December 28, 1861: Battle of Mount Zion Church


As 1861 dragged to a close, the civil war in Missouri continued to rage.  On December 28, a small Union force under Brigadier General Benjamin Prentiss, five companies of the Third Missouri Cavalry and two companies of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters, ah, the colorful names that units had early in the War, were in Boone County Missouri, guarding the North Missouri Railroad.  Prentiss commanded about 400 men.  On December 28, he fought a Missouri State Guard (Confederate) force of approximately 900 men under Colonel Caleb Dorsey.  The Confederates were ill-armed, ill-supplied and ill-trained.  The Confederates fought until their ammunition gave out, and then were driven of by the Union troops.  Just one of hundreds of such engagements that marked the turmoil that engulfed Missouri throughout the War.  Here is the report of General Prentiss:

Headquarters Army of North Missouri Palmyra, Mo., Jan 4, 1862 Capt. John C. Kelton, Assistant Adjutant-General Department of Missouri

In pursuance of a special order, received on the evening of December 23, 1861, I proceeded from Palmyra for Sturgeon on the morning of the 24th day of December, with five companies of the Third Missouri Cavalry, Col. John M. Glover commanding. I arrived at Sturgeon on the evening of the 26th. During the following day, having learned that there was a concentration of rebels near the village of Hallsville, in Boone County, I sent forward one company of cavalry, commanded by Capt. Howland, to reconnoitre in that vicinity. Capt. Howland proceeded to Hallsville, but found no rebels. After proceeding about two miles beyond, his advance guard encountered the rebels in force, commanded by Col. Caleb Dorsey. Capt. Howland endeavored to draw off his company, having taken nine prisoners, but was overpowered. Being wounded, and having lost his horse, he was taken prisoner, with one private of his company. The remainder of his men made good their retreat, arriving at Sturgeon at nine o’clock P.M. Having learned the position of the enemy, I immediately ordered five companies of cavalry, Col. John M. Glover, commanding, and five companies of sharpshooters, Col. Birge commanding, numbering in all four hundred and seventy, to march at two A.M., at which hour I started, and after marcing a distance of sixteen miles, at eight o’clock a.m. of the 28th inst. I found one company of rebels, commanded by Capt. Johnson, in a position to the left of the road leading from Hallsville to Mt. Zion. I ordered two companies of sharpshooters to pass to the rear of the enemy, and one of cavalry to dismount and engage them in the front, it being difficult for the sharpshooters to attain their position unperceived, the enemy manifesting a disposition to retire.

Col. Glover opened fire, and succeeded in killing five, and capturing seven prisoners, from whom I learned the number and position of the main force. The enemy being posted at a church, known as Mt. Zion, in Boone County, and one mile and a half in advance, numbering near nine hundred men, I ordered the cavalry under Col. Glover forward, accompanied by two companies of Birge’s Sharpshooters. Col. Birge, with them, arriving near the encampment, one troop of cavalry were ordered to dismount and engage the enemy. The sharpshooters were afterwards ordered through a field onour right to skirmish with the enemy’s left, and if possible drive them from the woods.

The firing being heavy, these three companies not being able to drive the enemy from his cover, Col. Glover, with his available force, moved in double-quick to the aid of the three companies engaged, and for half and hour longer the battle raged and became a hand-to-hand fight. Capt. Boyd’s company of sharpshooters were in the midst of the rebel camp. Also, Major Carrick, with Company C, Third Illinois Cavalry. When Col. Glover arrived, the rebels could not stand the fire of our rifles and retreated, leaving in our hands ninety (90) horses and one hundred and five (105) stand of arms. The battle was brought to a close about eleven A.M.

The reserve of two companies coming into action at the moment the enemy gave way, our victory was complete. After collecting our wounded, we proceeded to collect those of the enemy, placed them in the church, and sent for farmers and friends in the vicinity to render assistance. I collected wagons, made our wounded as comfortable as possible, and at four P.M. started for Sturgeon, where we arrived at nine P.M. Our loss in the battle of Mt. Zion and in the engagement of the evening previous is as follows: Killed, three; slightly wounded forty-six; severely wounded, seventeen; Rebel loss: Killed, twenty-five; wounded one hundred and fifty.

I have not been able to get a correct report of the rebel missing; but having taken thirty prisoners from the barn, their punishment is a severe one. Sixty of the rebels, with Capt. Howland and four of our men as prisoners, arrived at the camp at night, twenty miles distant from the field of battle.

Permit me to mention that our entire force behaved gallantly. I make special mention of the following officers: Col. John M. Glover, Maj. Carrick, Lieuts. Yates and Kirpatrick of the Third Missouri Cavalry; Col. Birge, Capt. Boyd, and Adjt. Temple of Birge’s Sharpshooters, and Lieut. Edwin Moore, my aide. I also assure you that the men behaved with coolness and daring during the engagement.

Annexed please find the names of our killed and wounded, and list of rebel wounded, left by us at Mt. Zion. I have the honor to be, Captain, very respectfully, your obedient servant, B.M. Prentiss, Brigadier General


Published in: on December 28, 2020 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on December 28, 1861: Battle of Mount Zion Church  
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