Tuesday, July 05, 2011

150 Years Ago: Carthage

On Friday, July 5, 1861, the Battle of Carthage took place in Missouri.  This was the largest battle to date in the Civil War.

Governor Claiborne Jackson's State Guard had been on the run since they were routed at Boonville on June 17.  They headed toward the southwest corner of the state to regroup, and met up in Lamar on July 3 with another group of State Guards led by Sterling Price. Jackson now had around 4000 inexperienced soldiers and another 2000 that had no weapons.

Lyon was pursuing Jackson's militia from Boonville, but could not keep up.  Meanwhile, Colonel Franz Sigel led another detachment of 1100 Union troops toward Lexington to cut off Price's retreat.  Sigel headed on to Carthage to try to catch the fleeing States Guardsmen, unaware that the two groups had already merged.

Learning that Sigel was at Carthage, Jackson took command and advanced to attack the smaller, but better trained and armed force.  The two armies met about ten miles north of Carthage.

The battle opened around 8:30 a.m.  It began as an artillery duel that was largely ineffective.  Eventually Sigel realized how outnumbered he was.  With his line fully extended, the State Guard line extended past both of his flanks.  Sigel began an orderly withdrawal that turned into a running battle that lasted most of the day.  Sigel was eventually able to escape the trap, withdrawing back through Carthage before escaping to Sarcoxie.

Casualties were light.  Union:  13 killed, 31 wounded.  State Guard:  12 killed, 64 wounded, 1 missing.

The battle was fairly insignificant, not a great tactical or strategic victory, but the pro-Southerners in Missouri had not had much good news lately and celebrated their first victory.  The State Guard had almost taken Sigel by surprise and destroyed his army.  Only a skillful withdrawal had saved him.  The State Guard was able to link up with Confederate troops, mostly Texans and Arkansans, led by Ben McCulloch on July 6, and continue the fight for Missouri.

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