Sigel Fights the Battle of Carthage

Friday, July 5, 1861

Though he was outnumbered roughly six to one, Colonel Franz Sigel marched his small brigade of Union Missouri troops north from Carthage towards the camp of the secessionist Governor Jackson. The Missouri State Guard had been throughly whipped by General Lyon’s Union troops two weeks earlier, but since then, had pulled itself up by the bootstraps and could field nearly 6,000 men. Unfortunately for Jackson, he could only arm 4,000 of them.

Sigel threw out a skirmish line as they left town, driving back several squads of mounted enemy pickets who, undoubtedly, reported their advance to Jackson. After crossing Dry Fork Creek and advancing three miles farther, Sigel could see Jackson’s men in a defensive line of battle, flanks covered by artillery and cavalry, atop high ground north of Coon Creek. Figuring that there were nearly 3,500 secessionists before him, Sigel decided to attack. After his artillery opened fire, he formed line of battle and advanced.

The attack was going as well as it could until the enemy’s cavalry circled around both of Sigel’s flanks. The danger to the men may not have been great, but it was demoralizing and threatening to the baggage train (wagons) behind them. Sigel ordered them to fall back behind Dry Fork Creek. Jackson followed slowly, but eventually came. Sigel’s force held them off for nearly two hours of fierce combat before enemy cavalry again out-flanked them and formed a line behind them. Sigel’s men had to fight their way back to Carthage where they again regrouped at Spring River, just north of town.

Again the enemy cavalry attacked his flanks, trying to cut off Sigel’s connection with Springfield to the east. The Union troops fell back in good order, protecting the road to Springfield via Sarcoxie, reaching the latter before calling it a day.

And what a day it was. Sigel’s men suffered 13 killed and 31 wounded. While Sigel put the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guard’s losses at 350-400, they actually lost but 12 killed and 64 wounded.1


Captured at Neosho!

Col. Sigel had left ninty-four men of the Third Missouri at Neosho, twenty-five miles south of Carthage, when he consolidated his troops the day before. Captain Conrad reported the town as being “very unquiet.” In the late morning, he heard cannon fire in the distance (probably from Carthage) and sent a detachment of 20 men out to see what it might be. After two hours of searching, they returned without answers.

Ten minutes later, 1,500 Rebels flooded into the small village of Neosho from several different directions. Against so many of the enemy, Conrad could do nothing but surrender.

These 1,500 were Confederates from Arkansas (technically Arkansas state troops) under the command of Confederate Captain James McIntosh. They were the vanguard of Brig-General Benjamin McCulloch’s brigade, now numbering nearly 4,000, having joined forces with General Sterling Price’s men. They were on their way north to meet up with Governor Jackson’s Missouri State Guard for a combined attack on the Yankees invading Missouri.

The 94 men of the Third Missouri (US) were their first spoils of war.2


“For God’s Sake Stop! You’re Shooting Your Own Men!”

Before dawn near Newport News, Virginia, a detachment of twenty-five men from the 9th New York (Hawkin’s Zouaves) were looking for a Rebel scouting party rumored to be nearby. As they marched along, they saw Confederates lying in the bushes. The New Yorker’s Captain ordered his men to break ranks, pick a trees to stand behind and, each, a man to fire upon.

Quickly, they followed his instructions, fired, and were immediately fired upon. Several volleys had been exchanged between both sides when a Rebel officer shouted “Washington! Washington!” And begged for the firing to stop. “For god’s sake stop! You’re shooting your own men!”

The Rebels, who were Louisiana Zouaves were dressed nearly identical to Vermont Zouaves, stood up. The 9th New York boys were, at first, confused. What were the Vermonters doing out here? Their captain, however, noticed white bands around the Louisiana troops’ hats where the Vermont uniforms had none. These were Rebels and he again ordered his men to fire.

The next volley killed Confederate Lt. Col. Dreux and (probably) Private Stephen Hackett. In the fighting that lasted another fifteen minutes, another Rebel private was also injured.

As the Rebels retreated down the road, they ran into a company of Confederate cavalry racing towards the scene of the skirmish. As the confusion on the road erupted, the New Yorkers rose up, fired upon both infantry and cavalry.

According to Confederate reports, the Yankees took this opportunity to slip away before a Rebel howitzer could be brought to bear upon them. The New York World newspaper, however, wrote that the Rebels tried to rally a couple of times, but it was all in vain.

The detachment from the 9th New York sustained no casualties in the skirmish.3

  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p16-18. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p38-40. []
  3. The Rebellion Record, Volume 2 by Edward Everett – article originally appeared in the July 7, 1861 edition of the New York World. Also, I used Rebels accounts from Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p189-192. []
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4 thoughts on “Sigel Fights the Battle of Carthage

  1. I know there were many lead mines in that general area (as well in SE Kansas). There are several mentions on the map of lead. Is there any mention of the strategic value of securing this area of Missouri?

    1. Hm.. I’m certainly no expert on this, so if anyone can correct me, go for it – but from everything I’ve read, it was more a matter of the MSG wanting the Union out of their state, and the Union wanting the state for the Union. Jackson and Price fell towards Arkansas to meet up with McCulloch, which is why they were in the southwest corner of the state.

    1. I’m not really sure there’s a good answer for that. Originally, he wanted to first attack Price’s men, somehow defeat them, and then turn to defeat Jackson’s men. He doesn’t give a reason why he would believe it to be a good idea.

      More than likely, he was hoping to keep them from joining forces until General Lyons could bring his force to help.

      It’s also just who Franz Sigel was. In the 1848 German Revolution, he was often the leader of an outnumbered force (which ultimately lost). This was just how Sigel did business.

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