REVIEW: The Siege of Lexington, Missouri: The Battle of the Hemp Bales (2014)

A book by Larry Wood

To prepare for my trip to Lexington. MO to visit the Battle of Lexington State Historic Site, I wanted to read a book on the battle itself to both refresh my memory and prepare for a possibility of the tour being cancelled or information being one-sided (to read more about my concerns click HERE). Since I was a child, The Battle of Lexington a.k.a. “The Battle of the Hemp Bales” was always one of my favorite Civil War Battles to learn about. It always fascinated me because of the ingenuity of the Missouri State Guard (aligned with the secessionists). Instead of bum-rushing a Federal Fortress repurposed from an old College building owned by the Freemasons (and likely getting massacred), a call was made to create a moving bulwark of wet hemp bales to slowly get closer and closer to the fortress rendering any sort of defensive measure worthless.

“Following victories at Carthage and Wilson’s Creek in the summer of 1861, the Confederate-allied Missouri State Guard achieved its greatest success when it advanced on Lexington in September. Former Missouri governor General Sterling Price and his men laid siege for three days against a Union garrison under the command of Colonel James Mulligan. An ingenious mobile breastwork of hemp bales soaked in water, designed to absorb hot shot, enabled the Confederates to close in on September 20 and force surrender. Civil War historian Larry Wood delivers a thorough account of the battle that briefly consolidated Confederate control in the region.”

Book description

Larry Wood does an amazing job of summarizing the battle, the nature of people on both sides of the conflict during this time, and even how weird some of the first months of the war was. It’s almost like nobody was really taking the war seriously – spectators would arrive at battlefields with picnic lunches in tow, cheering on their “teams” for a swift victory as if they were watching a local sporting event. The armies on both sides were inefficient and disorganized, resulting in accidental friendly-fire incidents and misrouted troops all of the time. It’s no wonder that the war dragged itself out so long considering the circumstances.

The information in this book is VERY well researched and slows very well. I enjoyed reading this so much that I powered through in one sitting, which is rare for historical books. Perhaps one of the only bad things about this book is that it lacks too many maps that one usually would see in a book such as this. This is by no means a deal breaker, but it would have easily taken this book up to the status of being the definitive article regarding this chapter in US History.

While most don’t get too excited about Civil War battles west of the Mississippi, do yourselves a favor and check this out – it’s a great read and I guarantee you haven’t read about the tactics used in this battle in any other one prior or since. I will have to seek some more of these books out by Larry Wood, as he has done a wonderful job! If you are a fan of history, live in Missouri, or love reading about the Civil War, do your self a favor and check this out.

This review is part of my 2021 series History Boy Summer, which you can read more of following this LINK. If you are interested in the series of books this volume comes from, Amazon has the entire series, many of which are on Kindle Unlimited. If you would like your own copy of this book specifically, check this link out.

3 comments

  1. Ah yes, the Battle of Lexington. I read this book as well and thoroughly enjoyed it. It is one of the more interesting and unique battles of the war, mainly because both sides had to improvise (the hemp bales trick wouldn’t have worked half as well against rifled artillery). I wrote a thesis on the State Guard and this was one of the more fun parts of their existence to write about. I actually haven’t been to the site itself despite my interest so I envy you.

    Liked by 1 person

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