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Battle of Carthage (1861)

Battle of Carthage (1861)

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The Battle of Carthage, also known as the Battle of Dry Fork, took place at the beginning of the American Civil War
American Civil War
The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States of America. In response to the election of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States, 11 southern slave states declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America ; the other 25...

 on July 5, 1861, in Jasper County, Missouri
Jasper County, Missouri
Jasper County is a county located in the US state of Missouri. It is included in the Joplin, Missouri Metropolitan Statistical Area. The 2010 total population of Jasper County was 117,404. It is the ninth most populous county in Missouri. Its county seat is Carthage, making it one of the few...

. The experienced Colonel
Colonel , abbreviated Col or COL, is a military rank of a senior commissioned officer. It or a corresponding rank exists in most armies and in many air forces; the naval equivalent rank is generally "Captain". It is also used in some police forces and other paramilitary rank structures...

 Franz Sigel
Franz Sigel
Franz Sigel was a German military officer, revolutionist and immigrant to the United States who was a teacher, newspaperman, politician, and served as a Union major general in the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 commanded 1,100 Federal soldiers intent on keeping Missouri within the Union
Union (American Civil War)
During the American Civil War, the Union was a name used to refer to the federal government of the United States, which was supported by the twenty free states and five border slave states. It was opposed by 11 southern slave states that had declared a secession to join together to form the...

. The Missouri State Guard
Missouri State Guard
The Missouri State Guard was a state militia organized in the state of Missouri during the early days of the American Civil War. While not initially a formal part of the Confederate States Army, the State Guard fought alongside Confederate troops and, at times, under regular Confederate...

 was commanded by Governor Claiborne F. Jackson
Claiborne Fox Jackson
Claiborne Fox Jackson was a lawyer, soldier, and Democratic politician from Missouri. He was the 15th Governor of Missouri in 1861, then governor-in-exile for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 himself and numbered over 4,000 unorganized, inexperienced soldiers, along with 2,000 unarmed troops who did not participate in the battle. The battle was rather meaningless from a tactical or strategic view, though it was deemed a victory by the Missouri State Guard. Carthage played a part in determining Missouri's course during the war, as it helped spark recruitment for the Southern regiments.


Political views in Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 were divided before the Civil War. St. Louis
St. Louis, Missouri
St. Louis is an independent city on the eastern border of Missouri, United States. With a population of 319,294, it was the 58th-largest U.S. city at the 2010 U.S. Census. The Greater St...

 and its surrounding counties generally sympathized with the Northern states because that region was connected economically with North. The area also had few slaves and contained a large German immigrant population, most of whom opposed slavery. Missouri Governor
A governor is a governing official, usually the executive of a non-sovereign level of government, ranking under the head of state...

 Claiborne F. Jackson
Claiborne Fox Jackson
Claiborne Fox Jackson was a lawyer, soldier, and Democratic politician from Missouri. He was the 15th Governor of Missouri in 1861, then governor-in-exile for the Confederacy during the American Civil War.-Early life:...

 was pro-Southern, and the rest of the state was very heavily divided. Publicly Jackson tried to stay neutral, but he was suspected by the Union men of secretly preparing the state militia to seize the Federal Arsenal in St. Louis.

In April 1861, after the firing on Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter
Fort Sumter is a Third System masonry coastal fortification located in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. The fort is best known as the site upon which the shots initiating the American Civil War were fired, at the Battle of Fort Sumter.- Construction :...

, President
President of the United States
The President of the United States of America is the head of state and head of government of the United States. The president leads the executive branch of the federal government and is the commander-in-chief of the United States Armed Forces....

 Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln
Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, serving from March 1861 until his assassination in April 1865. He successfully led his country through a great constitutional, military and moral crisis – the American Civil War – preserving the Union, while ending slavery, and...

 called for troops from all of the states to defeat the Confederacy. Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 was asked to send four regiments. Governor Jackson refused the request. Instead, he called up the Missouri State Militia
Missouri State Militia (pre-Missouri State Guard)
The Missouri Volunteer Militia was the state militia organization of Missouri prior to the Missouri State Guard in the American Civil War.Prior to the Civil War, Missouri had an informal state militia that could be called up by the governor for emergencies or annual drill "in accordance with the...

