Tuesday, September 9, 2008

the battle of Athens

Prior to the battle of Wilson’s Creek, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon pursues the secessionist Missouri State Guard to the state’s southwest corner, but his movement’s also leaves many stranded secessionists behind Union lines as an unintended consequence.

The small battle here in extreme northeast Missouri, on Aug. 5, 1861, reveals a typical Missouri scenario early in the war. Believed to be a pro-Southern hotbed, Athens is seized in July 1861 by pro-Union Home Guard Col. David Moore and 500 men. Moore captures many horses and his men bivouac in the town buildings.

In hopes of “liberating” the Des Moines River town, a pro-southern Missouri State Guard force of more than 2,000 men and a motley 3 gun collection, including a reinforced hollow log, under Col. Martin Green approach.

Although outnumbered, Moore’s men are better armed and fight off the attack, capture 450 horses with full tack, hundreds of arms, and a wagon load of long knives. The defeat demoralizes the State Guard's efforts in Northeast Missouri. They lose the initiative and are obliged to avoid capture by their pursuers rather than move on their own.

Although the Battle of Athens secures northeast Missouri for the Union, it gives a taste of things to come: as Lyon’s quick move southwest leaves many yet-unorganized but armed secessionists behind over much of the state.

Long known as the “farthest north” battle of the Civil War, Athens is the closest actual combat comes to the state of Iowa. It also reveals the confusion of studying the war in Missouri as the battle pits the 'Home Guard' (pro-northern Unionists) against the 'State Guard' (pro-south secessionists)

The historic site encompasses most of Athens including several historic buildings including the “Cannonball House,” with battle scars.