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Zagonyi's charge.

The charge of Fremont's Body-Guard and the Prairie Scouts of Major Frank White, upon the rebel garrison in Springfield, Missouri, under the leadership of Major Charles Zagonyi, is justly regarded as one of the most daring and gallant achievements of the war.

Charles Zagonyi was a Hungarian refugee who, like so many of his countrymen, had fled to this country after the suppression of the revolution in his native country by the iron hand of the Russian Czar. His daring character brought the young officer to the notice of the invincible General Bem, by whom he was placed in command of a troop of picked cavalry for extraordinary service. His story, after that hour, up to the date of his capture by the enemy, was one of unparalleled daring. His last act was to charge upon a heavy artillery force. Over one half of his men were killed and the rest made prisoners, but not until after the enemy had suffered terribly. He was then confined in an Austrian dungeon, and finally released, at the end of two years, to go into exile in America.

Fremont drew around him a large number of such refugees from European tyranny, and found in them men of great value, in all departments of the service. Zagonyi enlisted three hundred carefully chosen men, who, as a “Body-guard,” served as pioneers and scouts in Fremont's advance. The exploit at Springfield was only one of many similar services for which they were designated by Fremont; but, the suspension of his command in Missouri broke up the Guard, and Zagonyi withdrew [211] from the service until his leader should again be given a command.

The Guard was mounted, and was armed with German sabres and revolvers — the first company only having carbines. The horses were all bay in color, and were chosen with special reference to speed and endurance.

The expedition to Springfield was planned, as it afterward appeared, upon false information. Instead of Springfield being held by a small force, it was in possession of twelve hundred infantry and four hundred cavalry. Major Frank White had been ordered by General Sigel to make a reconnoissance toward Springfield — the Union army then being at Camp Haskell, south of the Pomme de Terre river, thirty-four miles from Warsaw and fifty-one from Springfield. The major had just come in with his dashing “Prairie scouts,” one hundred and fifty-four strong, from their gallant dash into Lexington; and the order to strike out for the reconnoissance found them jaded from over service. The major, however, put out, and was far on his way when, on the 24th (of October), he was joined by Zagonyi, who assumed command of the expedition, by order of Fremont. Zagonyi had with him one half of his Guard, provided with only one ration. The march to Springfield was to be forced, in order that the enemy should be surprised and the place secured before rebel reinforcements could reach it. The combined Scouts and Guard marched all Thursday (October 24th) night; briefly rested Friday morning, then pushed on and were before Springfield at three P. M. on the 25th --the fifty-one miles having been accomplished in eighteen hours.

Eight miles from Springfield five mounted rebels were [212] caught; a sixth escaped and gave the alarm to the forces in the town, whose strength, Zagonyi learned from a Union farmer, was fully two thousand strong. Nothing was left but a retreat or bold dash. Zagonyi did not hesitate. His men responded to his own spirit fully, and were eager for the adventure, let it result as it would. Major White was so ill from overwork that, at Zagonyi's entreaty, he remained at a farm-house for a brief rest. The Union farmer offered to pilot the Body-Guard around to the Mount Vernon approach on the West-thus hoping to effect a surprise in that direction, as the enemy was, doubtless, aligned to receive the assault on th: Boliver road, on the North. Of this detour White knew nothing, and after his rest he pushed on with his guard of five men and a lieutenant, to overtakes his troops. He travelled up to the very outskirts of the town, and yet did not come up to his men. Supposing them in possession of the place, he kept on and soon found himself in a rebel camp — a prisoner. He was immediately surrounded by a crew of savages, who at once resolved to have his life. Captain Wroton, a rebel officer, only saved the Federal officer and his men from murder by swearing to protect them with his life. The blood thirsty wretches were only kept at bay by the constant presence of Wroton.

