Friday, October 25, 1861
Though he had been, more or less, fired the previous day, it would take awhile for General John C. Fremont to hear of the news. In the meantime, he and his Army of the West were about fifty miles north of Springfield, Missouri, encamped along the Pomme de Terre River.
Just west of Springfield, a secessionist Missouri State Guard unit, numbering 1,000 to 1,5000, under Col. Julian Frazier had concentrated, and awaited the Federal advance. General Fremont’s Army was slow, but clearly focused upon Springfield as a destination in their pursuit of the main body of the Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price.
Moving ahead of Fremont was a detachment known as “Fremont’s Body Guard,” an outlandishly dressed and well-armed contingent of about 300 cavalrymen atop big bay chargers, their hats topped with colorful feathers. They were commanded by Major Charles Zagonyi, an officer from Leuchtenburg, Hungary, and were on this date preparing to take the Rebel camp.
The Rebels under Col. Frazier knew of Zagonyi’s advance and prepared to ambush them, dangling an infantry unit as bait while other units hid in the trees along a road leading to their camp. Rather than finding a way around the obvious ambush, the brash Zagonyi charged his men, outnumbered four to one, crying out “Fremont and Union!” They rode right through the Rebel ambuscade. Though the volleys of muskets and shotguns, Fremont’s Body Guard lost seven in the daring charge.
Having successfully passed through the Rebel forces, Zagonyi regrouped under the cover of a hill. Rebel cavalry had been spotted and Zagonyi ordered thirty of his men to scatter them, which they somehow did in quick order. The rest of the Body Guards set their sites upon the Rebels that had been waiting to ambush them. They charged directly into their lines, exacting a heavy toll with their revolvers at close range. Like their cavalry before them, the remaining Rebel infantry took to the hills or scrambled through the streets of town.
Springfield, Missouri, lost to the Rebels after the battle of Wilson’s Creek, was again in Union hands. Zagonyi freed the Union prisoners held in the jail, saw to the wounded and buried the dead. Fearing that the Rebels would soon regroup and counterattack, Zagonyi’s men were soon on their way back to the main body.
While the outcome of the battle was clear, exactly how this outcome came about was controversial. Joining Zagonyi’s men were men from another unit, the Irish Dragoons. In his report, Zagonyi claims that they disappeared before the fight, only to resurface the following day. Their commander, however, tells a much different story. Not only were the Irish Dragoons in the battle, they were the last to leave the field.
Rebel casualties were unknown, but Zagonyi claimed the figure to be around 106. Union casualties were also vague, as it’s unclear if Zagonyi counted the Irish Dragoons in his numbers. More than likely, Rebel casualties were lighter than estimated and Union casualties numbered around 100, killed, wounded and missing.1
Union to Invade Confederate Arizona!
In the Confederate Territory of Arizona (moder-day southern New Mexico), the Rebels under the command of Col. John Baylor in Mesilla had been busy fighting Indians after driving the Union troops out of the area in July. Arriving in San Antonio in August, General Henry Hopkins Sibley assembled a brigade of 2,700 men to enact his plan to take the Santa Fe trail, capture Albuquerque and hold the route west to California. The Sibley Brigade, officially known as the Confederate Army of New Mexico, began their march from San Antonio to Fort Fillmore (near Mesilla), 700 miles away, on October 22. Sibley himself, however, would remain in San Antonio for the time being.
The defeated Union troops had fled north to Fort Craig, near Valverde, 100 miles away. Under Col. Edward Richard Sprigg Canby, 2,500 Federal soldiers, mostly volunteers from New Mexico, planned to invade Confederate Arizona and attack Fort Fillmore and Mesilla in early November. Rebel spies informed Col. Baylor of the plan, who ordered his troops and provisions sent south to Fort Quitman.2
On this date, Baylor wrote to General Sibley, informing him of Col. Canby’s plan. Baylor said that his own force was too small to resist an attack and that, if Sibley didn’t arrive soon, he would be forced to abandon Mesilla. To the Colonel commanding the Department of Texas, however, he had a few choice words. He complained that he had “petitioned time and again for re-enforcements to prevent this disaster, to all of which a deaf ear has been turned.” Taking a sarcastic tone, he spat that if it were “the wish of the colonel commanding the department that Arizona should be abandoned, and I presume it is, he can congratulate himself upon the consummation of that event.”
He ended with a verbal tantrum, stating that it was “unnecessary to ask for re-enforcements, as I presume they are not to be had. I shall therefore fall back, and await the arrival of Brigadier-General Sibley.”3
Though the first of Sibley’s regiments left San Antonio on the 23rd, the rest of his Army wouldn’t be completely en route until the passing of a few weeks. They wouldn’t reach Fort Fillmore until mid-December.4