The Battle of Wilson's Creek
I have found 2 books to be excellent resources:
Wilson’s Creek, the Second Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who
Fought It, by William Piston and Richard Hatcher, (2000). Also, Ed
Bearss’, The Battle of Wilson’s Creek. I have the 4th edition (1992)
Thank you to the National Park Service for the following information
about The Battle of Wilson's Creek.
Border State Politics
When the Civil War began in 1861, Missouri's allegiance was of vital
concern to the federal government. The state's strategic position on the
Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and its abundant manpower and natural
resources made it imperative that she remain loyal to the Union. Most
Missourians desired neutrality, but many, including the governor,
Claiborne Fox Jackson, held strong Southern sympathies and planned to
cooperate with the Confederacy in its bid for independence.
When President Lincoln called for troops to put down the rebellion,
Missouri was asked to supply four regiments. Governor Jackson refused
the request and ordered State military units to muster at Camp Jackson
outside Saint Louis and prepare to seize the U.S. arsenal in that city.
They had not, however, counted on the resourcefulness of the arsenal's
commander, Captain Nathaniel Lyon.
Learning of the governor's intentions, Lyon had most of the weapons
moved secretly to Illinois. On May 10 he marched 7,000 men out to Camp
Jackson and forced its surrender. In June, after a futile meeting with
Governor Jackson to resolve their differences, Lyon (now a brigadier
general) led an army up the Missouri River and captured the state
capital at Jefferson City. After an unsuccessful stand at Boonville a
few miles upstream, Governor Jackson retreated to southwest Missouri
with elements of the State Guard.
Why Wilson's Creek?
After installing a pro-Union state government and picking up
reinforcements, Lyon moved toward southwest Missouri. By July 13, 1861,
he was encamped at Springfield with about 6,000 soldiers, consisting of
the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Missouri Infantry, the 1st Iowa Infantry, the
1st and 2nd Kansas Infantry, several companies of Regular Army infantry
and cavalry, and three batteries of artillery.
Meanwhile, 75 miles southwest of Springfield, Major General Sterling
Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard, had been busy drilling the
5,200 soldiers in his charge. By the end of July, when troops under
Generals Ben McCulloch and N. Bart Pearce rendezvoused with Price, the
total Southern "coalition" force (a mixture of Confederate troops and
state forces) exceeded 12,000 men. On July 31, after formulating plans
to capture Lyon's army and regain control of the state, Price,
McCulloch, and Pearce marched northeast to attack the Federals. Lyon,
hoping to surprise the Confederates, marched from Springfield on August
1. The next day the Union troops mauled the Southern vanguard at Dug
Springs. Lyon, discovering he was outnumbered, ordered a withdrawal to
Springfield. The Confederates followed and by August 6 were encamped
near Wilson's Creek.
Despite inferior numbers, Lyon decided to attack the enemy encampment.
Leaving about 1,000 men behind to guard his supplies, the Federal
commander led 5,400 soldiers out of Springfield on the night of August
9. Lyon's plan called for 1,200 men under Colonel Franz Sigel to swing
wide to the south, flanking the Southern right, while the main body of
troops struck from the north. Success hinged on the element of surprise.
Ironically, the Southern leaders also planned a surprise attack on the
Federals, but rain on the night of the 9th caused McCulloch (who was now
in overall command) to cancel the operation. On the morning of the 10th,
Lyon's attack caught the Southerners off guard, driving them back.
Forging rapidly ahead, the Federals occupied the crest of a ridge
subsequently called "Bloody Hill." Nearby, the Pulaski Arkansas Battery
opened fire, checking the advance. This gave Price's infantry time to
form a battle line on the hill's south slope.
For more than five hours the battle raged on Bloody Hill. Fighting was
often at close quarters, and the tide turned with each charge and
countercharge. Sigel's flanking maneuver, initially successful,
collapsed altogether when McCulloch's men counterattacked at the Sharp
Farm. Defeated, Sigel and his troops fled.
On Bloody Hill, at about 9:30 a.m., General Lyon, who had been wounded
twice already, was killed while positioning his troops. Major Samuel
Sturgis assumed command of the Federal forces and by 11 a.m., with
ammunition nearly exhausted, ordered a withdrawal to Springfield. The
Battle of Wilson's Creek was over. Losses were heavy and about equal on
both sides--1,317 for the Federals, 1,222 for the Southerners. Though
victorious on the field, the Southerners were not able to pursue the
Union forces. Lyon lost the battle and his life, but he achieved his
goal: Missouri remained under Union control.
The Civil War in Missouri
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.
The Confederates made only two large-scale attempts to break the Federal
hold on Missouri, both of them directed by Sterling Price. Shortly after
Wilson's Creek, Price led his Missouri State Guard north and captured
the Union garrison at Lexington. He and his troops remained in the state
until early 1862, when a Federal army drove them into Arkansas. The
subsequent Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March kept large
numbers of Confederate military forces out of Missouri for more than two
In September 1864 Price returned to Missouri with an army of some 12,000
men. By the time his campaign ended, he had marched nearly 1,500 miles,
fought 43 battles or skirmishes, and destroyed an estimated $10 million
worth of property. Yet the campaign ended in disaster. At Westport on
October 23, Price was soundly defeated in the largest battle fought west
of the Mississippi and forced to retreat south. His withdrawal ended
organized Confederate military operations in Missouri.
