Wilson’s Creek Battlefield

Wilson’s Creek Battlefield


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Wilson’s Creek Battlefield was the site of the second major battle of the American Civil War. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, also known as the Battle of Oak Hills, took place in Springfield, Missouri on 10 August 1861 and was the first such conflict to take place west of the Mississippi River.

At Wilson’s Creek Battlefield, the Union Army of the West, led by Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was defeated by Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch’s Confederate troops. However, despite this victory, Missouri continued to be under Union control.

Today, Wilson’s Creek Battlefield is a US National Park, including a Civil War Museum and self-guided tours of the site. Overall, Wilson’s Creek Battlefield is very well preserved, offering a good insight into the battle.


Wilson’s Creek Battlefield - History


Reenactors of the Battle of Wilson's Creek, south of Springfield, Missouri. Courtesy National Park Service.

Associate Pages

Visitor Statistics Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

232,838 visitors
#179 Most Visited National Park Unit

Source: NPS, Rank among 378 National Park Units 2019.

Park Size

1,955 acres (Federal) 2,369 acres (Total)

Park Fees

Collected at Visitor Center - 7 Day Pass - $7 per adult (16 or over) maximum $15 per car, $10 per motorcyle.

No entrance fee when Visitor Center is closed.

Fees subject to change without notice.

Photo above: Reenactors at Wilson's Creek Battlefield. Courtesy National Park Service. Right: Lithograph by Allison and Kurz of the Battle at Wilson's Creek. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

West of the Mississippi River prior to the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the War Between the States had not yet begun. Oh, in many ways the days of Bleeding Kansas prior to Fort Sumter were the cause of its nexus, the rationale and arguement of what new states would be free or slave starting the whole shabang. However, a large scale battle had not yet been fought west of the Big Muddy during the days from Fort Sumter to Bull Run, . that is, until August 10, 1861 when Wilson's Creek flowed with thousands of soldiers fighting on its banks. It would be the Battle of Bull Run of the western theatre and would signal more conflict to come in all theatres of the war and make Missouri the third most contested state in the Union. Yes, they were still in the Union.

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Wilson's Creek Then

The Battle of Wilson's Creek is not nearly as well known as its eastern counterparts, which is a shame. It was the first major battle of the west, the first battle where a Union general would be killed, and now contains a pristine landscape that easily denotes what happened there as you tour it. How large was this battle? Try 17,000 men with more than double the strength on the Confederate side than the Union. What were the casualties? Almost an equal split of 2,500 in killed, wounded, and missing.

Nathanial Lyon was the Union commander of the Army of the West, which was stationed in Springfield (downtown Springfield today is about twelve miles from the National Park), who decided to attack Confederate forces, including state militia, at 5 a.m. on that August day, despite the fact that Missouri was trying to stay neutral in the conflict, although that neutrality was fragil at best and had been fraying for months.

Lyon would have initial success. However, that would not last. There would be three Confederate attacks, the death of General Lyons, and a retreat by Union forces, even though they had repulsed the Rebel forces for the six hours prior, but did not have enough reinforcements to continue.

It was a battle that gave confidence to the Confederate sympathizers in southwest Missouri, which they now effectively controlled by the South, even though the state, itself, would remain in the Union.

Prior to the start of the Battle of Wilson's Creek, the Missouri neutrality was getting a difficult test, with a timeline of events that led to General Lyon and the attack twelve miles south of Springfield.

Timeline of Events Leading to the Battle

April 20, 1861 - Union becomes concerned when a Confederate mob siezed the Liberty Arsenel in Liberty, Missouri.
May 10, 1861 - Camp Jackson Affair. State troops called out by the Governor hold maneuvers on the edge of St. Louis, including secreted Confederate artillery. Union General Nathanial Lyon surrounded the camp and forced the surrender of the state volunteer militia.
May 11, 1861 - The Missouri assembly creates another military unit, the Missouri State Militia, to defend the state against both sides, although the focus was against Union forces.
May 12, 1861 - Price-Harney Truce negotiated, which stated that the U.S. Army and Missouri State Militia would cooperate with each other, although Governor Jackson was again secretly allying with Confederate forces to rescue them.
June 12, 1861 - Governor Jackson and General Lyon meet, but can not come to an agreement on state inspections or restrictions on federal troops. The meeting ended with Lyon stating, "This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines."
June 17, 1861 - Battle of Boonville.
July 5, 1861 - Battle of Carnage.
July 27, 1861 - Missouri Constitutional Convention, that had previously voted against secession, reconvenes, and strips Jackson of his governorship.

