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1st Battle of Lexington

Still wanting to secure Missouri even after their victory at Wilson’s Creek a month earlier, the Confederate General Sterling Price moved his troops to the Union garrison in Lexington. Under the combined force of Sterling and Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, the Missouri State Guard (MSG), moved to attack what was then considered a foreign country – Missouri, still part of the U.S.

For their own part, the Union started moving into Lexington on the 8th with Colonel James A. Mulligan with his 23rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry and – prior to that, even – the 1st Illinois Cavalry and the Missouri Home Guards. Two days later Major Robert T. Van Horn’s brought two companies of the Missouri Battalion followed by Colonel Everett Peabody’s 13th Missouri arrived. Immediately on the 11th, Colonel Mulligan had his men digging fortifications all around College Hill, home of the Masonic College. This would become their headquarters.

The following day, the MSG arrived and shortly thereafter skirmishes broke out. One attempt was made on Mulligan’s fortifications by General Price, but it failed. Following this, both sides retreated to regroup.

Most of the Union wanted to abandon Lexington, but Colonel Mulligan overruled them, determining to stand their ground. Meanwhile, on MSG leaders wanted to surround the Union army.

Nothing else happened, however, until September 18th, when General Price received much-needed supplies and men. The fighting began that morning.

At 9 am, College Hill was hit with an artillery bombardment. Following this, “Price ordered his men to capture the Anderson House, a prominent three-story, brick structure that lay just outside of Union lines” (Source). The Union had been using Anderson House as a hospital, but this didn’t stop the Confederates from taking it. They used it mainly to launch small-arms fires at the Union.

Mulligan, of course, saw the attack of the hospital as breaking the rules of war. So, he sent his Company B of the 23rd Illinois to recapture Anderson House. Led by George Henry Palmer of Company G (who won a Medal of Honor for this escapade), Company B not only recaptured the house, but executed three MSG soldiers.

[Below: Anderson House]

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From there, General Price ordered that the house be re-retaken! The MSG attacked once again, driving out the Union – this time for good. This secured, Confederates went on to capture a steamship full of Union supplies, a raid led by Colonel Ben Rivers of the State Guard.

With Colonel Mulligan’s men successfully encircled, Major General John C. Frémont from the Union Department of the West ordered detachments from Missouri and Kansas to come relieve the Lexington contingent. However, they were unsuccessful in breaking the MSG’s lines.

Meanwhile, Mulligan’s men, not only surrounded but cut off from all water supplies, were desperately trying to dig for water. But unsuccessful seemed to be the word of the day. They were coming up bone dry no matter where they dug.

But then, on the evening of the 19th, MSG Brigadier General Thomas Harris came up with the concept of using hemp bales as a moving fortification. Dipping the bales in water to prevent them from catching fire, MSG rolled them ever closer to College Hill, slowly but surely encircling the Union until they were powerless. Panicking, the Union continuously fired artillery, but it was useless against the soaked hemp bales. It was looking absolutely hopeless for Colonel Mulligan’s men.

Despite this, the State Guard attempted one more attack the next morning. It was a bloody hand-to-hand that followed, resulting in MSG being driven back. Even given their small victory, most of Mulligan’s men were wounded. It was time for surrender, whether or not Mulligan liked it.

A white flag eventually appeared, though not by the hand of Mulligan. When asked if he was willing to surrender, Mulligan blustered, claiming that he thought Price was the one surrendering! Much confusion needed to be sorted out and, once that was figured out, a vote was taken. 6-2, the vote was to surrender. Though Mulligan was still against it.

With the Union surrender, the MSG gained supplies and a whopping $900,000 from the Lexington Bank. Despite this and the land gained, Price had no possible way of feeding all the men in MSG. So, he was forced to move back to the corner of the state, anyways.

During the battle, the Confederates suffered 25 deaths and 72 wounded while the Union suffered 39 deaths and 120 wounded.

[Below: Lexington Courthouse with cannonball hole]

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The Battle of Ball’s Bluff

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The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

The first battle to take place to the west of the Mississippi was the battle at Wilson’s Creek in Missouri on August 10th. Here, the Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon attacked Confederate Generals Sterling Price and Benjamin McCulloch and their men.

Unfortunately, it would not be Lyon’s most successful attack. And we shall soon see why.

He had some 5,400 men under him at Springfield, Missouri. The Confederates had easily twice this number. Yet Lyon wasn’t about to just let the Confederates have the land. Not without a fight.


