Battle of Wilson's Creek

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Battle of Wilson's Creek
Battle of Oak Hills
Part of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War
Battle of Wilsons Creek.png
Battle of Wilson's Creek by Kurz and Allison.
DateAugust 10, 1861 (1861-08-10)
Location
37°06′04″N93°24′28″W / 37.1010°N 93.4078°W / 37.1010; -93.4078 Coordinates: 37°06′04″N93°24′28″W / 37.1010°N 93.4078°W / 37.1010; -93.4078
Result Confederate/Missouri State Guard victory [1]
Belligerents
Flag of the United States (1861-1863).svg United States Flag of the Confederate States of America (1861-1863).svg Confederate States
Flag of the Missouri State Guard.svg Missouri State Guard
Commanders and leaders
Nathaniel Lyon  
Franz Sigel
Samuel Sturgis
Sterling Price
Ben McCulloch
Nicholas Pearce
Units involved
Army of the West
  • Missouri State Guard
  • Western Army
  • Army of Arkansas
    • 1st Division
Strength
5,430 [2] 12,120 [3]
Casualties and losses
1,317
(258 killed
873 wounded
186 missing [2] )
1,232
(277 killed
945 wounded
10+ missing [3] )

The Battle of Wilson's Creek was the first major battle of the Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War. It was fought on August 10, 1861, near Springfield, Missouri, officially a neutral state, though its pro-South governor, Claiborne Fox Jackson, was secretly collaborating with Confederate troops.

Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War

The Trans-Mississippi Theater of the American Civil War consists of the major military operations west of the Mississippi River. The area is often thought of as excluding the states and territories bordering the Pacific Ocean, which formed the Pacific Coast Theater of the American Civil War (1861-1865).

American Civil War Civil war in the United States from 1861 to 1865

The American Civil War was a civil war fought in the United States from 1861 to 1865, between the North and the South. The most studied and written about episode in U.S. history, the Civil War began primarily as a result of the long-standing controversy over the enslavement of black people. War broke out in April 1861 when secessionist forces attacked Fort Sumter in South Carolina shortly after Abraham Lincoln had been inaugurated as the President of the United States. The loyalists of the Union in the North proclaimed support for the Constitution. They faced secessionists of the Confederate States in the South, who advocated for states' rights to uphold slavery.

Springfield, Missouri City in Missouri, United States

Springfield is the third-largest city in the state of Missouri and the county seat of Greene County. As of the 2010 census, its population was 159,498. As of 2017, the Census Bureau estimated its population at 167,376. It is the principal city of the Springfield metropolitan area, which has a population of 462,369 and includes the counties of Christian, Dallas, Greene, Polk, Webster.

Contents

In August, Confederates under Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch and Missouri State Guard troops under Maj. Gen. Sterling Price approached Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon's Army of the West, camped at Springfield. On August 10, Lyon, in two columns commanded by himself and Col. Franz Sigel, attacked the Confederates on Wilson's Creek about 12 miles (19 km) southwest of Springfield. Confederate cavalry received the first blow and retreated from the high ground. Confederate infantry attacked the Union forces three times during the day, but failed to break through. When Lyon was killed and General Thomas William Sweeny wounded, Major Samuel D. Sturgis assumed command of the Union forces. When Sturgis realized that his men were exhausted and lacking ammunition, he ordered a retreat to Springfield. The battle was reckoned as a Confederate victory, but the Confederates were too disorganized and ill-equipped to pursue the retreating Federal forces.

Benjamin McCulloch Confederate Army general

Benjamin McCulloch was a soldier in the Texas Revolution, a Texas Ranger, a major general in the Texas militia and thereafter a major in the United States Army during the Mexican–American War, a U.S. marshal, and a brigadier general in the army of the Confederate States during the American Civil War.

Sterling Price American politician

Sterling "Old Pap" Price was an American lawyer, planter, soldier, and politician from the U.S. state of Missouri, who served as the 11th Governor of the state from 1853 to 1857. He also served as a United States Army brigadier general during the Mexican–American War, and a Confederate Army major general in the American Civil War. Price is best known for his victories in New Mexico and Chihuahua during the Mexican conflict, and for his losses at the Battles of Pea Ridge and Westport during the Civil War–the latter being the culmination of his ill-fated Missouri Campaign of 1864.

