Skirmishes at Boonville, Pooleville and Vienna; Johnston to Attack!

Monday, June 17, 1861

Missouri’s capital had fallen to the Union. Governor Jackson and General Price, pro-secessionists both, had fled with the state government and the Missouri State Guard, to Boonville, 40 miles up the Missouri River. When Union General Lyon discovered their new base, he and his 1,700 men steamed towards them.

The camp of the Missouri State Guard was four miles down river from Boonville. In the early and dreary dawn, Lyon docked the steamers a few miles away from the camp, disembarked and began to march toward their enemy. Skirmishers were thrown out in front of the column to detect any State Guard outposts. After two miles, the Union skirmishers were fired upon by an advance party of the Guard, who quickly fell back towards the main body.

Lyon placed several companies on either side of the road and advanced towards the camp. Two pieces of artillery and more infantry were added to their numbers. Another mile forward found the Missouri State Guard in force, anchoring their defense upon a house upon a ridge and a small woodlot with a wheat field behind it.

Maneuvering into position on an opposite ridge, Lyon’s men met with stiff fire from the woods. The two artillery pieces were brought forward and fired several shots, causing some of the defenders to retreat. The Union infantry took the opportunity of artillery cover to advance upon the Guard’s post.

Though the Union troops drove the Guard back, it was a very orderly retire. At every opportunity, Price’s men fired upon the advancing Federal soldiers until they reached their main camp. With this, they slipped away.

Lyon had captured 60 prisoners, 500 stand of arms, two pieces of artillery and various camp equipment, suffering four killed and several wounded. Jackson, Price and what remained of the State Guard moved west towards Lexington. By 11am, Lyon rode into Boonville unopposed. The northern part of Missouri was saved for the Union.1

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Firing Upon the Flag

Just north of Washington at Poolesville, Maryland, Col. Stone, of the Rockville Expedition, reported that Rebels on the Virginia side of the Potomac were lobbing artillery shells at the United States flag being flown by the 1st New Hampshire at Conrads Ferry [now called Whites Ferry]. No harm was done aside from a lucky shot from an Pennsylvanian that hit a Rebel artilleryman, but Stone thought that the cannon fire might be to cover an advance upon another part of his line. He sent a word of caution to the troops guarding the ferries and fords across the river.

Unable to cover all of the fords, he stationed men on the roads north of Dawsonville, leading from the river passages at Point of Rocks. Positive and official word of Harpers Ferry’s abandonment had not yet reached him, though rumors of that sort were everywhere. If General Patterson’s troops from Pennsylvania had taken Harpers Ferry, figured Stone, he would have received word of it within four hours.

Unsure of the true Rebel position, he conjectured that if the Confederate Army of the Shenandoah were still at Harpers Ferry and attacked him from the direction of the Monocacy River via Frederick, Maryland, he could fall back to Washington. But if they had abandoned the Ferry to join with General Beauregard’s Army of the Potomac, he could easily slip into Leesburg.2

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The First Ohio Meets the First South Carolina… and Armed Black Confederates?

By orders of Union General Irving McDowell, the 1st Ohio was ordered to secure the railroad between Falls Church and Vienna, Virginia, a few miles west of Arlington. They advanced slowly by train, with the locomotive pushing the troops riding on flat cars from behind.

As they rounded a curve, a quarter of a mile away, two Rebel cannons, about 150 yards from the tracks, fired shot and shell diagonally into the train killing and wounding the unsuspecting Union men. Before the train could come to a stop, the Rebels raked them broadside with cannister.

The train cars sustained some damage and couldn’t be moved, so the men quickly vacated from the rails into the woods to the left and right. They formed a skirmish line only to find that before them was the 1st South Carolina Regiment under Col. Maxcy Gregg, 1,500 strong. The Ohio troops began to fall back. Their commander ordered the train to fall back with them, but instead, the engineer uncoupled the damaged cars, returned to his engine, and sped away, abandoning them.

The 1st Ohio suffered eight killed and four more wounded.

Interestingly, when Brig-Gen. Robert C. Schenck, commanding the expedition, made his report (filed the day after), he mentioned a rumor of “a body of 150 armed picked negroes, who were posted nearest us in a grain field on our left flank, but not observed by us, as they lay flat in the grain and did not fire a gun.” Gregg’s report doesn’t mention these “picked negroes,” and since Schenck heard of them only through rumors, this report of armed black Confederates should be viewed as anecdotal or, at best, suspect.3

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Rebels to Attack!

Throughout the day, Union General-in-Chief Winfield Scott was desperately worried about Rebel forces advancing on Washington. The day before, he had called for General Patterson to send the US Regulars and the 1st Rhode Island to him. The Rhode Island men were en route to assist troops in Cumberland, Maryland when they were recalled, but the Regulars had crossed the Potomac without a word of Scott’s orders.

When Patterson wired for permission to occupy Harpers Ferry, without even mentioning Scott’s request, the General-in-Chief fired back a direct order to what he perceived as insubordination: “We are pressed here. Send the troops that I had twice called for without delay.”

Finally Patterson agreed and told Scott that he would have them tomorrow. Word went out to General Cadwalader, commanding the First Brigade to recall his force from near Falling Waters, Virgina back to Williamsport. After the orders to recall the troops to Washington were sent and received, Patterson caught word that Confederate General Johnston and his Army of the Shenandoah were on the warpath from Martinsburg, 15,000 strong and heading to Williamsport. Without artillery to defend the crossing, he saw no other choice but to have all the troops for Washington returned to him at once.

Word went out for his five brigades to concentrate at Williamsport. Word was also sent to Scott at 9:30pm: “General Johnston with a large force is at Martinsburg, marching on Williamsport.”4



  1. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p13, along with Harpers Weekly, July 13, 1861. []
  2. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p109-110. []
  3. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p125-129. []
  4. Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p696-699. []
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3 thoughts on “Skirmishes at Boonville, Pooleville and Vienna; Johnston to Attack!

  1. Do you think Shenck’s mention of armed slaves was a mistake? Or was he fear-mongering? Would it have been cause for alarm in the North?

    What does “picked” mean in this context? Hand selected by the Colonel?

    1. I’m not really sure, actually. Shenck doesn’t appear to have seen them himself, but is just reporting what someone told him.

      Since most reports such as this were public knowledge, it probably wasn’t fear-mongering or even a cause for alarm.

      In a couple of weeks, there’s another such report made by another Union officer that was also erroneous.

      What is clear, however, is that there’s no way a slave owner was going to arm a mass of slaves. That just wouldn’t happen. There had been some talk about it, of course, but mostly it was considered a bad idea (for the slave owners). Great idea for the slaves, though.

      “Picked” would probably mean selected by an officer, though how Shenck would know that is beyond me. If there were black men there at all, they were digging trenches or doing other manual labor.

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