That's a classic story. Today, the bales would be the prize!
LEXINGTON ¡ª Large bales of hemp, one of the top cash crops of Missouri¡¯s slaveholding region, were used to protect the final assault by Missouri State Guard troops on Federal trenches that had been under fire for two days.
After a fierce stand, the federal garrison of 3,500 surrendered to the Guard, the independent, 12,000-or-more strong anti-Union army of the state government elected in 1860. It was the largest capture of an enemy force by either side to that point in the war.
The surrender culminated 10 days of efforts by Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, commander of the Guard, to seize the Missouri River town. Federal efforts to reinforce the garrison had stalled because of weather and ineffective commanders, who were trying to organize relief even as the commander, Col. James Mulligan, was ordering his troops to give up.
Overnight, northeast Missouri men from the First Division under Brig. Gen. Thomas Harris prepared the bales by soaking them in river water. Covering fire and ¡°the continued advance of the hempen breastworks, which were as efficient as the cotton bales at New Orleans, quickly attracted the attention and excited the alarm of the enemy, who made many daring attempts to drive us back,¡± Price wrote in his battle report to Gov. Claiborne Fox Jackson. ¡°They were, however, repulsed in every instance by the unflinching courage and fixed determination of our men.¡±
Mulligan, whose men had been without water for three days and who was nearly out of ammunition, then surrendered about 2 p.m. The Federals lost 39 dead and 120 wounded during the 10-day siege, and the Guard losses were listed at 25 killed and 72 wounded by Price.
A ¡°private letter¡± from one of the Home Guard soldiers, printed in the St. Louis Democrat and reprinted in the Columbia Missouri Statesman, described conditions inside the Federal trenches.
¡°Late on Wednesday it was announced that the water had given out, and the men were warned not to eat salt provisions for fear of provoking thirst,¡± the soldier, signed only P., reported. ¡°Add to all this, the fact that there were near 2,000 horses inside the fortifications, and many hundreds of which had been shot in the early part of the fight and could not be removed and were putrefying in the sun, till the stench became insupportable, and you can form some idea of the horrors with which we were surrounded.¡±
Along with the prisoners, the Guard took seven artillery pieces, arms for 3,000 infantry, 750 horses, and large quantities of food and military stores.
Price also recovered $900,000 that Union forces had seized from the bank at Lexington.
Price paroled the Union garrison but not before Jackson made a speech to the Federals, telling them they had no business being in Missouri ¡°and that we had better go home and mind our own business. All of which we listened to with such patience as to become a man who could not help it,¡± a paroled soldier wrote in an unsigned letter to the Chicago Post reprinted in the St. Louis Daily Missouri Republican.
JEFFERSON CITY ¡ª Acting Brig. Gen. Jefferson Davis, believing he still had time to relieve Mulligan, planned an advance along the Pacific Railroad toward Sedalia.
Maj. Gen. John Fremont wrote to Davis that 200 wagons were on the way and that he was to take two days¡¯ rations with him and send his boats back for more as he approached Lexington.
Davis replied that two days¡¯ rations would not do but that he would try.
The city was rife with rumors. One rumor had been a false alarm about surrender at Lexington earlier in the week. Unionists were angry at military delays, the newspaper reported. Lexington ¡°was threatened two weeks ago, and that Price has been allowed to march nearly 200 miles without the sending forward of reinforcements to Col. Mulligan. They say that the troops should have been sent from St. Louis and this city, and not kept where they were useless.¡±
also see: http://civilwarmissouri.blogspot.com/2007/12/lexington-battle-of-hemp-bales.html