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The Charge of the Body Guard.


November/December 1861

From The Missouri Democrat, Friday, November 1, 1861.


Brilliant Charge of Major Zagonyi with 162 Men Against a Rebel Force of 1,800.



[From our Army Correspondent.]

Monday, Oct. 28.

On Thursday evening last, while encamped at Camp Haskell, 34 miles from Warsaw and 51 from Springfield, Major Zagonyi, of the Body Guard, received orders to take a detail from each of three companies of his own command, and uniting it with Major White’s battalion of Prairie Scouts, proceed to Springfield by a forced march, and take possession of the place. It was understood that the city was held by but about 300 rebel troops, and no opposition whatever was anticipated to the progress of Major Zagonyi’s command.

The Major, stopping in camp only long enough to cook one ration, and rest his men and horses from the fatigues of the 18 mile march of that day, was with his command duly on the road by 11 o’clock P. M. At daybreak, on Friday, he halted at a point five miles this side of Bolivar, where he made another brief halt, allowing the men an opportunity of eating their ration, and the horses getting a little feed. Proceeding again, he met with no signs of the enemy until within about eight miles of this city, when a squad of some dozen or fifteen men were discovered taking wheat from a barn on the prairie near by. A platoon of the Body Guard was sent after them, and six of them captured, the others succeeding in making good their retreat through the neighboring woods.

It was then ascertained that the men were a foraging party from a large rebel force at Springfield. Proceeding farther on, the Major gained additional information from Union citizens in regard to the enemy’s numbers. From these accounts, it seemed that the place was held by a force at least five or six times as large as was supposed prior to leaving the headquarters of Gen. Fremont. Notwithstanding all this, the undaunted Major resolved to press on and examine for himself; but the farther he progressed towards the town, the more emphatic were the statements as to the large force with which the town was held.

In the mean time, some of the foraging party, who had managed to make good their escape, had apprised the rebels of the approach of the federal cavalry, and long before he arrived before the town, they had made their dispositions for receiving it. The first seen of the enemy was a short distance from town, when the advance of the Body Guard discovered, a full regiment, drawn up on selected ground near the road, prepared to receive them. The ground not being favorable for offensive operations with cavalry, after a consultation with his guide, the Major resolved to give his force the go by, cross over the prairie to the westward, and approach the city by the Mt. Vernon road.

This maneuvre was successfully accomplished, but upon arriving within about a mile of the city by this route, the citizens gave the Major information that the enemy, 1,800 or 2,000 strong, were here, too, drawn up and prepared to meet them, but a quarter or a half mile ahead. This was about three or four o’clock. Men, women and children came flocking down to the roadside, and with tears in their eyes welcomed the federal force; and while assuring them of their hearty welcome, cautioned of the large force ready to receive them, and besought the Major and his officers to hesitate ere they rushed in upon them with their little force of but 300 men. The Major had not made a forced march of over fifty miles to take possession of a town, to return without at least making an attempt to carry out his instructions. He had besides, the most unlimited confidence in the drill and effectiveness of his own immediate command, the Body Guards, and was, perhaps, himself animated by a soldier-like desire to do a gallant deed. Placing his own command in the front, and himself in advance of all, he led the way towards the point where the enemy was drawn up prepared to meet him.

The ground selected by the rebels for their reception of the Major’s command was in the immediate vicinity of their camp, on the “Mount Vernon road,” about half a mile west of the city. It is the same road over which our troops marched out to meet the enemy prior to the battle of Wilson’s Creek, and by a somewhat singular coincidence the head of the same Wilson’s Creek-here, however, a mere brook-runs through the lot in which the present engagement took place.

As the Major was to approach from the west, the rebels had scattered skirmishers throughout the dense woods or chapparal on either side , who from the first greeted his approach with a scathing fire which emptied several saddles. The woods and rough bushy ground to the south of the road, was also full of their skirmishers, hidden in the tops and behind bushes and trees. The main body of the force, however, was drawn up in the form of a hollow square, in large open field to the north of the road, the infantry bordering along a high Virginia rail fence, nearly to the brook, and also at the head of the field bordering on the woods, and the cavalry on the other side of the field, also supported by the forest.