Photo above: Charge of the 1st Ohio Regiment with General Lyon leading the charge, 1861, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Magazine. Courtesy Library of Congress. Photo below: New museum exhibits inside the Wilson's Creek Visitor Center. Courtesy National Park Service.



Wilson's Creek Now

The national park battlefield remains one of the most pristine in the National Park Service. The visitor center includes exhibits, a twenty-eight minute film, and a fiber optic map that shows troop movements. There are eight stops on the self-guided tour road, nearly five miles long, which takes you to such locations as the Ray House (open summer weekends), Sharp's Cornfield, and Totem's Battery. Along the road, five trails take you to various sites.


Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center, museum reopens after $3.5M renovation

Following a $3.5 million renovation project that spanned more than a year to complete, Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum is open to the public again.

Officials with the National Park Service were joined by several others, including Senator Roy Blunt and Congressman Billy Long, for a ribbon-cutting ceremony Friday morning.

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Superintendent Sarah Cunningham said via news release that it was her honor see this project finished.

“We could not have accomplished this substantial improvement to the visitor experience and protection of the collection without the strong partnership of the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation, the work of many dedicated employees and volunteers, and the support of the National Park Foundation,” Cunningham stated.

This 18-month renovation added about 1,800 square feet of new exhibit space to the museum. The expanse will allow visitors to see the park’s collection of Civil War artifacts. Among them, the original “Lyon bed,” where the body of Union General Nathaniel Lyon was laid after his death during the battle of Wilson’s Creek.

Sarah Cunningham is the superintendent of Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. (Photo: NPS)

New displays of edged weapons and firearms, including a rare Model 1860 Henry repeating rifle, were recently donated to the park from Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation. The museum also has several interactive and accessible audio-visual displays along with virtual displays.

Other improvements focused on redesigning the bookstore, information desks and bathrooms while adding curatorial storage and employee workspaces. A new HVAC system was also installed to ensure long-term preservation of museum artifacts along with visitor comfort.

The John K. and Ruth Hulston Civil War Research Library will be reopened to the public starting May 29.

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation President Garin Ferguson said the foundation is pleased to provide a portion of funding, purchasing important artifacts while contributing to the funding of video interpretations at the renovated visitor center and museum.

“The new museum exhibits will enhance the experience of more than 200,000 visitors who come to Wilson’s Creek each year,” Ferguson said. “We are confident that this project exemplifies our mission of preserving and protecting Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.”

The renovations will put history at the “fingertips of park visitors,” said National Park Foundation President and CEO Will Shafroth.

“The National Park Foundation is grateful for the innovative, public-private partnership funding model that helped bring this project to life, matching $500,000 in philanthropic support from the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Foundation with $500,000 in federal funding authorized and appropriated for NPF under the National Park Service Centennial Act,” Shafroth said.

Beginning Friday, the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Visitor Center and Museum is open seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Entry fees will resume on Saturday, May 29. Details on park hours, fees and passes are available on the park’s website.

“Consistent with CDC recommendations, people who are not fully vaccinated must continue to wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces,” according to the news release. “Masks are required for everyone on all forms of public transportation.”