Nathaniel Lyon first Union general to be killed in the American Civil War

Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union general to be killed in the American Civil War and is noted for his actions in the state of Missouri at the beginning of the conflict.

Although the state remained in the Union for the remainder of the war, the battle effectively gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri.

Background

Military and political situation

The battle as depicted on a mural in the Missouri State Capitol Wilsons-cropped-better.jpg
The battle as depicted on a mural in the Missouri State Capitol

At the beginning of the American Civil War, Missouri declared that it would be an "armed neutral" in the conflict, and not send materials or men to either side. On April 20, 1861, a secessionist mob seized the Liberty Arsenal, increasing Union concerns in the state. The neutrality was put to a major test on May 10, 1861, in what became known as the Camp Jackson Affair. Governor Claiborne F. Jackson had called out the Missouri Volunteer Militia (MVM) to drill on the edge of St. Louis in Lindell Grove. The governor had clandestinely obtained artillery from the Confederacy and smuggled it into the militia encampment – referred to as "Camp Jackson". Capt. Nathaniel Lyon was aware of this shipment and was concerned the militia would move on the St. Louis Arsenal. Thomas W. Sweeny was put in command of the arsenal's defense, and Lyon surrounded the militia camp with Union troops and home guards, forcing the surrender of the militia. When he marched the prisoners through the streets to the arsenal, some angry members of the crowd began to press against the procession. Taunts and jostling eventually led to gunfire and many deaths, mostly civilians but also several soldiers and members of the militia. [4]

Missouri State of the United States of America

Missouri is a state in the Midwestern United States. With over six million residents, it is the 18th-most populous state of the Union. The largest urban areas are St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, and Columbia; the capital is Jefferson City. The state is the 21st-most extensive in area. In the South are the Ozarks, a forested highland, providing timber, minerals, and recreation. The Missouri River, after which the state is named, flows through the center of the state into the Mississippi River, which makes up Missouri's eastern border.

Liberty Arsenal

The Liberty Arsenal, known by Federal authorities as the Missouri Depot was a United States Army arsenal at Liberty, Missouri in Clay County, Missouri. The depot was seized twice by Southern partisans, once during the Kansas troubles in 1855, and again shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War. It was located generally west of the junction of Missouri Route 291 and old 210 Highway.

The Missouri Volunteer Militia (MVM) was the state militia organization of Missouri, before the formation of the Missouri State Guard in the American Civil War.

A day later, the Missouri General Assembly created the Missouri State Guard (replacing the MVM) theoretically to defend the state from attacks from perceived enemies from either side of the war (although from its inception, all Missouri State Guard planning focused on conflict with Federal forces). The governor appointed Sterling Price as the commander with the rank of major general of state forces. The state guard was divided into divisions, with each division consisting of units raised from a military district of Missouri and command by a brigadier general. Because much of their recruiting areas were behind Union lines, many divisions were the size of a brigade, consisting of only a few regiments. [5] [6] Fearing Missouri's tilt to the South, William S. Harney, the Federal commander of the U.S. Army's Department of the West (which included Missouri) negotiated the Price-Harney Truce on May 12, 1861, which nominally agreed to cooperation between the U.S. Army and the MSG to maintain order in Missouri and protect it from outside interference. Jackson publicly declared his support for the truce, while secretly requesting that Confederate forces enter Missouri to "liberate" Missouri from Federal control. [7] After complaints by Missouri Unionists, Harney was replaced by Lyon (who was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers), further undermining the fragile truce. On June 12, 1861, Lyon and Jackson met at the St. Louis' Planter's House Hotel in a last attempt to avoid a resumption of fighting. Both sides were inflexible, with Lyon demanding the right to inspect any area of the state for Confederate intervention, and Jackson refusing and demanding that Federal forces be restricted to the St. Louis metropolitan area. The meeting ended with Lyon saying:

Missouri General Assembly

The Missouri General Assembly is the state legislature of the U.S. state of Missouri. The bicameral General Assembly is composed of a 34-member Senate and a 163-member House of Representatives. Members of both houses of the General Assembly are subject to term limits. Senators are limited to two four-year terms and representatives to four two-year terms, a total of 8 years for members of both houses.

Missouri State Guard (de facto) army of Missouris government in exile from 1861 to 1865

The Missouri State Guard (MSG) was a military force established by the Missouri General Assembly on May 11, 1861. While not a formation of the Confederate States Army, the Missouri State Guard fought alongside Confederate troops and, at various times, served under Confederate officers.

