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Doc. 203. the siege of Lexington, Mo.

Speech of Col. Mulligan.

at the reception given to Colonel Mulligan in Detroit, Mich., on the 29th of Nov., the Colonel delivered the following speech:

ladies and gentlemen: It is with no ordinary pleasure that I appear before you this night. It is with a peculiar pride that I stand in Detroit, so sacred to the memories of the past — in the home of that statesman (Cass) whose life has been devoted to his country — that monument of a man living and embodying the history of the nation. God grant that he may live to see our country again united! (Applause.) It is with pleasure that I stand here in the home of that man whose blood has baptized our great cause, for which he lies this night confined in a hostile dungeon. When I utter these words of bravery and patriotism, you know I embody the name of Wilcox, of Michigan. (Prolonged cheers.) And I trust that the time is not far distant, when he shall again stand by the side of Corcoran, of the glorious Sixty-ninth--that loyal wall of true Irish hearts — restored to the country which he has honored. (Cheers.) Let me now plainly and briefly relate the circumstances of a little affair that happened to us in Missouri. Just outside the limits of Jefferson City, overlooking the broad Missouri, were encamped two regiments, over which floated twin banners — banners which have been twins in the past, and may they ever be so in the future — the harp of Ireland and the stars of America. (Applause.) Under these twin banners lay as rollicking and happy a regiment as was ever collected together. It was the Irish Brigade of Chicago. At the hour of midnight, it received an order to march to the relief of Col. Marshall's Cavalry, then threatened by the enemy, and with them to cut their way through to Lexington and hold it at all hazards. The next morning saw the Irish Brigade with its face set towards Lexington. We started with forty rounds of ammunition and three days rations, and advanced for nine days without meeting the energy, foraging upon the country in the mean time for support. As we moved along, war smoothed his wrinkled brow. The chaplain mixed his admonitions with an occasional snatch of an Irish melody. The Major was a married man and chanted--

Ever of thee I'm fondly dreaming.

