Springfield’s Zagonyi Park is now home to a 80-year-old monument memorializing the Civil War event that gave the park its name.
Historians, Civil War reenactors and neighbors dedicated the monument, along with a new playground, in a ceremony in the park Oct. 25 — the 158th anniversary of Zagonyi’s Charge.
On Oct. 25, 1861, two and a half months after the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Union Major Charles Zagonyi, with 326 men, lead a cavalry charge near Mount Vernon Road (present-day West Mt. Vernon Street) into 1,000 Confederate troops camped west of Jordan Creek. The attack routed the Confederates, allowing Zagonyi’s men to enter the Springfield public square and pull the Rebel flag down from courthouse. The event, occurring early in the war, made national news and is now known as the First Battle of Springfield, or simply Zagonyi’s Charge.
Gregory Wolk, with the Missouri Humanities Council, executive director of Missouri’s Civil War Heritage Foundation and author of “Friend and Foe Alike: a Tour Guide to Missouri’s Civil War,” has studied Zagonyi’s Charge and believes the action actually took place on land that’s now the park. He was the featured speaker at the dedication.
“Zagonyi’s Charge was the first cavalry charge of the American Civil War, and in all probability the last cavalry charge in America that relied on sabers as a principal weapon,” said Wolk.
Eighty years after the battle, in 1931, the University Club, a professional organization which has placed 21 historical markers in Greene County, commemorated Zagonyi’s Charge with a stone monument. It was first placed near the Frisco train depot in downtown Springfield, and after the depot was demolished in 1977, it was relocated to private property along Mt. Vernon Street, just west of Jordan Creek.
With recent development near the property, the future of the monument appeared uncertain. Neighbors from the Westside Neighborhood Betterment Association, along with the present-day University Club, concurrently had an idea: move the marker to Zagonyi Park. The University Club and Wommack Monument Co. moved, cleaned and installed the marker in what’s now the park’s circular community flower garden.
“Knowledge about the history of a community is essential to understanding that community’s culture and values,” said Bob Trewatha, with the University Club. “The Zagonyi’s Charge marker commemorates an important part of our history, and the University Club feels it must be preserved and maintained for us and future generations.”
Around the same time the monument was moved, the City of Springfield Neighborhood Works program awarded a $97,500 grant for Zagonyi Park improvements through Westside Neighborhood Betterment Association. The grant funded a new universal-design accessible play feature, as well as new sidewalks, a community garden plot with adjacent irrigation, three drinking fountains, pavilion repairs and tennis court resurfacing at the park.
After a ribbon-cutting ceremony was held near the monuments, members of the Westside Neighborhood Betterment Association held a second ribbon cutting for the playground.
Additional grant-funded picnic shelters are planned at the 10-acre park, which was established in 1969.