THE BATTLE OF CARTHAGE, MISSOURI
FRIDAY, JULY 5, 1861
Otto C. Lademann
Captain, 3rd Missouri Infantry, U. S. Vols.
Companion of the 1st Class, Wisconsin Commandery of MOLLUS
Read March 7, 1907
After the capture of Camp Jackson, May 10, 1861, my regiment, the 3rd Missouri Vol. Infantry, Colonel Franz Sigel, remained in the St. Louis Arsenal for some days, and then was moved to a western suburb of St. Louis called Rock Springs, remaining there about two weeks. Returning to the Arsenal, it commenced its reorganization for three years, or during the war. Before that reorganization was completed, the regiment was ordered to take the field leaving the Arsenal about the middle of June, 1861. Our equipment for field service was a very poor one. We had no blankets, no knapsacks, no great coats, and barely any camp and garrison equipage. Our whole outfit consisted of an uncovered tin canteen and a white sheeting haversack, rotten white belts, condemned since the Mexican war, and cartridge boxes made by contract, flat-shaped like cigar boxes, without tin racks to hold the cartridges in place, consequently in a week’s marching, you had your cartridge box full of loose powder, and bullets tied to the paper cases. Each company possessed one-half dozen Sibley tents and the same number of camp kettles and messpans. The baggage and provisions are carried by two four-horse contract teams, for each company. We went by rail to Rolla, Missouri, the then terminus of the Missouri Pacific R. R., Southwest branch, about 120 miles southwest of St. Louis. Here Colonel Franz Sigel established Camp “Lyon” and in a few days our regiment was joined by the 5th Missouri Vols. Colonel Edmund Salomon, a brother of Governor Salomon of Wisconsin: Captain Essig’s battery of four 12-pound howitzers, and Captain Wilkin’s battery of two 12-pound howitzers and two 6-pound field guns, forming a battalion of Artillery under Major Backhoff, also a company of pioneers, commanded by Captain Foerster, the whole forming the 2nd Brigade of General Nathaniel Lyons’ army, commanded by Colonel Franz Sigel-say about 2,000 muskets and 8 guns. From Rolla this brigade marched to Springfield, about 100 miles southwest, arriving there on Friday, June 27, 1861. Continuing our march in a southwestern direction, we arrived in Neosho, Newton County, Missouri, situated in the utmost southwest corner of the state, some 85 miles southwest of Springfield, on Tuesday, July 2, 1861. Neosho possessed a beautiful spring of clear water gushing forth the size of a brook, where a large fish hatchery is established at the present time. It is also noted because the rebel governor of Missouri Clayborn Fox Jackson assembled his “Rump” Legislature there to pass a futile ordinance of secession for Missouri. Here we remained until Thursday, July 4th, in a rather perilous position. On our right, some 30 miles northwest, stood a force of about 4,000 Missouri State Guards, commanded by Major General Sterling Price; a state militia organization, under a recent law of the Missouri legislature, passed at the urgent solicitation of the rebel governor, Clayborn Fox Jackson. The law contemplated the raising of a Missouri State Guard of 50,000 men ostensibly for the preservation of the neutrality of the sovereign State of Missouri, but virtually as a part and parcel of the Confederate Army.
This infantile organization had been roughly tumbled out of the central part of the state near Booneville, on the Missouri River, on Friday, June the 17th, 1861, by a quick sharp and victorious attack of Brig. General Lyon, ascending the Missouri River by boat and sending the Missouri State Guard packing to the southwest corner of the State on Cowskin Prairie, in Jasper County, Camp Starvation, Price’s men very properly called it.
In sending Colonel Franz Sigel and his brigade to the southwest, General Lyon had intended to capture or destroy the nascent Missouri State Guard, or at least to prevent their proper organization. But General Price had been adding recruits to his numbers on his whole march, and General Lyon had been unable to push Price vigorously, being detained at Jefferson City to organize a loyal state government, and awaiting the arrival of the 1st Iowa Volunteer Infantry, the 1st and 2nd Kansas, and the following regular troops from Fort Leavenworth, Kansas-first battalion of infantry, four troops of cavalry, and Captain Du Bois’s battery.