The Lieutenant-Colonel was a married man, and, not to be formal, I was a married man, and followed the Major. (Laughter.) Thus we went on, until at length we arrived within two miles of Lexington. The brigade sat down, pitched its camp, the men rested, and preparations were made for advancing into the city. We went in, with our solitary six-pounder muzzled in roses and breeched with evergreens. The men had travelled nine days, by forced marches, as it is called in the regular army, yet they never looked better. On arriving at Lexington, we found Col. Marshall's Cavalry and a few Home Guards, and I wish, for our sakes, there had been fewer. I have a very poor opinion of Home Guards. I have found them invincible in peace and invisible in war. (Laughter.) They are generally content to stay at home under the shadow of the paternal mansion and let the country take care of itself. I say, we found a few of these Home Guards there. On the 10th of September, a letter arrived from Col. Peabody, saying that he was retreating from Warrensburg, twenty-five miles distant, and that Price was pursuing him with ten thousand men. A few hours afterward, Colonel Peabody, with the Thirteenth Missouri, entered [440] Lexington. We then had two thousand seven hundred and eighty men in garrison and forty rounds of cartridges. At noon of the 11th we commenced throwing up our first intrenchments. In six hours afterward, the enemy opened their fire. Col. Peabody was ordered out to meet them. The camp then presented a lively scene; officers were hurrying hither and thither, drawing the troops up in line and giving orders, and the commander was riding with his staff to the bridge to encourage his men and to plant his artillery. Two six-pounders were planted to oppose the enemy, and placed in charge of Capt. Dan. Quirk, who remained at his post till daybreak. It was a night of fearful anxiety. None knew at what moment the enemy would be upon the little band, and the hours passed in silence and anxious waiting. So it continued until morning, when the chaplain rushed into Headquarters, saying that the enemy were pushing forward. Two companies of the Missouri Thirteenth were ordered out, and the Colonel, with the aid of his glass, saw General Price urging his men to the fight. They were met by Company K, of the Irish Brigade, under Capt. Quirk, who held them in check until Capt. Dillon's company, of the Missouri Thirteenth, drove them back, and burned the bridge. That closed our work before breakfast. Immediately six companies of the Missouri Thirteenth and two companies of Illinois Cavalry were despatched in search of the retreating enemy. They engaged them in a cornfield, fought with them gallantly, and harassed them to such an extent as to delay their progress, in order to give time for constructing intrenchments around the camp on College Hill. This had the desired effect, and we succeeded in throwing up earth-works three or four feet in height. This consumed the night, and was continued during the next day, the outposts still opposing the enemy, and keeping them back as far as possible. At three o'clock in the afternoon of the 12th the engagement opened with artillery. A volley of grapeshot was thrown among the officers, who stood in front of the breastworks. The guns within the intrenchments immediately replied with a vigor which converted the scene into one of the wildest description. The gunners were inexperienced, and the firing was bad. We had five six-pounders, and the musketry were firing at every angle. Those who were not shooting at the moon were shooting above it. (Laughter.) The men were ordered to cease firing, and they were arranged in ranks, kneeling, the front rank shooting and the others loading. The artillery was served with more care, and within an hour a slot from one of our guns dismounted their largest piece, a twelve-pounder, and exploded a powder caisson. This achievement was received with shouts of exultation by the beleaguered garrison. The enemy retired a distance of three miles. At seven o'clock the engagement had ceased, and Lexington was ours again. (Applause.) Next morning General Parsons, with ten thousand men at his back, sent in a flag of truce to a little garrison of two thousand seven hundred men, asking permission to enter the town and bury his dead, claiming that when the noble Lyon went down, his corpse had fallen into his hands, and he had granted every privilege to the Federal officers sent after it. It was not necessary to adduce this as a reason why he should be permitted to perform an act which humanity would dictate. (Cheers.) The request was willingly granted, and we cheerfully assisted in burying the fallen foe. On Friday the work of throwing up intrenchments went on. It rained all day, and the men stood knee-deep in the mud, building them. Troops were sent out to forage, and returned with large quantities of provisions and fodder. On Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, we stole seven days provisions for two thousand seven hundred men. We had found no provisions at Lexington, and were compelled to get our rations as best we could. A quantity of powder was obtained, and then large cisterns were filled with water. The men made cartridges in the cellar of the college building, and cast one hundred and fifty rounds of shot for the guns, at the foundries of Lexington. During the little respite the evening gave us, we cast our shot, made our cartridges, and stole our own provisions. (Applause.) We had stacks of forage, plenty of hams, bacon, &c., and felt that good times were in store for us. All this time, our pickets were constantly engaged with the enemy, and we were well aware that ten thousand men were threatening us, and knew that the struggle was to be a desperate one. Earthworks had been reared breast-high, enclosing an area of fifteen to eighteen acres, and surrounded by a ditch. Outside of this was a circle of twenty-one mines, and still further down were pits to embarrass the progress of the enemy. During the night of the 17th we were getting ready for the defence, and heard the sounds of preparation in the camp of the enemy for the attack on the morrow. Father Butler went around among the men and blessed them, and they reverently uncovered their heads and received his benediction. At nine o'clock on the morning of the 18th, the drums beat to arms, and the terrible struggle commenced. The enemy's force had been increased to twenty-eight thousand men and thirteen pieces of artillery. They came as one dark moving mass; men armed to the teeth as far as the eye could reach — men, men, men, were visible. They planted two batteries in front, one on the left, one on the right, and one in the rear, and opened with a terrible fire, which was answered with the utmost bravery and determination. Our spies had informed us that the rebels intended to make one grand rout, and bury