As the year draws to a close, Union and Confederate forces continue maneuvering for control of the border state of Missouri. Four days ago Union Brig. Gen. Benjamin M. Prentiss advanced into Boone County with a force of five companies of the Third Missouri Cavalry and two companies of Birge’s Western Sharpshooters in order to protect the North Missouri Railroad and counter the secessionist Missouri State Guard.
On December 27, Prentiss encounters a State Guard detachment led by Confederate Col. Caleb Dorsey. The encounter takes place in the vicinity of Hallsville (northeast of Columbia) and about a half mile north of Mt. Zion Church, a building shared by two congregations, one Methodist Episcopal and one Baptist. The roughly ten minute skirmish results in the Union forces taking casualties and temporarily retreating as darkness falls.
Regrouping, Prentiss about 2 A.M. sets out to locate and re-engage the Confederates, who are camped out near the church. With the element of surprise on their side, the Union troops begin the new assault while Confederate officers are breakfasting with the William P Robinson family, who live near the church.
Taking up positions in and near the church yard, the largely-inexperienced and under-armed Confederates manage to hold their position for most of the morning, before repeated charges by Union troops finally overrun their positions.
By 11 A.M. the Battle of Mt. Zion Church is over, with many of the Confederate forces killed, wounded or captured, along with a large contingent of wagons and horses. The remainder of the Confederates disappear.
Following the battle, seven dead Confederate soldiers are immediately buried in the church yard. The Union victory, a rare battlefield success in a year characterized by Confederate triumphs, helps seal U. S. control of Central Missouri.
Sources: Battle of Mt. Zion Church (link); “Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery,” including photograph (link)