Rural Missouri - August 2011 - (Page 12)
Battle of Wilson’s Creek ~ Aug. 10, 1861
Victory secures Confederate foothold in southwest Mo.
by Jim Denny firstname.lastname@example.org
The ﬁght on Bloody Hill
ments from Fremont, who was prepared to abandon southwest Missouri to the rebellion without a ﬁght, if need be. Lyon felt like a sacriﬁcial lamb, but he was going to attack, help or no help. n Aug. 10, 1861, Missouri’s Civil War As the sun rose on Aug. 10, the coalition forces took a deadly turn at the Battle of Wilof Price and McCulloch, some 10,200 men, were son’s Creek. Unlike the “ﬁrst” battle of encamped along a 3-mile stretch of Wilson’s Creek the war fought three weeks earlier at Bull astraddle the main road known as the SpringﬁeldRun Creek in Virginia, this clash did not pit outside Fayetteville, or Telegraph (usually shortened to invaders from the North against Southerners defendWire), Road. Lyon launched his suring their homeland. At Wilson’s Creek, prise attack at daybreak against both Missourians largely fought Missourians. ﬂanks of the Southern army. He led Bull Run ended in an inglorious rout 4,200 men against the secessionists’ with blue-clad soldiers ﬂeeing the batleft ﬂank, while Col. Franz Sigel and tleﬁeld in headlong retreat. The men 1,200 men marched around and took at Wilson’s Creek stood their ground up position on the right ﬂank. and fought with deadly intensity. The By 6 a.m., Lyon’s forces gained the lesson of Bull Run seemed to be that summit of a hill above Wilson’s Creek much training would be needed to that was to gain notoriety as “Bloody produce battle-ready armies; Wilson’s Hill.” By then, Southerners were in Creek revealed that courage trumped motion. Price threw several regiments drilling. Green men on both sides faced into a line of battle on the hill’s south a storm of enemy ﬁre without ﬂinching slope. Soon, riﬂes cracked in an everor yielding. Their dogged performance growing crescendo. offered grim evidence that this Bloody Hill was a nasty place Civil War was going to be far A Co-Mo Electric Cooperative member to ﬁght. The rocky hillside was more violent and murderous from Lupus, Jim Denny spent more than than anyone had yet reckoned. 30 years as a historian with the Missouri scarred by ravines and gullies and covered with scrubby blackWilson’s Creek was the battle Department of Natural Resources. Now jack oaks and dense thickets that ﬁnally brought together two retired, Jim will bring the state’s Civil that hindered maneuvers and foes who had been longing to get War history to life in Rural Missouri as made visibility nearly imposat each other’s throats. For Gen. we commemorate the sesquicentennial sible. Into this tangle, Lyon now Sterling Price, now commandof this time in our nation’s history. launched an assault. Price and ing a large force of Missouri state several regiments were waiting. The respective lines, guardsmen, the chance had come at last to join no more than 1,000 yards wide, drew closer until forces with Confederates in northwest Arkansas to just 300 yards separated the opposing forces. redeem Missouri. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, the Union Spirited riﬂe ﬁre soon became a continuous roar. ﬁrebrand, was itching to deliver a crushing blow to Price’s men, armed with shotguns and hunting riﬂes, the state guard and make Missouri that much safer needed to ﬁght at close quarters to get off lethal for the Union. shots. Amidst the thick undergrowth, combatants By the end of July, Price had gathered some 7,000 would advance to within 40 yards of each other. men in southwest Missouri. Of these, only 5,000 According to one description, a murderous volley bore arms — mainly hunting riﬂes and shotguns. The general was short on everything — uniforms, arms, supplies, money. To invade Missouri, he needed the cooperation of Gen. Benjamin McCulloch, a West Pointer and ex-Texas Ranger, who commanded the Confederate forces in northwestern Arkansas; and Gen. N. B. Pearce, who led Arkansas militia. McCulloch and Pearce soon developed a low opinion of the Missouri forces. The homespun guardsmen were felt to be barely drilled and unreliable