us in the trenches of Lexington. The batteries opened at nine o'clock, and for three days they never ceased to pour deadly shot upon us. About noon the hospital was taken. It was situated on the left, outside of the intrenchments. I had never thought it necessary to [441] build fortifications around the sick man's couch. I had thought that, among civilized nations, the soldier sickened and wounded in the service of his country, would, at least, be sacred. But I was inexperienced, and had yet to learn that such was not the case with the rebels. They besieged the hospital, took it, and from the balcony and roof their sharpshooters poured a deadly fire within our intrenchments. It contained our chaplain and surgeon, and one hundred and twenty wounded men. It could not be allowed to remain in the possession of the enemy. A company of the Missouri Thirteenth was ordered forward to retake the hospital. They started on their errand, but stopped at the breastworks, “going not out because it was bad to go out.” (Laughter.) A company of the Missouri Fourteenth was sent forward, but it also shrank from the task, and refused to move outside the intrenchments. The Montgomery Guard, Captain Gleason, of the Irish Brigade, were then brought out. The commander admonished them that the others had failed; and with a brief exhortation to uphold the name they bore, gave the word to “charge.” The distance was eight hundred yards. They started out from the intrenchments, first quick, then double-quick, then on a run, then faster. The enemy poured a deadly shower of bullets upon them, but on they went, a wild line of steel, and what is better than steel, human will. (Cheers.) They stormed up the slope to the hospital door, and with irresistible bravery drove the enemy before them, and hurled them far down the hill beyond. (Vociferous cheers.) At the head of those brave fellows, pale as marble, but not pale from fear, stood the gallant officer, Captain Gleason. He said, “Come on, my brave boys,” and in they rushed. But when their brave captain returned, it was with a shot through the cheek and another through the arm, and with but fifty of the eighty he had led forth. The hospital was in their possession. This charge was one of the most brilliant and reckless in all history, and to you, Captain Gleason, belongs the glory. (At this mention, the gallant Capt. Gleason was brought to the front, when the whole assembled audience rose with one accord, and greeted his appearance with the most tumultuous cheers.) Each side felt, after this charge, that a clever thing had been done, and the fire of the enemy lagged. We were in a terrible situation. Towards night the fire increased, and in the evening word came from the rebels that if the garrison did not surrender before the next day, they would hoist the black flag at their cannon and give us no quarter. Word was sent back that “when we asked for quarter it would be time to settle that.” (Cheers.) It was a terrible thing to see those brave fellows mangled, and with no skilful hands to bind their gaping wounds. Our surgeon was held with the enemy, against all rules of war, and that, too, when we had released a surgeon of theirs on his mere pledge that he was such. Captain Moriarty went into the hospital, and, with nothing but a razor, acted the part of a surgeon. We could not be without a chaplain or surgeon any longer. There was in our ranks a Lieutenant Hickey, a rollicking, jolly fellow, who was despatched from the hospital with orders to procure the surgeon and chaplain at all hazards. Forty minutes later and the brave lieutenant was borne by, severely wounded. As he was borne past I heard him exclaim, “God have mercy on my little ones.” And God did hear his prayers, for the gay lieutenant is up, as rollicking as ever, and is now forming his brigade to return to the field. (Applause.) On the morning of the 19th the firing was resumed and continued all day. We recovered our surgeon and chaplain. The day was signalized by a fierce bayonet charge upon a regiment of the enemy, which served to show them that our men were not yet completely worried out. The officers had told them to hold out until the 19th, when they would certainly be reinforced. Through that day our little garrison stood with straining eyes, watching to see if some friendly flag was bearing aid to them — with straining ear, awaiting the sound of a friendly cannonade. But no reinforcements appeared, and, with the energy of despair, they determined to do their duty at all hazards. (Prolonged cheers.) The 19th was a horrid day. Our water cisterns had been drained, and we dared not leave the crown of the hill, and make our intrenchments on the bank of the river, for the enemy could have planted their cannon on the hill, and buried us. The day was burning hot, and the men bit their cartridges; their lips were parched and blistered. But not a word of murmuring. (Applause.) The night of the 19th two wells were ordered to be dug. We took a ravine, and expected to reach water in about thirty hours. During the night, I passed around the field, smoothed back the clotted hair, and by the light of the moon, shining through the trees, recognized here and there the countenances of my brave men who had fallen. Some were my favorites in days gone past, who had stood by me in these hours of terror, and had fallen on the hard fought field. Sadly we buried them in the trenches. The morning of the 20th broke, but no reinforcements appeared, and still the men fought on. The rebels had constructed movable breastworks of hemp bales, rolled them up the hill, and advanced their batteries in a manner to command the fortification. Heated shot were fired at them, but they had taken the precaution to soak the bales in the Missouri. The attack was urged with renewed vigor, and, during the forenoon, the outer breastworks were taken by a charge of the rebels in force. The whole line was broken, and the enemy rushed in upon us. Captain Fitzgerald, whom I had known in my younger days, and whom we had been accustomed to call by the familiar nickname, “Saxy,” was then ordered to oppose his company to the assailants. As I gave the order, “Saxy, go in,” the gallant Fitzgerald, at the head of company I, with a wild [442] yell rushed in upon the enemy. (Great applause, mingled with cries for “Saxy” ) The commander sent for a company on which he could rely; the firing suddenly ceased, and when the smoke rose from the field, I observed the Michigan company, under their gallant young commander, Captain Patrick McDermott, charging the enemy and driving them back. (Prolonged cheers.) Many of our good fellows were lying dead, our cartridges had failed, and it was evident that the fight would soon cease. It was now three o'clock, and all on a sudden an orderly came, saying the enemy had sent a flag of truce. With the flag came the following note from General Price:

