Rural Missouri - October 2011 - (Page 12)
1st Battle of Springfield ~ Oct. 25,1861
Bloody charge brings little glory or strategic gain to Union
by Jim Denny firstname.lastname@example.org
the largest army to ever march through Missouri — a “grand armée” of 38,798 soldiers formed into ﬁve divisions. President Lincoln, he was warned, “expects you to repair the disaster at Lexington month and ﬁve days had passed since the without loss of time.” Fremont knew he had better Union loss at the Battle of Lexington. On catch up with Price and whip him, or else start lookOct. 25, 1861, the leading element of a ing for a new job. huge federal army reached the outskirts It took weeks just to get his monstrous army in of Springﬁeld, Mo. This strike force consisted of 160 motion. Confusion and disorganization reigned. handpicked members of the elite bodyguard of Gen. It was an army led by generals who a John C. Fremont, commander of the few weeks earlier had been captains. Department of the West, along with Fremont had never led more than a another 140 “Prairie Scouts.” few hundred men in his pre-war career, The leader of this force was Maj. and his inexperience showed. The Charles Zagonyi, an exiled Hungarian army crept along at a sluggish pace. A revolutionary. Zagonyi intended to wide swath of countryside was picked attack a camp of Missouri state guardsclean daily by foragers who conﬁscated men on the west side of Springﬁeld. crops and gathered up every wagon, The most recent intelligence indiimplement and animal that could be cated there might be as many as 2,000 of use to the army. guardsmen waiting for them. Huge supply trains followed every The day was auspicious. It hapdivision. Bridges had to be built across pened to be the seventh anniversary almost every stream, including the of the infamous Charge of the Light Osage River, to keep these wagBrigade during the Crimean War ons lumbering along in Price’s in Europe. Such a charge was the A Co-Mo Electric Cooperative member direction. But there was little kind of glory for which Zagonyi from Lupus, Jim Denny spent more than thirsted. Back in the days of 30 years as a historian with the Missouri chance Fremont’s army would ever overtake Price, who was a the Revolution of 1848, ZagoDepartment of Natural Resources. Now full 100 miles away. nyi lost half of his command retired, Jim will bring the state’s Civil After crossing the Osage, Zagin an ill-advised charge against War history to life in Rural Missouri as onyi was sent ahead on the misan Austrian artillery battery. A we commemorate the sesquicentennial sion that could gain glory and similar bloody sacriﬁce of men of this time in our nation’s history. redemption for both Fremont and horses might be necessary at and himself. He exhorted his men, “Your watchword Springﬁeld. shall be, ‘The Union and Fremont!’” Zagonyi’s horseZagonyi’s Charge didn’t need to happen. No men began to move down a narrow lane bordered strategic advantage would be gained. In another by a heavy rail fence. Soon they came within view of day or two, Fremont’s massive force would arrive in hundreds of waiting state guardsmen who unleashed Springﬁeld. The state guard garrison would be long gone by then, no matter what he did. But Zagonyi had his own reasons for ordering a suicidal charge no matter how overwhelming the odds were against success. The ﬁrst was to prove the bravery and ﬁghting ability of his command, Fremont’s personal bodyguard. This outsized unit of 300 men was referred to derisively by Fremont’s critics as the “Kid Glove Brigade” or “Fremont’s pets.” A more compelling reason was to gain a glorious military victory that might help reverse the downward spiral of Fremont’s reputation. Recent Union military failures cast gloom over the whole North. Of the three military disasters that had occurred to date, two of them — Wilson’s Creek and Lexington — had been in Fremont’s department. Fremont knew his job was in jeopardy. He image provided by Jim Denny decided to go after Maj. Zagonyi’s Charge, as depicted here in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, produced more casualties than military success for Gen. John C. Fremont. Gen. Sterling Price with
a leaden storm of ﬁre. “A thousand muzzles belch forth a hissing ﬂood of bullets,” wrote Atlantic Monthly of the battle. “The poor fellows clutch wildly at the air and fall from their saddles, and maddened horses throw themselves against the fences.” The choked and bloody lane became mayhem. Scarcely a hundred survivors of the dash down the lane were able to cross Jordan Creek, regroup and launch a saber charge up a hill into cavalry units near a grove of trees and a larger line of infantry concealed at the woods’ edge. These state guardsmen all belonged to Gen. James McBride’s seventh division. They were backcountry lads who had received little drilling. Thundering horses and the gleam of sharp sabers were too much for these green men, who turned and ﬂed in headlong panic. Zagonyi’s men rode the ﬂeeing guardsmen down. They thrust and hacked with their sabers and shot men down with their pistols and ﬁve-barreled riﬂes. They killed roughly 23 men. Battered but triumphant, Zagonyi’s men gathered in Springﬁeld’s town square, then quickly left before a counterattack could form. They rode through the night back north to rejoin Fremont’s army. Against all odds, Zagonyi had achieved his great victory. But it brought little glory and no strategic result. The bloody charge almost produced as many killed and wounded as that of the Light Brigade, 36 percent compared to 41 percent. Sixteen of Zagonyi’s men lay lifeless in open wooden cofﬁns in the basement of the courthouse, now serving as a morgue. Their ultimate sacriﬁce did Fremont’s cause little good. The real quarry, Sterling Price, had always kept 50 to 100 miles between himself and Fremont. Zagonyi’s senseless charge was hardly a substitute for the decisive victory that the Union high command demanded to see against Price. On Nov. 2, Fremont was relieved of duty. The following day, he left with his guard for St. Louis. Those men who died in the meaningless charge for “the Union and Fremont” bought with their lives just nine more days of employment for the general. His replacement, Gen. David Hunter, was ordered to retreat north from Springﬁeld to Sedalia and Rolla and go into winter quarters. Instead of using Fremont’s great army to give at least one battle to Price, Union ofﬁcials once again allowed the enemy to march back and retake Springﬁeld without a ﬁght or any effort to protect the suppressed Unionist inhabitants of the now twice-ravaged region.
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - October 2011
Rural Missouri - October 2011
Table of Contents
Dining on the tracks
Staying on target
Out of the Way Eats
Hearth and Home
On the brink
Rural Missouri - October 2011
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