August 5, 1861: Battle of Athens, MO

David Moore
Col. David Moore

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This was the furthest north Civil War battle west of the Mississippi, and possibly the furthest north Civil War battle of all. In a peculiarity of geography, Athens, MO is well north of Keokuk, Iowa. We have heard before about Colonel David Moore of the 1st Northeast MO Home Guards, later to become the 21st Missouri Infantry. Here the 1st Northeast, along with some “Keokuk boys”, acquitted themselves well.

From the New York Times:

Published: August 10, 1861

Correspondence of the Chicago Tribune.
KEOKUK, Tuesday, Aug. 6, 1861.

The affair at Athens, yesterday morning — of which the telegraph has doubtless preceded me with a brief account — may be summed up thus: Athens is a small village on the Missouri side of the river, directly opposite the Iowa town of Croton, the latter a station on the railroad running west. There have been several hundred Union men in camp here, the most of the citizens who were being organized as Home Guards. At Croton, opposite, with no military guard, was a large quantity of Army supplies, just unloaded at the depot. On Sunday the Union men at Athens discovered this large body of rebels moving upon the place, and sent word to Keokuk for help, which word was received at 8 o’clock that evening. Then what a hurrying there was here! Within an hour two companies — the Rifles and Rangers — were sent up by special train, reaching Croton at 11 o’clock. The first stationed a guard over the depot, and by daybreak the balance of the party crossed to Croton, to see how matters stood. They had hardly reached the other side, however, when the attack was made upon the camp, but Col. MOORE, in command of the Home Guard, was too good an officer to be surprised.

The enemy came up in three divisions of 800 each, evidently intending to surround the camp and compel its surrender. Col. MOORE placed two of his companies to the right, and with two more engaged the centre, while the Keokuk boys, only a few moments on the ground and with a scant supply of powder, engaged the left. The fight was continued an hour and three-quarters, and ended in the defeat and flight of the enemy. They were commanded by MARTIN GREEN, a brother of JIM GREEN, and had three cannon, two of them brass and the third bored out of a log!

During the fight the Keokuk boys — numbering fifteen — got out of powder, and while crossing the river to obtain more, had four of their men wounded, one of them badly. They, however, continued firing from the Croton bank, and crossed again with full force, and in time to help in the final honors of the day. The rebels had the advantage, not only in numbers, but also in position, but they fell back so precipitately that a good company of cavalry might have cut them in pieces, and relieved us of further trouble. The chase was, however, continued six miles, and netted us 60 horses, some prisoners and other trophies of victory. The Union men in Athens deserve the greatest credit, although the assistance rendered by the Keokuk boys was not unimportant.

The number of rebels killed was twenty, eight of whom were found on the field, while a number of others, whom we have as prisoners in the hospital at Athens, are mortally wounded. The lots to the enemy in killed and wounded, is certainly not less than forty or fifty. Our loss was three killed, and eighteen wounded. Rev. Mr. HARRISON was one of the Union men killed; and another was Mr. C. SULLIVAN, and old man, taken prisoner and wounded. Of our wounded are Capt. MATTLEY and Lieut. DOUGHERTY, both of whom are wounded dangerously.

The Secessionists are now, it is reported, encamped only eight miles distant from Athens, and preparing for another raid upon that place.

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