, possibly to seize the St. Louis Arsenal
St. Louis Arsenal
The St. Louis Arsenal is a large complex of military weapons and ammunition storage buildings owned by the United States Army in St. Louis, Missouri. During the American Civil War, the St...

. If this was his intention, it was thwarted by the newly appointed commander of the arsenal, Captain Nathaniel Lyon
Nathaniel Lyon
Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union general to be killed in the American Civil War and is noted for his actions in the state of Missouri at the beginning of the conflict....

 of the 2nd U. S. Infantry
2nd Infantry Regiment (United States)
The 2nd Infantry Regiment is an infantry regiment in the United States Army. It has served the United States for more than two hundred years. It is the third oldest regiment in the US Army with a Lineage date of 1808 and a history extending back to 1791...


Lyon was an abolitionist
Abolitionism is a movement to end slavery.In western Europe and the Americas abolitionism was a movement to end the slave trade and set slaves free. At the behest of Dominican priest Bartolomé de las Casas who was shocked at the treatment of natives in the New World, Spain enacted the first...

 and had plans of his own for the arsenal. He used its weapons to arm a Radical Republican paramilitary
A paramilitary is a force whose function and organization are similar to those of a professional military, but which is not considered part of a state's formal armed forces....

 organization called the Wide Awakes
Wide Awakes
The Wide Awakes was a paramilitary campaign organization affiliated with the Republican Party during the United States presidential election of 1860. Similar organizations affiliated with the Democratic Party were called the "Douglas Invincibles", "Young Hickories" or "Earthquakes"...

. To prevent the secession favoring governor and his supporters from seizing the arms, Lyon secretly had most of the arsenal's weapons moved across the Mississippi River
Mississippi River
The Mississippi River is the largest river system in North America. Flowing entirely in the United States, this river rises in western Minnesota and meanders slowly southwards for to the Mississippi River Delta at the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains...

 to Illinois
Illinois is the fifth-most populous state of the United States of America, and is often noted for being a microcosm of the entire country. With Chicago in the northeast, small industrial cities and great agricultural productivity in central and northern Illinois, and natural resources like coal,...

. He then surrounded the state militia's camp, forced them to surrender, and unwisely started from there and marched them as prisoners through St. Louis, inadvertently inciting a deadly riot (the Camp Jackson Affair.) The action drew great protests from Missourians, and even representatives of the City of St. Louis petitioned Lincoln for Lyon's dismissal. Lyon, however, was politically connected to Postmaster General
United States Postmaster General
The United States Postmaster General is the Chief Executive Officer of the United States Postal Service. The office, in one form or another, is older than both the United States Constitution and the United States Declaration of Independence...

 Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair
Montgomery Blair , the son of Francis Preston Blair, elder brother of Francis Preston Blair, Jr. and cousin of B. Gratz Brown, was a politician and lawyer from Maryland...

. Blair arranged for Lyon's promotion to brigadier general
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 and saw that he was given command of the Army of the West in place of Gen. William S. Harney
William S. Harney
William Selby Harney was a cavalry officer in the U.S. Army during the Mexican-American War and the Indian Wars. He was born in what is today part of Nashville, Tennessee but at the time was known as Haysborough....

, a moderate.

On June 10, 1861, Lyon personally met with Governor Jackson in an attempt to resolve their differences in a "gentlemanly" manner. The conference proved futile, with Lyon storming out of the room and declaring that the war was on. Lyon moved his Army of the West up the Missouri River
Missouri River
The Missouri River flows through the central United States, and is a tributary of the Mississippi River. It is the longest river in North America and drains the third largest area, though only the thirteenth largest by discharge. The Missouri's watershed encompasses most of the American Great...

 to capture the state capital at Jefferson City
Jefferson City, Missouri
Jefferson City is the capital of the U.S. state of Missouri and the county seat of Cole County. Located in Callaway and Cole counties, it is the principal city of the Jefferson City metropolitan area, which encompasses the entirety of both counties. As of the 2010 census, the population was 43,079...

