Monday, August 19, 1861
While some of the troopers of the pro-secessionist Missouri State Guard were in the towns of Commerce and Benton generally terrorizing the Unionist population, another squad, 500-strong, under the command of Colonel J.H. Hunter, had marched east towards the Mississippi River. Their main objective was to keep on the move, harassing Union soldiers as they advanced towards Bird’s Point along the water. From the later morning, all through the day and into evening, the 500 State Guards occupied the town of Charleston, fifteen miles east of the main body, commanded by General Jeff Thompson at Sikestown (while he was currently between Benton and Commerce).
Hunter’s 500 secessionists were under no orders to occupy the town, which was an easy march for Union troops many times his number, should his location be discovered. Their day-long stay at Charleston did just that and soon, 300 Union soldiers from Bird’s Point were ordered to the town, thirteen miles west.
Of the 300, fifty were cavalry. When advancing upon the town, the cavalry swung north to take Charleston from that direction, but halted at 10:30pm and were not part of the coming action. The remaining 250, divided into two bodies, moved through the dark into town, driving in the Rebel skirmishers. About 100 yards east of the town square, one of the bodies was met by 200 mounted Missouri State Guards. A volley or two from the Federals scattered the mounted Guardsmen south, towards a cornfield where the other body of Union soldiers was advancing. In short order, the Federals reached the square, where, as Col. H. Dougherty relates it, “we received the full force of the enemy, and here the principal part of the engagement took place; from the corners of the streets and houses the enemy pouring a shower of balls; the city illuminated by the blaze of fire-arms.”
The cavalry that scattered south from the first volley now attacked the Union troops in the cornfield. After putting up a hot fight, firing at the swarming horsemen all about them, the Rebels were driven off and out of town.
The Union suffered only one killed and six wounded, Lt. Col. Thomas E. G. Ransom, among them. The Missouri State Guard never reported their numbers, but Federal officers on the scene told of thirteen dead. In General Fremont’s greatly and pointlessly embellished report to Washington claimed that his 300 men routed a Rebel force of 1,200, killing forty.
The 250 victorious Federals then returned to their camp at Bird’s Point. The forgotten Union cavalry north of Charleston, however, missed the entire skirmish, expecting to hear signal shots that never came as they waited a mile and a half away. Frustrated, at 2am, they rode into the nearly-deserted town. Along the way, they captured two weary Rebels who quickly told them the location of their camp.
Quickly, the Union cavalry rode five miles east, north of the railroad and just before dawn, surprised a sleepy camp of mounted Missouri State Guards. The Federals fired as they rode into the camp, situated in a thick woods, and demanded its surrender. Some of the Rebels escaped, but none on either side were wounded. In all, the Union troopers captured thirty-three Rebels.1
The Continuing Saga of Island No. 10
Meanwhile, the drama over Confederate General Pillow ignoring General Polk’s orders for Col. Neely’s 4th Tennessee to be used at Island No. 10 was about to be brought to an end. The Captain in charge of building the fortifications upon the Mississippi River island refused to work with the Irishmen under Neely, wanting to be sent a few companies of “Americans,” instead. Pillow made the switch, lying that he and Polk had agreed to it.
Polk made no such agreement and directed to Pillow “that the original detail be at once complied with.” Neely’s regiment, along with others were marching north from New Madrid, towards Benton via Sikeston, to reinforce General Thompson’s Missouri State Guards.
Though the order was clear and should have been followed, it might now be too late to change.2
Floyd vs. Wise in Western Virginia. Again.
General Floyd had heard that General Wise issued orders for his [Wise’s] Legion to communicate no information to Floyd directly, but that it had to be told to Wise first. Since at least one of Wise’s regiments was attached to Floyd’s command, separated by twenty or so miles, this was an incredibly short-sighted order. Floyd insisted that since it was he who was the senior commander, it was he who should order any of the troops under his command, including any and all of Wise’s troops.
Wise countered that he never issued such an order and then quoted one of his General Orders that said all reports must go through Wise. It seems that his main concern was that he feared his Legion was to be broken up. Though General Lee said that was up to Floyd, Wise insisted that Floyd could do no such thing (though Floyd never even threatened to do so).
Floyd basically ignored Wise’s ramblings and ordered him to move out at 7:30 the next morning. Wise demanded the return of one of his colonels as well as the artillery borrowed by Floyd. He also reported that if he were to move farther, he would need more wagons. Floyd replied that the Colonel would be returned, but the artillery, not being part of the Legion, would remain detached. Also, if he had any extra wagons, he would save them for Wise.
Due to the delay, Floyd changed Wise’s march time to 9:30am.3
Another Democratic Newspaper Attacked
Late that night, in the southeastern Pennsylvanian town of West Chester, the outspoken Democratic newspaper the Jeffersonian, was put out of commission. A mob broke into their offices, destroyed the press, overturned furniture, smashed the type blocks and generally made a mess of the place. They even tried to destroy the cast-iron cylinder press. They ripped up the lists of subscription and business records, dumping them through a broken window onto the street.
No arrests were ever made and if there were any witnesses, they never came forward.4