As Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson’s men retreat south from Boonville they are joined by Sterling Price’s troops at Lamar. Other recruits join the column which grows to 6,000, poorly drilled and armed, if at all. Ironically, Jackson's southward retreat is through more pro-Union territory than in northern Missouri.
Union general Nathaniel Lyon’s smaller force is unable to keep up after the battle of Boonville, but Colonel Franz Sigel’s well-drilled and fully-armed division of volunteers and 8 cannon, move from St. Louis to Jefferson City, then southwest to Springfield and west in an attempt to cut of Jackson’s withdrawal. Along the way he places detachments at Mount Vernon, Grand Falls and Neosho.
Sigel camps at Carthage and Jackson plans to attack the smaller, but better armed, Union force. On the morning of July 5, Jackson leads his men forward. Deploying 10 miles north of Carthage, both sides open with artillery.
One of Jackson’s artillerymen, Lieutenant W. P. Barlow, later wrote in his memoir:
The affair at Carthage hardly rose to the dignity of a respectable skirmish, but it was impressive and grand to us then. I remember feeling the beauty of the scene as our mules maliciously wheeled the pieces into battery, and we looked down from our slight ridge and saw the bright guns of the federal battery and their finely uniformed infantry deploying on the green prairie about 800 yards distant. Both sides formed in silence and stood looking at each other. As soon as we were ready [battery chief] Guibor galloped over to Gen. Parsons’ and asked permission to open the fight. It was given. I carefully pointed the right piece, Guibor nodded his head, bang she went, and the first shot we ever saw fired in earnest - the first gun for Missouri - went flying through the air.
The two forces skirmish along Dry Fork Creek and Buck Branch and then Spring River as Sigel is slowly forced back eventually into the town itself. Jackson sends a large body of unarmed troops toward the Yankee far left. Sigel, seeing the threat, fearing a turning movement, and unaware the troops are all unarmed, orders a retreat.
The Confederates slowly pursue and Sigel returns to Carthage . That night he retreats to Sarcoxie.
Lacking better news, Jackson claims a victory though he lost 200 men compared to Sigel’s 50. As Barlow recalled years later:
I well remember that we all thought this contemptible little skirmish a great battle and a great victory, and when our last shot was sent rolling over the prairie, about a half mile beyond Carthage, after dark, and the pursuit ceased, we were very glad the awful battle was ended, and went into camp thoroughly tired out. Our reward was the following in Gen. Parsons' official report: ".....and also Capt. Guibor and Lieut. Barlow of the artillery. I might recount several instances of personal valor of the two last mentioned officers which came under my own observation, but it is sufficient to say that by their prowess the artillery of my division won a position on the field."
After an experience of real fighting in real battles this high praise will sound ludicrous by the old soldier, but the general was in earnest, and we accepted the compliment as well earned, honestly feeling that we had participated in a decisive engagement, with perhaps, a mental reservation that we were heroes on a small scale.