Monday, November 12, 2007

the battle of Boonville

Leaving Jefferson City, Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson and Missouri State Guard General, and former governor, Sterling Price move toward the river town of Boonville, 30 miles north and west. Price falls ill and continues on to Lexington. State Guard Colonel John S. Marmaduke takes over at Boonville and State Guard General Mosby S. Parsons is in position at Tipton 15 miles south of Boonville and 15 miles west of Jeff City. Jackson is eager to fight, but Marmaduke, knowing the men camped at the old state fair grounds are poorly armed, is more reticent.

Union General Nathaniel Lyon leaves a small detachment at the capital, embarks a company of regulars, 2 volunteer regiments and battery of artillery on the river steamers Yatan, McDonald and City of Louisiana, and lands 1700 men eight miles downriver from Boonville on June 17. Observing the landing, Jackson orders Parson’s men to Boonville but it’s too late.

Little more than a skirmish, the ensuing action has far-reaching consequences for Jackson’s hopes of a Confederate Missouri.

Leaving 100 men guarding the steamers, Lyon moves rapidly toward Boonville. Bluff-top pickets are easily brushed aside on the cloudy, showery morning. Marmaduke deploys 500 Missouri State Guard on the next ridge. Lyon arranges his men and artillery and advances through fields of corn and wheat. The cannon fire on a brick house full of troops and then on one MSG strong point after another, routing them in turn. Lyon’s regular company's discipline takes over. They close in and fire several volleys, causing the Guard to retreat in confusion. An attempt to rally fails as the Guard’s line is easily outflanked. After 20 minutes the battle is over, retreat quickly turns into rout (gaining the nickname of ‘the Boonville races’) and Lyon occupies the town by noon as the sun breaks out clear and bright.

The battle at Boonville kills perhaps a dozen men and wounds 20 to 30. Eighty State Guardsmen are captured. The political results are much greater. Price cannot hold Lexington and also moves south.

The heart and soul of Missouri’s pro-Confederate forces is ejected from the richest, most populous and pro-Southern area of the state. Jackson and his cohort are pushed south, demoralized, unsupplied and dejected, into virtual exile. The area is now secure Union territory, occupied by substantial forces with Nathaniel Lyon, a no-nonsense leader, at their head.

Endnote: New research is being conducted at the battle site.

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