Battle of Carthage Missouri
July 5, 1861
The Battle of Carthage, Missouri occurred on Friday July 5, 1861. In an unsuccessful pincer move to crush the Missouri State Guard, the Federal Army was routed by the patriotic Missourians. Again, we are providing first hand accounts of this battle.
The following letter was printed in the Glasgow (Mo.) Weekly Times, July 18, 1861.
July 7, 1861
I have felt all the mortification of a defeat and retreat at Boonville, and I have also felt all the joy and pride of seeing the enemy driven with precipitation before us. The fight at Boonville was child's play compared to the work of Friday. We fought from 10 o'clock a.m. until after dark, driving the enemy from every position they took. The cannonading on both sides was terrible.
Our loss was some 15 killed and over 50 wounded. The enemies loss not known, but we have buried many of their men left dead on the field. Their loss cannot fall short of 60 killed, and as many wounded. We took several prisoners, and their arms, together with several of their baggage wagons.
Gen. Clark's horse was shot from under him, by a cannon ball, though not killed. He acted gallantly in the battle.
Their numbers were over 3000 fighting men. Their prisoners say they had two and ahalf regiments, and 8 pieces of artillery. We fought over 1800 men, though we had many more on the ground, not armed. We had only 4 field pieces in use. Had the cannon been more efficient, we would have taken the whole command. Our men are jubilant.
An old Bethany schoolmate, and also Lebanon student, by name Simpson, was killed in a charge.
We joined McCulloch yesterday with 4000 men. He took 100 Dutch prisoners in Neosho, and their arms, as he passed through.
Two of our Howard [County] boys were wounded, though not severely. Gen. Clark's division suffered most in the fight. Our boys are all well.
P.S. I do not think McCulloch has any arms with him, but he says we will get them soon, and plenty of them.
The following letter was printed in the Charleston (Mo.) Courier, July 26, 1861.
Camp near Carthage
July 6th, '61
On the 4th of July our army effected a junction with Jackson and Gen. Parsons' Division on Rupe's Creek, which had fallen back from Boonville. Our forces being thus augmented we took up the line of march southward on the morning of the 5th. The day was bright - the march was upon a high prairie plain. We met the enemy at 10 o'clock a.m. advancing upon us. We immediately drew up our line of battle - the cannonading commenced vigorously on both sides at the same time, at the distance of 800 yards or more. The enemy were 2,500 strong. We had in action perhaps about the same number; we were poorly armed compared to the Federal troops.
After one hour of severe cannonading the enemy fell back about one mile, to a better position, across a branch of the Spring River. Here the action was renewed, and a brisk fight ensued, in which the small arms took part. The Federal troops were dislodged also from this position after a severe conflict. The enemy then fell back, in good order, to another position on the next creek, two miles distant. Here another sharp conflict ensued, in which there was loss on both sides, the Federal troops retreating all the while, and the infantry on our part vigorously pursuing them in front, and the cavalry endeavoring to flank and annoy them in the rear. I cannot give the particulars of these several engagements; the loss on both sides was considerable.
The Federal troops now retreated and crossed the Spring River and took position in the town of Carthage. Here they made the strongest stand. We surrounded the town with our infantry, the cavalry still flanking to the right and left. After an obstinate resistance the enemy were dislodged and driven out of town, and took his last position on a hill one mile south of town. Here the cannonading was spiritedly renewed on both sides. About sundown he was forced from his last stronghold, and pursued in the direction of Sarcoxie. The chase on our part, and the retreat on the part of the enemy, became general, and a running fire for several miles was vigorously kept up, in which the Federal troops severely suffered.
Our infantry done the most of the fighting, as the cavalry was raw and rather poorly equipped. At dark the chase was abandoned, and the infantry called off, and returned to Carthage and encamped. It is just to observe that at this point of time the cavalry had effected their passage through the heavy timber skirting the Spring River, and advanced to the attack, and after the infantry ceased firing, and men drawn off from exhaustion, the cavalry annoyed the enemy for an hour, by galling them in the rear and flanks, killing several and capturing a portion of their trains.
