Monday, November 26, 2007

Missouri State Guard

In response to Lyon’s capture of Camp Jackson on May 10, 1861, the Missouri Legislature created the Missouri State Guard from the Missouri State Militia. The Guard is to ‘defend the state, maintain public tranquility, suppress riot, rebellion or insurrection, or repel invasion’ in the early stages of the Civil War. Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson openly professes that the Guard will aid his pro-secessionist aim of withdrawing Missouri from the Union.

The ‘Military Bill’ creates nine military districts based on Congressional districts. Each district is to organize, train and arm a division of troops. Overall command was given to popular former Governor Sterling Price. On June 12, Jackson issues a call for 50,000 to join the Guard and thousands do.

However, Lyon seizes the initiative, pushes Price and Jackson out of the capital, Jefferson City, and west to Boonville. Giving his adversaries little time to organize, Lyon defeats the Guard at Boonville on June 17, forcing it into the far southwest corner of the state. A small victory over Colonel Franz Sigel’s Union Missouri troops at Carthage gives the Guard some breathing room and precious time for training at Cowskin Prairie. Most men wear their own clothing and carry their own arms mostly shotguns and muskets; of the 9,000 men present only about 5,000 are armed.

Lyon moves south, joins with Sigel and takes Springfield. Meanwhile, a Confederate brigade under Brigadier General Ben McCulloch and a division of the Arkansas State Guard under Brigadier General Nathan Bart Pierce move from Arkansas and join Price with McCulloch assuming overall command.

After the victory at Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861, McCulloch and Pierce return to Arkansas. The federal defeat brings new recruits into the Guard and Price moves north with 10,000 troops.

Brushing aside Kansas jayhawkers under Senator Jim Lane at Big Dry Wood Creek on September 1, 1861, Price moves to the Missouri River. At the rich, frontier trading town of Lexington on September 20, he captures 3,600 Federal troops in the ‘Battle of the Hemp Bales’.
The federal Department of the West’s commander, John C. Fremont, finally begins to move some of his 25,000 men toward Price who withdraws back into southwest Missouri at Neosho. Hearing that Fremont is removed from command and his army is in winter quarters, the Guard moves north to encamp at Osceola and Price enrolls his troops into regular Confederate service. Despite many of the men’s reluctance, Price organizes a 2,500-man Confederate brigade.

Fremont’s replacement, Brigadier General Samuel R. Curtis, leaves his quarters and moves against Price. The combined Guard and Confederate Missourians withdraw into Arkansas and reunite with McCulloch’s force under the overall command of Major General Earl Van Dorn. At the battle of Elkhorn Tavern (Pea Ridge) on March 6-8, 1862, McCulloch is killed, the Confederates defeated and forced to retreat farther into Arkansas.

Eventually most Guardsmen join the Confederate service and Price leads them east of the Mississippi. The Guard continues for the duration of the war, but reaches in zenith in the first 12 months of the conflict. 15,000 men served in the Missouri State Guard during the Civil War.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Wilson's Creek - postscript

The Confederate tactical triumph at Wilson’s Creek, General Nathaniel Lyon Lyon’s death and the subsequent Union withdrawal to Rolla, coupled with the federal fiasco at 1st Manassas in the east, forced the North into a more serious attitude towards planning, supplying and fighting the war.

The Union reinforced Missouri with soldiers and weapons during the ensuing fall and winter; the Confederacy rested on its post-battle laurels and applied scarce resources in other places. The exiled pro-Confederate state government voted to secede and sent delegates to Richmond, but Missouri remained firmly in the Union.

Many of the soldiers at Wilson's Creek ‘saw the elephant’ for the first time. The regulars, who typically look down on volunteer soldiers, found the volunteers at Wilson's Creek battling courageously, if unskillfully. Well-directed cannon fire proved decisive at key moments. Cavalry was less useful in the stand-up fighting – the infantry of both sides determined the outcome. Green soldiers lead by inexperienced officers fought for six bloody hours. Wilson’s Creek recorded some of the highest casualty rates of the Civil War. Nearly 1 in 4 Union troops and 1 in 8 Confederates were casualties.

Most of the volunteer regiments are low-numbered, filled with the most enthusiastic of those enlisting early in the conflict. Some of these regiments, the 1st Kansas, 3rd Arkansas, 1st Missouri and 3rd Louisiana, will form a veteran backbone for nearby operations over the next 3½ years and meet on future fields of battle.

The Union order of battle reveals names familiar to the Civil War buff: Sigel, Schofield, Osterhaus, Sturgis, Granger, Gilbert, Herron, Stanley, and Steele went on to Union high command.

Lyon’s plan was innovative and bold. Like Robert E. Lee at Chancellorsville two years later, he found himself outnumbered more than two to one with an aggressive, offensive-minded opponent. His choices were to attack or withdraw. He did both – with difficult tactics. He divided his forces into two columns - using one to hold the enemy in place and the other to sweep around his flank.

The Confederates were initially surprised but soon recovered and, mixing Missouri militia and Confederate volunteer troops, withstood the flank attack and Lyon’s assault. Sigel's flanking force was routed, Lyon was killed and the Yankee Army began to withdraw to Rolla the next day.

