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Engagement at Rock Creek

June 13, 1861

“Rather than agree that my government shall concede to your government one iota of authority, I will see you, sir (pointing to Missouri Gov. Claiborne Fox Jackson), and you, sir (pointing to Missouri State Guard Gen. Sterling Price), and myself, and all of us, under the sod. This means war!” said fiery, red haired Union Gen. Nathaniel Lyon on June 11, 1861. Despite a prosecession governor and legislature, the border state and slave state of Missouri had tried to remain neutral in the conflict that had already ripped 11 Southern states out of the Union — but no more compromises seemed possible. The meeting in St. Louis immediately broke up, and urgent orders were issued to the forces of the opposing sides.

Soon, hundreds of pro-Southern militia-men began assembling along Rock Creek near Independence, Mo., in the western part of the state. These raw, undisciplined troops had barely learned the rudiments of military drill when their pickets reported at 5:00 P.M. that 200 Union cavalrymen were just two miles away and fast approaching. The horsemen, commanded by Capt. David Stanley, were under orders to locate the Rock Creek camp and make a show of force, but not to bring on a general engagement.

Before long, the two forces were eyeing each other from opposing ridges. Stanley rode out alone into the middle ground carrying a white flag. Soon Col. Edmonds B. Holloway of the Missouri State Guard and an aide rode out to meet with Stanley. They had spoken only a few minutes when Stanley pointed out to Holloway that some of his men were advancing despite the truce, apparently trying to get into closer range of the Union troopers. Holloway and his aide immediately turned,and galloped back toward their lines to recall the men, only to be mortally wounded by their own jittery soldiers, who did not recognize them. The Union soldiers obeyed their orders and withdrew. The first shots of the Civil War fired by Missouri secessionists had been “into their own foot.”

Fascinating Fact: Stanley and Holloway greeted each other pleasantly, surprised to find that they knew each other. They had been friends when they served together on the frontier.