Order of Battle

Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon

Union

Army of the West

First Brigade

Companies B, C and D, 1st U.S. Infantry
Wood's Company of Recruits (U.S. Regulars)

Strength: 300
Casualties: 80


2nd Missouri Infantry

Strength: 150
Casualties: 55


Kansas Rangers (Company I, 2nd Kansas Infantry, mounted)
Company D, 1st U.S. Cavalry

Strength: 350
Casualties: 7


Company (Battery) F, 2nd U.S. Artillery

Strength: 84
Casualties: 11

Brigade totals
Strength: 884
Casualties: 153

Second Brigade

3rd Missouri Infantry
5th Missouri Infantry

Strength: 990
Casualties: 293


Company I, 1st U.S. Cavalry


Company C, 2nd U.S. Dragoons


Backof's Missouri Light Artillery

Brigade totals
Strength: 1,200
Casualties: 297

Third Brigade

Companies B and E, 2nd U.S. Infantry
Lothrop's Company of Recruits (U.S. Regulars)
Morine's Company of Recruits (U.S. Regulars)

Strength: 275
Casualties: 61


1st Missouri Infantry

Strength: 775
Casualties: 295


Du Bois's Battery (U.S. Regulars)

Brigade totals
Strength: 1,116
Casualties: 359

Fourth Brigade

1st Iowa Infantry

Strength: 800
Casualties: 154


1st Kansas Infantry

Strength: 800
Casualties: 284


2nd Kansas Infantry

Strength: 600
Casualties: 70


13th Illinois Battalion

Brigade totals

Strength: 2,221
Casualties: 508

ARMY OF THE WEST TOTALS

Strength: 5,431
Casualties: 1,317

Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch

Southern Forces

Western Army


McCulloch's Confederate Brigade

McRae's Arkansas Infantry

Strength: 220
Casualties: 9


3rd Louisiana Infantry

Strength: 700
Casualties: 57


South Kansas-Texas Cavalry (3rd Texas Cavalry)

Strength: 800
Casualties: 27


1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles

Strength: 600
Casualties: 197


2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles

Strength: 400
Casualties: 54

Brigade totals

Strength: 2,720
Casualties: 344

Arkansas State Troops

3rd Infantry

Strength: 500
Casualties: 109


4th Infantry

Strength: 550
Casualties: 0


5th Infantry

Strength: 650
Casualties: 14


Carroll's Cavalry


1st Cavalry

Strength: 350
Casualties: 27


Fort Smith Battery


Pulaski Battery

Brigade totals

Strength: 2,234
Casualties: 154

Missouri State Guard

Burbridge's Infantry

Strength: 270
Casualties: 98


Major's Cavalry

Strength: 273
Casualties: 11

Fourth Division

Hughes's Infantry

Strength: 650
Casualties: 142


Rives's Cavalry

Strength: 284
Casualties: 12

Sixth Division

Kelly's Infantry

Strength: 142
Casualties: 49


Brown's Cavalry

Strength: 320
Casualties: 5

Guibor's Battery

Strength: 61
Casualties: 14

Seventh Division

Wingo's Infantry
Foster's Infantry

Strength: 605
Casualties: 146

Campbell's Cavalry

Eighth Division

Weightman's Infantry

Strength: 1,316
Casualties: 160


Cawthorn's Cavalry

Strength: 1,210
Casualties: 87


Bledsoe's Battery

Strength: Unknown
Casualties: Unknown

Missouri State Guard totals
Strength: 7,171 (includes an estimated 2,000 unarmed participants)
Casualties: 724

WESTERN ARMY TOTALS
Strength: 12,125 (includes an estimated 2,000 unarmed members of the Missouri State Guard)
Casualties: 1,222


Creative Focus

This park is photo-op rich whether you like to shoot sweeping landscapes, interesting objects, wildlife and wildflowers or big skies and sunsets. Many nice landscapes are accessible from the tour road as are several old cannons. Off road, trails wind behind cornfields along split rail fencing and through pretty woods and fields. Wildflowers and wildlife make interesting subjects as do occasional bridges.

Arrive early or late to capture golden hour skies unmarred by telephone poles and wires.


