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Friday, January 11, 2013

The Battle of Hartville and the death of Colonel Porter

Two days after losing the Battle of Springfield, Confederate General Marmaduke and his cavalry raiders were still causing trouble in southern Missouri.

They'd been riding east, picking off small Union garrisons, burning bridges, and cutting telegraph wires. About 60 miles east of Springfield at the small town of Hartville, they came across their first significant resistance.

Col. Samuel Merrill and about 800 Union troops were on a forced march to reinforce Springfield. Instead came across the rebels sooner than expected. Merrill's pickets west of Hartville spotted the Confederate advance column at around 3 am and fired on them.

At dawn the rebels pushed forward. For a time the Union troops held them, but the rebels outnumbered them three to one and soon outflanked the Union line to the south.

This was precisely what Marmaduke needed to secure his retreat to Arkansas. That wasn't all he wanted, however. He wanted to defeat the Yankees and take the town. The Union troops hurried back to Hartville with the rebels in pursuit. Merrill positioned his men on a thickly wooded hill northwest of town. He had his men lie down just inside the treeline readied his artillery.

Moments later, the rebels formed up south of town and charged at the Yankees. Just as they drew near, Merrill ordered his men to rise and fire. As Union veteran and author Wiley Britton put it, "the flash and roar of the discharge of eight hundred Federal muskets burst forth from the dark recesses of the wood, announcing that a storm of leaden hail had been sent forth winged with death and woe."

The rebels fell back. Twice they rallied and charged, only to be sent back again. While his troops were holding the line, Merrill grew nervous. He'd heard Marmaduke had 5,000 men, and his own men had already been flanked once. What if the rebels came at him from the sides or rear? He could be cut off and annihilated. During a lull in the fighting he ordered a retreat. Everyone joined the wagon train on the road north to Lebanon.

Everyone, that is, except Lt.-Col. Dunlap and the 250 men of his 21st Iowa Infantry. Somehow they didn't get the order, and the next time the rebels attacked, he found himself facing the enemy all alone. Dunlap had already been wounded and had his horse shot out from under him so it's a testament to his character that he didn't panic. He held his position, keeping hidden in the underbrush so the rebels wouldn't know how much they outnumbered him. The Iowan troops fought until nightfall before slipping away.

The battle was over. Marmaduke had taken the town and had secured his line of retreat but at a heavy cost. While the Union had lost 7 dead, 64 wounded, 5 captured, and two missing; Marmaduke's rebels had lost 12 killed, 96 wounded, and 3 missing.

Even more serious was the loss of several officers, most notably Colonel Joseph Porter. He had been hit in two places and would die of his wounds a month later. This cavalry raider had made a name for himself recruiting and causing trouble in north Missouri. Increasing Federal pressure had forced him to move south until he eventually joined up with Marmaduke's ill-fated raid.

For a great account of Porter's adventures by one of his men, check out With Porter in North Missouri by Joseph A. Mudd. I read it a few years ago and I need to add it to my Goodreads reviews. Stay tuned!


  1. Are you going to continue with more installments?

  2. Marmaduke and his raiders are headed home, so not much more about them. Don't worry, you can always rely on this blog for at least two posts about the Civil War in the West every week!

  3. Some of my ancestors fought for the Union. Others fought for the Confederacy. I'm a mongrel.

    1. Do you have any family anecdotes that would make a good guest post (hint, hint) :-)

  4. I love the Wiley Briton quote - it's beautiful and frightening. And how terrifying for Dunlap, to find himself abandoned. Great post! :-)

  5. Ah I always find war stories interesting and for some reason have a soft-spot for the Civil War. Thanks for sharing!


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