William S. Harney United States Army general

William Selby Harney was a Tennessee-born cavalry officer in the U.S. Army, who became known during the Indian Wars and the Mexican–American War. One of four general officers in the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Civil War, he was removed from overseeing the Department of the West due to his Confederate sympathies early in the war. Under President Andrew Johnson, he served with on the Indian Peace Commission, negotiating several treaties, before spending his retirement partly in St. Louis and partly trading reminiscences with Jefferson Davis in Mississippi.

This means war. In an hour one of my officers will call for you and conduct you out of my lines. [8]

Lyon sent a force under Sweeney to Springfield while his own forces quickly captured the capital and pursued Jackson, Price, and the now-exiled state government across Missouri. [9] Skirmishes followed, including the Battle of Boonville on June 17 and the Battle of Carthage on July 5. In light of the crisis, the delegates of the Missouri Constitutional Convention that had rejected secession in February reconvened. On July 27, the convention declared the governor's office vacant and selected Hamilton Rowan Gamble to be the new provisional governor. [10]

Battle of Boonville minor skirmish of the American Civil War

The First Battle of Boonville was a minor skirmish of the American Civil War, occurring on June 17, 1861, near Boonville in Cooper County, Missouri. Although casualties were extremely light, the battle's strategic impact was far greater than one might assume from its limited nature. The Union victory established what would become an unbroken Federal control of the Missouri River, and helped to thwart efforts to bring Missouri into the Confederacy.

Battle of Carthage (1861) battle of the American Civil War

The Battle of Carthage, also known as the Battle of Dry Fork, took place at the beginning of the American Civil War on July 5, 1861, in Jasper County, Missouri. The experienced Colonel Franz Sigel commanded 1,100 Federal soldiers intent on keeping Missouri within the Union. The Missouri State Guard was commanded by Governor Claiborne F. Jackson himself and numbered over 4,000 soldiers led by a hero of Mexico, Sterling Price, along with 2,000 unarmed troops who did not participate in the battle. The battle was a strategic victory by the Missouri State Guard in large part owing to new tactics introduced on the battlefield by independent partisan rangers serving with Capt. Jo Shelby. Carthage played a part in determining Missouri's course during the war, as it helped spark recruitment for the Southern regiments. A founder of the county who fought in the battle and was then elected Lieutenant Colonel of the 13th Missouri Cavalry Regiment and 5th Missouri Infantry, attorney Robert Wells Crawford served as a recruiter for the Confederate Army in Missouri, a post he was nominated for by Waldo P. Johnson, formerly a United States Senator from Missouri in a letter to Missouri governor-in-exile Jackson dated October 24, 1862.

Secession is the withdrawal of a group from a larger entity, especially a political entity, but also from any organization, union or military alliance. Threats of secession can be a strategy for achieving more limited goals. It is, therefore, a process, which commences once a group proclaims the act of secession. It could involve a violent or peaceful process but these do not change the nature of the outcome, which is the creation of a new state or entity independent from the group or territory it seceded from.

By July 13, 1861, Lyon's army of approximately 6,000 men was encamped at Springfield. His force was composed of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Missouri infantry, the 1st Iowa Infantry, the 1st Kansas and 2nd Kansas (infantry, several companies of regular army infantry and cavalry, and three batteries of artillery). He divided the units into four brigades commanded by Major Samuel D. Sturgis, Colonel Franz Sigel, Lieutenant Colonel George Andrews, and Colonel George Dietzler. [11]

By the end of July 1861, the Missouri State Guard was camped about 75 mi (121 km) southwest of Springfield and had been reinforced by Confederate Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch and Arkansas state militia Brigadier General N. Bart Pearce, making the mixed Missouri/Arkansas/Confederate force over 12,000 strong. They developed plans to attack Springfield, but Lyon marched out of the city on August 1 in an attempt to surprise the Southern forces. The armies' vanguards skirmished at Dug Springs, Missouri on August 2. The Union force emerged as the victor, but Lyon learned he was outnumbered more than two-to-one and retreated back to Springfield. McCulloch, now in command of the Missourian army, gave chase. By August 6, his force was encamped at Wilson's Creek, 10 miles (16 km) southwest of the city. Price favored an immediate attack on Springfield but McCulloch, doubtful about the quality of the Missouri State Guard, preferred to remain in place. After Price threatened to launch an attack without his support, McCulloch agreed to an attack at dawn on the 10th but when a rainstorm started during the evening of the ninth, he cancelled his plans and ordered his troops back to camp. [12]

