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Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Battle of the Hemp Bales

The Anderson House

After getting loads of gravel road dust washed off our car, we left Kansas City for Hannibal and the Missouri Outdoor Communicators annual conference.

When you have a camera in hand, it’s difficult to drive directly anywhere. Interesting critters, landscapes and attractions seem to call your name.

Musket hole
That happened the minute I saw the sign for Lexington. I remembered reading that old Civil War musket and cannonball holes still mar old buildings. Today I saw them, took pictures and walked around sticking my finger in the holes. That’s far more impressive than it may sound.

My husband's hand
I had to stop and ponder that more than 150 years ago, Missourian fought against Missourian for control of the Missouri River and the state. The photos show the Anderson House, home to the little known Battle of the Hemp Bales.

Oliver Anderson, with the help of his slaves, raised hemp and ran hemp and cotton factories along the Missouri River. His home was up on the bluff above the river. He was pro-slavery and was thought to be one of the first Southerners arrested when Federal troops occupied Lexington in July 1861. The Federals evicted the Anderson family and turned the house into a hospital.

6-pound canister
But three days in September saw the Anderson home volleyed back and forth between the North and the South. On the first day of the battle, September 18, the home changed hands three times.

Wall on back of house
Col. Mulligan, leading the Federals, dug trenches higher up the bluff and rained muskets, canisters (cylindrical cases filled with small lead balls) and cannonballs down on the house. The bullet holes on the wall and inside the house remain in plain view today. Most of the cannonballs penetrated the roof, which has been repaired several times. A hole in the house’s ceiling is the most visible sign today.

Hemp bales
On the third day of the battle, Major General Price and his Southern forces found the hemp bales stored down by the river. They rolled these bales into a line, two bales high, and became a moving wall edging toward the North’s trenches. The Federals soon realized their artillery couldn’t penetrate the hemp bales. The battle erupted into hand-to-hand combat before Col. Mulligan surrendered.

The South’s victory was short-lived and the North soon gained control of the Missouri River valley.

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