The particulars of the charge are given by Major Dorsheimer in his admirable papers on Fremont's Campaign, in the Atlantic Monthly:

The foe were advised of the intended attack. When Major White was brought int) their camp, they were preparing to defend their position. As appears from the [213] confession of prisoners, they had twenty-two hundred men, of whom four hundred were cavalry, the rest being infantry, armed with shot guns, American rifles, and revolvers. Twelve hundred of their foot were posted along the edge of the wood upon the crest of the hill. The cavalry was stationed upon the extreme left, on top of a spur of the hill, and in front of a patch of timber Sharpshooters were concealed behind the trees close to the fence alongside the lane, and a small number in some underbrush near the foot of the hill. Another detachment guarded their train, holding possession of the county fair ground, which was surrounded by a high board fence.

This position was unassailable by cavalry from the road, the only point of attack being down the lane on the right; and the enemy were so disposed as to command this approach perfectly. The lane was a blind one, being closed, after passing the brook, by fences and ploughed land: it was in fact a cul-de-sac. If the infantry should stand, nothing could save the rash assailants. There are horsemen sufficient to sweep the little band before them as helplessly as the withered forest-leaves in the grasp of the autumn winds; there are deadly marksmen lying behind the trees upon the heights and lurking in the long grass upon the lowlands; while a long line of foot stand upon the summit of the slope, who, only stepping a few paces back into the forest, may defy the boldest riders. Yet, down this narrow lane, leading into the very jaws of death, came the three hundred.

On the prairie, at the edge of the woodland in which he knew his wily foe lay hidden, Zagonyi halted his command. He spurred along the line. With eager [214] glance he scanned each horse and rider. To his officers he gave the simple order, “Follow me! Do as I do!” and then, drawing up in front of his men, with a voice tremulous and shrill with emotion, he spoke:

Fellow-soldiers, comrades, brothers! This is your first battle. For our three hundred, the enemy are two thousand. If any of you are sick, or tired by the long march, or if any think that the number is too great, now is the time to turn back.

He paused — no one was sick or tired. “We must not retreat. Our honor, the honor of our general and our country, tell us to go on. I will lead you. We have been called holiday soldiers for the pavements of St. Louis; to day we will show that we are soldiers for the battle. Your watchword shall be-‘ The Union and Fremont!’ Draw sabre! By the right flank-quick trot-march!”

Bright swords flashed in the sunshine, a passionate shout burst from every lip, and with one accord, the trot passing into a gallop, the compact column swept on in its deadly purpose. Most of them were boys. A few weeks before they had left their homes. Those who were cool enough to note it say that ruddy cheeks grew pale, and fiery eyes were dimmed with tears. Who shall tell what thoughts, what visions of peaceful cottages nestling among the groves of Kentucky, or shining upon the banks of the Ohio and the Illinois-what sad recollections of tearful farewells, of tender, loving faces, filled their minds during those fearful moments of suspense? No word was spoken. With lips compressed, firmly clenching their sword-hilts, with quick tramp of hoofs and clang of steel, honor leading and glory awaiting them, the young soldiers flew for- [215] 1 ward, each brave rider and each straining steed members of one huge creature, enormous, terrible, irresistible.

'Twere worth ten years of peaceful life,
One glance at their array.

They pass the fair ground. They are at the corner of the lane where the wood begins. It runs close to the fence on their left for a hundred yards, and beyond it they see white tents gleaming. They are half way past the forest, when, sharp and loud, a volley of musketry bursts upon the head of the column; horses stagger, riders reel and fall, but the troop presses forward undismayed. The farther corner of the wood is reached, and Zagonyi beholds the terrible array. Amazed, he involuntarily checks his horse. The rebels are not surprised. There to his left they stand crowning the height, foot and horse ready to engulph him, if he shall be rash enough to go on. The road he is following declines rapidly. There is but one thing to do --run the gauntlet, gain the cover of the hill, and charge up the steep. These thoughts pass quicker than they can be told. He waves his sabre over his head, and shouting, “Forward! Follow me! Quick trot! Gallop!” he dashes headlong down the stony road. The first company, and most of the second follow. From the left a thousand muzzles belch forth a hissing flood of bullets; the poor fellows clutch wildly at the air and fall from their saddles, and maddened horses throw themselves against the fences. Their speed is not for an instant checked; farther down the hill they fly, like wasps driven by the leaden storm. Sharp volleys pour [216] out of the underbrush at the left, clearing wide gaps through their ranks. They leap the brook, take down the fence, and draw up under shelter of the hill. Zagonyi looks around him, and to his horror sees that only a fourth of his men are with him. He cries, “They do not come-we are lost!” and frantically waves his sabre.

