing the blaze, the man clapped his hands and prayed to God for “burning up a million devils and destroying the souls of 10,000 bodies.” This bizarre event somewhat embodied the tumultuous Missouri situation, of which Fremont was quickly and unwittingly losing control by month’s end.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com (multiple dates); Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 89; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 73. 76; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 127, 131-32; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 33

Wilson’s Creek: The Aftermath

August 11, 1861 – Demoralized Federal troops began a long retreat in Missouri following yesterday’s defeat, and the victors did not pursue.

The Federal retreat from Springfield that had been scheduled to begin at 2 a.m. on the 11th started two hours late because Brigadier General Franz Sigel, now commanding the Army of the West, was asleep. The town was not evacuated until after 6 a.m., with the Federals marching in disarray toward Rolla, 110 miles away.

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Colonel Gustavus Elgin and Colonel R.H. Mercer, staffers under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, who had been killed in yesterday’s battle, gave instructions for preparing Lyon’s body for burial. Lyon was temporarily interred in Springfield.

Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch dispatched the 3rd Texas Cavalry to reconnoiter Federal positions and learned that they had abandoned Springfield. He arranged to regroup his army and tend to the wounded on both sides in the town, and Springfield soon became a vast military hospital. McCulloch released the Federal prisoners captured in battle because he would “rather fight them than feed them.”

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Gen Franz Sigel | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

The Federals marched 32 miles, trying to put as much distance as possible between themselves and McCulloch. Sigel, a former German revolutionist, had his German immigrants leading the march, prompting other Federals to charge favoritism. They called for Major Samuel D. Sturgis, who had taken temporary army command following Lyon’s death, to be reinstated. The troops were on the verge of mutiny by the time they stopped at Niangua for the night.

Back at Springfield, McCulloch issued a proclamation to Missourians, stating, “I do not come among you to make war upon any of your people, whether Union or otherwise.” He pledged to protect the rights and property of all people, regardless of their loyalties, but asserted that Missouri “must be allowed to choose her own destiny.” McCulloch promised to require “no oaths binding your consciences,” but “Missouri must now take her position, be it North or South.”

McCulloch then issued orders to his men, stating that while he was proud that their “first battle had been glorious,” he had “hopes that the laurels you have gained will not be tarnished by a single outrage. The private property of citizens of either party must be respected. Soldiers who fought as well as you did the day before yesterday cannot rob or plunder.” However, the undisciplined Confederates looted Springfield, making the already predominantly Unionist residents there even more so.

Meanwhile, Major General Sterling “Pap” Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard portion of McCulloch’s force, urged McCulloch to advance toward Lexington. McCulloch refused, citing an ammunition shortage. Developments in southeastern Missouri may have also played a role in McCulloch’s decision to stay put: Confederate General Gideon Pillow received orders to return his force to Arkansas after being stuck in New Madrid.

East of Springfield, Sigel’s Federal army, near the crossing of the Niangua River, covered just three miles on the 12th, as troops continued railing against Sigel’s perceived favoritism toward the Germans and demanding his removal. When the march was delayed for three hours while the Germans ate their breakfast on the morning of the 13th, officers demanded that Sturgis confront Sigel.

Sturgis reluctantly complied and informed Sigel that he (Sturgis) technically ranked him since he was a major in the Regular Army and Sigel was a brigadier-general of volunteers. Outraged, Sigel demanded the move be put to a vote. Sturgis refused, stating that officers who voted against him “might refuse to obey my orders, and I should be under the necessity of shooting you.” This mollified Sigel, and the Federal march resumed. But the troops did not reach Rolla until the 17th.

When Major General John C. Fremont, commanding the Federal Department of the West from St. Louis, learned of the defeat at Wilson’s Creek, he absolved himself of any responsibility for it. But he did send an Iowa brigade to Rolla to discourage any Confederate pursuit of Sturgis’s force. Fremont then desperately called on the Lincoln administration to send more men to Missouri.

