BATTLE OF SPRINGFIELD I – OCTOBER 25, 1861
(a.k.a. Zagonyi’s Charge)
Forces Engaged: Fremont’s Body Guards 326 vs. Missouri State Guard recruits 1,000-1,500 (est.). Lincoln would not recognize the legality of the enlistment of the survivors of this battle, and they were discharged without pay.
Stamp Location: Route 66 Springfield Visitor Center (see Springfield II for alternate location at the History Museum)
Marker Location: Zagonyi Park, corner of Mt. Vernon St. and Park Ave., Springfield, Mo.
Address: 815 E. Louis St., Suite 100, Springfield, Mo.
Phone Number: 417-881-5300 or 1-800-687-8767
Staff Available: Mon-Fri: 8 am-5 pm
Visit Fee: None
On October 25, 1861, at Springfield, in Greene County, Missouri, according to Maj. Zagonyi , 150 of Major General Fremont’s Body Guard and an unknown number from an Illinois Irish dragoon company, charged and routed 2,100 Rebel (MSG) cavalry and infantry. It was reported Union casualties included 15 dead, 27 wounded, and 10 missing. No casualty reports are available from the rebel side. Major Zagonyi estimated at least 106 rebels killed, 23 of those buried by the Body Guard, and 27 taken prisoner.
(Photos: Maj. Charles Zagonyi, Library of Congress, marker photo courtesy Waymarking.com)
Click below for a letter from Maj. Gen. Fremont to President Lincoln praising Maj. Zagonyi, and asking him to confirm his rank and give him further promotion.
It was a glorious fight. There is nothing more brilliant known to our history—perhaps, to any history. Wilson’s Creek is doubly historic ground; upon it, on the 10th of August 1861, occurred the terrible battle in which a thousand of our brave men poured out their blood like water, and the heroic Lyon laid down his life for the country which shall ever cherish his name in green and grateful remembrance; and eleven weeks after, on the head waters of the same stream, was made that charge of the Fremont Body Guard, under the gallant Zagonyi. which will be ever coupled hereafter with that of the Light Brigade of Balaklava, when—
“Into the jaws of death,
Into the gates of hell,
Rode the six hundred.”
Time will not permit me to record anything more than a few incidents of the battle, if battle it can be called; but it is clear beyond dispute that 150 raw men, never before under fire, after a wearying ride of fifty miles, deliberately rode through a galling fire for more than a quarter of a mile, dismounted, tore down a fence, remounted and formed, all while the bullets were flying about them like hail, and then, with enthusiastic shouts for “Fremont and the Union,” charged through and through a body of more than 1,000 cavalry and infantry, completely routing and dispersing them; that they then dashed into the city and chased the remainder of the flying rebels through the streets for an hour and a half, until the last man of them was driven out of Springfield; in short, that 150 men defeated and drove 2,000 away, so effectually, that the little guard left behind was able to hold the town for two days, until the remainder of the army came up.
The loss of the Body Guard, as far as could be ascertained at the time, amounted to 16 killed, 25 wounded, and 10 missing. Many who were slightly wounded were not included in these figures.
Major Zagonyi, who rode at the head of his men through the whole fight, did not receive a single scratch though one bullet cut his clothing across the breast. One of his sergeants had three horses shot under him. Another of his men received one ball in a blacking-box, which he carried in his pocket; and a second bullet passed through his coat, vest, and shirt but did not break the skin. Sergeant Hunter of Company C had his horse shot in seven places, and more than two-thirds of all the horses were wounded.
On visiting the field on the west side of town, where the first charge was made, I found the dead horses still lying upon the ground. The trees in the vicinity were cut and torn with balls, and thirty-six bullet holes were found in a single fence rail, and the ground was in many places still red with blood.
There were three companies of the Body Guard in the engagement—A, B, and C. The latter was armed with Beal’s revolvers and sabres; the two former, in addition to those weapons, carried Colt’s revolving carbines. After having once given all their fire, there was no time to reload, and the most effective work of the day was done with the sabres. At the close of it, almost every sabre of the command was stained with blood.
The funeral of fourteen of the Body Guard, and two of Major White’s men, occurred on the 29th of October, the third day after the fight, and was attended by the major general and his staff, a portion of the army, and many of the people of Springfield. The bodies were enclosed in plain, unpainted coffins, and all interred in one grave, with military honors. The services were conducted by the Rev. C. M. Blake, the staff chaplain.
The sixteen riderless horses, which followed the remains to the grave, told the cost at which the victory was won; and while the dust was being committed to dust, with the solemn and impressive Episcopal service, there were few dry eyes among the stricken band, who had gathered together to do the last earthly honors to their fallen comrades.
