you imagine going to watch an actual battle in progress?
Many people did, during one of the early battles of the
Civil War in northeast Missouri.
clouds over northeast Missouri had grown steadily darker.
Federal troops were stationed at Palmyra to guard the
railroads and to see that no slave or Free Negro uprisings
took place. A large part of the population sympathized with
the South, the rest with the North. Companies of the State
Guards had been organized to back up Governor Jackson’s
Honorable Thomas A. Harris had been appointed Brigadier
General in the Confederate Army and had established
headquarters at Florida in Monroe County. By July 5, 1861,
he had about five hundred men in his company.
and spies had kept the Federal authorities informed about
the movements of these State Guards, and Colonel Smith,
stationed at Palmyra, was ordered to march his Federal
troops to break up the camp.
Monday evening, July 8, Colonel Smith’s troops went into
Monroe City by train. They intended to march by night, and
attack General Harris’ camp at daybreak. A severe storm
came up and they stayed the night in Monroe City.
they left on Tuesday morning, the men had told half the
people in Monroe City of their destination and intention.
Either feeling sure of his influence or inexperienced in the
ways of warfare, Colonel Smith didn’t leave a single guard
at Monroe City to protect the town, the railroad, and his
troops marched out over the prairie and through Swinkey
Hills. At Hagar Hill they met about fifty mounted
Secessionists under Captain Clay Pierce, and after a minor
skirmish Colonel Smith retired to the Hagar farm for the
the afternoon and night reports came in, telling Colonel
Smith that he had stirred up a veritable hornet’s nest.
Secessionists were swarming all around him. They had
gotten to the rear of his forces and were playing havoc with
Monroe City. Early on Wednesday, July 10, Colonel Smith
began his retreat. Emerging from Swinkey, they discovered
the station, its outbuildings, six passenger cars and ten or
twelve freight cars in flames.
Smith marched his ‘Federal troops on into town and took
refuge in a two story brick building known as the Seminary.
Here they undertook to hold off the State Guards under
State Guards fought ineffectively for three days. The
Federalists’ ammunition ran short, but they really
didn’t need it. A messenger had been sent to Palmyra for
help from the Federal troops there, and General Harris had
sent for a cannon the Secessionists had hidden near Palmyra.
gathered on the street. They came in buggies, in wagons, and
on horseback. It was like a picnic or a holiday. Since
there were no serious casualties during this period of
fighting, it can be believed the battling troops were being
considerate of their audience, or perhaps just
Harris was a veteran speech maker. It was said he would give
a speech, given two people for audience. He didn’t pass up
this golden opportunity. At noon Thursday, July 14, the
cannon he had sent for hadn’t arrived. He told his
audience that it would be foolhardy to try to take the
Seminary without that cannon. Many noble lives would be
sacrificed. It was his opinion that ‘the best thing to do
was to retreat. Colonel Smith was expecting a large
reinforcement of Federalists at any time. General Harris
closed his speech by ordering his troops to disperse and
retire to their encampment and await his further orders.
troops refused. The cannon arrived and the fighting resumed
at one o’clock. The cannon was a nine pounder, and only a
few nine pound balls were on hand. After they had been shot
. . . doing little damage . . . six pound balls were used.
The State Guards hadn’t been too accurate with the nine
pound balls. With the six pound ones, it was said the only
safe place was immediately in front of the gun. One shell
struck the road about thirty feet in front of the muzzle of
the gun, ricocheted to the left one-fourth mile, struck a
blacksmith’s shop and dispersed a crow of onlookers. They
fled to safer quarter declaring they couldn’t stand being
fir on by their own men as well as the Yankees.
4:40 a train was seen approaching slowly from the east.
General Hart had neglected to tear up the railroad tracks as
thoroughly as he should have Salt River bridge had been
burned, but a transfer had been made easily to get around
it, the tracks easily repaired, and the train bearing
Federal troops and a gleaming brass cannon was coming to the
rescue of Col. Smith’s men. Although the train had been
fired upon by Secessionists, only a slight rifle wound in
the engineer’s arm had resulted.
the beleaguered Federal troops at the Seminary set up a loud
cheer, the Federal soldiers on the train opened up the
cannon with grape shot . . . and the State Guard broke rank
and skedaddled in short order. On no order at all. Eyewitnesses
described the scene as highly ludicrous. The many spectators
came in handy. Would-be soldiers hid their guns and sought
safety in the buggies and wagons with the women and
children. Others galloped away, wildly.
prairie swarmed with buggies, wagons, horsemen, and retiring
soldiers on toot. The battle . . . or picnic . . . was over.
Wild rumors of the battle had been circulated and
reinforcements had been sent out from Illinois. By Friday,
July 15, the day alter the battle, two thousand Federal
troops had moved on to Palmyra, on the way to Monroe City.
Colonel U. S. Grant arrived and moved on to Mexico when he
learned the battle was over.
began and ended, the first Civil War Battle in northeast
Missouri. Probably one of the very few battles in history
to have women and children as interested spectators from
executed. They landed here in eighteen cars and went off on
their expedition, leaving them without guard.