Flag Meaning
Union Forces

The Union Dilemma in Missouri



In 1861 Springfield was a city of about 2000 population. Most of the residents lived southwest of the public square.

Springfield, MO Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War

John Smith Phelps

Future Governor of Missouri

not present at battle

photo courtesy Phelps camp #66, Sons of Union Veterans

Phelps (note - all Phelps quotes by John S Phelps' 15 year old daughter, Mary)

Springfield was the headquarters of General Nathaniel Lyon, and a regiment...was stationed on my father's plantation.


Lyon was nothing but a (former) little captain of artillery. But such was his clearness, force and real genius,.... conceding nothing, but very discourteous, his reason and his will equal.

Brig Gen Nathaniel Lyon

Commander of Union Forces

Civil War Times Illustrated "Photographic History of the Civil War" Black Dog; Leventhal Publishers, New York... From National Archives

Under Both Flags

...Lyon was badly off for troops. Of the 5,800 men he now had in hand, many of Sigel's men claimed their discharge before the day of battle, and the term of service of the First Iowa would expire on the 18th, as they were all three months men. Sigel went among his soldiers and begged them to stand by him at this critical time...Notwithstanding his entreaties, two-thirds of the officers and some of the men declined to serve any longer. The vacancies in the battery were filled by men from the infantry, but they were ignorant of artillery drill,...The First Iowa Infantry, under Colonel William H. Merritt, was composed of better material. A mass meeting of the regiment was held, in which every man might have his say; and it was determined that, although the government could claim them no longer than the 18th of the month, they would remain in the field until it suited Lyon's pleasure to send them home. As to their wages, they informed the General that they had no use for money, and it would make no difference if they were never paid.

Phelps (referring to the 1st Iowa Infantry)

They had been enlisted for three months and their time was over, but they refused to be disbanded in face of an imminent battle.

(Initially, when the Civil War broke out, Lincoln felt it would only take a few months to put down the rebellion. Most soldiers that answered his first call for volunteers, joined only for a three month term. This had, or was expiring, for many of Lyon's troop's. Col Sigel had already lost some of his men, in particular, most of his artillery crews.)


...the boys...had got their thin clothes badly worn out, especially behind and many of them took flour sacks and made themselves aprons and wore them there instead of in front. When Gen. Lyon saw the first one of these on a soldier, he ordered him to remove it at once, but when he found its removal left the whole fighting force of that soldier without a 'rear guard' and exposed to the jibes and jokes of friend and foe, he ordered it quickly replaced.....It was declared that none of the First Iowa would "run from a lady or the enemy - for very shame's sake they would not dare turn aught but their faces to either.


Their clothes are in tatters to an extent the contempt of the raggedest crowd that ever gathered at the five points. Two hundred and fifty of them are utterly unfit for travel from the want of shoes - some entirely barefooted, other have an apology for shoes that would excite the profoundest contempt of the seediest beggar that ever hunted the gutter for bones. As for the hats - description fails to do the things justice. Hunt up all the old hat that ever plugged the windows of poverty's dirties, kennels, select a thousand of the poorest and dirtiest, and they might give you a fair approximate idea of the headgear of the Iowa First....A large majority of out regiment are men of taste and education - who of them would like to charge upon a battery, confident if killed that his body would be handled with a pair of tongs to tumble it into a dog's grave, or else from its ragged dirty appearance...


...our men are put off with an old rusty machine that is a cross between a blunderbuss and a chinese matchlock, and is one which would excite the merriment even of a digger Indian, unless he happened to be behind it....The old-fashioned-brass-mounted-and-of-such-is the-kingdom-of-heaven kind that are infinitely more dangerous to friend than enemy - will kick further than they will shoot...

Under Both Flags

It should be known, however, that regular soldiers, unless controlled by a sufficient number of competent officers, are not likely to be formidable in battle, and it happened that of the fourteen companies of Regulars then in Springfield, five of them were commanded by sergeants, and but twelve commissioned officers could be found for the remaining nine. The resignation from the army of nearly all the officers of southern birth in the early month of 1861...And the sudden demand by the government for staff officers of experience, created this state of affairs.


Though he was convinced that he could not, with the force at his command, resist the armies which were gathering to attack him...he was, nevertheless, loth to abandon Springfield and the south-west to the Confederates......But if it were difficult to advance, or to remain where he (Lyon) was, it was even more difficult to retreat;....The only road open to him was that which led to Rolla,.... Between Springfield and Rolla, lay a rough country, through which the road ran a rough country, through which the road ran for one hundred and fifteen miles over hills, and through ravines, and across a hundred streams. How could an army of six or seven thousand disheartened men, encumbered by four hundred army wagons, and impeded by crowds of refugees, fleeing with their families and household goods... hope to retreat over such a road, for such a distance, pursued by more than twice their own number of men under Price and McCulloch, and harassed and hindered at every step by an overwhelming force of mounted troops?


To Major Gen. J.C. Fremont, Commanding Western Department, St. Louis, MO.

General - I have just received your note of the 6th inst., by special messenger. I retired to this place, as I have before informed you, reaching here on the 5th. The enemy followed to within ten miles of here. He has taken a strong position, and is recruiting his supplies of horses, mules, and provisions by forages into the surrounding country. His large force of mounted men enables him to do this without much annoyance from me. I find my position extremely embarrassing, and am at present unable to determine whether I shall be able to maintain my ground or forced to retire. I shall hold my ground as long as possible, though I may, without knowing how far, endanger the safety of my entire force with its valuable material, being induced, by the important considerations involved, to take this step. The enemy yesterday made a show of force about five miles distant, and has doubtless a full purpose of making an attack on me. Very respectfully, your obedient servant, N. Lyon Brig Gen. Vols., Commanding

 MO    KS    IA    

 MO     AR    LA    TX  

Return to index To next page

Copyright © 2000-201- David Long

All rights reserved