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Civil War in Greene County

The Civil War had a significant impact on Springfield and Greene County. Beginning with the Battle of Wilson's Creek in August 1861, the area was alternately controlled by the armies of the North and the South. The brief histories below are introductions to some of the most significant events of that time. Included are:

The Battle of Wilson's Creek

The Battle of Wilson's Creek occurred August 10, 1861, along Wilson's Creek, about ten miles southwest of Springfield. This six hour battle is considered to be the second major battle of the Civil War and the first major battle west of the Mississippi River. The Union forces, numbering about 5400 men, were commanded by Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon. They consisted of Missouri, Kansas, Iowa, and U.S. Regular soldiers. On the Confederate side there were about ten thousand men, commanded by Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch. They consisted of men from Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. The Missouri contingent was the Missouri State Guard (MSG) under the command of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price.

The battle was waged over who would control the state of Missouri, the U.S. government or the state of Missouri. The battle lasted from dawn until noon with the Confederates as the victors. It was at this battle that Nathaniel Lyon, the first Union general to be killed in the Civil War, met his death. The victory was not a decisive one because the Confederate forces did not pursue the retreating Union army and thus they lived to fight again seven months later in Arkansas at the Battle of Pea Ridge, which was a victory for the Union. Casualties for the Union were 258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing for a total of 1317 or 24.5 percent. The Confederates reported 277 killed and 945 wounded, for a total of 1222 or 12 percent.

Zagonyi's Charge

The engagement known as Zagonyi's Charge occurred October 25, 1861. Springfield was then occupied by a small Confederate force of about five hundred men. General Price had departed the city in September to engage the enemy on the Missouri River. Following the Confederate victory at Lexington, Gen. John C. Fremont mobilized the Union forces in Missouri to prevent General Price from returning to southwest Missouri. Among his troops was Fremont's Body Guard, an elite unit of two hundred men under the command of Maj. Charles Zagonyi. Anxious for action, Major Zagonyi was permitted to advance on Springfield ahead of the main army that was camped near Bolivar in Polk County. As the result of the capture of a Confederate foraging party they learned that about one thousand Confederates were camped near the fairgrounds on the Mt. Vernon road west of the city. Around three o'clock in the afternoon Major Zagonyi's force charged down Mt. Vernon Road from the west, attracting fire from both sides. Upon reaching Jordan Creek, they turned in a counterattack and routed the Confederate troops. Proceeding to the public square there was a wild, frenzied demonstration that resulted in the death of Professor John A. Stephens, prominent citizen and head of an academy for boys. With the sun setting, Major Zagonyi returned to General Fremont's camp. The next day General Fremont occupied Springfield where he learned he had been relieved of his command, whereupon he returned to St. Louis.

A recent article on this event is “Zagonyi’s Raid: Civil War Drama in Springfield” by Phil Nichols. [Published in the Ozarks Mountaineer, October 2003, pp. 30-33]

The Battle of Springfield

Since February 1862, Springfield had been occupied by Union forces. It had become a large military depot. Four forts had been constructed to protect the city and its military stores. When the Confederates in northern Arkansas learned that Springfield was occupied by a small garrison of troops, it was determined that its capture should be attempted. Gen. John Marmaduke was ordered to attack Springfield and capture the city. On the evening of January 7, 1863, the Confederates were camped near Phelps' farm. Gen. Egbert B. Brown, in command of the federal garrison in Springfield, prepared to defend the city.

Houses south of Fort #4 on South Street were burned to provide a clear field of view. Cannon on makeshift carriages were put into position. Citizens took shelter at Fort #1 northwest of the city. About three hundred convalescing soldiers, known as the "quinine brigade," joined the regular troops for the defense. The battle opened at daybreak with a Confederate attack from the southwest, with Fort #4 playing a significant role in the city's defense. The area within a three block radius of Campbell and State Streets experienced most of the fighting. Late in the evening the fighting ceased with the Confederates withdrawing to their camp south of town. The next morning the Confederates abandoned their camp and Springfield was saved.

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Springfield's Civil War Forts

After February 1862 when Union forces were in undisputed control of Springfield, the city became a large military depot. Four forts were built for the defense of the city. Construction of the forts began in the late summer or early fall of 1862. Ordinarily Civil War forts occupied positions on high ground with a nearby source of water and often commanded the main roads leading into a city. Unlike a western stockade, Civil War forts consisted of dirt from a moat thrown up to form an embankment or parapet. The inside wall of the parapet was made of logs or flat boards supported by posts.

Forts served primarily for artillery emplacements and not to be lived in. Each fort had special structures at the corners called bastions for the artillery with openings called embrasures for firing the cannon. A sloping earthen ramp or wooden platform led from the floor of the fort to the gun emplacement. Fort # 1, the largest of the four, was located in an area presently bounded by Chestnut, W. Brower, Kansas Expressway and N. Nettleton. It was pentagonal in shape and covered as much as ten acres. Fort # 2, was located on West Walnut near Fort Street, Fort # 3 at the corner of St. Louis and Dollison or St. Louis and Sherman, and Fort # 4 on South Street at Mt. Vernon at the site of the present parking lot of South Street Christian Church. This fort played a significant role in the defense of Springfield during the Battle of Springfield, January 8, 1863.

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