Order of Battle - Wilson's Creek - 10 August 1861

UNION - Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon

1st Brigade - Maj. Samuel D. Sturgis
1st U.S. Infantry
2d Missouri Infantry Battalion
Company I, 2d Kansas Mounted Infantry
Company D, 1st U.S. Cavalry
Company F, 2d U.S. Artillery

2d Brigade -Col. Franz Sigel
3d Missouri Infantry
5th Missouri Infantry
Company I, 1st U.S. Cavalry
Company C, 2d U.S. Dragoons
Backoff 's Battery

3d Brigade - Lt. Col. George L. Andrews
1st Missouri Infantry
2d U.S. Infantry
Du Bois' Battery

4th Brigade -Col. George W. Deitzler
1st Kansas Infantry
2d Kansas Infantry
1st Iowa Infantry
Home Guards

CONFEDERATE - Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch

Pearce's Brigade - Brig. Gen. N. Bart Pearce
1st Arkansas Cavalry
Carroll's Cavalry
3d Arkansas Infantry
4th Arkansas Infantry
5th Arkansas Infantry
Woodruff's Battery
Reid's Battery

McCulloch's Brigade - Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch
3d Louisiana Infantry
Arkansas Infantry
1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles
2d Arkansas Mounted Rifles
South Kansas-Texas Mounted Regiment

MISSOURI STATE GUARD - Maj. Gen. Sterling Price

2d Division-Brig. Gen. James S. Rains

Infantry Brigade - Col. Richard H. Weightman
1st Missouri State Guard Infantry
2d Missouri State Guard Infantry
3d Missouri State Guard Infantry
4th Missouri State Guard Infantry

Cavalry Brigade - Col. Cawthorn
Peyton's Cavalry
McCowan's Cavalry
Hunter's Cavalry
Bledsoe's Battery

3d Division -Brig. Gen. Charles Clark
Burbridge's Infantry
Major's Cavalry

4th Division - Brig. Gen. William Y. Slack
Hughes Infantry
Thornton's Infantry
Rives' Cavalry

6th Division - Brig. Gen. Monroe M. Parsons Kelly's Infantry
Brown's Cavalry
Guibor's Battery

7th Division - Brig. Gen. J.H. McBrideWingo's Infantry
Foster's Infantry
Campbell's Cavalry

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wilson’s Creek

After the battle of Carthage, Union General Nathaniel Lyon’s troops join Colonel Franz Sigel at Springfield. The combined forces contain seven volunteer regiments from Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, several companies of regular infantry and cavalry and 3 batteries totaling 6,000 men. However, the men are 140 miles from the Rolla railhead depot, running low on supplies and many of the volunteers 90-day enlistments are running out. General John C. Fremont, ‘Pathfinder of the West’ and former Presidential candidate, takes command of the Department of the West with headquarters in St. Louis but his attention is focused on the Ohio and the Mississippi and not southwest Missouri.

Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price has camped one large and four small divisions of the Guard southwest of Springfield along the Telegraph Road (none locally as the Wire Road) and is reinforced by Confederate General Ben McCulloch with nine regiments of infantry and cavalry from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and 2 batteries of artillery. Hoping to capture Springfield and drive Lyon out of southwest Missouri, the southern forces number 12,000. McCulloch’s arrival instills a greater level of discipline in the Guard who have pretty much been chased across the state from the capital at Jefferson City.

On August 1st, Lyon advances out of Springfield and the armies skirmish at Dug Springs the next day. Lyon returns to Springfield. McCulloch slowly follows and camps in the valley of Wilson’s Creek.

Outnumbered and over-extended, Lyon decides to launch a quick strike to confuse the Confederates and then withdraw to the railhead at Rolla. McCulloch hopes to surround and destroy Lyon’s force. On August 9th, both sides draw up attack plans.

Lyon strikes first on August 10th, sending Sigel, with 1200 men, east and south in a turning movement through the rainy night to catch the Confederate forces in the rear while his main force attacks the Confederate front.

Lyon’s force overruns the Confederate camp at the Ray House, but Sigel’s attack fails as his men allow blue-clad Confederates too close and are routed, leaving Lyon’s men to fight alone.

Momentum shifts to the numerically superior Confederates. Three attacks fail to break the Union line on Oak Hill (now known as Bloody Hill), but Lyon is killed early in the battle.

The tired Confederates halt their attacks and Lyon’s successor, Major Samuel D. Sturgis decides to withdraw his exhausted men. 1300 Union and 1200 Confederates are casualties on the field of battle, including Lyon, left behind at the Ray House. General Price send the corpse to Union forces in Springfield under a flag of truce.

Sturgis withdraws to Rolla and McCulloch takes Springfield. Lyon’s body is *again* left behind but is buried by a union sympathizer – the wife of a former local Congressman. The victory allows Price and the Missouri State Guard to regain control of southwest Missouri and eventually advance as far north as Liberty; but lack of serious pursuit to Rolla costs the Confederates the fruits of victory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the battle of Carthage

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.

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.