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The siege of Lexington, Mo.1

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 so 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 Colonel 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 2780 men, with one six-pounder, 2 forty rounds of [308] ammunition, and but few rations. We then dispatched a courier to Jefferson City to inform General Davis of our condition, and to pray for reinforcements 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. That 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 had 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.

On Friday, the 13th, though a drenching rain had set in, the work of throwing up intrenchments went on, and the men stood almost knee-deep in mud and water, at their work. We had taken the basement of the Masonic College, a building from which the eminence took its name; powder was obtained, and the men commenced making cartridges. A foundry was fitted up, and 150 rounds of shot — grape and canister — were cast for each of our six-pounders. [309]

Siege of Lexington, Mo. Captain Joseph A. Wilson, of Lexington, thus describes the Union position: “The college is on a bluff about 200 feet above low-water mark, and from 15 to 30 feet higher than North or Main street. Third street runs along the top of the bluff. Close to and surrounding the college building was a rectangular fort of sods and earth about 12 feet thick and 12 feet high; with bastions at the angles and embrasures for guns. At a distance of 200 to 800 feet was an irregular line of earthworks protected by numerous traverses, occasional redoubts, a good ditch, trous-de-loup, wires, etc., etc. Still farther on the west and north were rifle-pits. The works would have required 10,000 or 15,000 men to occupy them fully. All the ground from the fortifications to the river was then covered with scattering timber. The spring just north and outside of fortifications, was in a deep wooded ravine, and was the scene of some sharp skirmishing at night, owing to the attempts of the garrison to get water there when their cisterns gave out.”

Diagram of the hospital position. From the Explanation of the Diagram of the Hospital Position: “a is the Anderson house or hospital; b a smaller brick house back of it; c an outlying low earthwork, projecting down nearly into the ravine, represented by the dotted line, while the inclosed earthwork was built up around the head of the ravine, as shown by the plain line; d the sally-port in the earthworks, about one hundred yards from the hospital; e a canal-like carriageway leading up to the house, and in which the sharp-shooters lay secure, only about eighty feet from the front door of the hospital; the brackets represent Federal picket-guard stations with a little dirt thrown up for protection; the dotted line sss shows deep gorge or ravine which was full of Confederate sharp-shooters.”

Sunday had now arrived. We had found no provisions at Lexington, and our 2700 men were getting short of rations. Father Thaddeus J. Butler, our chaplain, celebrated mass on the hillside, and all were considerably strengthened and encouraged by his words, and after services were over we went back to work, actively casting shot and stealing provisions from the inhabitants round about. Our pickets were all the time skirmishing with the enemy, while we were making preparations for defense against the enemy's attack, which was expected on the morrow.

At 9 o'clock on the morning of the 18th the enemy were seen approaching. The Confederate force had been increased to 18,000 men with 16 pieces of cannon. They came as one dark moving mass, their guns beaming in the sun, their banners waving, and their drums beating-everywhere, as far as we could see, were men, men, men, approaching grandly. Our earthworks covered an area of about eighteen acres, surrounded by a ditch, and protected in front by what were called “confusion pits,” and by mines. Our men stood firm behind the breastworks, none trembled or paled, and a solemn [310]

The hospital. The College, fronting South. The Battle of Lexington, Mo., as seen from General Parsons' Position. After a contemporary drawing.

silence prevailed. As Father Butler went round among them, they asked his blessing, received it with uncovered heads, then turned and sternly cocked their muskets.

The enemy opened a terrible fire with their cannon on all sides, which we answered with determination and spirit. Our spies had brought intelligence, and had all agreed that it was the intention of the enemy to make a grand rush, overwhelm us, and bury us in the trenches of Lexington.