In all of the running fight of six or seven hours, our infantry advanced steadily upon the enemy, and stood the fire like veterans. The artillery, under Col. Weightman, and the infantry in general, stood the brunt of the battle and bore themselves gallantly. My own regiment, 800 strong, had the post of danger all the day. Our loss was more severe than that of any other part of the army. We had the front position in every attack made. We have lost some of our very best men. In the several actions had in the "running battle of Carthage," we had fifteen men killed and some forty wounded - and these our very best and most gallant men. Some seven or eight of the wounded must die. We have lost some two or three captains killed, and my sergeant major, Hyde, I fear mortally wounded. He was one of the bravest and best officers in the army. He is at Carthage in charge of the physicians.
Capt. Stone, of Utica, and Capt. McKenzie were both killed, gallantly fighting at the head of their companies. The loss of the enemy was 180 killed, some 800 wounded and some 20 prisoners, with one piece of cannon, several baggage wagons, and a lot of horses. A vigorous concerted effort of the infantry and cavalry would have captured the entire army. They retreated to Springfield. My own regiment suffered more than any other in the engagement and was among the last to quit the pursuit. The extra battalion from Clay and Platte, under Maj. Thornton, rendered me effectual and reliable service, and fought most gallantly. Many others deserve special mention, and will, no doubt, receive merited applause in Gen. Slack's official report to the General in Chief. On yesterday we were reinforced by Gen. Sterling Price and Gen. Ben McCulloch and Gen. Pierce of Texas and Arkansas. They brought 5,000 troops and 4,000 more in the rear. The State Government of Missouri must be re-established, and the liberties of the people restored. When we return, this is our motto: "We come to deliver you."
J. T. Hughes
1st Reg., 4th Div. M. S. G.
The following is believed to have been written by an Archie Thomas and can be found in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri-Rolla.
On Friday the 5th of July 1861 we received news in the camp about day that the State picket guard had met the Lincoln pickett guard and had had a skirmish in which one of the State troops was slightly wounded in the hand and that one of the Lincoln pickets was killed. The State troops had orders to march immediately which was done before many of them had breakfast, the troops being told the news, and that there would be a fight. They took new life and marched in quick and regular order -- some 4 or 5 miles when the order was given to halt, and a guard placed to prevent any one going on when the order of battle was formed. The wagon train was ordered corralled after which the cavalry or a portion of them advanced, and the infantry took up the line of march in regular order for battle. After marching 1 1/2 or 2 miles to the top of a high prairie hill we discovered the Lincoln army in the bottom of the plain below, forming in order of battle. The State troops filed to the left of the road, and formed in order of battle planting the cannon on the side of the hill with their infantry to support them. When ready the order was given and off went the missiles of death and destruction from the cannon's mouth with the loud roar of distant thunder in quick succession. Roar followed roar from each battery and we could see at every fire the State battery made, a swarth open through the columns of federal troops, and again and again discover the officer rally the men, but again and again would the State cannon belch forth death among them until they fled, and the State troops pursued. In about one mile after crossing dry fork a most beautiful stream of clear and pure water they again formed in battle array and planted the cannon on the bluff above. The State cannon was then planted in the bottom below about 400 or 500 yards distant when another sanguinary battle ensued. Here it was that the infantry flanked around through the brush on the creek and played finely on the Federal Army with their ready and sure aim of the shot gun and rifle. When again the federals retreated as fast as the State cavalry would let them, here it was that they had a running fight of some 7 or 8 miles across a prairie to Spring River the State troops pursuing as the federals ran. The federals arrived at Carthage and it was said as they were drawing water and drinking at the wells, and telling the story, that they had whipped the State and killed from 200 to 500, the State troops filed round on each side of town, and came in on them. Here it was that Col. Prichart coming out of the brush in advance of his men was fired at by (it is said) from 40 to 50 men concealed in a corn field, but his command was, "Come on boys here they are." When his boys in quick and regular order came forth from the brush and fired into the Federals in the corn leaving 15 dead in the corn and running the rest out, the Federals again took up the line of running and firing. In this contest (in and around the town) it was that young T. McCain received a flesh wound in the thigh and Wm. Marrow was knocked down by a ball grazing his head above the ear, and that I Archy Thomas received a slight wound in the arm. Night coming on, the State troops were drawn off and some went into camp in the Court House yard and others at a spring about a mile from town. The citizens and especially the Ladies of Carthage were very much rejoiced that the State troops had driven out the Federals. One lady ran out when the balls were flying thick and heavy shouting "Hurrah for Jeff Davis, liberty and independence forever. Down with the Dutch, " etc., and cheering on the boys to brave and noble deeds. The boys from Carroll County all acted boldly and nobly so far as I could learn. Not one flinched in the whole time. The day being very warm some men were exhausted and had to rest, but I saw them rest awhile and then again pursue on to victory, and all reports that the State troops gave back and retreated I believe to be false as I was an eye witness and did not see others give one foot.
