Battle of Lexington Involves Hemp Bales as Cover

Union Army surrenders at First Battle of Lexington after Confederates use wet bales as cover.

| Good Old Days

The First Battle of Lexington (Missouri) was one of the strangest of the Civil War. The Union Army could have ferried the river, but waited too long. The pro-Confederate state guard could have closed in sooner, but had no gun caps, and for a week they waited.

On Wednesday morning, September 19, 1861, the Confederates had the town encircled with an iron ring. The state guard’s battery under the command of Captain Emmett MacDonald while Captain Hiram Bledsoe was recovering from a wound, was posted in front of Major A.G. Young's house. Farther out, another ring of reserves surrounded the town, and many more waited at the fairground.

Finally, the ammunition wagons arrived, and couriers arrived on winded horses from Arkansas with satchels of gun caps. The Confederate band had been sidetracked at Macpelah Cemetery, so the clear penetrating roar of "Old Sacramento" filled the air as the curtain went up, and the battle began, not for slavery, nor for secession, but for invasion.

Between the works and the orchard at the Oliver Anderson house, the Federals, commanded by Colonel James A. Mulligan, had sniper pits filled with riflemen. These were driven back and the house was taken over at noon September 18. Then in mid-afternoon the Federals made a terrific assault and after a heavy death toll, the house was recaptured.

A company had captured the Federal boats, one of which was loaded with valuable stores. Meanwhile, General McBride's and General Harris' divisions had stormed and occupied the bluff north of the Anderson house, which enabled them to harass the Federals and pin them down.

The Federals couldn't get out, nor could they get any relief from the outside. Their food was low, their water was gone, their ammunition was exhausted, and the stench from dead horses was terrible. They'd dug a well 90 feet deep, but to no avail, so they filled it with dead horses. Sharp-shooters picked off anyone who exposed themselves, and thirst-crazed horses were plunging out of control. The Federals shot many of their fine horses rather than let them fall into enemy hands.

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