Rural Missouri - July 2011 - (Page 16)

Battle of Carthage ~ July 5, 1861 The changing tide by Jim Denny Jackson tastes victory on southwest Missouri prairie Sterling Price — could forge an alliance with Gen. Ben McCulloch’s Confederate forces to create an army perhaps 15,000- to 20,000-soldiers strong. This, in turn, would transform southwest Missouri t didn’t take long for the fighting to get underinto a Confederate stronghold from which invasions way on the morning of July 5, 1861. Northern could be launched to redeem Missouri for the South. and Southern armies confronted each other on But Lyon wasn’t there to help Sigel spring the the prairies 10 miles northwest of Carthage. trap. At this critical juncture, Lyon’s star was starting The Union force of 1,100 soldiers, mainly to desert him. After the Battle of Boonville, Frank German-American St. Louisans, were led by Col. Blair had to leave Missouri and take up Franz Sigel. Facing the Union force his congressional seat. The Blair-Lyon 700 yards to the north was a mile-long duo that had accomplished so much line of Missouri state guardsmen along was now broken up. the brow of a hill, led by Missouri’s Also, as so often happened to leadrecently exiled Gov. Claiborne Jackson. ers during the Civil War, “friendly Under his command were 4,375 armed fire” behind his back derailed Lyon’s men and 2,000 men without weapons. campaign as much as the enemy to Both sides had artillery, but Sigel his front. Just at the time Lyon needed lacked cavalry. Jackson’s 1,358 mountto be running Jackson to ground, he ed men outnumbered Sigel’s entire was stymied by a slippery and corrupt force. The Union commander was in quartermaster in St. Louis, who cona dangerous fix facing 4-to-1 odds. He fiscated all the wagons and mules deshad little chance of winning a military tined to resupply Lyon and dismissed victory against the secessionists. their teamsters, citing improper Sigel’s small force would more paperwork as his excuse. likely be attacked from all sides A Co-Mo Electric Cooperative member Two precious weeks slipped and annihilated. It seemed like from Lupus, Jim Denny spent more than the tides of fate might be turning 30 years as a historian with the Missouri away while Lyon scoured the countryside trying to cobble toward the South in Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources. Now together a supply train. When rapidly developing Civil War. retired, Jim will bring the state’s Civil at last he was ready to move Sigel was supposed to be part War history to life in Rural Missouri as out, incessant rains began to of a pincers movement. Accordwe commemorate the sesquicentennial fall, turning roads into mire and ing to the master strategy, Gen. of this time in our nation’s history. streams into raging torrents. By Nathaniel Lyon should have then, many miles separated Jackson and Lyon. been smashing into Jackson’s rear flank with 4,500 Along the route of Jackson’s withdrawal, a murtroops. derous little conflict took place near Cole Camp. The Lyon knew from the outset of his campaign that battle seldom finds a place in Civil War chronolohe had to keep hot on the heels of Jackson, who was gies, despite the fact that the ambush at Cole Camp racing south to link up with Confederates in northresulted in as many casualties as most “battles” west Arkansas. Along the way, he was gathering fought during the time, whether in Missouri or in hundreds of recruits. the East. If Lyon could catch Jackson and bring him to A German-American home guard unit, some 400 battle, he might be able to smash the state guard strong, was stationed in two barns near Cole Camp. between two armies and prevent this link-up. Such These “Dutch” needed to be cleared out to make a maneuver could nearly ensure Union victory in way for Jackson’s passage through the region. Missouri. In the wee hours of June 18-19, while the green Should Lyon fail to destroy his enemy, however, volunteers slumbered in the barns with their arms Jackson — along with state guard commander, Gen. I stacked outside and no sentries posted, state guardsmen launched a surprise attack. “No mercy for the Dutch,” were the last words some 35 unarmed home guardsmen heard as they were shot dead. Some 60 more were wounded. The raiding party was from Warsaw, just 20 miles away. Their captured federal property included 350 badly needed muskets. It was a vicious kickoff to Missouri’s personal war of hatred and revenge, where neighbor killed neighbor and no one was safe. At the Battle of Carthage, the deciding factor turned out to be which group of soldiers had the better discipline and unit cohesion — not who had the biggest army. Sigel, an excitable and erratic German revolutionary who had fled to America, fancied himself a skilled military leader. Yet he had committed a major blunder when he marched his men forward to meet the enemy while his 32-wagon supply train trailed 3 miles behind, a ripe plum ready for the plucking. An hour was wasted in an ineffective artillery duel. Afterward, Jackson ordered the horsemen on both ends of his line to encircle Sigel and attack from both the flank and rear. Sigel, seeing this massive movement of men on both sides, finally realized how vulnerable his unprotected supply train was to enemy attack. He then conducted one of the most skillful maneuvers of his checkered military career — a long, fighting retreat back the way he came. At Dry Fork Creek, he concealed five companies and a four-gun battery in the timber and brush along the creek. These soldiers managed to lay down a heavy fire that stalled the main body of Jackson’s infantry for two hours. The bloodiest fighting of the battle took place here as opposing troops — now only 30 or 40 yards apart — poured deadly volleys of lead into each other’s ranks. Sigel’s disciplined soldiers, meanwhile, had to charge and scatter a band of mounted guardsmen, who had attempted to blockade Buck Branch Creek. Finally, Sigel reached his supply wagons. With the federal supply train protected on all sides by infantry and artillery, no mounted guardsmen dared approach close enough to suffer a serious threat to Sigel’s retreat, which continued across Spring River and through Carthage. The state guard abandoned the chase on the outskirts of Carthage. Sigel’s bone-weary troops continued their withdrawal all the way to Sarcoxie, 15 miles away. Considering the forces involved, casualties were light. Sigel sustained 13 killed and 31 wounded, while Jackson lost 30 men and another 125 wounded. The Union commander had saved his army, but Jackson could claim his first major victory. No more Yankees barred his way to a link-up with the Arkansas Confederates. Union soldiers retreat across the Carthage square after battling Missouri state guardsmen on the prairie. Artwork courtesy of Andy Thomas, Carthage, Mo.,

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

Rural Missouri - July 2011
Table of Contents
Raising the Great White Arabia
Now showing: rural broadband
Missouri snapshots
Out of the Way Eats
The changing tide
Pyrotechnic pros
Hearth and Home
News Briefs
Sting of relief
Around Missouri

Rural Missouri - July 2011