When Major Zagonyi was sent out to reconnoitre the country, and if practicable, take possession of Springfield, it was not supposed that there were more than three or four hundred rebels there, as was actually the case but a few days before. When he reached that vicinity and learned of their overwhelming numbers, it would doubtless have been good generalship for him to have fallen back and waited for reinforcements. But the idea had been so industriously given out, by those who seemed to hate the commanding general of that department more than they loved the Union, that the Body Guard was a sort of kid-glove ornamental corps, intended only to swell the retinue and add to the display of General Fremont, and not fit for hard service, that every man in it was eager to remove the unjust and ungenerous attribution. That they accomplished it, none will deny, and if any think the cost great, let them remember where the blame lies.—Corr. N. Y. Tribune. 
 E. S. S. Rouse, The Bugle Blast. Challen & Son, 1864, p. 91-94.
The War of the Rebellion: the Official Records, Series 1, Volume 3; pages 249-253. [Link to Page 249]
CORRESPONDENCE ABOUT ZAGONYI’S CHARGE
List of names of Union soldiers in the Charge, includes killed wounded, and prisoners • Missouri Historical Society – William G. Eliot papers
Oct 26, 1861 · Major Gen. Fremont to Pres. Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln papers, Library of Congress) Letter Summary: Please confirm Major Zagonyi’s rank.
Oct 27, 1861 · Brig. Gen. William Strong to Pres. Lincoln (Abraham Lincoln papers, Library of Congress) Letter Summary: Success at Springfield, Maj. Zagonia [Zagonyi] made a most brilliant charge upon the enemy.
MAGAZINE ARTICLES ABOUT ZAGONYI’S CHARGE
Col. W. P. Johnston. “Zagonyi’s Charge with Fremont’s Body-Guard—A Picturesque Fol-de-rol,” Southern Historical Society Papers, Vol. II, July-Dec., 1876: p. 195-196.
“Fremont’s Hundred Days in Missouri,” Atlantic Monthly , Vol 9 (Feb. 1862): Part 1 p.115-125, Part 2 p.247-258, and Part 3 p. 372-384.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ON THE ZAGONYI CHARGE
Oct 23, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Proclamation” [Summary: Proclamation made by T.T. Taylor, rebel commander at Springfield.]
Oct 28, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Once More in Springfield”
Oct 28, 1861 Missouri Republican “Springfield Captured” [Summary: Correspondent J. H. B. gives an early account of Maj. Zagonyi’s fight at Springfield against 2,000 rebels. Included is a letter from Fremont announcing Zagonyi’s brilliant charge, saying he completely routed them and hoisted the national flag at the Court House. Also included are two letters from Zagonyi–one asking for reinforcements and the other giving news of the victory. The cause of the fight was likely due to the amount of plunder in Springfield, which the rebels wanted to bring south.]
Oct 29, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Campaign” [Summary: Fremont is in Bolivar, moving toward Springfield. Praises Maj. Zagonyi’s recent daring exploit in Springfield. Describes Fremont’s Body Guard. Says it is no use to speculate about where and when Price will make a stand. So many reports of this have proven false. If Price goes into Arkansas without making a stand, he will have acknowledged the weakness of his army and be subject to much contempt in Dixieland. If he stays, he will be beaten by Fremont. Either way, Price will lose.]
Oct 29, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Fremont and the Union” [Summary: This was the inspiring battle-cry of Fremont’s body guard when it routed 2,000 rebels in the Southwest. Fremont’s men have sworn to vindicate him. The recent achievement at Springfield has produced a valor that has not yet been seen before in this war.]
Oct 30, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Zagonyi’s Charge at Springfield”
Nov 1, 1861 Liberty (MO) Tribune “Fremont’s Trail” [Summary: This quotes and refutes a report in the Republican on the taking back of Springfield by Federal forces which states, “There were 2,000 to 2,500 rebels in Springfield, and these Zagonyi charged upon again and again, with extraordinary bravery and energy,” The Tribune asserts, “The State forces in Springfield we are satisfied did not exceed 300, left there to protect the sick and wounded, and the 2,500 referred to above is all bosh.”]
Nov 1, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Southwest” [Summary: The occupation of Federal troops in Springfield has regained a large territory from the rebels. Although the two armies are almost face to face, a battle is not imminent. A week or two may elapse before there is any fighting.]
Nov 1, 1861 New York Tribune “The Latest War News” [Summary: Fremont, with a portion of his army is at Springfield, MO; Gives the loss of Fremont’s bodyguard after recent charge at Springfield. Major White, who led in the recapture of Lexington and who became a prisoner, was rescued by the Greene County Home Guards.]
Nov 1, 1861 Missouri Democrat “The Charge of the Bodyguard” [Summary: Detailed account of Major Zagonyi charge at Springfield, including a list of killed and wounded.]
Nov 2, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Springfield” [Summary: Report of Major Zagonyi’s victory over the rebels in Springfield. Because of this victory the Southwest is virtually redeemed. This was another battle fought with scanty Union forces. Gen. Lyon’s little band of men shattered the host of traitors at Wilson’s Creek, and a few scores of Fremont’s men have now driven them from their stronghold in the same area.]