At noon, word was brought that the enemy had taken the hospital. We had not fortified that; it was situated outside the intrenchments, and I had supposed that the little white flag was sufficient protection for the wounded and dying soldiers who had finished their service and were powerless for harm. The hospital contained our chaplain, our surgeon, and a number of wounded. The enemy took it without opposition, filled it with their sharp-shooters, and from every window, every door, from the scuttles in the roof, poured right into our intrenchments a deadly drift of lead. A company of the Home Guards, then a company of the Missouri 14th, were ordered to retake the hospital, but refused. The Montgomery Guards, a company of the Irish Brigade, was then ordered out. Their captain admonished them to uphold the gallant name they bore, and the order was given to charge. The distance across the plain from the intrenchments to the hospital was about eighty yards. They started; at first quick, then double-quick, then on a run, then [311] faster. Still the deadly fire poured into their ranks. But on they went; a wild line of steel, and, what is better than steel, irresistible human will. They reached the hospital, burst open the door, without shot or shout, until they encountered the enemy within, whom they hurled out and sent flying down the hill.3

Our surgeon was held by the enemy, although we had released the Confederate surgeon on his mere pledge that he was such. It was a horrible thing to see those brave fellows, mangled and wounded, without skillful hands to bind their ghastly wounds; and Captain David P. Moriarty, who had been a physician in civil life, was ordered to lay aside his sword and go into the hospital. He went, and through all the siege worked among the wounded with no other instrument than a razor. Our supply of water had given out and the scenes in the hospital were fearful to witness, wounded men suffering agonies from thirst and in their frenzy wrestling for the water in which the wounded had been bathed.4

On the morning of the 19th the firing was resumed, and continued all day. Our officers had told the men that if they could hold out until the 19th we should certainly be reinforced, and all through that day the men watched anxiously for the appearance of the friendly flag under which aid was to reach them, and listened eagerly for the sound of friendly cannon. But they looked and listened in vain, and all day long they fought without water, their parched lips cracking, their tongues swollen, and the blood running down their chins when they bit their cartridges and the saltpeter entered their blistered lips. But not a word of murmuring.

The morning of the 20th broke, but no reinforcements had come, and still the men fought on.5 The enemy appeared that day with an artifice which [312] was destined to overreach us and secure to them the possession of our intrenchments. They had constructed a movable breastwork of hemp bales, rolled them before their lines up the hill, and advanced under this cover. All our efforts could not retard the advance of these bales. Round-shot and bullets were poured against them, but they would only rock a little and then settle back. Heated shot were fired with the hope of setting them on fire, but they had been soaked and would not burn. Thus for hours the fight continued.6 Our cartridges were now nearly used up, many of our brave fellows had fallen, and it was evident that the fight must soon cease, when at 3 o'clock an orderly came, saying that the enemy had sent a flag of truce. With the flag came a note from General Price, asking “why the firing had ceased.” I returned it, with the reply written on the back, “General, I hardly know, unless you have surrendered.” He at once took pains to assure me that this was not the case. I then discovered that the major of another regiment, in spite of orders, had raised a white flag.

Our ammunition was about gone. We were out of rations, and had been without water for days, and many of

Colonel James A. Mulligan.

the men felt like giving up the post, which it seemed impossible to hold longer. They were ordered back to the breastworks, and told to use up all their powder, then defend themselves as best they could, but to hold their place. Then a council of war was held in the college, and the question of [313] surrender was put to the officers, and a ballot was taken, only two out of six votes being east in favor of fighting on. Then the flag of truce was sent out with our surrender.

Colonel Snead (see page 262) writes us as follows in regard to the circumstances of the surrender:
The surrender of Lexington was negotiated on the part of Colonel Mulligan by Colonel Marshall of the 1st Illinois Cavalry, and on the part of General Price by me. We met inside of the Union lines. Of course I demanded the unconditional surrender of the post, with its officers and men and material of war. Colonel Marshall hesitated, and at last said that he would have to submit the matter to Colonel Mulligan. As we knew that reinforcements were on the way to Mulligan, and as I feared that Mulligan was only practicing a ruse in order to gain time, I said to Colonel Marshall that if the terms which I offered were not accepted within ten minutes I should return to our lines and order fire to be reopened. He left me, but returned just as the ten minutes were expiring, and said that the surrender would be made as demanded. I immediately sent one of the officers, whom I had taken with me, to announce the fact to General Price and to ask when he would accept the surrender. He came over at once, and notified Colonel Mulligan that he would himself accept the surrender of him and his field-officers forthwith, and assign one of his division commanders to accept the surrender of the men and their company officers. Mulligan and his field-officers came forward immediately, on foot, and offered to surrender their swords. General Price (next to whom I was sitting) replied instantly, “You gentlemen have fought so bravely that it would be wrong to deprive you of your swords. Keep them. Orders to parole you and your men will be issued, Colonel Mulligan, without unnecessary delay.” The only officer or man that was not paroled, and the only one who was taken South, was Colonel Mulligan.