Colonel — What has caused the cessation of the fight?

The Colonel returned it with the following reply written on the back:--

“General — I hardly know, unless you have surrendered.” (Laughter.)

He took pains to assure me, however, that such was not the case. I learned soon after that the Home Guard had hoisted the white flag. The lieutenant who had thus hoisted the flag was threatened with instant death unless he pulled it down. The men all said, “we have no cartridges, and a vast horde of the enemy is about us.” They were told to go to the line and stand there, and use the charge at the muzzle of their guns or perish there. They grasped their weapons the fiercer, turned calmly about, and stood firmly at their posts. And there they stood without a murmur, praying as they never prayed before, that the rebel horde would show themselves at the earthworks. An officer remarked, “this is butchery.” The conviction became general, and a council of war was held. And when, finally, the white flag was raised, Adjutant Cosgrove, of your city, shed bitter tears. (Applause.) The place was given up, upon what conditions, to this day, I hardly know or care. The enemy came pouring in. One foppish officer, dressed in the gaudiest uniform of his rank, strutted up and down through the camp, stopped before our men, took out a pair of handcuffs, and holding them up, said, “Do you know what these are for?” We were placed in file, and a figure on horseback, looking much like “Death on the pale horse,” led us through the streets of Lexington. As we passed, the secession ladies of Lexington came from their houses, and from the fence tops jeered at us. We were then taken to a hotel with no rations and no proprietor. After we had boarded there for some time, we started with Gen. Price, on the morning of the 30th, for “the land of Dixie.” The column of our escort was fifteen miles long. Of our imprisonment there I will say nothing. We all feel, every man of us, that we have been fighting for a great cause, that we were not spared from Lexington to sit idly in our homes while our country is in danger. (Cheers.) We all feel, that that republic which was cemented by the blood of our fathers, is to be again baptized and made stronger with our blood. And I feel for myself, that while a half million of bristling bayonets are standing up for it, God will crown with success the efforts of these defenders of the Union, the constitution, and the laws. And when next I meet you, I hope it may not be as when we put our armor on, but as when we put our armor off, to sit down in peace and again enjoy the blessings of an undivided and glorious nation. (Loud and long-continued applause.)

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