The First Battle of Independence
August 06, 2012
The First Battle of Independence (Missouri), one of the first urban battles of the Civil War, took place on Monday, August 11, 1862 on the historic Independence Square.
During the Civil War, the state of Missouri was considered a "border state," meaning there were supporters of both the Union (northern) and Confederate (southern) forces. At various times, there would have been troops from either or both sides posted throughout Missouri. Such was the case during the summer of 1862. A number of Confederate and Missouri State Guard recruiters were sent northward from Arkansas to recruit troops to replenish the ranks of the Trans-Mississippi forces. William Clarke Quantrill and a number of men under his command, including Cole Younger, assisted the recruiters and additional Confederates continuing to infiltrate the area.
Meanwhile, Union forces were bivouacked around the square in Independence, which was at that time the county seat of Jackson County. These troops, led by Lt. Col. James T. Buel, were positioned in three main concentrations: camped near a rock wall, in the bank building serving as Buel’s headquarters, and in the county jail. Lt. Col. Buel had been warned by a number of citizens of an impending attack on the Union forces, but ignored the warning. He had sent an officer scouting for 11 days, and this officer had reportedly found nothing.
The Confederate forces under the leadership of Col. John T. Hughes heard that the Union forces were considering an attack on them, but this warning was not ignored. Running perilously low on ammunition and wanting a Confederate victory to spur on the recruiting efforts, Col. Hughes decided on a surprise attack on the Union forces. At about four in the morning, Col. Hughes led his troops through the center of town into the heart of the Union army camp delivering a deadly volley to the sleeping soldiers. Union Capt. Jacob Axline formed the surviving troops behind the rock wall and was able to hold this position against the onslaught of the Confederates, though Col. Hughes was killed. Lt. Col. Buel thought he could hold out in the bank building until some Confederate men set fire to the building next to it. He surrendered, believing that he and his men would be burned to death if they stayed in the building. Buel also ordered the surrender of the remaining Union troops giving the Confederates the victory they wanted.
It is estimated that the battle's Union casualties were 14 killed, 18 wounded, and 312 missing or captured. The number of Confederate casualties is unknown. This Saturday is the 150th anniversary of the battle.
Midwest Genealogy Center