Outnumbered, Lyon planned to withdraw northeast to Rolla to reinforce and resupply, but not before launching a surprise attack on the Missourian camp to delay pursuit. Sigel proposed striking McCullough in a pincer movement, which would split the already outnumbered Union force; he planned to lead 1,200 men in a flanking maneuver while the main body under Lyon struck from the north. Lyon concurred, and in accord with Sigel's plan, the Union army marched out of Springfield on the rainy night of August 9, 1861, leaving about 1,000 men to protect supplies and cover the retreat. [13]

Opposing forces

Key Union commanders
Key Confederate commanders

Union

Confederate

Battle

Battle of Wilson's Creek (August 10, 1861) ATLAS OR BATTLE OF WILSON'S CREEK.jpg
Battle of Wilson's Creek (August 10, 1861)

At first light on the morning of August 10, the Union began a surprise attack on the opposing forces. Lyon's force overran the enemy camps and took the high ground at the crest of a ridge, which would become known as "Bloody Hill". Early Union hopes for a rout were dashed, however, when the artillery of the Pulaski Arkansas Battery unlimbered and checked the advance, which gave Price's infantry time and cover to organize lines on the south slope of the hill. [14] Lyon organized a line on the southern slope of Bloody Hill, from which he launched an unsuccessful counterattack. Price launched a series of frontal and flank attacks but was also unsuccessful; a shortage of ammunition in the Confederate army was a factor in the Confederate defeats. [15]

The two Union forces lost contact with each other, with no means of communicating with or supporting each other if anything went wrong. Sigel's attack was successful at first; the brigade arrived in the Confederate rear soon after dawn. [16] Artillery fire routed the Confederate cavalry units, which were encamped at the Sharp's farm. Sigel began a pursuit, but stopped along Skeeg's Branch. During the break, he failed to post skirmishers, leaving his left flank open for an attack. [12] Meanwhile, McCulloch rallied several Confederate units, including the 3rd Louisiana Infantry and the 3rd Division from the Missouri State Guard, to lead a counterattack. Sigel's men mistook the 3rd Louisiana for the 1st Iowa Infantry (which also wore gray uniforms) and withheld their fire until the Confederates were nearly upon them. His flank was consequently devastated by the counterattack, and his brigade was routed, losing four cannons. Sigel and his men fled the field, leaving the force under Lyon, Sweeny, and Sturgis holding out alone. [17]

With the rout of Sigel's flank, the momentum of the battle shifted in the South's favor. Lyon was wounded twice, and his horse was killed during the fighting. He returned to Union lines on foot and commandeered a bay horse ridden by Maj. E.L. McElhaney of the Missouri Infantry. [18] Lyon became the first Union general to be killed in the war; he was shot in the heart on Bloody Hill at about 9:30 a.m. while leading the 2nd Kansas Infantry in a countercharge. General Sweeny was shot in the leg, and Major Sturgis, as the highest ranking Regular Army officer, assumed command of the Union army. While still in a defensible position atop the hill, Union supplies were low and morale was worsening. By 11:00 a.m., the Union forces had already repulsed three separate Confederate charges. Ammunition and men were nearly exhausted, and Sturgis retreated rather than risk a fourth Confederate attack. [19] Henry Clay Wood, in command of a company that helped cover the retreat, later received the Medal of Honor for the heroism he displayed in keeping his company organized and functioning as it left the battlefield. [20]

Aftermath

The casualties were about equal on both sides – around 1,317 Union and 1,230 Confederate/Missourian/Arkansan soldiers were either killed, wounded, or captured. Though the Confederate force won the field, they were unable to pursue the retreating Union forces to Rolla. Price wanted to start a pursuit of the Union force immediately, but McCulloch refused, worried about the quality of the Missouri State Guard and the length of his supply line back to Arkansas. With the victory, Price's Missouri Guard began an invasion of northern Missouri that culminated in the First Battle of Lexington on September 20, 1861. The Confederate and Arkansas forces withdrew from the state. [21]

