The First Battle of Springfield or Zagonyi’s Charge was a battle of the American Civil War that occurred on October 25, 1861, in Greene County, Missouri. It was the only Union victory in southwestern Missouri in 1861.
Having accomplished little since taking command of the Western Department with headquarters in St. Louis, Maj. Gen. John C. Frémont formulated a plan to clear Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Confederates from the state and then, if possible, carry the war into Arkansas and Louisiana. Leaving St. Louis on October 7, 1861, Frémont’s combined force eventually numbered more than 20,000. His accompanying cavalry force, numbering 5,000 men and other mounted troops, included Maj. Frank J. White’s Prairie Scouts and Frémont’s Body Guards under Maj. Charles Zagonyi. Maj. White became ill and turned his command over to Zagonyi. These two units operated in front of Frémont’s army to gather intelligence.
Facing Fremont’s large advancing Union army, Missouri State Guard Major General Sterling Price ordered a withdrawal from Springfield, Missouri. Other MSG forces organizing nearby attempted to link up with the Price’s army at Springfield, only to find the place had already been abandoned.
As Frémont neared Springfield, the local state guard commander, Colonel Julian Frazier, sent out requests to nearby localities for additional troops. Frémont camped on the Pomme de Terre River, about 50 miles from Springfield. Zagonyi’s scouting column, though, continued on to Springfield, and Frazier’s mixed force of 1,000 to 1,500 infantry and cavalry prepared to meet it.
Zagonyi’s combined force of 326 men approached Springfield on the Mt. Vernon Road. Frazier set up an ambush along the road that Zagonyi traveled. Zagonyi ordered a charge from the timbered bottomland of today’s Jordan Creek, exhorting his men with
“We have been called holiday warriors for the pavements of St. Louis…Let the watchword be ‘Fremont and the Union.'”
After three charges the Confederates fled in disorder. Zagonyi’s men continued into town, hailed Federal sympathizers and released Union prisoners. Leery of a Confederate counterattack, Zagonyi departed Springfield before night, but Frémont’s army returned, in force, a few days later and set up camp in the town.
Union casualties were reported as 15 killed, 27 wounded, and 10 missing/captured for Fremont’s Body Guard, and 33 killed, wounded and missing/captured for White’s command, for a total of 85. Confederate casualties are unknown but estimated as 133.
In mid-November, after Frémont was sacked and replaced by Maj. Gen. David Hunter, the Federals evacuated Springfield and withdrew to Sedalia and Rolla. Federal troops reoccupied Springfield in early 1862 and it was a Union stronghold from then on.