“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Lexington in Lafayette County, Missouri — The American Midwest (Upper Plains)

The Battle of Lexington

Sept. 18, 19 and 20, 1861


—Battlefield —

The Battle of Lexington - Battlefield Marker Photo, Click for full size
By Tony Meyers, August 10, 2011
1. The Battle of Lexington - Battlefield Marker
Inscription. This area saw action between the Missouri Home Guard units and the Missouri State Guard. The Home Guard were composed of pro-Union German immigrants from Lafayette county. They were commanded by Maj. F.W. Becker. Sharpshooters kept many of the Federal troops fearful. A Lt. Thomas McClure exclaimed “Ha! That makes me start. He sent a bullet just past my check. It struck our camp kettle by my side, and I have the bullet in my pocket. If any of us raise our heads above the breastworks these fellows fire at us.”

By the 19th, heavy artillery fire left unmistakable marks. A newspaper correspondent observed that great limbs from trees had been torn off and the artillery had opened many huge chasms in the college building. He noted that most of the Southern cannon shots had passed over the Federal works. It is possible that one cannon ball, from Hiram Bledsoe’s battery, sailed straight into a column on the county courthouse. The hole had not been repaired and can still be seen today.

Across the ravine to the northeast was Hiram Bledsoe’s battery. In the painting, right, done by a Hungarian artist names Domenico, the battery can be seen. One can imagine Bledsoe’s view of the battlefield and the perspective of the soldiers on this point looking toward the battery.

On the third and final day, Sept.
Battlefield marker (looking north) Photo, Click for full size
By Tony Meyers, August 10, 2011
2. Battlefield marker (looking north)
20, the State Guard made their final assault across open ground. Not wishing to expose themselves to murderous fire, the southerners used hemp bales as movable breastworks. Two or three men would butt the heavy bale forward while others would take up fire behind them. Union troops fired frantically in an attempt to keep the bales from moving. In order to keep the bales from catching on fire from hot shot the southerners soaked them with water. After several hours the southern troops were close enough for a final charge at the earthworks.

A Northern newspaper correspondent described the approach, “It was about twenty rods in length, and the height of two bales of hemp. The bales were placed with the ends facing our fortifications, affording a thickness of about six feet. The immense breastwork commenced moving forward not in detachments or singly, but in one vast body, unbroken and steady, parting to pass trees and closing up again as impenetrable as a rock. Behind it were hundreds of men pushing and urging with levers, while others held the bales steadily to their places, and others still, whose numbers were almost indefinite, firing between the crevices and over the top at our soldiers. Our men looked at the moving monster in astonishment.”

Col. Martin Green led his northeast Missourians into the Union trenches. Maj. Becker’s German Home
Missouri State Guard troops rolled hemp bales up this hill as they approached the trenches. Photo, Click for full size
By Tony Meyers, August 10, 2011
3. Missouri State Guard troops rolled hemp bales up this hill as they approached the trenches.
Union trenches are still visible near the tree line. The Missouri State Guard soldiers rolled hemp bales up this hill as a moving breastworks as they gradually moved towards the Federal troops within the trenches. Most of the trees that are shown in this picture would not have been present on the day of the battle.
Guards and a company from Col. James Mulligan’s Irish Brigade met them. In the ensuring chaos Maj. Becker waved a white handkerchief in an effort to retrieve his wounded. As word of a white flag spread, gunfire across the battlefield ceased. Ignorant of Becker’s attempts, Mulligan replied to Price’s inquiry of ceasefire, “General, I hardly know, unless you have surrendered.” The battle resumed, but a surrender psychology spread among the Union troops and Mulligan knew the end was at hand. Shortly after noon, he sent out a flag of truce and asked for the terms of surrender. By 2:00 pm the Union soldiers walked out of the fortification and laid down their arms.

Gen. Sterling Price announced that he would release the prisoners on their promise not to take up arms against Missouri or the Confederacy. The Federals were lined up and addressed by Gov. Claiborne Jackson and Gen. Price. The governor said the Federals had no business in Missouri and he would take care of the state without assistance. Price addressed the Federal troops saying, “You were the hardest troops to capture I have ever seen.”

After the surrender, Mulligan declined parole and remained a prisoner of war. Mrs. Mulligan asked for permission to stay with her husband and care for his wounds. Price acquiesced provided she find someone to take care of their baby.

Looking southeast towards the main entrance to the battlefield. Photo, Click for full size
By Tony Meyers, August 10, 2011
4. Looking southeast towards the main entrance to the battlefield.
spoils of battle went to the victors. Besides the prisoners and the seven pieces of artillery, Gen. Price took possession of over 3,000 stands of infantry arms, a large number of sabers, plus an ample quantity of ammunition. The State Guard victory at Lexington yielded more than arms and money. From a political standpoint it bolstered the spirit and determination of those favoring the secession of Missouri. In Lexington, however, it was just a matter of time until the Federal soldiers returned. By Oct. 16, 1861, the Union army reclaimed Lexington.
Location. 39° 11.506′ N, 93° 52.734′ W. Marker is in Lexington, Missouri, in Lafayette County. Marker can be reached from Wood Street 0.1 miles north of 13th Street and Wood Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Lexington MO 64067, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. A different marker also named The Battle of Lexington (about 300 feet away, measured in a direct line); a different marker also named The Battle of Lexington (about 400 feet away); a different marker also named The Battle of Lexington (about 700 feet away); a different marker also named The Battle of Lexington (about 700 feet away); The Library Building (approx. half a mile away); Mount Vernon Foundation Stones (approx. half a mile away); Guibor's Battery (approx. half a mile away); Lafayette County Courthouse (approx. half a mile away). Click for a list of all markers in Lexington.
Categories. War, US Civil
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Tony Meyers of Liberty, Missouri. This page has been viewed 472 times since then. Photos:   1, 2, 3, 4. submitted on , by Tony Meyers of Liberty, Missouri. • Craig Swain was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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