under ﬁre, basically a mob led by an “ignorant old militia general.” McCulloch and Pearce consented to march on Springﬁeld, Mo., with Price’s Missourians only on the condition that McCulloch command the entire force. The beginning of August found Lyon in Springﬁeld with a force that had dwindled to 5,400 as the 90-day enlistments of 3,000 of his men had expired. He wanted to attack but feared he was facing as many as 30,000 Southerners. Urgent dispatches were sent to St. Louis headquarters requesting more troops and supplies. Lyon also had a new boss, John Charles Fremont. The former presidential candidate and Western pathﬁnder was a newly minted major general now in charge of the Union war effort in the West. Fremont had a different agenda than Lyon. He sent 4,000 men to protect Cairo, Ill., at the conﬂuence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers, although no artwork courtesy of the Library of Congress Confederate invasion ever materialized there. Lyon faced a very real enemy who outnumbered him at An 1893 lithograph by artists Kurz and Allison of Chicago portrays the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and Union Gen. least 2-to-1, but he received virtually no reinforceNathaniel Lyon’s death on the battleﬁeld. More than 2,500 men were killed or wounded during the ﬁght.
would erupt from a thousand Missouri riﬂes and a thousand Missouri shotguns, only to receive a similar return volley from opposing Missourians. From time to time, both sides would fall back and reload. A deep silence would fall across the battleﬁeld for a few minutes before the two armies, invisible to one another and only yards apart, resumed the strange and vicious battle. After using his artillery to scatter a Confederate camp, Sigel’s attack ﬂoundered. He had led his infantry across Wilson’s Creek and into position astride the Wire Road. But then, as he was wont to do, Sigel snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. He mistook a body of gray-clad soldiers marching toward him to be Iowans and held ﬁre. The grayclad soldiers, actually Louisianans, approached to within 40 yards and opened ﬁre directly into Sigel’s ranks. The Union infantrymen didn’t even ﬁre a shot before turning tail and running for their lives. Sigel ﬂed to Springﬁeld, leaving Lyon’s force to ﬁght on alone. Thanks to Sigel’s inglorious ﬂight, McCulloch could now funnel Arkansas and Louisiana troops into the ﬁght on Bloody Hill. Around 9 a.m., Price decided to launch a mass assault by his entire line. Lyon’s front reeled under the ferocity of the fresh onslaught. He brought forward every reserve and threw them into the battle. The battle raged for an hour, growing “inconceivably ﬁerce” along the entire line. As Lyon sent his last fresh regiment into the seething fray, a bullet struck him in the heart. He collapsed into the arms of his orderly and died. Not long afterward, Price’s charge was beaten back, and another lull fell over the battleﬁeld. Maj. Samuel Sturgis, the ranking Union ofﬁcer on the ﬁeld, ordered a withdrawal to Springﬁeld. There was no pursuit by the Confederates. Both sides were badly shot up and running low on ammunition. The butcher’s bill for the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was staggering. On the federal side, 1,317 men out of 5,400 were killed or wounded. That amounts to 24 percent of the Union force, a proportion that matches casualty rates in horriﬁc battles such as Shiloh and the other blood baths to come. With 1,230 casualties out of 10,200 Confederates and state guardsmen, the percentage comes to 12 percent of the battle participants. Thomas L. Snead, author of “The Fight for Missouri” and a soldier who witnessed the battle, concluded, “Never before — considering the numbers engaged — had so bloody a battle been fought upon American soil; seldom has a bloodier one been fought on any modern ﬁeld.”
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Rural Missouri - August 2011
Rural Missouri - August 2011
Stop and smell the barbecue
2011 Missouri Youth Tour
The fight on Bloody Hill
Out of the Way Eats
Eight seconds to win
Hearth and Home
Rural Missouri - August 2011