On our left about 30 miles southwest of Neosho was a camp of regular Confederate troops, called “Camp Walker,” about 5,000 effective men with good artillery, composed of Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas troops commanded by Brig. General Ben. McCulloch, a celebrated Texas ranger, whose Adjutant General McIntosh, was a graduate of West Point, and a fine and able officer of the old regular army.
Having left garrisons at Springfield, Mt. Vernon, and various other places, Colonel Sigel, marched on Thursday, July 4th, 1861, from Neosho to Carthage, Jasper County, leaving as a garrison at Neosho, Captain Joseph Conrad, and Company “B” 3rd Missouri Infantry. This was a march of 20 miles due north, and we camped southeast of Carthage on Spring River.
Next morning, Friday, July 5th, we marched northwest from Carthage, toward Cowskin Prairie, when about noon, nine miles from town, we came upon the Missouri State Guard, drawn tip in line of battle on a slight rise or swell of the prairie, at the foot of which about 1,000 yards from the enemy, near Dry Fork Creek, we took position. Our train in charge of quartermaster, 1st Lieutenant Sebastian Engert, was parked in the prairie about three miles in our rear, guarded by Captain Foerster’s Company of pioneers.
Colonel Franz Sigel made the following disposition of his command from right to left: Right wing, 1st battalion, 3rd Missouri Infantry, Lieutenant Col. Hassendenbel, commanding, and Captain Essig’s battery (4 guns): center, two battalions, and the 5th Missouri Infantry, Colonel Edmund Salomon: left wing, Captain Wilkin’s battery (4 guns), 2nd battalion 3rd Missouri Infantry, Major Bischoff, commanding 1,000 infantry and 8 guns according to Colonel Sigel’s official report. Having no cavalry to cover our wings, the whole infantry was formed in column of companies to guard against cavalry attacks.
At about 1 o’clock p.m., after some moving about, using the intervals to gain room for deployments, the battle commenced, consisting mainly of a mutual cannonade which caused few casualties on either side. The Missourians, temporarily commanded by General Rains, (General Price being sick) had seven pieces of artillery, but their ammunition consisted of solid shot only, no shells nor shrapnel, while our eight guns fired both of these, and every time one of our shells exploded, we could see a large gap in the enemy’s black line against the horizon, and at first we young soldiers, ignorant of war, cheered and rejoiced at seeing so many enemies fall at each explosion of a shell, but they never stayed down, they always got up again, and we soon found that we were doing but little execution.
The enemy had about 4,000 men in line, a part of them without any arms, and nearly one third of them mounted, but in field equipments and armament even worse off than we were. We were armed with the old 69-caliber rifle muskets, each ball weighing an ounce of lead, while the enemy’s armament consisted mainly of old Kentucky rifles and shot guns. Our uniform consisted of a grey flannel blouse, grey jeans trousers, and a grey woolen hat. The enemy had no uniforms, being entirely clad in the homespun butternut jeans worn by every Missouri farmer in those days.
The artillery duel had lasted about an hour when the enemy moved out mounted columns from both wings, circling wide round our wings, and taking position in Buck’s Branch of Dry Fork Creek, half way between ourselves and our train.
This induced Colonel Sigel’s retrograde movement. He ordered the battalion of Lieut. Col. Hassendenbel, and 2 guns under Lieut. Schuetzenbach to dislodge this cavalry, the infantry marching through the prairie in columns of companies to within about 1,000 yards of the enemy, when Schuetzenbach on our left opened fire on the cavalry, whose heads were just visible over the banks of Buck’s Branch, while Lieut. Col. Hassendenbel was deploying his battalion to advance in line. Colonel Franz Sigel galloped up and the following conversation took place.
Col. Sigel: “Colonel Hassendenbel, what are you doing there?”
Lieut. Col. Hassendenbel: “I am deploying my battalion to advance in line and open fire on them.”
Colonel Sigel: “For God’s sake remain in column, they are cavalry and they will cut you to pieces.”