National battlefield [ edit | edit source ]

The site of the battle in Missouri has been protected as Wilson's Creek National Battlefield. The National Park Service operates a visitor center featuring a museum, a 26 minute film, a nine minute fiber optic battle map presentation, and a Civil War research library open to the public. Living history programs depicting soldier life, cavalry drills, musket firing, artillery demonstrations, period medicine, and period clothing are generally held on Sunday afternoons Memorial Day through Labor Day. Α] With the exception of the vegetation and the addition of interpretive hiking trails and a self-guided auto tour route, the 1,750 acres (7.1 km 2 ) battlefield has changed little from its historic setting, allowing visitors to experience the battlefield in nearly pristine condition. The home of the Ray family, which served as a Confederate field hospital during the battle, has been preserved and restored and is open periodically throughout the summer, with Park Service interpreters dressed in period clothing. Α]


Living History at Wilson&aposs Creek National Battlefield

Awed and a little chagrined, I realized the battlefield, just outside Springfield, is closer to my neighborhood than most parks and trails I use and easy to reach for any resident.

No question this park is rich in historic significance as site of the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi. But it’s also, I realized, a beautiful, safe spot for outdoor fitness and recreation.

Not so for Stephanie Davenport who frequently runs and bikes in the park. “It&aposs a wonderful place to just go and disconnect from your day or to kick-start your morning,” she says. “Plus, it&aposs pretty fun to see all the wildlife out there.”

Park Superintendent Ted Hillmer calls it a year-round park worth revisiting: “If you come during the summer you see one park. If you come during the winter, you see another park. You see a different park each season.”

I’ve since bought a 12-month season pass. A bargain at $30, the pass allows me to bring a few guests to walk, bike or tour in my car.

Now, like Stephanie, I’m a frequent visitor. Here’s why:

Happy Trails

In the Battle of Wilson&aposs Creek, Confederate Maj. Gen. Sterling Price set up headquarters near the William Edwards cabin, accessible by foot or horseback from the historic Wire Road trail. Wire Road connects to several other trails throughout the park, including the trail at stop No. 3 where I accessed it.

Wooded and open trails cut through the park and connect its sections. Wide and well-maintained, the trails lead to historic spots not accessible from the paved tour road – including, I discovered, Edwards Cabin and the sites of now-gone Gibson’s Mill and house. Some trails meander near Wilson’s Creek others – like East Battle Overlook, an uphill hike at stop No. 3 -- provide broad views.

Trails are shared by dog-walkers, runners, nature-lovers, history buffs, horse-riders and more. I like feeling immersed in the restored 1861 cultural landscape. Now I’ve got my eye on changing leaves - trekking the trails with camera in hand will make a perfect fall outing.

Outdoor Fitness

It&aposs not unusual to see runners, walkers and bike riders along the 5-mile, one-way paved tour road that circles Wilson&aposs Creek National Battlefield.

The tour road boasts beautiful, natural views and, as Stephanie and her friend Kathy Prater point out, feels safe for bikers, runners and walkers. There’s a low car speed limit, and the one-way road features a nice wide lane for bike and foot traffic.

About five miles long, the road includes a number of hills. Bloody Hill, though named to reflect its 1861 casualties, aptly describes what it’s like to ascend (no shame in pausing, or walking!).

Kathy says she likes riding in the park for its peaceful rural setting.

Stephanie also runs on the trails. “I think it&aposs pretty hard to get lost out there,” she says. 𠇊ll the trails eventually lead back to the road, which eventually leads back to the visitor center.”

Nature Encounters

Deer, turkey, a variety of birds and even reptiles such as harmless green snakes can be found at Wilson&aposs Creek National Battlefield.

A lot of people come out in early morning or evening hours to catch sight of wildlife. Superintendent Ted says the park plants corn and hay per 1861 landscaping, not to feed animals. But it sure doesn’t hurt.

I’ve encountered deer, wild turkey and other beasts and birds. According to a National Park Service listing, Wilson’s Creek is home to various amphibians and reptiles birds including hawks, ducks and geese and plenty of critters including rabbits, deer, fox and more. 

