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Operations to Control Missouri

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Missouri's loyalties were divided at the start of the Civil War. During four years of a bloody border war over the status of statehood in neighboring Kansas, “Free Soilers” and pro-slavery guerilla fighters violently raided each other’s camps across the Missouri border. Even though Missouri was a slave state with a strong secessionist movement, the Missouri legislature voted by a strong majority to remain in the Union when the war began. In May 1861, Union General Nathaniel Lyon attacked a secessionist gathering in St. Louis and forced several thousand armed belligerents calling themselves the Missouri State Guard, led by pro-slavery governor Claiborne Jackson and General Sterling Price, to evacuate the city. Lyon chased Price up the Missouri River and skirmished with him near Booneville outside the capital at Jefferson City.

 

Union Colonel Franz Sigel organized an expedition into southwest Missouri with orders to disperse other Rebel groups. Sigel arrived in Carthage on July 4 and skirmished with the Guardsmen the next day. Outnumbered and nearly surrounded, Sigel withdrew and united with Lyon’s larger force. The reinforced Confederates pursued, and met Lyon’s army along Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861. After a bloody day of battle, Lyon was killed and the Union army retreated again. Confederate victories against Union troops at Dry Wood Creek, Lexington, and Liberty in September sustained Confederate hopes of changing the loyalty of the state and gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri, enforced by Price’s Guardsmen. Plans for a new Confederate offensive in Missouri were dashed with Union victories at Springfield and Fredericktown in October, and the Battle of Pea Ridge just across the border in Arkansas in March 1862. Price would not attempt to reclaim Missouri for the Confederacy for two more years.

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Battle of Carthage July 5
Civil War
Battle Map
BATTLE MAP | American Battlefield Trust’s map of the Battle of Carthage, Missouri on July 5, 1861
The Battle of Wilson's Creek
Civil War
Battle Map
BATTLE MAP | American Battlefield Trust’s map of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri on August...
Nathaniel Lyon
Civil War
Biography
Nathaniel Lyon attended the United States Military Academy and graduated 11th out of 52 in 1841...