Battle History

Click here to access the actual official reports of the officers who served at the 1861 Battle of Carthage.

Click here to see a diagram of the battle as it unfolded.

A Brief History of the Battle:

Early on the morning of July 5,1861, just hours after President Lincoln formally declared war on the Confederate States of America, Union forces commanded by Colonel Franz Sigel (Third Missouri Infantry) confronted the Missouri State Guard army, under the command of Missouri Governor Claybourn Fox Jackson, on the rolling prairies eleven miles north of Carthage, Missouri. The ensuing day long battle did not end until the federal forces had been forced southward to Carthage and out of the city. While retreating, the federal forces were forced to fight several desperate actions against overwhelming odds to escape being killed or captured. The State Guard forces, although having superior numbers, were unable to continue their pursuit of federal forces past Carthage, owing to exhaustion and supply shortages.

Unique among Civil War clashes, the Battle of Carthage was the first major land battle of the War Between the States. There were no Confederate troops at the Battle of Carthage. It was the only Civil War battle in which a sitting governor commanded an army in the field. The Battle of Carthage featured a successful infantry bayonet charge by Franz Sigel’s infantry troops against mounted Missouri State Guard cavalry. Sigel’s successful retreat in the face of overwhelming enemy numbers, although hailed as a victory in the North, left the field to the Missouri State Guard. Sigel failed in his mission to stop the Missouri State Guard from linking up with Confederate troops marching north from Arkansas, thus ensuring that southwestern Missouri would remain contested territory throughout the early stages of the war.

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