Secretary of War Simon Cameron responded by ordering volunteers in Ohio and Illinois to head west. Despite Fremont’s denials, the defeat called the administration’s attention to what seemed to be a growing lack of effective Federal military leadership in Missouri.

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 67; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 108; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 146

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

August 10, 1861 – Federals not only suffered a second major defeat within a month, but they lost an army commander as well.

In early morning darkness, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal Army of the West moved to within striking distance of the combined force of Confederates and Missouri secessionists under Generals Ben McCulloch and Sterling “Pap” Price near Wilson’s Creek, Missouri. The Federals, hoping to deceive the enemy by avoiding the road from Springfield, approached the Confederates from the northwest. The Confederates had not posted pickets and thus did not know they were about to be attacked, with Lyon’s main force approaching their front and Brigadier General Franz Sigel’s detachment approaching their southern (right) flank and rear.

Though outnumbered 2-to-1, both Lyon and Sigel attacked around 5 a.m. amid the rolling hills and thick brush about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. To the north, Lyon led Federals that drove off enemy cavalry and seized Oak Hill, a key strategic position west of Wilson’s Creek. From there the entire Confederate camp could be seen below; it later became known as “Bloody Hill.”

Battle of Wilson's Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

Battle of Wilson’s Creek | Image Credit: Wikimedia.org

To the south, Sigel’s Federals attacked the opposite end of the Confederate camp, catching the men by surprise with an artillery battery. Soon the Confederates found themselves caught between Sigel and Lyon, with Sigel pushing them toward Lyon.

McCulloch and Price focused mainly on Bloody Hill. The Pulaski Arkansas Artillery opened an enfilading fire on the Federals as Price rushed his troops to the southern base of the hill around 6:30 a.m. This, along with Lyon waiting to hear from Sigel, halted the Federal advance and gave the Confederates time to organize.

Brigadier General James McIntosh’s Confederates stopped a Federal attempt to silence the Pulaski battery. McIntosh’s troops tried pursuing the Federals, but they were stopped by Federal artillery. Brigadier General James H. McBride led a Confederate attack on the Federal right at 7:30 a.m., but that was stopped as well. The Confederates fell back to regroup.

Meanwhile, Sigel led his men northward on the Telegraph road running along Wilson’s Creek. He lost contact with Lyon, leaving his men isolated on the Confederate right and rear. McCulloch personally led Louisiana troops in an attack on Sigel’s vulnerable left flank south of Skegg’s Branch. The Federals hesitated to fire because the Louisianans wore the same gray uniforms as the familiar 1st Iowa. This enabled the Confederates to unleash a deadly volley that crumpled Sigel’s flank and sent his men running from the field. The Confederates captured all five of Sigel’s cannon before turning their full attention to Lyon on Bloody Hill.

Lyon brought up reinforcements that withstood a second Confederate advance and then counterattacked around 9 a.m. Price’s Confederates lay in wait within the brush as Lyon advanced. The farther down Bloody Hill the Federals marched, the heavier the gunfire became until both sides stopped and traded deafening shots. The Federals slowly fell back, regrouped, and then regained the lost ground.

From atop his horse, Lyon was encouraging his men to stand firm when a nearby shell exploded, killing his horse and wounding him in the leg and head. Lyon waved his sword to urge the troops to press on, then stepped behind the lines to contemplate his next move. Officers urged Lyon to order another attack. Lyon directed Major Samuel D. Sturgis, the second ranking Federal, to rally the men, then mounted another horse and returned to the front. Fighting now raged all along the line.

Lyon led an Iowa regiment over the hill’s crest. As he waved his hat to inspire the 2nd Kansas, Lyon was shot in the chest. His orderly, Private Albert Lehman, helped him off the horse, where he said, “Lehman, I am killed,” shortly before dying. Lyon became the first Federal general killed in combat. His death shattered Federal morale.

