How Hemp Won the Day

last month

The Civil War Battle of Lexington, Missouri is also known as the Battle of Hemp Bales. As you may know, hemp is a variety of the Cannabis plant that is used for making rope.

Some quick background. Missouri was sort of neutral in early 1861. Then Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to put down the rebellion. And worse, a zealous Federal Brigadier General Lyon seized Camp Jackson in St. Louis and arrested 800 state militiamen. A riot ensued, and Union troops shot down 15 civilians.

Well, the Missourians got really mad. The governor declared Missouri an independent republic. The legislature formed the Missouri State Guards and appointed Sterling Price to command it.

Price had been an ardent Unionist, but his friend Horatio Jones described Price as “the picture of wrath” after Camp Jackson.

Price marched to Lexington. The town of Lexington did a lot of trade, including hemp.  

The Federals had fortified a position there, building earthworks and cutting down trees for long lines of fire.

Some of Price’s officers wanted to charge the Union position, but their commander said, “it is unnecessary to kill off the boys here. Patience will give us what we want.”

The Rebels seized a bunch of large bales of hemp and soaked them in the river overnight. The next day, Price’s men began to advance on the Federals, rolling the soaked hemp bales in front of them. The wet bales absorbed or repelled the bullets and artillery of the Yankees.

It took a day, but the Missouri Militia advanced close enough that the Federals knew a Rebel rush would overwhelm them. The Union boys raised a white flag, and the Battle of Hemp Bales was over.

Who knew big bales of wet hemp could save the day!

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