Colonel Mulligan was held as a prisoner until the 30th of October, being accompanied by his wife, who had been an eye-witness of the siege from the town. They journeyed in General Price's private carriage, and (Mrs. Mulligan says) received “every possible courtesy from the general and his staff.” They returned to St. Louis under escort of forty men and a flag of truce. In Chicago and elsewhere Colonel Mulligan was received with enthusiastic honors.

Colonel Mulligan, after his exchange, was placed in command along the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, in western Virginia. During this period he engaged in many skirmishes with the enemy. In the battle of Winchester, July 24th, 1864, Colonel Mulligan received three mortal wounds. Some of the officers, among whom was his brother-in-law, Lieutenant James H. Nugent, nineteen years of age, attempted to carry him from the field. Seeing the colors in danger the colonel said: “Lay me down and save the flag.” Lieutenant Nugent rescued the colors and returned to the colonel's side, but in a few moments fell, mortally wounded. Colonel Mulligan died forty-eight hours after, at the age of thirty-four. After his death, his widow received from President Lincoln Colonel Mulligan's commission of Brevet Brigadier-General, U. S. V., dated July 24th, “for gallant and meritorious services at the battle of Winchester.”--editors.

Note: The seizure of the money of the Lexington Bank referred to by Colonel Snead on page 273 is treated in full in the History of Lafayette county, from which we condense the following statement: Governor Jackson having appropriated the school fund of the State to the arming and equipment of the State troops, and the proposal having been made to force loans from certain banks for the same purpose, General Fremont, in order to checkmate this action of the Governor, ordered the funds of certain banks to be sent to St. Louis, not for the use of the Federal authorities, but to prevent their employment to aid the enemy. By his order, Colonel Marshall secured the funds of the State Bank of Lexington against the protest of the officers, giving a receipt for the amount, which was $960,159.60, of which $165,659.60 was in gold. The money was buried in the fort under Colonel Mulligan's tent, and upon the surrender every dollar of the gold was delivered to General Price, but $15,000 in notes of the bank was missing. Governor Jackson and General Price ordered all the money to be restored to the bank, but on the 30th of September made a demand upon the bank for, and under threat of force received, the sum of $37,337.20 in gold, claimed to be due to the State under an act of the Legislature of Missouri, which permitted of the suspension of certain banks on the condition that they should loan the State on its bonds a certain portion of their fund. At the time of the capture of Lexington the State Convention of Missouri had deposed Governor Jackson and elected in his place Hamilton R. Gamble. The Union State Government made demand afterward for the same sum, which was paid and bonds of the State issued therefor, which were redeemed at their face value when due. The sum given to Governor Jackson was charged by the bank to “profit and loss.” See also page 280 for General Fremont's declaration of policy in this respect. “The funds of other banks of the State were taken possession of by the Federal authorities, transported to St. Louis, and in due time every dollar returned.”--editors.

1 Reprinted, with revision, from newspaper reports of a lecture by Colonel Mulligan, who was killed during the war (see page 313). in certain important particulars, the text has been altered to free it from clearly demonstrable errors.-editors.

2 Doubtless an accidental mistake. Colonel Mulligan had 7 six-pounders (Waldschmidt, 2; Adams, 3, and Pirner, 2); Pirner also had 2 brass mortars for throwing six-inch spherical shells, of which he had but 40, which were soon exhausted. The Confederate artillery consisted of 16 guns in five batteries, as follows: Bledsoe, 4 guns; Churchill Clark,2; Guibor, 4; Kelly, 4; Kneisley, 2.-( History of Lafayette county, Missouri. )

The lack of agreement between the numbers of the Union forces as here stated, and as given by Colonel Snead on page 273, is accounted for by the latter on the supposition that Colonel Mulligan did not include in his estimate either his officers or the body of Home Guards who assisted in the defense. Colonel Snead states positively that, as adjutant-general of the Missouri troops, he paroled about 3500 prisoners. Among these may have been many not reckoned as effectives by Colonel Mulligan.--editors.