This is my account of the battle up to Sunday morning. The killed and those that had died were eleven, of the State with 35 wounded. This I had from Dr. A. and Dr. McC., and they I presume know there was none killed from this county that I could learn.
The next day the State Troop marched about three miles and stopped for dinner when they received the news that Maj. Gen. Price and Gen. McCullough was within three miles of them and was ordered to march to meet them. When all got fairly in marching order they were ordered to halt and formed in regular order of review where they remained for an hour or so until the Brig. Gen. could go to see the Maj. Gen. and Gen. McCullough and escort them along the line of the M.S.G. When they were ready, the Gov. and Maj. Gen. by his side (the Maj. Gen. with his hat off) then Gen. McCullough with Gen. Parsons' by his side (Gen. McCullough with his hat off) with the other Generals followed in regular order. As they passed, Maj. Gen. Price introduced to the head of every command Gen. McCullough. After passing down the line in front they returned in the rear after which the M.S.G.'s went into camp and Gen. McCullough filed down the road with his 5,000 horses for parts unknown though understood to be in pursuit of [Sigel?].
This above is about what I saw and heard. Of course I cannot pretend to give all that was done or said as I could not be at both ends of a large army at once.
(This is an excerpt of a longer article.)
The affair at Carthage hardly rose to the dignity of a respectable skirmish, but it was impressive and grand to us then. I remember feeling the beauty of the scene as our mules maliciously wheeled the pieces into battery, and we looked down from our slight ridge and saw the bright guns of the federal battery and their finely uniformed infantry deploying on the green prairie about 800 yards distant. Both sides formed in silence and stood looking at each other. As soon as we were ready Guibor galloped over to Gen. Parsons' and asked permission to open the fight. It was given. I carefully pointed the right piece, Guibor nodded his head, bang she went, and the first shot we ever saw fired in earnest - the first gun for Missouri - went flying through the air. The enemy must have fired at our smoke, for this shot had barely reached them when their answering shot came roaring, carrying off left and right arms of Hicks and Doyle - front and rear rank men - of Kelly's command, who were standing sturdily on our left.
Weightman's, afterwards Bledsoe's, battery, formed a short distance to our right, also opened fire immediately. For the next half hour I remember little. It was an almost continuous roar of whizzing shot and bursting shell, mules standing on end; one team stampeding with a limber toward the enemy, and getting well out in front before a mounted officer overtook and brought them back; men becoming exhausted by hard work and excitement in the hot sun; and I all the time praying that the enemy would run, and thus bring this horrid battle to an end. Yet, with all this fuss, we had but two men slightly wounded.
After twenty minutes to a half hour of this harmless artillery duel, Gen. Parsons' ordered an advance, and when I returned from the field hospital, after some slight personal repairs, the enemy were retiring over Dry Fork Creek, just in the rear of their position, with Kelly's boys skirmishing in the timber to our left and practicing their first "Rebel Yell."
I well remember that we all thought this contemptible little skirmish a great battle and a great victory, and when our last shot was sent rolling over the prairie, about a half mile beyond Carthage, after dark, and the pursuit ceased, we were very glad the awful battle was ended, and went into camp thoroughly tired out. Our reward was the following in Gen. Parsons' official report:
After an experience of real fighting in real battles this high praise will sound ludicrous by the old soldier, but the general was in earnest, and we accepted the compliment as well earned, honestly feeling that we had participated in a decisive engagement, with perhaps, a mental reservation that we were heroes on a small scale.