He has not long to wait. The delay of the rest of the Guard was not from hesitation. When Captain Foley reached the lower corner of the wood and saw the enemy's lines, he thought a flank attack might be advantageously made. He ordered some men to dismount and take down the fence. This was done under a severe fire. Several men fell, and he found the woods so dense that it could not be penetrated. Looking down the hill, he saw the flash of Zagonyi's sabre, and at once gave the order, “Forward!” At the same time, Lieutenant Kennedy, a stalwart Kentuckian, shouted, “Come on, boys! Remember old Kentucky!” and the third company of the Guard-fire on every side of them --from behind trees, from under the fences — with thundering strides and loud cheers-poured down the slope and rushed to the side of Zagonyi. They have lost seventy dead and wounded men, and the carcasses of horses are strewn along the lane. Kennedy is wounded in the arm, and lies upon the stones, his faithful charger standing motionless beside him. Lieutenant Goff received a wound in the thigh; he kept his seat, and cried out, “The devils have hit me, but I will give it to them yet!”

The remnant of the Guard are now in the field under the hill, and from the shape of the ground the rebel fire [217] sweeps with the roar of a whirlwind over their heads. Here we will leave them for a moment, and trace the fortunes of the Prairie Scouts.

When Foley brought his troop to a halt, Captain Fairbanks, at the head of the first company of Scouts, was at the point where the first volley of musketry had been received. The narrow lane was crowded by a dense mass of struggling horses, and filled with the tumult of battle. Captain Fairbanks says, and he is corroborated by several of his men who were near, that at this moment an officer of the Guard rode up to him and said, “They are flying; take your men down that lane and cut off their retreat” --pointing to the lane at the left. Captain Fairbanks was not able to identify the person who gave this order. It certainly did not , come from Zagonyi, who was several hundred yards farther on. Captain Fairbanks executed the order, followed by the second company of Prairie Scouts, under Captain Kehoe. When this movement was made, Captain Naughton, with the Third Irish dragoons, had not reached the corner of the lane. He came up at a gallop, and was about to follow Fairbanks, when he saw a Guardsman, who pointed in the direction in which Zagonyi had gone. He took this for an order, and obeyed it. When he reached the gap in the fence, made by Foley, not seeing any thing of the Guard, he supposed they had passed through at that place, and gallantly attempted to follow. Thirteen men fell in a few minutes. He was shot in the arm and dismounted. Lieutenant Connolly spurred into the underbrush, and received two balls through the lungs and one in the left shoulder. The dragoons, at the outset not more [218] than fifty strong, were broken, and, dispirited by the loss of their officers, retired. A sergeant rallied a few and brought them up to the gap again, and they were again driven back. Five of the boldest passed down the hill, joined Zagonyi, and were conspicuous for their valor during the rest of the day. Fairbanks and Kehoe, having gained the rear and left of the enemy's position, made two or three assaults upon detached parties of the foe, but did not join in the main attack.

I now return to the Guard. It is forming under the shelter of the hill. In front, with a gentle inclination, rises a grassy slope, broken by occasional tree-stumps. A line of fire upon the summit marks the position of the rebel infantry, and nearer and on the top of a lower eminence to the right stand their horse. Up to this time no Guardsman has struck a blow, but blue coats and bay horses lie thick along the bloody lane. Their time has come. Lieutenant Maythenyi with thirty men is ordered to attack the cavalry. With sabres flashing over their heads, the little band of heroes spring toward their tremendous foe. Right upon the centre they charge. The dense mass opens, the blue coats force their way in, and the whole rebel squadron scatter in disgraceful flight through the cornfields in the rear. The boys follow them sabering the fugitives. Days after, the enemy's horses lay thick among the uncut corn.