3 The Union force held the building an hour or two, when they were again dislodged. In regard to the capture of the hospital by the Confederates, and to its recapture by the Union forces, we find the following in the History of Lafayette county, Missouri (St. Louis: Missouri Historical Company, 1881), a work which, in its treatment of the siege of Lexington, exhibits impartiality and a painstaking research, the more valuable by reason of the meagerness of the official reports of the engagement:

This hospital matter has been much animadverted upon by partisan writers on both sides. Colonel Mulligan assumed that the Confederates were guilty of a breach of civilized warfare in firing on a hospital; and, consequently, when his men retook the building, having this belief firmly fixed in their minds, they gave no quarter, but killed every armed man caught in the building. Some of the minor Confederate officers seemed to labor under the same impression, and claimed, as an excuse or justification for the capture, that the Federals had fired upon them from inside the building; but this was positively denied at the time by the surgeon, Dr. Cooley, and the priest, Father Butler, who were in the hospital, and by Major Meet, Mr. H. Boothman, and others, still living in Lexington, who were at the time in that part of the intrenchment nearest the hospital. But, aside from this, the official report of General Harris, made at the time, shows that there was no such reason for the capture; but that it was deliberately planned and ordered as a rightful military movement. The Federals had no military right to expect that a strategic position so important to their opponents as the Anderson house and premises manifestly were, would or should be left in quiet possession merely because they had seen fit to use some part of it for hospital purposes. Nevertheless, that first false scent has been followed and barked after for twenty years--the Federals erroneously claiming an unjustifiable attack on the hospital, and the Confederates erroneously claiming that they were first fired on by Federals from inside the building, and that for that reason the attack was made.

4 After the investment, the Union forces being entirely cut off from the river, “Marshall's cavalrymen and some of the teamsters had watered their horses out of the cisterns at the college, and there was but little water left, what there was being muddy. Two springs at the foot of the bluffs-one on the north and one on the south — were closely guarded by the enemy. ... One of Colonel Mulligan's men, in an account of the battle, said: ‘On the morning of the 19th it rained heavily for about two hours, saturating our blankets, which we wrung out into our canteens for drinking’ ” ( History of Lafayette county, Missouri ).-editors.

5 No reinforcements reached Colonel Mulligan, though efforts were made to relieve him. September 16th, Sturgis with 1,100 men, but without artillery or cavalry, was ordered by General Pope to proceed from Macon City for the purpose. He did so, but his messenger to Mulligan being intercepted by General Price, the latter, on the 19th, dispatched a force of 3000 men or more under General Parsons and Colonel Congreve Jackson across the river to repel Sturgis's advance, then within fifteen miles of Lexington. Sturgis, being informed of Mulligan's situation, retreated to Fort Leavenworth. Parsons recrossed the river and took part in the fighting during the afternoon.-editors.

6 There are many claimants for the credit of having first suggested the hemp-bale strategy. General Harris's official report says-:

I directed the bales to be wet in the river to protect them against the casualties of fire of our troops and of the enemy, but it was soon found that the wetting so materially increased the weight as to prevent our men, in their exhausted condition, from rolling it to the crest of the hill. I then adopted the idea of wetting the hemp after it had been transported to its position.

As to the date of the use of these, which is given both by Colonel Mulligan and by Colonel Snead as the morning of the 20th, we quote the following circumstantial account from the official report of Colonel Hughes:

On the morning of the 19th, we arose from our bivouac upon the hills to renew the attack. This day we continued the fighting vigorously all day, holding possession of the hospital buildings, and throwing large wings from both sides of the house, built up of bales of hemp saturated with water, to keep them from taking fire. These portable hemp-bales were extended, like the wings of a partridge net, so as to cover and protect several hundred men at a time, and a most terrible and galling and deadly fire was kept up from them upon the works of the enemy by my men. I divided my forces into reliefs and kept some three hundred of them pouring in a heavy fire incessantly upon the enemy, supplying the places of the weary with fresh troops. On the night of the 19th we enlarged and advanced our defensive works very near to the enemy's intrenchments, and at daybreak opened upon their line with most fatal effect.


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