First Battle of Boonville, Missouri

June 17, 1861

The First Battle of Boonville, Missouri occurred on Monday June 17, 1861. This was the first action saw by the green farm-boys and other patriotic citizens who composed the Missouri State Guard.

Kansas City Times, June 21, 1929


J. C. Walden
Missouri State Guard

Monday, June 17, 1861, the report came to the state's quota of "rebels" gathered at Boonville under the orders of General Price that General Lyon was landing his men on the Cooper county side of the Missouri River.

General Price had been placed in command of the Southern troops in Missouri after Governor Jackson, incensed at the breaking of the truce made with General Lyon, had ordered them mobilized. Orders were sent for 50,000 men to gather at Boonville and Sunday, June 16, they began to arrive, with their leaders, Governor Jackson and General Price, stationed at the old City Hotel.

Sunday afternoon General Price, receiving word General Lyon was approaching from Jefferson City with a strong force of Federal troops, gave orders for the retreat to Lexington. Capt. William Brown of Saline county, a firebrand, got up before the men and told them he was going to fight if he had but a handful to face the Federals. Some decided to cast their lot with Brown and the others retreated with Price to Lexington.

Monday morning our scout brought word Union troops were landing three miles east of Boonville on the south side of the river. We immediately were ordered to advance and meet them. Our equipment was poor; most of us had poor rifles, if any, but all went forward with the idea that the enemy soon would be vanquished.

We formed in a wheat field and waited quietly. When we heard the clank of the cannon on the road below us we were told to be ready. "When I raise my hand -- fire! the captain said. As the enemy went by us on the road below us, we saw the signal and fired. The Federal column paid little attention and didn't even break ranks. We fired a second volley, when someone yelled retreat. I don't know whether it was the captain -- but we retreated.

I started for the camp at the old fairgrounds where we had left our knapsacks. I found our things taken by the enemy and I ran and hid under the river bank. Finally two other Howard County men and I found our way into Boonville and went to Mrs. Beck's shop on Main Street to get some ginger cake and cider. While we were there, I heard the clanking of the Federal cavalry up the street and we hiked without food for the river.

A boat was just leaving for Howard county, and the gangplank was thrown down for us. The Federals fired and the captain would have stopped if it had not been for the insistence of Captain Cooper, who was ready to "blow out somebody's brains."

Weekly Advertiser, Boonville, MO., June 13, 1924


Marmaduke's Company, which was raised in Saline County, was organized during the latter part of April, 1861, and elected John S. Marmaduke captain, Lucian Gaines 1st. Lieutenant, James H. Akin, 2nd. Lieut., James Craddock, 3rd. Lieut. Our company consisted of from fifty to sixty men. We met about two or three miles south of Marshall and having been ordered to Boonville, we started to that place, arriving there in the evening of June 12 and went into camp on the bluff of the river about two miles east of Boonville.

We were almost without military training. There were many camp rumors concerning the impending battle and it was generally understood that Colonel Marmaduke was opposed to making the fight because the troops were not sufficiently organized. He favored retreating and joining the reinforcements from the South. On Sunday evening Rev. Frank Mitchell made a speech urging the men to do their duty telling them they were engaged in a just cause.

A captain also made a speech saying, "If every one else leaves I will stay and fight it out by myself." More belligerent than discreet.

The fatal day of June 17, 1861, came on, and we were ordered to fall in by our captain who at that time was Gaines. We moved about two miles down the river to the W. D. Adams place, when our march was changed down a fence on the east side of the Adams farm, with heavy timber east of us. We had no breastworks of any kind. We were halted when we came to the Rocheport road and heard a shot east of us and soon the beat of horses feet coming up the road. The rider was a handsomely dressed young man mounted on a black horse. He said, "Boys, they are coming. They shot at me down there." In a short time we were ordered to fall back into a wheat field north of the Adams house. Captain Brown's company formed our extreme right, extending from the Adams house across the road. That company had some protection of trees, fences and outbuildings. Before taking our position we were fired on by the federal troops. In an incredulously short space of time Captain Totten's federal artillery came down. Our forces having no protection in that wheat field were ordered to fall back over the brow of the hill to escape the missiles, the attacking forces being out of reach of our shot guns and rifles.

Colonel Marmaduke, riding along our line, gave the command to advance to the former position. The troops failed to obey the order, only three men responding, William M. Price, of Arrow Rock, a first cousin of Colonel Marmaduke, A. T. Swisher, of Marshall and the writer.

As soon as we were exposed I saw the flash of a cannon. I dropped down as I heard a shot coming through the wheat. It entered the ground within an arm's reach of my foot. Then we heard in the timber near us the command to advance. Colonel Marmaduke having returned to the Adams house and seeing the troops failing to respond to his orders rode down a second time and finding the men in a little ravine said, "If the Yankees catch you in here, they'll kill half of you. Orders to retreat and every man take care of himself."

The battery kept firing as we retreated through the woods on the west, more for its demoralizing effect than for its execution. Several of us came through our deserted camp and reaching the east part of Boonville we found General M. M. Parsons , with his brigade; Gov. Claiborne I.[sic] Jackson, Col. Marmaduke and other officers.

When ordered to fall in to go down to the battle field a handsome young man, a stranger to me, fell in on my left. In moving our line, we would sometimes get scattered and would have to "double quick" to catch up. The stranger on my left, not used to such violent exercise would fall behind but when we came to a walk he would overtake us, almost out of breath. In the skirmishing he was struck in the knee by a bullet and died from the wound. I afterwards learned that he was Jeff McCutcheon, a son of Dr. McCutcheon, of Boonville.

I often thought of the young soldier on the black horse who first announced the coming of the Federals. In about 1886 and 1887 a gentleman came to Pilot Grove and while he was talking to a friend of mine I felt I had seen him before. Upon inquiring of him whether he was in the battle of Boonville or not I learned he was the rider of the black horse and was Tom Stephens of Bunceton.

Captain Marmaduke was elected colonel while we were at Jefferson City and is an uncle of our fellow townsman Dr. A. W. Nelson who is a candidate of governor of Missouri.

H. T. Barnes, M.D.