Confederate General Sterling Price continues his campaign to secure Missouri in the early days of the war by converging on a Union garrison at Lexington, Missouri. The First Battle of Lexington ended after a week with the surrender of the Federals.
The Battle of Lexington followed shortly after the much larger Battle of Wilson’s Creek on August 10, 1861. That engagement, in southwestern Missouri, resulted in heavy losses and the scattering of the Union force in the area. Price, who was also the Confederate commander at Wilson’s Creek, now headed north to expand the Confederates’ hold on the state. On September 12, he arrived in Lexington, a wealthy community just east of Kansas City, with part of his force, which eventually numbered 10,000 men—most of them veterans of Wilson’s Creek. Just a few days before, a Union brigade of Irish soldiers from Chicago had joined a small cavalry detachment to defend the town. Union troops numbered about 2,500.
The Union commander, Colonel James Mulligan, began building fortifications just prior to Price’s advance. On September 12, skirmishes broke out between the forces but Price decided to wait until the rest of his force arrived before taking further action against Mulligan’s garrison. By September 17, Price’s ammunition wagons arrived and his men encircled the town. The Confederates cut the water supply and waited. On September 20, the Southerners advanced on the fortifications by rolling large bales of hemp, which had been dipped in river water so they would not catch fire, in front of them. As the lines crept toward them, Union soldiers began surrendering. Price secured the town with only 25 men killed and 72 wounded. Federal losses numbered 39 dead and 120 wounded.