Nov 2, 1861 New York Tribune “The War for the Union—From Missouri” [Summary: Correspondent praises Majors White and Zagonyi, of Fremont’s body guard, for recapturing Springfield. Gives the positions of the rest of Fremont’s army. As soon as these arrive, Fremont will advance. Transportation is scare, so wagons are pressed into service from both loyal citizens and rebels. Where their owners are Union men, they are paid for. Where they are active rebels, it is taken without price.]
Nov 2, 1861 New York Tribune “The Advance of Fremont’s Army” [Summary: More divisions of Fremont’s army are expected to arrive; More details on the rescue of Maj. White; Fifteen of Fremont’s body guard were buried, with Fremont casting the first earth; Col. Mulligan has just been released by Gen. Price. This indicates that the prisoner exchange proposed has been successful.]
Nov 5, 1861 Missouri Republican “Latest From Springfield” [Summary: A number of the officers declare they would resign in that event, or insist upon creating him dictator of the Southwest, independent of the Administration if Fremont is removed. Even Secessionists near town have expressed the highest admiration of the gallant conduct of Fremont’s Body Guard. The court of inquiry asked by Major White, in reference to the conduct of his squadron of Prairie Scouts in last Friday’s affair, has decided that the men acted very gallantly, and made two brilliant charges on the foe.]
Nov 8, 1861 New York Tribune “From Missouri” [Summary: An account of a joint trip to Wilson’s Creek battlefield by journalists of several newspapers; praise for Fremont’s work; A court of inquiry into the conduct of Maj. White, in the capture of Springfield under Maj. Zagonyi, has resulted in praise for their brave service.]
Nov 9, 1861 Harper’s Weekly “Springfield Retaken” [Summary: Praises Maj. Segoyne [Zagonyi] for his brilliant charge on the rebels at Springfield, MO, calling it one of the most brilliant achievements of the war. He completely routed them.]
Nov 16, 1861 Harper’s Weekly “War in Missouri” [Summary: Talks about the trouble Fremont’s troops had crossing the Osage. Reports that Union men have been ravaging the countryside. Fremont believes in making the war support itself. Also reports on Maj. Seagoyne’s [Zagonyi] success in retaking Springfield. Letters from him and Fremont are included.]
Nov 20, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Zagonyi” [Summary: Poem honoring Maj. Zagonyi.]
Nov 22, 1861 Liberty (MO) Tribune “Return of the Great Fremont Army” [Summary: The article reports that “the great federal army that recently marched to Springfield under Gen. Fremont, has returned to St. Louis. This move leaves all the South-west portion of the State in the hands of Gen. Price.”]
Nov 28, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Fremont’s Body Guard” [Summary: Letter to the editor addresses the problem about what to do with Fremont’s Body Guard now that Fremont is gone. These men were sworn into service “As Fremont’s Body Guard and as nothing else.” They are asking for an honorable discharge but are now waiting instead for their next assignment. They are getting no wages, have no overcoats and are not drilling. The Democrat agrees with the letter. The Body Guard have served well and should not be forced to another assignment. If given an honorable discharge ninety percent will likely re-enlist.]
Nov 30, 1861 New York Tribune “Movements of Gen. Fremont” [Summary: Reports on Gen. Fremont’s reception in New York. At all the towns and cities along his route, from Alton eastward, the people gathered at the stations in crowds, cheering as the train swept by, waving flags, and occasionally firing salutes with cannon and small arms. At NY, he was visited by many prominent guests, including the vice-president and many senators. The correspondent describes the stories told by the pictures of Fremont’s bodyguard, especially Maj. Zagonyi.]
Dec 6, 1861 New York Tribune “Movements of Gen. Fremont” [Summary: A brief report on a banquet held in New York in honor of Gen. Fremont. A man, who came from Pittsburgh just to see Fremont, commented, “I am no man-worshiper, not a bit of it; but I do want to refresh my optics with a sight of the man who marched an army to Springfield, Missouri, from St. Louis, when Gen. Thomas reported that it was impossible for him to move for want of transportation. We understand these things in Pittsburgh—we do.”]
Dec 7, 1861 New York Tribune “The Fremont Body-Guard” [Summary: Editorial defend Fremont’s Body Guard from attacks by the Boston Courier, the Herald, and the Journal of Commerce. The Boston Courier rejoiced “that such a Body-Guard is thoroughly broken up. It was composed mainly of foreign refugees and reckless adventurers, with the appropriate intermixture of seventy Indians.” The writer says the Body Guard was “the finest body of cavalry ever seen in our service, made up of ardent young Americans, mainly from Kentucky and Ohio, including only thirty foreigners, of German birth—if that could be a reproach to it, as we certainly think it is not.” Only one man, beside the Major, was born in Hungary, and he was raised in Illinois. The reason they were disbanded was that they were being mistreated. After their victory at Springfield, they were refused rations, forage, clothes, and pay, and reduced to extreme suffering. The arrival of Gen. Halleck put a stop to these petty indignities, and the request of the Guard to be released was at last agreed to. Later, the most advantageous offers were made to them, if they would remain in the service, but they refused. After they were mustered out, Halleck offered to Major Zagonyi the command of a cavalry regiment to be raised by him to replace them.]