Zagonyi holds his main body until Maythenyi disappears in the cloud of rebel cavalry; then his voice rises through the air: “In open order-charge!” The line opens out to give play to their sword-arm. Steeds respond to the ardor of their riders, and quick as thought, [219] with thrilling cheers, the noble hearts rush into the leaden torrent which pours down the incline. With unabated fire the gallant fellows press through. Their fierce onset is not even checked. The foe do not wait for them — they waver, break, and fly. The Guardsmen spur into the midst of the rout, and their fast-falling swords work a terrible revenge. Some of the boldest of the Southrons retreat into the woods, and continue a murderous fire from behind trees and thickets. Seven Guard horses fall upon a space not more than twenty feet square. As his steed sinks under him, one of the officers is caught around the shoulders by a grapevine, and hangs dangling in the air until he is cut down by his friends.

The rebel foot are flying in furious haste from the field. Some take refuge in the fair ground, some hurry into the cornfields, but the greater part run along the edge of the wood, swarm over the fence into the road, and hasten to the village. The Guardsmen follow. Zagonyi leads them. Over the loudest roar of battle rings his clarion voice-“Come on, old Kentuck! I'm with you!” And the flash of his sword-blade tells his men where to go. As he approaches a barn, a man steps from behind a door and lowers his rifle; but before it has reached a level, Zagonyi's sabre-point descends upon his head, and his life-blood leaps to the very top of the huge barn-door.

The conflict now raged through the village — in the public square, and along the streets. Up and down the Guards ride in squads of three or four, and wherever they see a group of the enemy, charge upon and [220] scatter them. It is hand to hand. No one but has a share in the fray.

There was at least one soldier in the Southern ranks. A young officer, superbly mounted, charges alone upon a large body of the Guard. He passes through the line unscathed, killing one man. He wheels, charges back, and again breaks through, killing another man. A third time he rushes upon the Federal line, a score of sabre-points confront him, a cloud of bullets fly around him, but he pushes on until he reaches Zagonyi-he presses his pistol so close to the major's side, that he feels it, and draws convulsively back, the bullet passes through the front of Zagonyi's coat, who at the instant runs the daring rebel through the body; he falls, and the men, thinking their commander hurt, kill him with a dozen wounds.

“He was a brave man,” said Zagonyi afterward, “and I did wish to make him prisoner.”

Meanwhile it has grown dark. The foe have left the village, and the battle has ceased. The assembly is sounded, and the Guard gathers in the Plaza. Not more than eighty mounted men appear: the rest are killed, wounded, or unhorsed. At this time one of the most characteristic incidents of the affair took place.

Just before the charge, Zagonyi directed one of his buglers, a Frenchman, to sound a signal. The bugler did not seem to pay any attention to the order, but darted off with Lieutenant Maythenyi. A few moments afterward he was observed in another part of the field vigorously pursuing the flying infantry. His active form was always seen in the thickest of the fight. When the line was formed in the Plaza, Zagonyi noticed the [221] bugler, and approaching him, said: “In the midst of battle you disobeyed my order. You are unworthy to be a member of the Guard. I dismiss you.” The bugler showed his bugle to his indignant commander-the mouth-piece of the instrument was shot away. He said: “The mouth was shoot off. I could not bugle viz mon bugle, and so I bugle viz mon pistol and sabre.” It is unnecessary to add, the brave Frenchman was not dismissed.