Command passed to Major Sturgis, whose first priority was to determine Sigel’s location because the Federals could not maintain their position without his support. Meanwhile, Confederate cavalry briefly stopped the Federal advance, giving Price time to regroup once more. Reinforced by the troops that had routed Sigel, Price charged a third time but was again repulsed after about an hour of fighting.

Sturgis received word of Sigel’s failure as the Confederates withdrew around 11 a.m. Noting that his men were exhausted and their ammunition was running low, Sturgis ordered them to fall back toward Springfield. The Confederates learned of the Federal withdrawal while preparing for a fourth charge. McCulloch and Price rode to the crest of Bloody Hill to see the enemy troops retiring in good order. Both men agreed that their forces were too disorganized to pursue.

Nevertheless, like Bull Run a month earlier, the second major battle of the war ended in Confederate victory. The Federals suffered 1,317 casualties (258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing), an alarming 24 percent casualty rate. The Confederates lost 1,230 (277 killed and 945 wounded), or about 12 percent of those engaged.

The Federals returned to Springfield around 5 p.m., where Sturgis transferred army command to Sigel. The officers held a meeting and resolved that since the ranks had been so heavily battered and their commander killed, they would retreat to Rolla, 110 miles northeast. This would concede a major part of Missouri to the secessionists. The retreat was slated to begin at 2 a.m.

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References

Angle, Paul M., A Pictorial History of the Civil War Years (New York: Doubleday, 1967), p. 49; Catton, Bruce, The American Heritage Picture History of the Civil War (New York: American Heritage Publishing Co., 1960), p. 88; CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 66; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 92, 94; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 55-56; Guelzo, Allen C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 454; Josephy, Jr., Alvin M., War on the Frontier: The Trans-Mississippi West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 136-37; Linedecker, Clifford L., (ed.), The Civil War A to Z (Ballantine Books, 2002), p. 168, 271; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 107; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 351; Mullins, Michael A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 833-34; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 29; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 142-46; Smith, Dean E., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 458; Ward, Geoffrey C., Burns, Ric, Burns, Ken, The Civil War (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990), p. 74; Wert, Jeffry D., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 814-15; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361; Wikipedia: Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Wilson’s Creek: The Prelude

August 9, 1861 – Two opposing forces inadvertently advanced upon each other in southwestern Missouri, setting the stage for the second major battle of the war.

Federal Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Federal Cpt. Nathaniel Lyon | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

By this month, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal Army of the West had subjugated the Missouri government and pushed pro-secession state militia to Missouri’s southwestern corner. However, Lyon expected a strong counterattack, and sure enough Brigadier General Ben McCulloch had combined his force of Louisianans, Texans, and Arkansans with Major General Sterling “Pap” Price’s Missouri State Guardsmen. This 12,000-man force advanced to Crane Creek near Springfield on August 1, with McCulloch as the ranking commander.

Lyon’s army, totaling less than 6,000 men, moved 10 miles along the Wire road to Wilson’s Creek, south of Springfield. Lyon knew that a larger force was closing in on him, but he did not know from where. Varying reports indicated that the Confederates could be at Cassville, Carthage, or Sarcoxie.

McCulloch’s lead division under General James Rains advanced to the Curran Post Office and Dug Springs on the 2nd, about eight miles from the Federals. Lyon moved his men up to Dug Springs to meet the threat, and after dispersing a small cavalry force, both sides traded cannon fire through the woods. Rains then deployed infantry which pushed back the Federal left, but the remaining Federals held firm and sent Rains’s troops fleeing back to McCulloch at Crane Creek.

