Battle of Hartville

In late December 1862, Brigadier General James G. Blunt applied considerable pressure to Northwest Arkansas by pressing southward with 8,000 troops and 30 pieces of artillery. Major General Thomas C. Hindman, Confederate commander of the army in Northwest Arkansas, ordered Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke to move rapidly and “strike the enemy in the rear or flank, in order to withdraw the heavy masses (infantry, cavalry, and artillery), under Blunt, then moving toward the Arkansas River, back into Missouri.”1

While leading a portion of his cavalry division north into Missouri in early January, 1863, Marmaduke learned the supply depot at Springfield, Missouri was weakly garrisoned. Believing he could capture the town, Marmaduke turned away from his original destination of Hartville, Missouri. Marmaduke attacked Springfield on January 8, 1863, but was defeated. After the unsuccessful engagement at Springfield, Marmaduke withdrew the following morning along the telegraph road toward Lebanon. He eventually turned southeastward and advanced on Hartville, Missouri, his original objective.

Marmaduke’s Missouri expedition up to this point consisted of two independent columns. The first, under his immediate command, left Lewisburg, Arkansas, on December 31, 1862, and was defeated at the Battle of Springfield. The second, under Colonel Joseph C. Porter, marched independently into Missouri from Pocahontas, Arkansas on January 2, 1863. The two columns planed to rendezvous at Hartville. Porter had reached Hartville on January 9, and successfully captured 40 militiamen and 200 stands of arms without firing a shot.2 Porter’s Confederates then destroyed the fortifications in Hartville and continued toward Lebanon via Hazelwood. Porter dispatched Lieutenant Colonel John M. Wimer into Hazelwood, where he burned the blockhouse and fortifications in town.3 Marmaduke finally reestablished communication with Porter’s column on January 10, 1863. He ordered Porter to return to Hartville during the night.

Brigadier General Fitz Henry Warren, Union commander at Houston, Missouri, learned of Marmaduke’s advance on Springfield. Warren ordered Colonel Samuel Merrill with a force of 700 infantry and artillery and 180 cavalry to reinforce the Springfield garrison.4 The command reached Hartville early on January 10th, and learned that Porter’s 800 man Confederate force had already captured the Hartville garrison and disappeared. Merrill continued en route toward Springfield, and early on January 11th discovered Confederate forces marching on his camp. Merrill’s command skirmished with Wimer, who was the vanguard of Marmaduke’s Division, north of Hartville. The Union cavalry pressed Wimer, but was stalled when they encountered a larger body of Rebel troops.

Marmaduke believed that Federal forces pursued him from the direction of Springfield, and feared facing two Union forces. He ordered his skirmishers to remain in place while the main column bypassed the Union forces on a side road. Marmaduke hoped to open a southward escape route should the Federal forces prove to be present in overwhelming numbers.

Realizing that Marmaduke was attempting to circle around his defensive position, Colonel Merrill ordered his Union troops to race back to Hartville. Discovering that the Confederates had already reached Hartville, Merrill deployed his men on the high ground west of the courthouse. Union artillery supported the position. The Union forces had almost no time to prepare their position before Colonel Joseph Shelby and Colonel Porter’s commands engaged them in battle. The Confederate’s launched their initial attacks before conducting any reconnaissance work, and the result had devastating effects.

Confederate forces attacked repeatedly but were repelled. As the Confederates discovered the precise location of the Union battleline, the Confederates began concentrating their fire from the buildings in town. A portion of the Union line began to break and elements retreated, including the Union’s artillery. Confederate commanders noted the Union withdrawal, and presumed victory. The Union position west of the courthouse, however, was covered by ample brush and trees for coverage. While some Union forces indeed retreated from the battlefield, the 21st Iowa Infantry did not receive the order to retreat, so they held their ground in the bush. As Colonel Porter and his column reached the courthouse they realized their mistake as the enemy, only 50 yards away from his men, opened fire. Porter was wounded in the leg and hand, and Wimer was killed.

Lieutenant Colonel Cornelius Dunlap, of the 21st Iowa Infantry, extended his line of defense and increased his regiment’s rate of fire to mask his weakness from the Rebel forces. The Confederates made three additional advances before sundown, all of which were repelled. Dunlap later reported, “My men all acted finely, and were cool and active when they learned that they were left alone in front of a rebel horde of 5,000 men.”5 After darkness, Dunlap retreated with the other Union forces toward Lebanon.

Confederate forces were plagued by poor coordination and inadequate reconnaissance during their victory at the Battle of Hartville. Union casualties included seven dead and 64 wounded. Confederate casualties were estimated at 22 killed and 125 wounded. Their inability to capture supplies at Springfield, followed by poorly conceived attacks and high casualties at Hartville, left the Confederate command demoralized and ready to retreat to Arkansas. However, upon reflection Marmaduke reported that the impact of his actions in Missouri should be considered at least a partial success. He noted,
I think I may safely state that the object of the expedition was fully accomplished, and more. Blunt’s Army of the Frontier countermarched rapidly to save Springfield; a long chain of forts, strong in themselves, built at great expense and labor, which overawed and kept in subjection the country, were razed to the ground, and the heart of the people revived again at the presence of Confederate troops.6

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  1. U. S. War Department, The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies, Series 1, Volume XXII, Part 1 (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901), 195.
  2. Paul M. Robinett, “Marmadukes’ Expedition into Missouri: The Battles of Springfield and Hartville, January, 1863.” in Battle of Hartville and Related Events. (Houston, Missouri: Wright County Historical Society, 1994), 15.
  3. Robinett, 16.
  4. Robinett, 16.
  5. OR, Series 1, Volume XXII, Part 1, 193.
  6. John Sappington Marmaduke, Confederate States Army Trans-Mississippi Order Book, 1862-1864 (Independence, Missouri: Two Trails Publishing Co., 2000), 86-7; OR, series 1, Volume XXII, part 1, 198.