Missouri had been pretty much on the fence about secession. In fact, it wasn’t until Lyon captured massive numbers of pro-secession recruits at Camp Jackson. Although, that in and of itself may not have caused the shift. It was actually the fact that he decided to march these prisoners through St. Louis. It was then that it turned into a riot. After being pelted by rocks, Lyon ordered his men to open fire.

That’s when things turned sour. 28 people were killed and 100 more were wounded. But this didn’t stop Lyon’s promotion to Brigadier General, not to mention to overall commander of the Missouri Union forces.

What also happened, though, was that the Missouri State Guard (MSG) was also formed. And this is where Lyon’s problems really began. In June of 1861, Governor Jackson a mutual disarmament to Lyon And since Lyon couldn’t just let the likes of Jackson and the Confederates just have the state . . .

Lyon spent the next several weeks planning his attack. During this time, they fought a number of skirmishes against the Confederates, including one on August 2nd at Dug Springs. Following this, McCulloch ordered his men to retreat, choosing to rest at Wilson Creek. For his own part, Lyon had his men rest further on.

It was a German immigrant who just happened to be a veteran of European war, that gave Lyon the idea to attack at Wilson Creek. Colonel Franz Sigel suggested a two prong attack: Lyon with the bulk of their Army attacking from the north and Sigel with 1,200 soldiers attacking from the south.

It was risky. Remember that they were already far outnumbered by the Confederates, and dividing their men, especially after a midnight march, could prove to be dangerous. Nevertheless, he took Siegel’s idea.

At dawn, Lyon’s men took their position. They marched up Bloody Hill, altering the Confederates to their presence. While Lyon brought in artillery, General Price charged.

Meanwhile, Sigel and his men had also taken their position. Thus far, it looked like his plan was working. He could hear musket fire in the distance. The Confederates were so focused on Lyon’s men that they didn’t notice Sigel’s presence. He was able to start a surprise attack of artillery barrage. “Stunned, Confederates ran through their camp in panic” (Source). Yes, Sigel’s plan was definitely working. 

And it should have been a Union victory. But, as seems to be a problem no matter what the war, communication was the problem. Sigel had no idea what was happening to Lyon on the northern side. But what really made his job difficult was that the Confederacy, as yet, had no standard uniform. For the most part, they wore whatever color they felt like wearing. Because of this, when Sigel spotted soldiers emerging from the smoke, he mistook them for an Iowa regiment, when in fact, they were actually a Louisiana regiment. The Louisianans just happened to be wearing uniforms very similar to those the Iowa regiments wore.

Turned out that it was actually McCulloch’s men. And when they opened fire, it was Siegel’s men’s turn to run around in a panicked chaos.

After this, the Union basically fell apart.

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Sigel surrendered; or at least, fled.

Meanwhile, back on Bloody Hill, Lyon wasn’t fairing much better. They had managed some advance thanks to their surprise attack, but soon found themselves simply fighting to maintain the land they currently held. Price’s men charged the hill not once, but twice. On both accounts, Lyon did manage to hold his ground.

But then Lyon was shot through the chest. He died trying to rally his men.

He was the first Union general of the war to die in battle.

Command fell to Major Samuel Sturgis. He, like Sigel had done earlier, mistook an approaching Confederate army for Union troops. He probably greatly wished that it was Siegel’s men, too. Sturgis tried to maneuver his men for another advance. But instead, they were hit with the largest attack of the day.

Surprisingly, Sturgis and his men – with Kansas troops at the center – managed to hold their ground against the attack. However, Sturgis decided that now was the time to withdraw. Lyon was dead, Sigel couldn’t be found, and Sturgis just didn’t have the numbers to defeat the Confederates. They were now low on ammunition, as well.

McCulloch and Price tried charging Bloody Hill one last time, but found it completely unoccupied.

Back in Springfield, Sigel took command of the reunited troops and led them on towards Rolla.

The Union had fought well. They had even retreated in an orderly fashion. They held fast during three attacks, even after the loss of their leader. They may have, technically, lost the battle, but they really had nothing to be ashamed of.

Unfortunately, the Confederate victory at Wilson Creek really did serve to energize the MSG. On November 28th, Missouri was admitted to the Confederacy.

Overall, Confederate casualties amounted to 1,235 while Union casualties added up to 1,095.

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Battle of Hatteras Inlet Batteries

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