This past week, I had the opportunity to visit a National Park at Wilson’s Creek Civil War Battlefield outside of Springfield, MO. My brother-in-law, an avid Civil War buff, and reenactor wanted to see the site and we accompanied him.
At the beginning of the Civil War, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek took place on a scorching hot August 10, 1861, day. This engagement is referred to as the “Bull Run of the West.” Brig. General Nathaniel Lyon’s Federal troops surprised Brig. General Benjamin McCullough’s Missouri State Guard co-commanded by Maj. General Sterling Price at Wilson’s Creek about twelve miles southwest of Springfield, MO.
Union Col. Franz Sigel, subordinate to Lyon, led German St. Louis immigrant Federal forces around the Southerners to catch them between the main Union column and himself. Lyon’s Missouri, Iowa, Kansas, and regular army force of 6,000 men marched upon McCullough’s Missouri, Arkansas, and Louisiana force of 12,000 men.
Both forces had skirmished around Springfield during the days leading up to August 10. Sterling Price wanted to attack Springfield and drive the Yankees back to St. Louis. McCullough, a Texan, a soldier in the Texas Revolution, a Texas Ranger, and veteran of the Mexican War doubted the effectiveness of the Missouri State Guard and advised caution.
At 5:00am on the morning of August 10th the battle commenced when Confederate foragers stumbled on Union forces approaching from Springfield. Sigel convinced Lyon that he could take his men and surprised the Rebel force by attacking from the opposite side and catching their enemy between them in a pincher movement.
Initially, when Sigel’s Germans burst out of the woods, they surprised the Confederate cavalry regiment encampment and drove them into the woods. He proceeded to join up with Lyon. Mistaking a Louisiana regiment for Union soldiers (their uniforms were blue) he allowed their approach which became a Confederate counterattack, routing the Federals, and driving them from the field.
Lyon proceeded to occupy a hill overlooking the main Confederate encampment and unlimbering his artillery began shelling the camp. His shots devastated Southerners approaching the hill through a massive cornfield.
McCullough sent three waves of soldiers up the hill to seize it without success. Around 11:00am during the last assault, Brig. General Lyon was killed (the first General to perish in the Civil War). The Federals, low on ammunition and exhausted, decided to withdraw and began their orderly retreat back toward Springfield.
The Confederates, unaware of the Federal withdrawal, launched a final assault on “Bloody Hill.” They walked to the top only to see their Union foes well on their way home. Too disorganized and ill-equipt McCullough didn’t press the attack.
A Southern victory? The Confederates held the field.
Just over twenty-five hundred died in the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi River.
During our tour of the battlefield, a marker caught my attention. It was beside a path that transected the site and called ‘The Wire Road’. It was wide enough for a small wagon and team and worn into the ground from constant usage. I wanted to know more. Why ‘Wire’ and certainly not much of a ‘Road’.
Next: The Wire Road