The next day, Lyon’s men dispersed a small Confederate camp at Curran and made off with most of the equipment left behind. However, he still could not pinpoint the location of the main enemy force, and many of his 90-day enlistments were about to expire. This would leave him with just 3,500 men.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

At Crane Creek, Price urged McCulloch to attack. McCulloch initially refused, but then a message from his superior, General Leonidas Polk, notified him that another 12,000-man Confederate force under General Gideon Pillow was advancing on New Madrid in southeastern Missouri. Seeing the potential of trapping Lyon between Pillow and himself, McCulloch relented and ordered an advance at midnight on the 5th to surprise Lyon the following dawn. But the Confederates did not know that Lyon had conducted a grueling day-long withdrawal toward Springfield.

Exaggerating the Confederates’ strength, Lyon reported that 20,000 men were confronting him, adding: “I am under the painful necessity of retreating, and can at most only hope to make my retreat good. I am in too great haste to explain more fully… Prudence seems now to indicate the necessity of withdrawing, if possible, from the country, and falling upon either Saint Louis or Kansas.”

Lyon stopped on the night of the 4th near Terrell Creek, a tributary of Wilson’s Creek. Major General John C. Fremont, Lyon’s superior in command of the Western Department, issued orders that “Montgomery’s force (the 3rd Kansas at Fort Leavenworth) join General Lyon’s command at Springfield, Missouri, immediately.”

On the morning of August 5, McCulloch discovered that Lyon was farther away than expected. Leaving his supplies at Crane Creek, McCulloch directed his men to pursue the Federals, whose supply wagons slowed their march on the Wire road. Intermittent skirmishing occurred with Lyon’s rear guard throughout the hot, humid day until McCulloch finally ordered a halt at Moody Springs, a few miles south of Wilson’s Creek. Lyon’s Federals continued on to Springfield.

By the 8th, McCulloch’s forces had gathered at Wilson’s Creek, 10 miles southwest of Lyon. Price urged an immediate attack, but McCulloch, who had dispatched scouts to reconnoiter enemy positions two days before, had not heard back from them yet. In Springfield, Lyon had prohibited residents from leaving town so they could not aid his opposition. However, two ladies claiming loyalty to the Union persuaded Lyon to let them out. They went straight to Price and informed him that Lyon’s men were worn out and perhaps not strong enough to hold Springfield.

Price shared this information with McCulloch, who still was not convinced that attacking Lyon was the best move. Even after scouting the Federal positions himself on the night of the 8th and seeing that they were much weaker than he had originally believed, McCulloch still hesitated. He called a council of war with his ranking officers for the afternoon of August 9.

At the meeting, McCulloch explained that his scouts still had not returned with any intelligence on Lyon’s army. Also, McCulloch questioned the combat readiness of the Missouri Guardsmen, citing their defeat at Dug Springs on the 2nd. When Price threatened to take back command of the Guard, McCulloch finally ordered a general advance to begin at 9 p.m.

Meanwhile, Springfield residents hurriedly packed and left town as Lyon spent most of the 9th waiting for an attack. He planned to meet the Confederates head-on, hoping that they would not use their superior numbers to attack his vulnerable flanks. But then Brigadier General Franz Sigel, who had led the Federals to defeat at Carthage, persuaded Lyon to launch a preemptive two-pronged attack. Sigel’s cavalry would work its way around the enemy flank and rear while Lyon’s infantry would assault the Confederate front.

At a council of war, Lyon’s officers argued that it defied military logic to divide a smaller army to attack a larger one. But Lyon overruled them and, after his men received new shoes from Rolla, they began moving out around 6 p.m. Lyon toured the camps and told his men to wait until the enemy got close before firing, and then to fire low to offset the recoil. Lyon added, “It is no part of a soldier’s duty to get scared.”

McCulloch’s men moved out three hours later but then halted when rain began falling; McCulloch feared that the rain would ruin the gunpowder his men carried in cloth bags. The Confederates posted no pickets, otherwise they would have seen the Federals marching toward them.

With the enemy’s campfires visible in the distance, Lyon led his army against a force over twice its size. Halting his men to rest before dawn, Lyon told an aide, “I am a believer in presentiments, and I have a feeling that I can’t get rid of that I shall not survive this battle… I will gladly give my life for a victory.”

