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The Battle of Carthage, Missouri
in the Civil War

Events Leading Up to the Secession Crisis
and the Battle of Carthage

Here is the time line of the secessions.

The Timeline of the Secessions of States
State Passed
South Carolina December 20, 1860.[1]
Mississippi January 9, 1861.[2]
Florida January 10, 1861.[3]
Alabama January 11, 1861.[4]
Georgia January 19, 1861.[5]
Louisiana January 26, 1861.[6]
Texas February 1, 1861.[7]
Virginia April 17, 1861.[8]
Arkansas May 6, 1861.[9]
Tennessee May 6, 1861.[10]
North Carolina May 20, 1861.[11]
Missouri October 31, 1861.[12]
Kentucky November 20, 1861.[13]

In addition to these, the Maryland State Legislature considered secession but voted it down. Lincoln had Federal troops march through Baltimore and when they were stoned by crowds some of the soldiers fired into those crowds. The resulting Riots of April 1861 resulted in the deaths of twelve civilians and four soldiers. In an unconstitutional and impeachable act of tyranny Lincoln had Federal troops arrest the pro-secessionist legislators thereby preventing any possibility of the future passage of an ordinance of secession.

Missouri's ordinance of secession did not come until the end of October of 1861. It came after hostilities broke out between Federal forces and Missouri State forces. Here is its wording

An act declaring the political ties heretofore existing between the State of Missouri and the United States of America dissolved. Whereas the Government of the United States, in the possession and under the control of a sectional party, has wantonly violated the compact originally made between said Government and the State of Missouri, by invading with hostile armies the soil of the State, attacking and making prisoners the militia while legally assembled under the State laws, forcibly occupying the State capitol, and attempting through the instrumentality of domestic traitors to usurp the State government, seizing and destroying private property, and murdering with fiendish malignity peaceable citizens, men, women, and children, together with other acts of atrocity, indicating a deep-settled hostility toward the people of Missouri and their institutions; and Whereas the present Administration of the Government of the United States has utterly ignored the Constitution, subverted the Government as constructed and intended by its makers, and established a despotic and arbitrary power instead thereof: Now, therefore, Be it enacted by the general assembly of the State of Missouri, That all political ties of every character new existing between the Government of the United States of America and the people and government of the State of Missouri are hereby dissolved, and the State of Missouri, resuming the sovereignty granted by compact to the said United States upon admission of said State into the Federal Union, does again take its place as a free and independent republic amongst the nations of the earth. This act to take effect and be in force from and after its passage.

Approved, October 31, 1861.

Source: Official Records, Ser. IV, vol. 1, pp. 752-53.

This act was passed by a special session of the Missouri Legislature was called into session at Neosho in southwestern Missouri by Governor Claiborne Jackson. This special session did not have the legally required quorum in either the House or the Senate.

The Missouri State Guard

Governor Jackson called for the training of a state militia in cities and towns throughout Missouri, including St. Louis. St. Louis was particularly crucial because there was an arsenal there containing tens of thousands of weapons. About 750 recruits for the Missouri State Guard were assembled at a location near St. Louis for training. The location was dubbed Camp Jackson. The Federal army command knew what Governor Jackson was up to and quickly formulated a plan of action to thwart his intensions. A United States Army captain, Nathaniel Lyon, secretly transported the major part of the weapons at the arsenal in St. Louis across the Mississippi into Illinois. Captain Lyon then took three thousand troops to Camp Jackson and captured the 750 trainees without a shot being fired.

Captain Lyon then marched the 750 captive militia men through the streets of St. Louis. This was a major mistake. Crowds gathered along the march and threw rocks at the Federal troops. When a shot was heard Lyon's troops opened fire on the crowds and 28 St. Louis citizens, including a women and child, were killed. Four of Lyon's soldiers were also killed.

Missourians were infuriated. At the state capitol in Jefferson City the Missouri Legislature authorized the creation and arming of a state militia, to be called the Missouri State Guard. This state militia was put under the command of Sterling Price by Governor Jackson. In retaliation for this action Nathaniel Lyon, now a brigadier general, took troops up river by steamboats to the state capitol at Jefferson City and captured it. Governor Jackson and Sterling Price decided to take the Missouri State Guard to southwest Missouri where the soldiers could be trained and armed with weapons brought in from the Confederate States.

The militia troops from Missouri towns were assembled under the command of Governor Jackson and Brigadier General James Rain at Lamar, Missouri, a town south of Kansas City. Jackson and Rains set the destination of their march south as the city of Carthage, a town of about 500 on the Spring River.

The Federal army intended to stop the retreat of the Missouri State Guard to the south and its possible joining with the army of the Confederacy. A force of 1200 German immigrant recruits from St. Louis was sent to set up headquarters in Springfield, Missouri and from there locate the Missouri State Guard and capture it. This force was under the command of Colonel Franz Sigel. He had received training in military tactics in Germany. His troops were well equiped and some had new 0.69 Caliber rifles.

Colonel Franz Sigel
later Brigadier General

Nathaniel Lyon planned to march a large contingent of Federal troops south and trap the Missouri State Guard between the larger numbers of his troops and the troops of Colonel Sigel fighting from a defensive position. It was a notable plan but it did not reckon with the heavier rains of that season. Lyon's forces were delayed in the crossings of the Osage and Marmaton Rivers.