Enjoy wildflowers in addition to wildlife? You&aposll find plenty of those as well.

Creative Focus

Wilson&aposs Creek National Battlefield is a wonderful place to shoot photos, whether sweeping landscapes, nature in the wild or creative closeups.

This park is photo-op-rich whether you like to shoot sweeping landscapes, interesting objects, wildlife and wildflowers or big skies and sunsets. (Yes, yes, yes and yes!)

Many nice landscapes are accessible from the tour road as are several old cannons. Off road, trails wind behind cornfields along split rail fencing and through pretty woods and fields. Wildflowers and wildlife make interesting subjects as do occasional bridges.

Arrive early or late to capture golden hour skies unmarred by telephone poles and wires.

Ready Entertainment

"Living history demonstrations" happen throughout the year at Wilson&aposs Creek National Battlefield.

Concerts, special events and educational presentations pepper the calendar listed online.

Twice in six months I’ve encountered people dressed in period costumes. Ted says they are volunteers who come in to the park – sometimes camping overnight – to present “living history demonstrations.”

More than 170,000 people visit the park annually and with a pass you have ready entertainment for out-of-town visitors. My niece and family from Kansas City loved their trek through Civil War history and we recently took my father-in-law on a tour through the old Ray House.

You know, the National Park Service, celebrating its centennial, has been urging Americans to 𠇏ind Your Park.”


Endnotes

[1] The Medical and Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1870-1888), Appendix to Vol. 1, Pt. 1 (report of Philip C. Davis), 15.

[2] Medical and Surgical History, Appendix to Vol. 1, Pt. 1 (report of H.M. Sprague), 16.

[3] Medical and Surgical History, Appendix to Vol. 1, Pt. 1 (report of S.H. Melcher), 18.

[4] Medical and Surgical History, Appendix to Vol. 1, Pt. 1 (report of H.M. Sprague), 17.


Legends of America

Battle of Wilson’s Creek near Springfield, Missouri by Kurz and Allison 1893

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, also known as Battle of Oak Hills and Battle of Springfield, was the first major battle of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the Civil War. It was fought on August 10, 1861, in the officially neutral state of Missouri however, its pro-South governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, was secretly collaborating with Confederate troops.

On August 9, 1861, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s Union Troops were camped at Springfield, Missouri. Under the command of Brigadier General Ben McCulloch, a large Confederate force was quickly approaching, making camp at Wilson’s Creek about 12 miles southwest of Springfield. Both sides spent the evening formulating plans to attack the other on the following day.

Wilson’s Creek Battlefield in John Ray Cornfield

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, fought August 10, 1861, was a bitter struggle for control of Missouri in the Civil War’s first year. In fact, it was the first major battle in the West and only the second major battle of the Civil War.

About 5:00 am on the 10th, Lyon, in two columns commanded by himself and Colonel Franz Sigel, attacked the Confederates on Wilson’s Creek, and the Rebel cavalry fell back away from what would become known a Bloody Hill. However, the Confederate forces soon rushed up and stabilized their positions, attacking the Union forces three different times but failing to break through the Union line.

Lyon became the first Union General killed in combat during the battle, and Major Samuel D. Sturgis replaced him.

Following the third Confederate attack, which ended at about 11:00 am, the Confederates withdrew. However, Sturgis realized that his men were exhausted and his ammunition was low, so he ordered a retreat to Springfield. The Confederates were too disorganized and ill-equipped to pursue. This Confederate victory buoyed southern sympathizers in Missouri and served as a springboard for a bold thrust north that carried the Missouri State Guard as far as Lexington. Wilson’s Creek, the most significant 1861 battle in Missouri, gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri. However, the loss was substantial, with 1,317 Union and 1,222 Confederate casualties (killed, wounded, or captured).

Cannon at Wilson’s Creek Missouri National Battlefield

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek marked the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri. For the next three and a half years, the state was the scene of savage and fierce fighting, mostly guerrilla warfare, with small bands of mounted raiders destroying anything military or civilian that could aid the enemy. By the time the conflict ended in the spring of 1865, Missouri had witnessed so many battles and skirmishes that it ranks as the third most fought-over state in the Nation.