After falling back to Springfield, Sturgis handed command of the army over to Sigel. At a council of war that evening, it was agreed that the Union army had to fall back to Rolla, beginning at 3 a.m. the next morning. However, Sigel failed to get his brigade ready at that time, forcing a delay of several hours. Along the retreat route, Sigel's men took several lengthy delays to prepare meals; this caused the other officers to force Sigel to turn command back over to Sturgis. [22]

On October 30, 1861, the Missourians under Price and Jackson formally joined the Confederate cause in Neosho, Missouri. A rump of the Missouri State Assembly meeting in Neosho passed the resolutions for Missouri secession and Jackson became (nominally) the Governor of Confederate Missouri (Jackson had never accepted his July removal from office by the State Convention). However, the secession action was never accepted by most of the population of Missouri, and the state remained in the Union throughout the war. What little control Price and Jackson did have was diminished by Confederate reverses during the Battles of Fredericktown on October 21 and the First Battle of Springfield on October 25. The Confederate state government was soon forced to leave the state. [23] Although Price enjoyed some Missouri victories, notably the siege and capture of Lexington, he did not have the popular support to remain in the field, eventually retreating to northwest Arkansas. After 1861, he was commissioned as a Confederate Major General and led his forces in battles in Arkansas and Mississippi. While there were smaller incursions and skirmishes in Missouri, Price did not return to Missouri with a major force until 1864. Nevertheless, Missouri suffered extensive guerrilla warfare between Unionists and pro-Confederate bushwhackers such as Quantrill's Raiders and Bloody Bill Anderson throughout the war. [24]

House of the Ray family at the eastern end of the battlefield House of the Ray family at Wilson's Creek National Battlefield in SW Missouri.jpg
House of the Ray family at the eastern end of the battlefield

By early 1862, Federal forces had effectively pushed Price out of Missouri. An army under Union general Samuel Ryan Curtis pursued Price into Arkansas, where General Earl Van Dorn assumed command of combined forces led by Price and McCulloch. Outnumbered, Curtis nonetheless defeated Van Dorn's Confederate Army of the West at the Battle of Pea Ridge on March 6–8, ending any attempt by a major Confederate force to occupy Missouri until Price's Raid in 1864.[ citation needed ]

The Battle of Wilson's Creek was the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi River.[ citation needed ] It is also known as the Battle of Oak Hills, and sometimes called the ‘Bull Run of the West.’

Battlefield preservation

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.jpg
Area1,749.91 acres (7.0816 km2)
EstablishedApril 22, 1960
Visitors160,000(in 2014)
Governing body National Park Service

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. [25] 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 km2) 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. [25] In addition, the Civil War Trust (a division of the American Battlefield Trust) and its partners have acquired and preserved 272 acres (1.10 km2) of the Wilson's Creek battlefield. [26]

See also

Notes

  1. National Park Service.
  2. 1 2 Piston & Hatcher 2000, p. 338.
  3. 1 2 Piston & Hatcher 2000, p. 337.
  4. Brooksher 1995, pp. 60–63.
  5. Brooksher 1995, pp. 69–70.
  6. Piston & Hatcher 2000, pp. 37–38, 81.
  7. Reynolds & Schultz 2009, pp 33–38
  8. Moore 1899.
  9. Ethier 2005, p. 45.
  10. Brooksher 1995, p. 158.
  11. Piston & Hatcher 2000, pp. 337–338.
  12. 1 2 Ethier 2005, p. 46.
  13. Piston & Hatcher 2000, pp. 177–178.
  14. Brooksher 1995, pp. 182–183.
  15. Piston & Hatcher 2000, p. 234.
  16. Piston & Hatcher 2000, p. 191.
  17. Piston & Hatcher 2000, p. 252.
  18. Garrison-Finderup 1997.
  19. Brooksher 1995, pp. 213–214.
  20. Ellis, William Arba (1911). Norwich University, 1819-1911; Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor. 2. Montpelier, VT: Capital City Press. pp. 581–582.
  21. Piston & Hatcher 2000, pp. 310–312.
  22. Piston & Hatcher 2000, pp. 305–306.
  23. Piston & Hatcher 2000, pp. 314–315.
  24. Brooksher 1995, p. 235.
  25. 1 2 NPS 2012.
  26. American Battlefield Trust "Saved Land" webpage. Accessed May 23, 2018.

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References

Further reading