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References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 63-66; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War, A Narrative: Fort Sumter to Perryville (New York: Vintage Books, 1958), p. 91-92; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 53-55; http://www.civilwar.org/battlefields/wilson-s-creek.html; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 104-05, 107; Mullins, Michael A., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 833-34; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 24-25; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q361

The Battle of Carthage

July 5, 1861 – Secessionists defeated a Federal detachment in a minor clash as both sides scrambled to link with larger forces in southwestern Missouri.

By July, secessionists and Federals had both fielded several military units to ensure that Missouri either remained in the U.S. or joined the Confederacy. On the Federal side:

  • The main force under Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon remained at Boonville in central Missouri since late last month due to heavy rain.
  • Major Samuel D. Sturgis led some 2,200 Regulars and Kansas volunteers to the Harrisonville area in western Missouri near the Kansas border.
  • Colonel Franz Sigel, a former German revolutionary, commanded a 1,100-man Home Guard of mostly German immigrants at Springfield in southwestern Missouri.

Lyon, the overall commander, sought to join forces with Sturgis at Osceola, 90 miles northeast of Carthage in southwestern Missouri. From there, they would march to join with Sigel at Springfield, east of Carthage.

On the Confederate side:

  • General Sterling Price had left the secessionist Missouri State Guard to obtain recruits, but he only netted 800; they were at Poole’s Prairie, six miles south of Neosho in far southwestern Missouri.
  • The Missouri State Guard, led by Governor-in-exile Claiborne F. Jackson, camped at Lamar, 20 miles north of Carthage, after having retreated from Lyon’s Federals at Boonville.
  • A third force of two Arkansas brigades under Colonel Ben McCulloch entered Missouri on July 4 and linked with Price’s recruits.

On the night of the 4th, a detachment of Colonel Sigel’s Home Guard that had searched for Governor Jackson’s forces bivouacked a mile southeast of Carthage. When Federals went into town to commandeer supplies, they learned that Jackson was 10 miles north with a small force moving toward them. They informed Sigel of this news.

Jackson had been focused on Lyon’s Federals behind him, but now he received intelligence that Sigel was in his front. Despite lacking military experience, Jackson decided without advice from his military officers to defend the high ground outside town against Sigel’s Federals. Meanwhile, Sigel issued orders to attack before dawn.

The next morning, Sigel’s Home Guard confronted some 6,000 Missouri secessionists (though only about 4,000 were armed) about nine miles north of Carthage. Neither Sigel nor Jackson had a definitive battle plan when the forces collided.

The Battle of Carthage, or Dry Fork Creek | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

The Battle of Carthage, or Dry Fork Creek | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

Jackson invited attack from atop the ridge, confident that his superior numbers could repel the enemy. Sigel, despite knowing that he was outnumbered and had no cavalry, obliged by sending his infantry down the opposite slope and into the woods, where secessionist pickets were stationed a few miles in front of their main force.

An hour-long artillery duel ensued, and when the cannon stopped, the Federals pushed back the enemy pickets, crossed Dry Fork Creek, and advanced three miles to the main secessionist defenses. The Missourians nearly folded under the bold Federal drive, and the enemy’s artillery unnerved Jackson so much that he ordered 2,000 of his unarmed cavalrymen to take cover in the woods.

Federals observed the enemy troopers moving into the brush toward the Federal rear, which Sigel interpreted as a flank attack. He therefore ordered his men to disengage and sounded the retreat back across Dry Fork Creek.

The Federals withdrew through Carthage, using their cannon to hold off the enemy’s pursuit before regrouping at Spring River. There they fended off another flank attack before withdrawing to Sarcoxie, where they halted for the day. Jackson’s men stopped at dark, having fought from 10 a.m. to nearly 9 p.m. and driving the Federals 12 miles back. The Federals suffered 13 killed and 33 wounded or missing, while Confederates lost 10 killed and 64 wounded (though Sigel reported that he had inflicted 350 to 400 casualties).