I must not forget to mention Sergeant Hunter, of the Kentucky company. His soldierly figure never failed to attract the eye in the ranks of the Guard. He had served in the regular cavalry, and the Body-Guard had profited greatly from his skill as a drill master. He lost three horses in the fight. As soon as one was killed, he caught another from the rebels: the third horse taken by him in this way he rode into St. Louis.

The sergeant slew five men. “I wont speak of those I shot,” said he-“another may have hit them; but those I touched with my sabre I am sure of, because 1 felt them.”

At the beginning of the charge, he came to the extreme right, and took position next to Zagonyi, whom he followed closely through the battle. The major seeing him, said:

Why are you here, Sergeant Hunter? Your place is with your company on the left.

“I kind oa wanted to be in the front,” was the answer.

“What could I say to such a man?” exclaimed, Zagonyi, speaking of the matter afterward.

There was hardly a horn? or rider among the survivors [222] that did not bring away some mark of the fray. I saw one animal with no less than seven wounds-none of them serious. Scabbards were bent, clothes and caps pierced, pistols injured. I saw one pistol from which the sight had been cut as neatly as it could have been done by machinery. A piece of board a few inches long was cut from a fence on the field, in which there were thirty-one shot holes.

It was now nine o'clock. The wounded had been carried to the hospital. The dismounted troopers were placed in charge of them — in the double capacity of nurses and guards. Zagonyi expected the foe to return every minute. It seemed like madness to try and hold the town with his small force, exhausted by the long march and desperate fight. He therefore left Springfield, and retired before morning twenty-five miles on the Bolivar road.

Captain Fairbanks did not see his commander after leaving the column in the lane, at the commencement of the engagement. About dusk he repaired to the prairie, and remained there within a mile of the village until midnight, when he followed Zagonyi, rejoining him in the morning.

I will now return to Major White. During the conflict upon the hill, he was in the forest near the front of the rebel line. Here his horse was shot under him. Captain Wroton kept careful watch over him. When the flight began he hurried White away, and, accompanied by a squad of eleven men, took him ten miles into the country. They stopped at a farm-house for the night. White discovered that their host was a Union man. His parole e having expired, he took advantage of [223] the momentary absence of his captor to speak to the farmer, telling him who he was, and asking him to send for assistance. The countryman mounted his son upon his swiftest horse, and sent him for succor. The party lay down by the fire, White being placed in the midst. The rebels were soon asleep, but there was no sleep for the major. He listened anxiously for the footsteps of his rescuers, After long weary hours, he heard the tramp of horses. He arose, and walking on tiptoe, cautiously stepping over his sleeping guard, he reached the door and silently unfastened it. The Union men rushed into the room and took the astonished Wroton and his followers prisoners. At daybreak White rode into Springfield at the head of his captives and a motley band of Home Guards. He found the Federals still in possession of the place. As the officer of highest rank, he took command. His garrison consisted of twenty-four men. He stationed twenty-two of them as pickets in the outskirts of the village, and held the other two as a reserve. At noon the enemy sent a flag of truce, and asked permission to bury their dead. Major White received the flag with proper ceremony, but said that General Sigel was in command and the request would have to be referred to him. Sigel was then forty miles away. In a short time a written communication purporting to come from General Sigel arrived, saying that the rebels might send a party under certain restrictions to bury their dead: White drew in some of his pickets, stationed them about the field, and under their surveillance the Southern dead were buried.

The loss of the enemy, as reported by some of their working party, was one hundred and sixteen killed. [224] The number of wounded could not be ascertained. After the conflict had drifted away from the hill-side, some of the foe had returned to the field, taken away their wounded and robbed our dead. The loss of the Guard was fifty-three out of one hundred and forty-eight actually engaged, twelve men having been left by Zagonyi in charge of his train. The Prairie Scouts reported a loss of thirty-one out of one hundred and thirty: half of these belonged to the Irish Dragoons. In a neighboring field an Irishman was found stark and stiff, still clinging to the hilt of his sword, which was thrust through the body of a rebel who lay beside him. Within a few feet a second rebel lay shot through the head.

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