Upon reaching the vicinity of this place, Major Z. ordered an advance at a trot, until, when fairly in the woods the pace was increased to a gallop. When the fire first opened, for some cause, yet to be explained, the two companies of the First Missouri cavalry, and the Irish Dragoons, composing Major White’s battalion, countermarched to the left, and were seen no more by Major Zagonyi, who, with his command, alone proceeded down the road through the fire of the enemy. Upon reaching the open field, an attempt was made to tear down the fence and charge upon the enemy. It was soon discovered, however, that this would be impossible without a heavy loss, and they immediately made a rush down the road, over a brook, where in a measure shielded from the enemy’s fire, they leveled the rails and effected an entrance. Here, in the midst of the briars and stubble bordering the brook, he succeeded in forming his men, and giving the word, with the Major at their head, they gallantly charged up the hill of the open field, right into the midst of their foes. As they charged, the command spread out fan like, some charging to the right, some to the left, and others straight up to the woods in front.

The cavalry to the right were scattered almost instantaneously; the infantry made a somewhat firmer stand, but it was only for a moment. The charge was so furious, so well directed, and so compact, that the rebel ranks were scattered like leaves in an autumn wind. Some of them took to the woods; some to the corn field, where they were met and killed by Major White’s command, who had made a detour and come around that way, and some fled wildly towards the town, pursued by the insatiate Guards, who overtaking them, either cut them down with their sabers or leveled them with shots from their pistols. Some were even chased through the streets of the city and then killed in hand to hand encounters with their pursuers.

Of course all this could not be accomplished without heavy loss on the side of the Guards. Under the well directed fire of the enemy’s sharp shooters, the little band of only 162, rank and file, contending against 1,800, must necessarily have suffered severely. The list of killed and wounded which I herewith enclose shows how severely. There are yet about thirty or forty missing, who, scattering in the confusion of the pursuit, probably lost their way and have been taken prisoners by the scattering bands fleeing from the city.

Pursuing a portion of the rebels into town, the Major here assembled his command, or such portions of it as were at hand, raised the stars and stripes upon the Court House, detailed a guard to attend to his wounded, and then fearful that the enemy might become cognizant of his small force, and rally, determined to retrace his steps towards Bolivar, where he could meet reinforcements.

This was undoubtedly a wise movement on the part of the Major, although it appears that the rebels were far too much terrified to think of returning, and that he might with safety ave remained in the town. As it was, he returned to within five miles of Bolivar, where he halted for reinforcements. His little force had ridden over eighty miles, and had been for over twenty-four hours without food.

In the meantime Major White’s command had made a detour through the corn field, and reached the town a little while after Zagonyi had left, and took full possession of the same.

The courier being just on the point of departure, I am forced to forego further details of subsequent operations of Major White.

I append a full list of the killed and wounded of his command:

1. Corporal Schneider, Co. B, Body Guard.
2. Corporal Norrison, Co. C., ” “.
3. Private – Wright, Co. B, ” “.
4. Dennis Morat, Co. B, ” “.
5. Rose, private, Co. B, ” “.
6. Corporal Chamberlain, Co. A, Body Guard.
7. – Osburgh, private, ” ” “.
8. – Frei, private, ” ” “.
9. – Slattery, private, Co. B., ” “.
10. – Franz, wagoner, Co. A, ” “.
11. – Davis, private, Co. B, ” “.
12. — Duthto, private, Co. A, ” “.
13. J. Sarack, Company B, ” “.
14. Wm. Vanway, private, Co. C, ” “.
15. Alex. Linfoot, private, ” ” “.
16. John H. Stephens, Springfield (citizen), killed by mistake.

1. Patrick Naughton, Capt. Irish Dragoons, shot in the arm near shoulder, slight wound.
2. Patrick Connelly, First Lieutenant Irish Dragoons, dangerously, twice through the chest.
3. N. Westerburgh, First Lieut., Co. B, Body Guard, shot in shoulder and right fore finger shot off.
4. J. W. Goff, Second Lieut., Body Guard, Co. C, shot in the hip, slight.
5. Joseph C. Frock, Lieutenant, Body Guard, Co. A, flesh wound in the leg.
6. E. L. Dean, corporal, Co. C, Body Guard, slight wound in right side.
7. Julius Becker, Corporal, Company A, Body Guard, in the neck, dangerous and will probably die.
8. S. B. Underwood, Corporal, Company B, Body Guard, shot in the shoulder slightly.
9. H. M. Diggins, private, Company C, Body Guard, flesh wound in the thigh.