Monday, September 12, 2011

September 12, 1861: The Siege of Lexington begins

Colonel James A. Mulligan

On September 12, 1861, Southern troops under Sterling Price advanced against Lexington, Missouri, which was held by a numerically inferior Union force under Colonel James A. Mulligan. Mulligan left the following account of the first day of the battle.
"The Siege of Lexington, Mo."

By Colonel James A. Mulligan.

ON the night of the 30th of August, 1861, as the "Irish Brigade" (23d Illinois Volunteers) lay encamped just outside of Jefferson City, Mo., I received orders to report to General Jefferson C. Davis, commanding in the town. On doing so, I was informed by General Davis that the cavalry regiment of Colonel Thomas A. Marshall, which had left for the South-west some days before, had reached Tipton, where it was hemmed in by the enemy, and could neither advance nor return, and that he wished me to go to Tipton, join Colonel Marshall, take command of the combined forces, cut my way through the enemy, go to Lexington, and hold it at all hazards.

The next morning the "Irish Brigade" started with forty rounds of ammunition and three days' rations for each man. We marched for nine days without meeting an enemy, foraging upon the country for support. We reached Tipton, but found neither Colonel Marshall nor the enemy, and we passed on to a pleasant spot near Lexington where we prepared for our entry into the city. The trouble was not as much the getting into Lexington as the getting out. At Lexington we found Colonel Marshall's cavalry regiment and about 350 of a regiment of Home Guards. On the 10th of September we received a letter from Colonel Everett Peabody, of the 13th Missouri Regiment, saying that he was retreating from Warrensburg, 34 miles distant, and that the rebel General Price was in full pursuit with an army of 10,000 men. A few hours later General Peabody joined us.

There were then at this post the "Irish Brigade," Colonel Marshall's Illinois cavalry regiment (full), Colonel Peabody's regiment, and a part of the 14th Missouri-in all about 2,780 men, with one six-pounder, forty rounds of ammunition, and but few rations. We then dispatched a courier to Jefferson City to inform General Davis of our condition, and to pray for reenforcements or even rations, whereupon we would hold out to the last. At noon of the 11th we commenced throwing up intrenchments on College Hill, an eminence overlooking Lexington and the broad Missouri. All day long the men worked untiringly with the shovel. The evening, but six or eight hours after we had commenced, our pickets were driven in and intimation was given that the enemy were upon us. Colonel Peabody was ordered out to meet them, and two six-pounders were planted in a position to command a covered bridge by which the enemy were obliged to enter the town. It was a night of fearful anxiety; none knew at what moment the enemy would be upon our devoted little band, and the hours passed in silence. We waited until the morning of the 12th, vigilantly and without sleep, when a messenger rushed in, saying, "Colonel, the enemy are pushing across the bridge in overwhelming force." With a glass we could see them as they came, General Price riding up and down the lines, urging his men on. Two companies of the Missouri 13th were ordered out, and, with Company K of the Irish Brigade, quickly checked the enemy, drove him back, burned the bridge, and gallantly ended their work before breakfast.

The enemy now made a detour, and approached the town once more, by the Independence road. Six companies of the Missouri 13th and the Illinois Cavalry were ordered out, and met them in the Lexington Cemetery, just outside the town, where the fight raged furiously over the dead. We succeeded in keeping the enemy in check, and in the mean time the work with the shovel went bravely on until we thrown up breastworks three or four feet high.

At 3 o'clock in the afternoon the engagement opened with artillery. A volley of grape from the enemy was directed at a group of our officers who were outside the breastworks. Our men returned the volley. The contest raged about an hour and a half, when we had the satisfaction, by a lucky shot, of knocking over the enemy's big gun, exploding a powder caisson, and otherwise doing much damage. The fight was continued until dusk, and, as the moon rose, the enemy retired to camp in the Fair Ground, two miles away, and Lexington was our own again.
Mulligan and his men had turned back Price's first probing attacks, but Price's force outnumbered Mulligan by nearly four-to-one. In the coming days, Mulligan and his men would find themselves surrounded in their makeshift fortifications on the grounds of Lexington's Masonic College.

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