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Price and the Battle of the Hemp Bales

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  • carlw4514@yahoo.com
    September 12- 20th was the anniversary for the Battle of the Hemp Bales, otherwise known as The Battle of Lexington (MO.) There were several interesting
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 24, 2001
      September 12- 20th was the anniversary for the Battle of the
      Hemp Bales, otherwise known as The Battle of Lexington (MO.) There
      were several interesting aspects to this battle and the situation in
      Missouri at this point in the war. We have discussed in the group
      whether or not the Confederacy was wise to disperse its forces as it
      did in the fall of 1861; seemingly a thin line of Rebs was to hold
      Tennessee while (in addition to elsewhere) stronger troop
      concentrations were allowed in SW Missouri/ NW Arkansas. Perhaps a lot
      of faith was given to the idea that Kentucky neutrality would prove a
      barrier to Federal advance in Tennessee, but this neutrality lasted
      but 2 or 3 months and soon the Yankee tide flooded over western
      Tennessee, seriously outflanking Reb positions in Nashville and
      Kentucky. I certainly came away from our little debate with the idea
      that the Confederacy should have given little attention to
      Missouri/Arkansas and concentrated its forces and resources in
      Tennessee.
      After reading up on the actions in Missouri in 1861, I have to
      admit that I am rethinking it all. The Union effort in Missouri was
      being handled by an idiot in the person of Freemont at this time, and
      an argument can be made that for this reason Missouri in 1861 was a
      lost opportunity for the Confederacy. Freemont was making the classic
      military mistake of allowing his forces to be dispersed and
      unsupported while being defeated in detail. The battle of Wilson's
      Creek was a case of Union defeat due to lack of support from Freemont
      and also a case of lost Secesh opportunity due to lack of support from
      Jeff Davis!
      The retreat by Federal forces from the Wilson's Creek
      battlefield to Rolla was so disorganized it featured a bonified
      mutiny. Unfortunately for the Confederacy Davis had given the Southern
      commander McCulloch the signal that Confederate forces were to limit
      how much they would participate in the fighting in Missouri, and the
      retreat was unmolested. The withdrawal of the Federals left the
      Missouri State Guard in position to go on the offensive, and Price
      went on the march to Lexington near the middle of the state. The
      Secesh forces picked up a large amount of support on the way (as
      opposed to Bragg in Kentucky and Lee in Maryland) and grew from 7,000
      to as much as 20,000 in some accounts. It must be noted that regular
      Confederate troops had withdrawn to Arkansas, yet as Price advanced to
      Lexington he was presented with a remarkable 4 to 1 advantage over
      Union defenders in that town.
      Price pulled up and decided to take his time attacking,
      realizing that he had numbers on his side; he also needed his
      artillery and wagons to come up. He seemed to know Freemont would not
      quickly come the aid of about 3500 men under Union Col. James E
      Mulligan. I will refer you to
      http://www.lafayettecountymo.com/battlefield.htm ,
      http://www2.cr.nps.gov/abpp/battles/mo006.htm, and especially
      http://www.historiclexington.com/battle.html for more detailed
      accounts of the battle, complete with the anecdotes we all like to
      come across. One harrowing incident that I know Jenny Holder from
      Australia will be interested in is the account of the men in the
      make-shift hospital who were out of their minds with thirst from
      losing blood from their wounds and amputations and fought each other
      for the bowls of water which had been used to wash the amputated
      stumps and drank the vile contents down with great relish to the
      horror of the bystanders.
      The battle got its name from the final stages where Price,
      wishing to minimize casualties, used hemp bales from a nearby
      warehouse and had his men advance behind the bales as they were pushed
      forward. Hemp is a type of fiber which can be made into rope (sisal is
      another), and there was a successful rope industry in the area which
      was in fact made possible by slave labor, and the Lexington area was
      pro-secessionist. The bales had been soaked in the river as a
      precaution against having the Yanks attempt to catch them on fire, and
      the tactic was a success, the dense bales resisting even cannon fire.
      As the Federal lines began to be breached, Mulligan surrendered,
      starting the expression "taking a mulligan" ok I made that up sorry
      bad pun ouch. He had little choice anyway as he was running out of
      ammunition and the fact he had no water supply was considered an even
      worse problem.
      Food for thought: did Price show in this battle that he was
      suited for higher command? The use of the hemp bales and his otherwise
      using his numerical strength to advantage meant extremely low
      casualties, 25 killed on his own side and 39 killed Union, but he
      captured 3500 Union prisoners, 5 artillery pieces, 2 mortars, 3000
      rifles and 750 horses.
      More food for thought: should the Confederacy have fully
      supported Price's advance into Central Missouri at this time? Or
      should the question be were they crazy for not supporting the Missouri
      militia? Price's troops were ill-equipped and trained, possibly only
      15,000 were usable prior to the battle. Once Federal forces
      re-asserted themselves Price had to vacate the area; would this have
      been the case if the CSA troops in Arkansas had united with the
      Missourians? Missouri responded to the advance by having volunteers by
      the score, actually reaping the oft wished for side benefit to
      Confederate invasions. Just how much on the defensive in Missouri
      would the Federals have been? Would the assault on Forts Henry and
      Donelson and Island no. 10, all requiring combined action, been called
      off to put out the fire in Missouri, buying A. S. Johnston the time he
      needed to shore up his defenses? Re-thinking it all myself.
      Carl
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