Text of marker:
Entrance to the Battlefield
At the onset of the Civil War Missouri was of particular importance as the westernmost border state, gateway to the western territories and bordered by the Mississippi River. Militarily the situation was grave. On Aug. 10 1861 Union forces suffered a major defeat at Wilson's Creek, south of Springfield, Mo. With spirits buoyed by the victory, the State Guard, under command of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, moved north to advance upon Lexington.
Price had been in service to the state of Missouri for two decades. He had been speaker of the Missouri House, United States Representative and Governor. He had returned from the Mexican War as a Brevet Brigadier General and now commanded the State Guard. Tom Snead described as "well born and well bred, courteous and dignified, well educated and richly endowed with that highest of all mental faculties, common sense."
Col. James A. Mulligan commanded the Twenty-third Illinois Infantry referred to as the "Irish Brigade". At only thirty-two this charismatic Chicago politician, was put in command of the Union garrison.
Inside these fortifications were 3,500 Federal troops hastily digging entrenchments. The elaborate defenses included a maze of bits lined with sharpened stakes as an assault barrier, double rows of entrenchments near the fort and artillery lunettes at several of the angles. The strongest works, consisting of earthen ramparts more than ten feet high, were thrown up around Mulligan's headquarters at the college building. The men stripped water pipes rom the building and ued them to lay fuses for a series of mines hidden along the easiest approaches to the garrison. In total the works enclosed an area of more than fifteen acres. outside the entrenchments the Federal soldiers had cleared the slipes of vegetation to provide a clear view of the enemy advance.
By Sept. 12th Price had reached Lexington. He engaged Federal troops briefly then set up camp south of Lexington at the "fairgrounds" to await his ammunition train. On Sept 18th, Price and his 20,000 State Guard troops advanced on the Union position completely encircling the earthworks.
As the Southerners pressed forward, the Federal defenders were forced back into the inner works, away from water supplies. It was not long before the Union troops and horses exhausted the water supply in the two cisterns located within their lines. At the outset of the battle Mulligan's men began to suffer from thirst in the oppressive, late-summer heat.
On the 19th both sides exchanged artillery fire. As the Fort took on more hot shot Maj. Van Horn noticed smoke coming out of the building's windows and found a cannon ball burning through the flooring. He grabbed a shovel and tossed the ball out. A teenaged private name Charles Lantheaume took the responsibility of shoveling out the hot projectiles.
To the east lie five unknown Union soldiers who died during the Battle of Lexington. Their remains were found in 1932 during excavations near the site of the old Masonic College building, a few hundred yards southeast. The college building was used as Union headquarters during the siege of Lexington. Pieces of equipment found with the bodies suggest they may have been part of Col. Thomas A. Marshall's cavalry.
During the battle, it is estimated the Union losses amounted to 40 killed and 120 wounded, while State Guard casualties among the "enrolled" soldiers were approximately 38 killed and 150 wounded. However the casualties among the "irregular" Southerners were likely double that number.