Wilson's Creek Commanders
Benjamin McCulloch commanded the Southern forces at Wilson's Creek.
Though possessing no formal military training, he was a veteran Indian
fighter, participated in the Texas War of Independence, and commanded a
company of Texas Rangers in the Mexican War. After serving as sheriff of
Sacramento during the California Gold Rush, he was appointed U. S.
marshal for the eastern district of Texas. McCulloch rose from a colonel
of state troops in February 1861 to a brigadier general in the
Confederate States Army in May that same year. Seven months after the
Southern victory at Wilson's Creek, he died while leading a division of
troops at the Battle of Pea Ridge, Arkansas, March 7, 1862.
Brigadier General Nathaniel n, commander of the Federal forces at
Wilson's Creek, was an 1841 graduate of the United States Military
Academy and a veteran of the Seminole and Mexican Wars. He had also
served at various posts on the frontier before being assigned to command
the garrison at the U. S. arsenal in St. Louis in 1861. An ardent
Unionist and a strong supporter of Lincoln and the Republican Party,
Lyon worked closely with Missouri Congressman Francis P. Blair, Jr., to
prevent the state from seceding from the Union. His death at Wilson's
Creek at the age of 43 made him the first Union general to die in battle
during the Civil War.
Major General Sterling Price commanded the Missouri State Guard at
Wilson's Creek. He had served in the Mexican War, the United States
Congress, and as governor of Missouri. He accepted the command of the
State Guard when the war began. At age 51, he was the oldest of the
principal commanders at Wilson's Creek and was well-liked by his troops,
who affectionately nicknamed him "Old Pap."
German-born Franz Sigel was director of public schools in St. Louis at
the onset of the Civil War. As colonel of the 3rd Missouri Infantry, he
took part in the capture of Camp Jackson in May 1861 and fought in the
Battle of Carthage two months later. The defeat of his brigade at
Wilson's Creek helped forge the Southern victory.
Did You Know?
Captain James Totten's Battery F, 2nd U.S. Artillery dueled with Captain
William Woodruff's Pulaski Battery during the Battle of Wilson's Creek.
Ironically, before the war James Totten had helped the members of
Woodruff's Battery with their artillery training.
Lt. Omer R. Weaver – Killed by cannon shot at Wilson’s Creek.
The above picture is from an interpretive scene from a 2008 film.
He was a member of the Pulaski Battery. He is shown reading a letter
from his sweet heart, Annie, from Little Rock. The Weavers were one of
Little Rock’s most prominent families. His father built one of Little
Rock’s largest and most expensive houses which included an extensive
library. Omer graduated from the University of Nashville in 1856 at the
age on 19. Working for the U.S. surveyor general in Arkansas, Omer
joined the Pulaski Light Battery in peacetime, when the men were still
called the Tottens. Mortally wounded at The Battle of Wilson’s Creek,
Weaver “fell like a hero, with his face to the foe…” said Captain
William Woodruff. Woodruff went to great links to obtain a zinc-lined
coffin for Weaver’s body, which was shipped home for a hero’s funeral,
one of the largest ever held in Little Rock.*
*See Piston’s book, pages 111-113, 204, 298, and 302.
Question – Does anyone know where Weaver is buried?
At Wilson’s Creek
This is a must when you visit Wilson’s Creek.
Holdings: The John K. and Ruth Hulston Civil War Research Library was
founded in 1985. A new library building was dedicated in April 2003. The
core of the library collection was donated by Springfield attorney John
K. Hulston and his wife Ruth. Currently the library contains
approximately 6,500 volumes concentrating on the Civil War period and
the Civil War in the Trans-Mississippi Theater.
Public Use: All of the library's volumes are non-circulating, but are
available for use by serious scholars.
Reference Services: Staff members are able to perform limited research
for patrons by regular mail, e-mail, telephone or in person. Extensive
research on a particular topic should be done in person.
Genealogy: The library owns microfilm copies of the National Archives
Compiled Service Records for all Union and Confederate soldiers from
Missouri, those from other states who fought at Wilson's Creek, and some
additional soldiers. Copies can be requested free of charge from the
Hulston Library or ordered for a fee from the National Archives. Forms
to obtain copies of National Archives records are available at the
Visitor Center, or National Archives forms can be downloaded and records
ordered on-line.The library also has published rosters giving basic
information on all Civil War soldiers, and will search for particular
names on request.
Regimental Histories: The library contains many histories of individual
Civil War regiments, especially Union units. In addition, many Northern
state adjutant general's reports and other regimental materials are
available. Limited information is available on Southern units.
PLEASE NOTE: HULSTON LIBRARY HOURS ARE CURRENTLY TUESDAY-SATURDAY, 9
A.M.-NOON AND 1-4 P.M. THE LIBRARY IS CLOSED ON SUNDAY AND MONDAY. THE
LIBRARY IS LOCATED NEXT TO THE VISITOR CENTER.