Today the restless spirits of war-torn Missouri still haunt Bloody Hill. While visiting the site of this old battleground, many have reported seeing the ghostly apparitions of these long-ago soldiers, hearing noises that only be described as guns and cannons, cold spots bearing no earthly explanation, and, at night, the sounds of soldiers walking and talking in the nearby woods. Interestingly, more Confederate Soldiers are reported as being seen at this site than their opponent Union troops.

Nathaniel Lyon would go on to become a Brigadier General for the Union Army and die at the Battle of Wilson Creek in 1861.

Recognized and maintained by the National Park Service as a National Battlefield, today, the nearly pristine landscape allows visitors to experience one of the Nation’s best-preserved battlefields. Complete with a visitor center and museum, along with a research library, living history programs, self-guided auto tour, and interpretive hiking trails, Wilson’s Creek is a must stop for history buffs.


Colonel Sigel's Account

On August 9th, 1861, the day before the battle at Wilson’s Creek, my brigade, consisting of the 3d and 5th Missouri Infantry, commanded respectively by Lieutenant-Colonel Anselm Albert and Charles E. Salomon, and two batteries of artillery, each of 4 pieces, under the command of Lieutenants Schaefer and Schuetzenbach, was encamped on the south side of Springfield, near the Yokermill road. On our right was encamped the 1st Iowa Infantry, a regiment clad in militia gray. The bulk of General Lyon’s forces were on the west side of the city. During the morning I sent a staff-officer to General Lyon’s headquarters for orders, and on his return he reported to me that a forward movement would take place, and that we must hold ourselves in readiness to march at a moment’s warning directly from our camp, toward the south, to attack the enemy from the rear. I immediately went to General Lyon, who said that we would move in the evening to attack the enemy in his position at Wilson’s Creek, and that I was to be prepared to move with my brigade the 1st Iowa would join the main column with him, while I was to take the Yokermill (Forsyth) road, then turn toward the south-west and try to gain the enemy’s rear. At my request, he said that he would procure guides and some cavalry to assist me he would also let me know the exact time when I should move. I then asked him whether, on our arrival near the enemy’s position, we should attack immediately or wait until we were apprised of the fight by the other troops. He reflected a moment and then said: “Wait until you hear the firing on our side.” The conversation did not last longer than about ten minutes. Between 4 and 5 o’clock in the afternoon I received the order to move at 6:30 P.M. At 6 o’clock two companies of cavalry, under Captain Eugene A. Carr and Lieutenant Charles E. Farrand, joined us, also several guides. My whole force now consisted of 8 companies of the 3d and 9 companies of the 5th Missouri (912 men), 6 pieces of artillery (85 men), and the 2 companies of cavalry (121),—in all, 1118 men.

Precisely at 6:30 o’clock the brigade moved out of its camp after following the Yokermill road for about five miles we turned south-west into the woods, and found our way, with difficulty, to a point south of the enemy’s camp, where we arrived between 11 and 12 o’clock at night. There we rested. It was a dark, cloudy night, and a drizzling rain began to fall. So far no news of our movement had reached the enemy’s camp, as the cavalry in advance had arrested every person on the road, and put guards before the houses in its neighborhood. At the first dawn of day we continued our advance for about a mile and a half, the cavalry patrols in front capturing forty men who had strolled into our line while looking for food and water, and who said that twenty regiments of Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana troops were encamped not far distant in the valley beyond. Moving on, we suddenly found ourselves near a hill, from which we gained a full view of the camp. We halted a few moments, when I directed four pieces of our artillery to take position on the top of the hill, commanding the camp, while the infantry, with the other two pieces and preceded by Lieutenant Farrand’s cavalry company, continued its march down the road to the crossing of Wilson’s Creek.

