Seige of Lexington

150 years ago today Stirling Price
captured Lexington, Missouri after a 8 day seige. After their victory
at Wilson’s Creek the Missouri State Guard under General Stirling
Price advanced into the northern portions of the state. John C.
Fremont, commander of the Union Department of the West, decided to
defend Lexington. It occupied an important position on the Missouri
River, and it was in a very pro-Confederate area. The commander in
the town was Col. James Mulligan. He put his 3,500 troops in motion
to build entrenchments in preparation for a seige. More
reinforcements were on the way, but they were ambushed by the
arriving Confederates and forced to retire. The Confederates were
aware of their position because they had tapped the telegraph line,
allowing them to spy on the Union messages.

Cannon Ball in the Lexington Court House. Credit.

Price arrived in front of the town on
September 11th and launched an attack two days later. They found the
Federal works to strong to be taken with a direct assault, so they surrounded the town and began shelling the Federal positions with
their artillery. On September 18th the Confederates attacked again,
and drove the Union forces from their outlying works. By this time
the Union forces in the town were in severe lack of water. The wells
had gone dry, and Confederate sharpshooters shot anyone who tried to
reach a spring between the lines. On September 19th the Missourian
forces prepared for their final attack. They brought up hemp bales
soaked in water to use as mobile breastworks. These were very
effective, and allowed the Confederates to roll them forward, all the
time sheltered from Union fire.

Hill up which the Confederate Forces advanced

The Confederate forces advanced to
attack on the morning of the 20th of September. The rolled the bales
forward, hidden from the rifles of the Union soldiers. The Union
attempted to set the bales ablaze by using red-hot cannon balls
heated in ovens, but the bales were so wet that they were immune to
the tactic. At noon Mulligan, seeing that the Confederate troops had
advanced to the point where they could easily take the trenches with
a final charge, requested terms of surrender.

The casualties from the battle had been
light. The Missouri State Guard had suffered only 25 killed and 72
wounded, while the Federal forces had 39 killed and 120 wounded, with
their entire force being taken prisoners. The light casualties of the
defenders resulted from the brilliant idea of using the soaked bales
as movible defenses. Jefferson Davis later wrote, “The expedient
of the bales of hemp was a brilliant conception, not unlike that
which made Tarik, the Saracen warrior, immortal, and gave his name to
the northern pillar of Hercules.”

Much fighting took place over this house. Credit.

Post from Civil War 150th Blog.