Rural Missouri - September 2011 - (Page 10)

Battle of Lexington ~ Sept. 18 - 20, 1861 Price delivers third victory in a row for secessionists by Jim Denny info@ruralmissouri.coop Hemp bales and history M Masonic college, Union soldiers continued frantic digging of earthworks, burning nearby houses and cutting down trees to clear fields of fire. Within the 15-acre enclosure, there were not only thousands of aj. Gen. Sterling Price and perhaps men but also thousands of horses and mules. Man 10,000 state guardsmen found themand beast alike were all getting thirstier with each selves on the outskirts of Lexington passing day that relief from Fremont didn’t show up. on Sept. 12, 1861. A little more than a On Wednesday, Sept. 18, Price decided it was month earlier, the great triumph at Wilson’s Creek time to begin the battle in earnest. He marched had transformed Price into a military hero throughseven divisions through Lexington, out the South. Now here he was again, and by mid-afternoon, they encircled taking the fight to the enemy. The the Union garrison completely. Five prosperous Missouri River town of Lexartillery batteries, with 16 cannons ington, in the heart of a Southern-symtotal, began a nine-hour barrage. pathizing region, was about to become Shells and shot rained down on the famous as the place where Price delivUnion defenders from every direction. ered the third major military victory in The two-story brick Masonic college a row for the secessionist cause. was a favorite target. At one point, Price had corralled several units of Mulligan ordered an assault on the blue-clad soldiers inside the fortified Oliver Anderson house, a brick home grounds of a defunct Masonic colconverted to a hospital that Missouri lege. His enemy consisted of a hastily guardsmen had seized. The suicidal assembled collection of five Germandash across open ground cost 25 men American home guard companies, a and failed to regain the hospital. regiment of Chicago Irishmen, On the second day of the an Illinois cavalry unit and two A Co-Mo Electric Cooperative member battle, the cannon fire slackregiments (one mounted) and from Lupus, Jim Denny spent more than one battalion of Missourians — 30 years as a historian with the Missouri ened, but the constant pop from thousands of rifles continabout 2,700 men with arms. The Department of Natural Resources. Now ued without interruption. The ranking officer was a Chicago retired, Jim will bring the state’s Civil guardsmen edged closer to the Irish politician turned soldier War history to life in Rural Missouri as fortified defenders. Sniper fire named Col. James Mulligan. we commemorate the sesquicentennial was especially deadly. Except for Price’s daring expedition to of this time in our nation’s history. the relief of a brief rain shower, the Missouri River valley was the cisterns were dry and the thirst of the Union entirely a Missouri affair. He and Gen. Ben McCullFrom Sept. 16-18, Lexington will commemorate the soldiers became agonizing. Hundreds of dead horses och, his Confederate counterpart at Wilson’s Creek, 150th anniversary of the “Battle of the Hemp Bales.” For and mules lay about, their putrefying carcasses raiswere now bitter enemies, and he would receive no more information, visit www.visitlexingtonmo.com or ing a horrendous stench. Confederate cooperation for his proposed invasion call 866-837-4711. The masterstroke that ended the battle and proto redeem Missouri. He and his state guardsmen were on their own as they moved into a region that was under Union military control, even if that control was presently enfeebled. The federal commander in the West, Gen. John C. Fremont, was bound to march against him, probably with superior numbers. But when? As Price’s massive army approached Lexington, Col. Mulligan’s orders were to hold the town at all costs. Surely, the colonel reasoned, Gen. Fremont soon would have thousands of soldiers heading to his relief. His men were already laboring night and day to build a massive system of fortifications around the college grounds large enough to contain as many as 10,000 reinforcements. Instead, long days dragged by with no sign of this expected force. Price and his army, as it turned out, had a rather leisurely visit to former haunts in central Missouri. He waited six days for his lagging infantry and supply train to reach Lexington before considering any suggestion of attack. While he waited at the fairgrounds, two divisions from north Missouri joined him. Thousands of sunshine volunteers flocked in from the countryside. Price’s army now swelled to 12,000 men. They were still a ragamuffin lot — short on drilling, toting image courtesy of Gallon Historical Art, Gettysburg, Pa., www.gallon.com their favorite hunting rifles and mostly dressed in homespun or buckskin. Artist Dale Gallon depicts the Battle of Lexington as Gen. Sterling Price’s men crouch behind hemp bales and move forward “like a Inside the fortifications at the great serpent” to attack Union soldiers led by Col. James Mulligan. The Oliver Anderson house is visible in the background. vided it with a moniker for history occurred on the third day. The Missouri guardsmen formed a moving breastwork of hemp bales that were pushed and prodded along toward the Union line. Several commanders, including Price himself, took credit for this idea. Mulligan’s men watched with apprehension as a long, snakelike line of hemp bales inched inexorably closer. The bales had been soaked in water so they were impervious to rifle fire and could not be jarred or set afire by red-hot cannon balls. Heavy cannonade and intensified rifle fire accompanied this advance. Finally, the Union commanders realized it was time to surrender. Mulligan and most of his officers were wounded, out of water and nearly out of ammunition. The grueling 52-hour artillery bombardment and the nonstop storm of lead from thousands of Southern rifles had severely battered the garrison. On the Union side, 39 were killed and 120 were wounded. Price’s army also suffered. Dead were 25 guardsmen, and another 75 received wounds. Still, Price gained several thousand arms and the federal artillery pieces. He returned nearly a million dollars in notes and gold that had been seized from a local bank, even though the state guard could have used the money. Price respected a brave enemy and granted the captured Union soldiers parole. Only Mulligan refused this offer and was later exchanged for a captured state guard general. Price was now the hero of the moment. He would be forever endeared to all exiled Southerners, the embodiment of the unquenchable dream to return at the head of a great army and redeem Missouri for the South. Sterling Price and his men were able to remain in the lush Missouri River country for 18 days before Fremont finally organized a Union force to drive them out. Earlier, he had ordered relief forces to come to Mulligan’s rescue, but his generals failed to carry out his orders. It seemed that Mulligan, like Gen. Nathaniel Lyon at Wilson’s Creek, was a sacrificial lamb to Fremont’s inability to get a handle on his job. Missouri’s Provisional Unionist governor, Hamilton R. Gamble, lamented that Fremont was incomprehensible. “We have lost Lexington. We will soon lose the whole state.” 10 WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP http://www.visitlexingtonmo.com http://www.gallon.com http://WWW.RURALMISSOURI.COOP

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - September 2011

Rural Missouri - September 2011
Table of Contents
Comments
Columns
The story behind the stories
Hemp bales and history
Bear necessities
Outdoors
Out of the Way Eats
Open up and say ‘neigh!’
Back to the one-room school
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
The Missouri artist
Marketplace
Around Missouri
Neighbors
Just4Kids

Rural Missouri - September 2011

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