It was now 5:30 A.M. At this moment some musket-firing was heard from the north-west, announcing the approach of General Lyon’s troops I therefore ordered the four pieces to open fire against the camp, which had a “stirring” effect on the enemy, who were preparing breakfast. The surprise was complete, except that one of the enemy’s cavalrymen made good his retreat from Lieutenant Farrand’s dragoons and took the news of our advance to the other side (General Pearce’s headquarters). I became aware of his escape, and believing that no time should be lost to lend assistance to our friends, we crossed Wilson’s Creek, took down the fences at Dixon’s farm, passed through it and crossed Terrel (or Tyrel) Creek. Not knowing whether it would be possible to bring all our pieces along, I left the four pieces on the hill, with a support of infantry, and continued our march until we reached the south side of the valley, which extends northward to Sharp’s house, about 3000 paces, and from west to east about 1000. We took the road on the west side of the valley, along the margin of the woods, and within a fence running nearly parallel with the open fields.

During this time a large body of the enemy’s cavalry, about 2500 strong, was forming across the valley, not far distant from its northern extremity I therefore halted the column on the road, sent for the four pieces left on the other side of the creek, and, as soon as their approach was reported to me, I directed the head of our column to the right, left the road, and formed the troops in line of battle, between the road and the enemy’s deserted camp,— the infantry on the left, the artillery on the right, and the cavalry on the extreme right, toward Wilson’s Creek. A lively cannonade was now opened against the dense masses of the hostile cavalry, which lasted about twenty minutes, and forced the enemy to retire in disorder toward the north and into the woods. We now turned back into the road, and, advancing, made our way through a number of cattle near Sharp’s house, and suddenly struck the Fayetteville road, leading north to that part of the battlefield on which General Lyon’s troops were engaged. We were now on the principal line of retreat of the enemy, and had arrived there in perfect order and discipline. Up to this time we had made fifteen miles, had been constantly in motion, had had a successful engagement, and the troops felt encouraged by what they had accomplished. It is, therefore, totally false, as rumor had it after the battle, that “Sigel’s men” gave themselves up to plundering the camp, became scattered, and were for this reason surprised by the “returning enemy.”

When we had taken our position on the plateau near Sharp's, a cannonade was opened by me against a part of the enemy’s troops, evidently forming the left of their line, confronting Lyon, as we could observe from the struggle going on in that direction. The firing lasted about 30 minutes.*

Suddenly the firing on the enemy’s side ceased, and it seemed as if we had directed our own fire against Lyon’s forces. I therefore ordered the pieces to cease firing. Just at this time—it was between 9 and 10 o’clock — there was a lull in the fight on the north side, and not a gun was heard, while squads of the enemy’s troops, unarmed, came streaming up the road from Skegg’s Branch toward us and were captured. Meanwhile a part of McCulloch’s force was advancing against us at Sharp’s farm, while Reid’s battery moved into position on the hill east of Wilson’s Creek, and opposite our right flank, followed by some cavalry.

All these circumstances — the cessation of the firing in Lyon’s front, the appearance of the enemy’s deserters, and the movement of Reid’s artillery and the cavalry toward the south — led us into the belief that the enemy’s forces were retreating, and this opinion became stronger by the report of Dr. Melcher, who was in advance on the road to Skegg’s Branch, that “Lyon’s troops” were coming up the road and that we must not fire. So uncertain was I in regard to the character of the approaching troops, now only a few rods distant, that I did not trust to my own eyes, but sent Corporal Tod, of the 3d Missouri, forward to challenge them. He challenged as ordered, but was immediately shot and killed. I instantly ordered the artillery and infantry to fire. But it was too late — the artillery fired one or two shots, but the infantry, as though paralyzed, did not fire the 3d Louisiana, which we had mistaken for the gray-clad 1st Iowa, rushed up to the plateau, while Bledsoe’s battery in front and Reid’s from the heights on our right flank opened with canister at point-blank against us. As a matter of precaution I had during the last moment brought four of our pieces into battery on the right against the troops on the hill and Reid’s battery but after answering Reid’s fire for a few minutes, the horses and drivers of three guns suddenly left their position, and with their caissons galloped down the Fayetteville road, in their tumultuous flight carrying panic into the ranks of the infantry, which turned back in disorder, and at the same time received the fire of the attacking line.