Lieut. Col. Hassendenbel: Ah! nonsense; those fellows haven’t got any sabers,” and turning to the battalion he commanded “Forward!” “Double quick!” “March!” Whereupon with a loud “Hurrah” my battalion, (I was first sergeant of Co. “E” and acting as 2nd lieutenant that day) rushed through the high prairie grass at the enemy’s cavalry, posted about 900 yards southeast of us in Buck’s Branch, which action was quite a novel spectacle, and contrary to all the orthodox rules of war as known at that time. But Lient. Colonel Hassendenbel knew what he was doing. He had served as a lieutenant of artillery under Brig. General Sterling Price, U. S. Volunteers in the Mexican war, had served as city engineer of the city of St. Louis later, and later still commanded a brigade in 1862, when I was on his staff as an aide de camp. He died in front of Vicksburg in 1863, a piece of shell mortally wounding him.
We ran about 500 yards when the want of breath stopped some one, and he fired his gun; this, of course, brought on a volley and in an instant the whole prairie in front of us was covered with fugitive, mounted men, running away from us at the top of their horses speed, circling back the way they had come and rejoining their line; only one unfortunate captain, whose horse had been killed, was captured by us.
The retrograde movements of our battalion continued until we had joined our train. It was followed by the rest of Colonel Sigel’s troops and the whole command preceded by the train, marched back to Carthage followed by the enemy at a respectful distance, and with the exception of the dispute at the crossing of Buck’s Branch, which resulted in some sputtering of musketry, our whole retreat was unmolested.
While Colonel Sigel’s command was thus engaged at Dry Fork Creek, nine miles northwest of Carthage, Brig. General Ben McCulloch, of the Confederate Army, with from five to six thousand men, advanced on Neosho, Mo., in Colonel Sigel’s rear, capturing Captain Joseph Conrad and his Company “B” 3rd Missouri. This gave General MeCulloch so much pleasure that he stopped his movement at Neosho. Had he made use of his large number of mounted men and advanced to Sarcoxie, he would have cut off Colonel Sigel’s retreat to Springfield, and could easily have captured Colonel Sigel and his whole command. Colonel Sigel’s column and train passed through Carthage at about 6 p.m. and took the road to Sarcoxie, fifteen miles northeast of Carthage. About an hour later Major General Price and his troops occupied Carthage, and from the public square opened fire with a battery of artillery on our troops, which was returned in a languid manner by two of our guns. Here Colonel Sigel personally ordered my Company (“E,” Captain John E. Strodtman), to remain and hold the enemy in check until further orders.
Captain Strodtman formed the company in column of platoons, across the Sarcoxie road. The sun went down; all troops to the right and left of us marched off, our company being left solitary and alone on the prairie, about 300 yards from the timber fringing Spring River, the place where we had camped the night before. It was nearly dark, when we noticed the edge of that timber filling up with men, and a mounted officer riding toward us was met by our 1st. Lieut. Poten. They each asked “What regiment do you belong to?” and the enemy answering 2nd Missouri Infantry. Poten fired his pistol at him, but missed. As soon as the officer had regained his line, we were greeted by a volley that knocked our Captain and three men down and owing to our foolish platoon formation only our 1st platoon could return the fire, and when about three or four hundred of the enemy burst out of the woods rapidly advancing on us, cheering and firing, we picked tip our own wounded Captain and “skedaddled.”
After running about a mile, and occasionally returning the fire of the enemy, I met, a solitary horseman, our Lieut. Colonel Hassendenbel, who was greatly astonished when I told him we were Co. “E” of his battalion, remaining behind by special order of Colonel Sigel, and apparently forgotten by him. Here we halted long enough to rally the Company, and a mile further on we joined the rest of Colonel Sigel’s command. It was about 9 p.m.. when the brigade was formed in line of battle, on the edge of the timber, where the Sarcoxie road leaves the prairie.