The secessionist victory temporarily halted the Federal drive into far southwestern Missouri. It also bolstered the morale of pro-secession Missourians who had been demoralized after the humiliating defeat at Boonville last month. Nevertheless, Jackson’s men did not follow up against Sigel; instead they resumed their withdrawal in hopes of linking with General Price.

Meanwhile, a detachment of Ben McCulloch’s Arkansans under Captain James McIntosh captured a Federal detachment of 94 soldiers at Neosho. McCulloch had joined forces with Price, and now they were en route to link with Jackson.

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Sources

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Davis, William C., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 118; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 55;Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 91-92; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 19-21, 24-25; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 138-40

The Federal Grip on Missouri Tightens

June 4, 1861 – General Sterling Price, representing the pro-Confederate Missouri State Guard, issued a proclamation in response to a rumor that the new Federal commander in the state sought to disarm Missourians.

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Confederate General Sterling Price | Image Credit: CivilWarDailyGazette.com

Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon, an abolitionist with strong support from the Lincoln administration, had become commander of Federal forces in Missouri less than a week ago. Rumors quickly abounded that Lyon intended to impose martial law on the state, including confiscating personal firearms. Price proclaimed:

“The purpose of such a movement could not be misunderstood; and it would not only be a palpable violation of the agreement referred to, and an equally plain violation of our constitutional rights, but a gross indignity to the citizens of this State, which would be resisted to the last extremity.”

To avoid a statewide uprising, Lyon invited both Price and pro-Confederate Governor Claiborne F. Jackson to meet with him and Francis P. Blair, Jr., his political ally and liaison to the Lincoln administration, in St. Louis. Lyon assured them that they would be “free from molestation” if they came. The men accepted, and the meeting took place at the Planters’ House on June 11.

Thomas Snead, a journalist and aide to Governor Jackson, called this a curious pro forma meeting because neither side seemed willing to concede anything to the other. Jackson and Price contended that the right to recruit Missourians belonged to them, not Federal officials. Lyon and Blair said that they would not tolerate state officials trying to dictate where Federal troops would be stationed or moved.

Jackson pledged to disband the State Guard, prohibit arms from entering the state, protect all citizens equally regardless of their political persuasion, suppress all insurgent activity within the state, prevent Confederate troops from entering the state, observe strict neutrality, and keep Missouri in the Union as long as its neutrality was respected. In exchange, Jackson and Price asked Lyon to disband the illegally organized and armed Home Guard, and refrain from raising any more Federal recruits or occupying any territory besides what he already had.

Jackson called such terms “humiliating,” but he was willing to abide by them to keep the peace. Lyon, knowing the governor’s strong support for secession, did not trust his pledge. Conversely, Jackson distrusted Lyon’s and Blair’s intent because of their strong abolitionist ties and inclination toward military rule. In fact, Lyon outright announced that the Lincoln administration intended to place Missouri under martial law until it was in the “exact condition of Maryland.”

Four hours of discussion settled nothing. Lyon finally rose and declared: “Rather than concede to the state of Missouri for one single instant the right to dictate to my government in any matter however unimportant, I would see you, and you, and you, and you, and every man, woman, and child in the state dead and buried. This means war.” He then stormed out and immediately began issuing orders for troop mobilization.

Jackson and Price quickly returned to the state capital and Jefferson City and ordered the destruction of bridges over strategic waterways. The next day, Jackson called for 50,000 volunteers to prevent Lyon from overthrowing the popularly elected state government. He declared:

“A series of unprovoked and unparalleled outrages has been inflicted on the peace and dignity of this Commonwealth, and upon the rights and liberties of its people, by wicked and unprincipled men professing to act under the authority of the Government of the United States.”