On our retreat the right wing, consisting mostly of the 3d Missouri Infantry and one piece of artillery, followed the road we came, while the left wing, consisting of the 5th Missouri Infantry and another piece, went down the Fayetteville road, then, turning to the right (north-west), made its way toward Little York and Springfield on its way the latter column was joined by Lieutenant Farrand’s cavalry company. Colonel Salomon was also with this column, consisting in all of about 450 men, with 1 piece and caisson. I remained with the right wing, the 3d Missouri, which was considerably scattered. I re-formed the men during their retreat into 4 companies, in all about 250 men, and, turning to the left, into the Fayetteville road, was joined by Captain Carr’s company of cavalry. After considering that, by following the left wing toward Little York, we might be cut off from Springfield and not be able to join General Lyon’s forces, we followed the Fayetteville road until we reached a road leading north-east toward Springfield. This road we followed. Captain Carr, with his cavalry, was leading he was instructed to remain in advance, keep his flankers out, and report what might occur in front. One company of the 3d Missouri was at the head of our little column of infantry, followed by the piece of artillery and two caissons, behind them the remainder of the infantry, the whole flanked on each side by skirmishers. So we marched, or rather dragged along as fast as the exhausted men could go, until we reached the ford at James Fork of the White River. Carr had already crossed, but his cavalry was not in sight it had hastened along without waiting for us a part of the infantry had also passed the creek the piece and caissons were just crossing, when the rattling of musketry announced the presence of hostile forces on both sides of the creek. They were detachments of Missouri and Texas cavalry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Major, Captains Mabry and Russell, that lay in ambush, and now pounced upon our jaded and extended column. It was in vain that Lieutenant-Colonel Albert and myself tried to rally at least a part of them they left the road to seek protection, or make good their escape in the woods, and were followed and hunted down by their pursuers. In this chase the greater part of our men were killed, wounded, or made prisoners, among the latter Lieutenant-Colonel Albert and my orderly, who were with me in the last moment of the affray. I was not taken, probably because I wore a blue woolen blanket over my uniform and a yellowish slouch-hat, giving me the appearance of a Texas Ranger. I halted on horseback, prepared for defense, in a small strip of corn-field on the west side of the creek, while the hostile cavalrymen swarmed around and several times passed close by me. When we had resumed our way toward the north-east, we were immediately recognized as enemies, and pursued by a few horsemen, whoso number increased rapidly. It was a pretty lively race for about six miles, when our pursuers gave up the chase. We reached Springfield at 4: 30 in the afternoon, in advance of Sturgis, who with Lyon’s troops was retreating from the battle-field, and who arrived at Springfield, as he says, at 5 o’clock. The circumstance of my arrival at the time stated gave rise to the insinuation that I had forsaken my troops after their repulse at Sharp’s house, and had delivered them to their fate. Spiced with the accusation of “plunder,” this and other falsehoods were repeated before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and a letter defamatory of me was dispatched to the Secretary of War (dated February 14th, 1862, six months after the battle of Wilson’s Creek). I had no knowledge of these calumnies against me until long after the war, when I found them in print.

In support of my statements, I would direct attention to my own reports on the battle and to the Confederate reports, especially to those of Lieutenant-Colonel Hyams and Captain Vigilini, of the 3d Louisiana also to the report of Captain Carr, in which he frankly states that he abandoned me immediately before my column was attacked at the crossing of James Fork, without notifying me of the approach of the enemy’s cavalry. I never mentioned this fact, as the subsequent career of General Carr, his cooperation with me during the campaigns of General Fremont, and his behavior in the battle of Pea Ridge vindicated his character and ability as a soldier and commander.


Watch the video: August Light: Wilsons Creek and the Battle for Missouri


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