Battle of Springfield

The Battle of Springfield, Missouri, fought January 8, 1863, was the first of two battles during Confederate Brigadier General John Sappington Marmaduke’s Southwest Missouri Raid. Marmaduke’s immediate objective was the destruction of the Union Army of the Frontier’s major winter supply depot, housed in and around Springfield’s Public Square. If successful, Marmaduke would cause severe hardship for the Army of the Frontier and almost certainly would force the Union army’s withdrawal from Arkansas.

Marmaduke had hoped to surprise Springfield’s garrison, but Union Captain Milton Burch’s Company H, 14th Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiment, while scouting near Dubuque, Arkansas, on January 6, 1863, had detected Marmaduke’s movements. Burch had retreated with his company to Lawrence’s Mill in Douglas County, Missouri, before daylight of January 7. Captain Burch then sent a warning message: A Confederate force, estimated between 4000 and 6000 strong, was moving toward Springfield. This was alarming news for Union Brigadier General E. B. Brown’s Springfield & Ozark garrisons, whose commands included only 1343 veteran soldiers. With suggestions from militia officers Brigadier General C. B. Holland, Henry Sheppard, and Doctor Samuel Melcher, General Brown called upon all available Enrolled Missouri Militia commanders to concentrate their commands immediately at Springfield. Meanwhile, officers searched Springfield’s hospitals for any convalescent soldiers who might be able to walk short distances and carry a musket for the following day.

The morning of January 8 began with a Union delaying action. Brown sent the 3rd & 4th Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiments south of Springfield to locate and delay Marmaduke’s Confederate forces while the arriving 309 local Union militiamen and 447 convalescing hospital patients received arms, equipment, and ammunition from the town’s armory. By noon, Brown had an armed force of 2099 soldiers and citizens ready to defend Springfield. Marmaduke, on the other hand, was unable to locate his second brigade, so only 1870 Confederates were present for the battle. The two Union cavalry regiments pulled back to the southern edge of the city about 1 p.m. The 4th Missouri State Militia Cavalry Regiment withdrew through modern day Jenny Lincoln Park to a defensive position along Cherry Street.

From 1 p.m.-5 p.m., Confederate Colonel Jo Shelby launched regiment-sized attacks in succession against the Union’s east flank, left center, right center, west flank, and a second time against the right center as he probed for weaknesses in the Union battle line. From 2:00-2:30 p.m., the Confederate 12th Missouri Cavalry Regiment charged across modern day Jenny Lincoln Park in an unsuccessful effort to storm the Union left center, where a company from the 74th Enrolled Missouri Militia and another from the Quinine Brigade (convalescing soldiers) held fast inside Fort Number 4 on South Street. Between 2:30 & 3:00 p.m., the Confederate 5th & 12th Missouri regiments’ attacked the Union right center and almost broke through, but reinforcements from the Quinine Brigade sealed off the breach near Mount Vernon Street and Campbell Avenue. Between 3:00 & 4:00 p.m., the Confederate 11th Battalion and 5th Missouri Regiment attacked the Union west flank and drove the 72nd Enrolled Missouri Militia Regiment to the point of a near rout, but reinforcements from the 18th Iowa at Fort Number 2 and seven cavalry companies from the unengaged east flank arrived in the nick of time to stave off defeat. With these reinforcements the Union forces on the West flank halted the Confederate advance at Walnut Street and then counter-attacked from College Street and pushed the Confederates south to Mount Vernon Street. At 5 p.m., elements of the Confederate 11th and 12th Cavalry Regiments made one last assault against the Quinine Brigade and militiamen in Fort Number 4, but the Union right center did not budge. At dusk, the 18th Iowa Infantry Regiment’s five remaining companies made a charge that pushed the Confederates south of State Street. Realizing that his force was too small to defeat the Union garrison, Marmaduke disengaged his Confederate forces about 11 p.m. He retreated from the battlefield on the morning of January 9.

What were the Casualties? Of the 2099 Union forces engaged, 19 were killed or missing and 146 were wounded for a total loss of 165 men (7.9 Percent). Of the 1870 Confederates engaged at Springfield, 45 were killed or missing and 105 were wounded for a total loss of 150 men (8.0 percent).

So…Who won? The Union won a major tactical victory since they successfully held onto the town and saved the Union Army of the Frontier’s winter supplies. Another small Union force defeated Marmaduke at the Battle of Hartville on January 11, 1863. The Confederates claimed a minor strategic victory because at least two Union divisions withdrew from Arkansas to defend Southwest Missouri.

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