Lexington, Battle of (Battle of the Hemp Bales)

September 18, 1861 - September 20, 1861

"It is unnecessary to kill off the boys here. Patience will give us what we want."
Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, Sept. 18, 1861

Following the Southern victory at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Mo., Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, marched his 7,000 pro-Southern troops to the prosperous Missouri River town of Lexington.  Col James A. Mulligan had already reached Lexington and commanded a Union garrison of 3,500 men, comprised largely of his 23rd Illinois “Irish Brigade”.  

On the first day of the Battle of Lexington, Price’s men faced heavy Union artillery fire, but succeeded in pushing the Union outposts back to their inner fortifications around the Masonic College.  Some of the fiercest fighting occurred around Oliver Anderson’s house, which served as a Union hospital. When the Missourians captured the house, Mulligan was outraged by what he considered a breach of the rules of war.  His Irish troops recaptured the house in a bloody attack, but were quickly driven back again by Price’s men.

Throughout the day on Sept. 19, the Rebel troops consolidated their forces and kept the Yankees under heavy artillery fire.  On Sept. 20, Price’s men made a mobile breastwork of hemp bales taken from a local warehouse.  By pushing the hemp bales in front of them, they were able to move close enough to make a final assault on the Union works.  Low on food, water and ammunition, Mulligan requested surrender terms and by 2 p.m. his men had marched out and laid down their arms.  

Much of the battlefield is preserved today as Battle of Lexington State Historic Site.