By word of command of Colonel Sigel, viz., “Ready! Aim! Fire! Load!” three volleys of musketry and three salutes of artillery were fired in this position. Only God and Colonel Franz Sigel know the military reason of this beautiful pyrotechnic display in the dark and silent prairie; no enemy being in sight.
After biding this loud “Adieu” to General Price and his army, two and one-half miles northwest of us at Carthage, we silently ducked into the woods and resumed our march to Sarcoxie, which place we reached about daybreak, Saturday, July 6th, fortunately not occupied by General McCulloch.
Having been without food for twenty-four hours, we un-packed our cooking utensils to prepare some breakfast. Our subsistence during the whole campaign consisted mainly of flour and fresh beef, having neither hard bread nor canned meats. When marching we had no meat at all, but where-ever we halted long enough, cattle were killed and we were supplied with fresh beef. Colonel Sigel had established a bakery at Springfield, and we once received a train load of fresh bread in Neosho, but usually we had no means of converting our flour into bread, and substituted a dough made of flour, salt and water, baked in a frying pan in the form of flap-jacks, and these being prepared without any yeast or baking powder, possessed the consistency of sole leather. At first we had no cavalry with us, except six mounted orderlies, attending Colonel Sigel, but on arriving at Springfield, we had a couple of squads of mounted Home Guards, loyal men of southwestern Missouri, where loyal men predominated at that time.
These men were dressed and armed like General Price’s men: homespun butternut suits, Kentucky rifles and shot guns, and when Colonel Sigel sent them to reconnoiter, they would frequently sight patrols, mistaking each other for the enemy, and then rush back to camp and report the enemy advancing from two directions.
Before our breakfast was ready, a false alarm of this kind reached our camp. “They are coming!” “They are coming!” Instantly pouring our prospective meal on the ground, and repacking our cooking utensils, we started toward Mt. Vernon, county seat of Lawrence county, twenty-five miles northeast of Sarcoxie on our road to Springfield. It was a very hot and weary march, with frequently halting to rest the troops and no enemy pursuing.
One of our greatest inconveniences in this summer campaign, was the fact that we possessed no clothes whatever, except those on our backs. Marching in a hot July sun produces an abundance of perspiration, and it became imperative to wash our clothes some times. This we accomplished by divesting ourselves of every stitch of clothing, and getting into some convenient creek, washed the same to the best of our ability, remaining in the water until our clothes were sufficiently dried to be worn again.
We arrived at Mt. Vernon about 9 p.m., utterly fagged out. We had marched twenty miles from Neosho to Carthage on July 4th, eighteen miles from Carthage to Dry Fork Creek, and return, besides the maneuvering on the battlefield, and fifteen miles to Sarcoxie on July 5th, with twenty-five miles to Mt. Vernon on July 6th, making 85 miles of marching, with a battle thrown in.
This three days’ hard work, with barely two meals, was a very creditable military performance for such young and raw troops. In Mt. Vernon we dropped to the ground and went to sleep, where we had stacked our arms, too tired even to cook and eat. On Sunday morning at 3 o’clock, one of those false alarms of our Homeguard friends, got us under arms again, the enemy advancing according to their report, from the west and the south. We stood under arms from 3 to 10 a.m., when Colonel Sigel ordered us back to town and we had a cup of coffee and an abundance of those sole-leather flapjacks. About noon Brig. General Sweeney, a one-armed Captain of the regular army and veteran of the Mexican war, with about 1,000 St. Louis Homeguards arrived as a reinforcement.
Next morning, Monday, July 8th, we started back to Springfield, thirty-five miles northeast of Mt. Vernon, and we arrived there without any molestation from the enemy, the following day about 10 a.m., establishing a regular camp south Lyon and his troops. From a military point of view, of the city, on the Forsythe road, awaiting the arrival of General Lyon and his troops. From a military point of view, the battle of Carthage was a very insignificant one, but it will always retain a great deal of historical interest, as being one of the very first very first passages of arms between Federal and Confederate troops in our great Civil War.
Source: “War Papers Read Before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States”, Published by the Commandery. Vol.4, Milwaukee: Burdick and Allen c1914. pgs.131-139