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Engagement at Carthage

In the spring of 1861, the newly elected governor of Missouri, Claiborne Jackson, adopted a strident pro-Confederate stand, branding Lincoln’s call for troops “illegal, unconstitutional, and revolutionary, in its objects, inhuman and diabolical.” When U.S. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon prevented Jackson and his followers from seizing the federal arsenal at St. Louis, they were forced to flee the state capital at Jefferson City. They made their way to the southwestern part of the state, a hotbed of Rebel sympathizers.

While Col. Franz Sigel searched for him 25 miles away at Carthage, Jackson joined 4,000- poorly armed and trained troops under Confederate Gen. James S. Rains at Lamar. On July 4 Jackson learned of Sigel’s whereabouts, and despite the presence of several seasoned generals — he took command of Rains’s recruits and ordered them south to Carthage.

On July 5 Jackson merely lined up his men on a ridge outside Carthage and awaited Sigel’s attack. Sigel, outnumbered nearly four to one, opened with an artillery barrage that was fierce, but did little to damage the Rebel force. Sigel then attacked Jackson’s raw troops, but failed to provide proper cavalry protection for his flanks.

Jackson, suddenly realizing that his position on the ridge was vulnerable, sent 2,000 unarmed cavalrymen from the Missouri State Guard scurrying for cover in the woods to his right. Sigel, thinking this was an attack on his exposed flank, quickly ordered a retreat, leaving a perplexed Jackson to lead a half-hearted pursuit. Sigel and his 1,100 men held Carthage for the evening, but after dark they slipped away to rejoin General Lyon’s main force to the east, allowing Jackson to claim victory.

Total Union casualties were 13 killed and 31 wounded; Confederate losses were 10 killed and 64 wounded. While little was gained strategically, Jackson’s reckless encounter did boost morale in southwest Missouri, where sentiment remained firmly Confederate throughout the war.

Fascinating Fact General Sigel was an exile from Germany, having fought there in the 1848 Revolution.