The Forces of the Battles

The Missouri State Guard led by Governor Jackson consisted of about six thousand men. Four thousand of them were generally poorly armed with squirrel rifles and pistols they brought from home. Two thousand of them had no guns at all. Colonel Sigel's 1200 were well armed with rifles supplied by the Federal Government. Some had the new 0.69 caliber rifles which were more accurate than the old style guns. Moreover they had had military experience in Germany. Jackson's troops were largely inexperienced farm boys clad in only their everyday clothing. In contrast Sigel's troops were dressed in new uniforms with broad brimmed hats.

From Springfield Sigel marched his troops to Carthage with a stop on the way at Neosho where he left a hundred of his soldiers to control the town. Many of Sigel's troops did not speak English and those that did spoke it with an accent. For people in the towns like Springfield, Neosho and Carthage Sigel's force must have seemed like an alien invasion. It made people recall the use of German mercenaries from Hess by the British in the American Revolution.

When Sigel's troops entered Carthage they found that a Confederate flag was flying at the courthouse. Soldiers from Jackson's forces had come into town shortly before to purchase supplies. Jackson's Missouri State Guard was camped out about 18 miles north of Carthage. Sigel's forces set up camp at James Spring to the southeast of town.

At 4 AM the next morning, July 5, 1861, the Missouri State Guard broke camp and started its march south to Carthage. At this time the Missouri State Guard consisted of 3500 cavalry and 2000 infantry. There were however 2000 of these soldiers without weapons. The Guard did have seven artillery pieces.

Sigel marched 950 of his soldiers north to engage the Guard. Carthage lies on the southside of the Spring River. Even under normal conditions the Spring River is a significant obstacle to travel. Moreover it lies in a river valley so Sigel's troops with their eight artillery pieces had to descend to riverlevel, cross the river and ascend the other side of the valley. They made it across the Spring River and two lesser streams called Buck Branch and Dry Fork. Sigel's force met the cavalry of J.O. Shelby north of the Dry Fork about 8:30 AM.

The Missouri State Guard was aligned along nearly a mile of open praire. It was flying the Confederate flag along with the Missouri state flag. Both sides began firing their artillery pieces. The artillery barrage lasted about a half hour. Sigel observed cavalry from the flanks of the Missouri State Guard moving south apparently intended to encircle his forces. Unbeknownst to Sigel many of the cavalry soldiers had no weapons. He could not take the chance of being encircled so he called for a retreat back across Dry Fork. To cover the retreat Sigel left a company of troops with three cannons on the southside of Dry Fork to stop the Guard's advance and crossing of Dry Fork. The battle at Dry Fork lasted about two hours and most the casualties of the Battle of Carthage occurred at that time.

At Buck Branch the Guard did surround Sigel's forces and were positioned on the southside of Buck Branch. Sigel's forces were saved only by the increditably bold maneuver of a bayonet charge of infantry against cavalry. Lieutenant Colonel Francis Hassendeubel ordered his men to fix bayonets, charge across Buck Branch and up its south bank into the line of cavalry station there. The startled cavalry men allowed a gap to open in their line and Sigel's men were able to escape the encirclement.

The Missouri Guard forces, under the command of General James S. Rains, tried unsuccessfully to stop the retreat of Sigel's forces at the Spring River, but did force them to abandon two of their artillery pieces. Sigel set up headquarters in Carthage at the home of a former sheriff who was a Union sympathizer. The main body of Sigel's forces tried to encamp at James Spring where they had camped the night before. There they were subjected to artillery fire from the Guard and Sigel at nightfall commanded his men to break camp and march 18 miles to the town of Sarcoxie.

The Missouri State Guard won the Battle of Carthage but suffered the most losses. Thirty five of the Guard were killed, 125 wounded and 45 captured. Sigel's forces lost only 13 killed, 35 wounded and 5 captured.

The battle in the area continued. General Nathaniel Lyon had brought his forces to the vicinity of Springfield. The Missouri State Guard engaged them at Wilson's Creek sixty miles to the east of Carthage and defeated them.

In September General Sterling Price took the Missouri State Guard north and captured the city of Lexington from Union forces. In October Governor Jackson made Carthage his headquarters. Jackson intended to convene a meeting of the Missouri state legislature to pass an ordinance of secession. However Union forces under the command of General John C. Fremont were threatening Carthage so Jackson moved south to the town of Neosho where a legislative body was convened and an ordinance of secession was passed on October 28th, 1861 and published on October 31st. The Confederacy accepted Missouri as its twelfth member state. This membership was only nominal because Missouri continued to be largely under the control of Union forces. On March 7th and 8th of 1862 Union forces defeated Confederate forces in the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas effectively destroying Confederate challenge to Union control of Missouri. Carthage was subjected to guerrilla war actions and was burnt by local Confederate guerrillas on September 22, 1864 after it had been made the headquarters for Union forces. Not only Carthage was devastated by the war; all of Jasper County suffered. Before the war in the Census of 1860 Jasper County had 6883 residents; after the war in December of 1865 there were only 30 known residents in Jasper County.


Steve Cottrell, The Battle of Carthage and Carthage in the Civil War,

(To be continued.)

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