Missouri had no law requiring an organized state militia, and few weapons were available to defend the state. But Jackson was determined to oppose Federal intervention in state affairs. Upon receiving intelligence that Federal forces were advancing on the capital from St. Louis, Jackson made preparations to transfer state records and archives to Boonville, 80 miles above Jefferson City on the south bank of the Missouri River. Meanwhile, Price’s State Guardsmen continued destroying bridges to hinder the Federal advance.

Jackson, Price, several legislators, and a small militia force evacuated Jefferson City on the 14th. Lyon’s Home Guards arrived on steamboats the next day and seized the capital without resistance. The Guards, many of whom were German immigrants, had been met on their journey from St. Louis by “cheering crowds at various points along the riverbank, which was not too surprising given the large number of Germans in those counties.” The Federals were also greeted at the Jefferson City docks by “an enthusiastic group of local Germans.” Bands played patriotic music as the troops raised U.S. flags over the city.

Meanwhile, Jackson and Price fled with their party up the Missouri River to Boonville. Cavalry under Captain Joseph O. “Jo” Shelby, who had gained prominence during the border war, joined them along the way. The overall force, poorly armed and trained, made camp at Boonville.

Lyon led 1,700 Home Guards up the Missouri on the 17th. They disembarked at Camp Bacon below Boonville, where they confronted about 1,500 Missouri militia. A sharp skirmish ensued as Jackson formed a line of defense. However, Lyon’s two cannon sent them fleeing in a rout after about 20 minutes.

Lyon occupied the town as Jackson and Price withdrew to the southwest. Both sides each lost three killed and 10 wounded; Federals captured one militiaman. A Federal soldier wrote, “We were both missionaries and musketeers. When we captured a man we talked him nearly to death; in other respects we treated him humanely. The Civil War was a battle of ideas interrupted by artillery.”

Despite the light casualties, this proved a major defeat for the secessionists because it gave the Federals control of northern Missouri and the lower Missouri River. It also allowed Lyon to disperse all Confederate sympathizers in the region. Lyon sternly warned Missourians that aiding their governor meant “treason.” He dispatched a force to pursue Jackson’s and Price’s men before they could link with Ben McCulloch’s force in Arkansas.

The secessionist militia advanced 25 miles to Cole Camp, where Lyon and Blair had stationed about 700 Home Guards to pursue them. The Guards were led by a Colonel Cook, who was especially hated in Missouri because he was the brother of B.F. Cook, a man who had been executed for his part in John Brown’s 1859 raid on Harpers Ferry. The secessionists attacked at dawn on the 19th and soundly defeated the Guards, killing at least 15 and capturing 362 muskets. This small victory temporarily reinvigorated secessionist morale.

The next day, some 800 secessionists led by Colonel John S. Marmaduke faced a Federal attack about five miles below Boonville. The Missourians ignored calls to retreat and fought an hour and a half before finally retreating in good order and inflicting heavy casualties. The “barefoot rebel militia” showed surprising tenacity.

As Jackson became a governor in exile with his withdrawal from Jefferson City, Unionist delegates to a state convention declared his office vacant and appointed Hamilton R. Gamble as provisional governor. Gamble was a moderate politician who opposed secession while favoring a compromise between state and Federal officials. The ousting of the popularly elected governor helped tighten Federal control over Missouri this month.

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Sources

Davis, Jefferson, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government (Kindle Edition 2008, 1889), Loc 7389-413; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 50-52; Faust, Patricia L., Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War (New York: Harper & Row, 1986, Patricia L. Faust ed.), p. 297; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 37-39; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 84-87; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 291-92; Nevin, David, The Road to Shiloh: Early Battles in the West (Alexandria, VA: Time-Life Books, 1983), p. 16-17; Pollard, Edward A., Southern History of the War (New York: The Fairfax Press, 1990), p. 133-36; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q261; Wikipedia: List of Governors of Kansas