Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Seige of Lexington

Seige of Lexington
150 years ago today Stirling Price captured Lexington, Missouri after a 8 day seige. After their victory at Wilson's Creek the Missouri State Guard under General Stirling Price advanced into the northern portions of the state. John C. Fremont, commander of the Union Department of the West, decided to defend Lexington. It occupied an important position on the Missouri River, and it was in a very pro-Confederate area. The commander in the town was Col. James Mulligan. He put his 3,500 troops in motion to build entrenchments in preparation for a seige. More reinforcements were on the way, but they were ambushed by the arriving Confederates and forced to retire. The Confederates were aware of their position because they had tapped the telegraph line, allowing them to spy on the Union messages.
Cannon Ball in the Lexington Court House. Credit.
Price arrived in front of the town on September 11th and launched an attack two days later. They found the Federal works to strong to be taken with a direct assault, so they surrounded the town and began shelling the Federal positions with their artillery. On September 18th the Confederates attacked again, and drove the Union forces from their outlying works. By this time the Union forces in the town were in severe lack of water. The wells had gone dry, and Confederate sharpshooters shot anyone who tried to reach a spring between the lines. On September 19th the Missourian forces prepared for their final attack. They brought up hemp bales soaked in water to use as mobile breastworks. These were very effective, and allowed the Confederates to roll them forward, all the time sheltered from Union fire.

Hill up which the Confederate Forces advanced
The Confederate forces advanced to attack on the morning of the 20th of September. The rolled the bales forward, hidden from the rifles of the Union soldiers. The Union attempted to set the bales ablaze by using red-hot cannon balls heated in ovens, but the bales were so wet that they were immune to the tactic. At noon Mulligan, seeing that the Confederate troops had advanced to the point where they could easily take the trenches with a final charge, requested terms of surrender.

The casualties from the battle had been light. The Missouri State Guard had suffered only 25 killed and 72 wounded, while the Federal forces had 39 killed and 120 wounded, with their entire force being taken prisoners. The light casualties of the defenders resulted from the brilliant idea of using the soaked bales as movible defenses. Jefferson Davis later wrote, "The expedient of the bales of hemp was a brilliant conception, not unlike that which made Tarik, the Saracen warrior, immortal, and gave his name to the northern pillar of Hercules."

Much fighting took place over this house. Credit.


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