Friday, November 16, 2007

Wilson’s Creek

After the battle of Carthage, Union General Nathaniel Lyon’s troops join Colonel Franz Sigel at Springfield. The combined forces contain seven volunteer regiments from Missouri, Kansas and Iowa, several companies of regular infantry and cavalry and 3 batteries totaling 6,000 men. However, the men are 140 miles from the Rolla railhead depot, running low on supplies and many of the volunteers 90-day enlistments are running out. General John C. Fremont, ‘Pathfinder of the West’ and former Presidential candidate, takes command of the Department of the West with headquarters in St. Louis but his attention is focused on the Ohio and the Mississippi and not southwest Missouri.

Missouri State Guard General Sterling Price has camped one large and four small divisions of the Guard southwest of Springfield along the Telegraph Road (none locally as the Wire Road) and is reinforced by Confederate General Ben McCulloch with nine regiments of infantry and cavalry from Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas and 2 batteries of artillery. Hoping to capture Springfield and drive Lyon out of southwest Missouri, the southern forces number 12,000. McCulloch’s arrival instills a greater level of discipline in the Guard who have pretty much been chased across the state from the capital at Jefferson City.

On August 1st, Lyon advances out of Springfield and the armies skirmish at Dug Springs the next day. Lyon returns to Springfield. McCulloch slowly follows and camps in the valley of Wilson’s Creek.

Outnumbered and over-extended, Lyon decides to launch a quick strike to confuse the Confederates and then withdraw to the railhead at Rolla. McCulloch hopes to surround and destroy Lyon’s force. On August 9th, both sides draw up attack plans.

Lyon strikes first on August 10th, sending Sigel, with 1200 men, east and south in a turning movement through the rainy night to catch the Confederate forces in the rear while his main force attacks the Confederate front.

Lyon’s force overruns the Confederate camp at the Ray House, but Sigel’s attack fails as his men allow blue-clad Confederates too close and are routed, leaving Lyon’s men to fight alone.

Momentum shifts to the numerically superior Confederates. Three attacks fail to break the Union line on Oak Hill (now known as Bloody Hill), but Lyon is killed early in the battle.

The tired Confederates halt their attacks and Lyon’s successor, Major Samuel D. Sturgis decides to withdraw his exhausted men. 1300 Union and 1200 Confederates are casualties on the field of battle, including Lyon, left behind at the Ray House. General Price send the corpse to Union forces in Springfield under a flag of truce.

Sturgis withdraws to Rolla and McCulloch takes Springfield. Lyon’s body is *again* left behind but is buried by a union sympathizer – the wife of a former local Congressman. The victory allows Price and the Missouri State Guard to regain control of southwest Missouri and eventually advance as far north as Liberty; but lack of serious pursuit to Rolla costs the Confederates the fruits of victory.

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