, leaving General Thomas Sweeny to take steps to move his troops out of St. Louis. Sweeny was delayed due to logistical problems, so Col. Franz Sigel took command of the Federal advance. On June 12 he started to move his First and Second Battalions, along with 5 infantry companies, 2 rifle companies, and an artillery battery towards Springfield.

The Missouri State Guard retreated to Boonville
Battle of Boonville
The First Battle of Boonville was a minor skirmish of the American Civil War, occurring on June 17, 1861, near Boonville in Cooper County, Missouri. Although casualties were extremely light, the battle's strategic impact was far greater than one might assume from its limited nature...

, where a pivotal skirmish took place on June 17. Lyon quickly took the town and chased the Missouri State Guard south. Again due to logistics, Lyon could not keep up with the retreating Guardsmen. Another group of State Guardsmen in Lexington also moved south under Sterling Price
Sterling Price
Sterling Price was a lawyer, planter, and politician from the U.S. state of Missouri, who served as the 11th Governor of the state from 1853 to 1857. He also served as a United States Army brigadier general during the Mexican-American War, and a Confederate Army major general in the American Civil...

, after learning of the defeat in Boonsville. Sigel’s troops arrived in Springfield and quickly took the town. They prepared to march to Carthage, hoping to catch up with the retreating State Guardsmen. Jackson’s and Prices’s units met in Lamar on July 3 and started to organize. Jackson’s army grew to 6,000 men, a large number of whom joined along the march south. However, the force in Lamar was for the most part armed only with hunting rifles, shotguns, knives, or nothing at all. The next day, July 4, Sigel arrived at Carthage with his 1,100 men.

Learning that Sigel had encamped at Carthage
Carthage, Missouri
Carthage is a city in Jasper County, Missouri, United States. The population was 14,378 at the 2010 census. It is the county seat of Jasper County and is nicknamed "America's Maple Leaf City."...

, Governor Jackson took command and made plans to attack the smaller but better armed Union force. On the morning of July 5, Jackson marched his green soldiers south. The rival armies met 10 miles north of Carthage, and the State Guard raised two Confederate stars and bars
Stars and bars
Stars and bars may refer to* The first official flag of the Confederate States of America* A graphical method used to derive the formula for multiset coefficients and other combinatorial theorems* A 1988 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis...

 flags on either side of their line, which stretched over half a mile. Sigel’s men provided an impressive display as they formed a line of battle and moved within 800 yards of the State Guard troops.

Opposing forces

Opening the action with his artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

, Sigel closed to the attack. Jackson replied with his own artillery. Jackson and the State Guard then chased after Sigel's brigade, engaging them in battle as they chased them 10 miles southward until they reached the outskirts of Cathage. Jackson had his men divide up and attempted to surround Sigel's force, the battle went on steadily throughout the day until both forces faced off in the Carthage town square. Both sides then engaged in some skirmishing. However, spotting a large Confederate force—actually all unarmed recruits—moving into the woods on his left outside of town, he feared they would turn his flank. He ordered a retreat. The Confederates pursued, but Sigel conducted a successful rearguard action. By evening, Sigel was back in Carthage. Under the cover of darkness, he retreated further to Sarcoxie
Sarcoxie, Missouri
Sarcoxie is a city in Jasper County, Missouri, United States. The population was 1,330 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Joplin, Missouri Metropolitan Statistical Area.- History :...



The Battle of Carthage had little strategic meaning, but pro-Southern elements in Missouri, anxious for any good news, celebrated their first victory.

The battle also marks the only time a sitting U.S. State governor has led troops in the field, and then, against the Union to which his state belonged.

The battle is also the first chronological major battle after the U.S. Congress formally declared war, arguably making the Battle of Carthage the first major battle of the Civil War.

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