Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon arrived in Springfield on July 13, 1861. His journey to the Ozarks had been a long one. Lyon’s army had won a small battle against the Missouri State Guard at Boonville in June 1861. Despite their defeat, most of the Missourians escaped to the southwest corner of the state where General Sterling Price assumed command. Lyon divided his forces and sent troops under Colonel Franz Sigel to intercept them, but the State Guard defeated him at Carthage on July 5. As Lyon reunited with Sigel in Springfield, Price found reinforcements of his own. By the end of July, Price’s men had combined with Confederate troops under General Benjamin McCulloch, who had led his army out of northwest Arkansas. McCulloch assumed command of the combined forces and led them towards Springfield.
Hard marching in blistering summer heat had worn Lyon’s army out by the time it reached Springfield. Uniforms were threadbare and the men were exhausted. Lyon had thought reinforcements would be sent to him, but none were available. Worse yet, the ninety-day enlistments for some of his volunteers were about to expire. Lyon's problems were further hampered by faulty intelligence. The Union commander believed that Price and McCulloch had not united, but instead were moving separately, along with another column (which in reality did not exist), towards Springfield. Hoping to defeat the enemy forces one at a time, Lyon marched his army west to meet them. Traveling down the Wire Road, they passed through what would shortly become the Wilson's Creek battlefield, and fought a small skirmish with the Missouri State Guard at Dug Springs, near Clever, on August 2. Lyon's army returned to Springfield and on August 6, McCulloch’s army encamped along Wilson’s Creek, just ten miles away.
While in Springfield, Lyon lived in a house on North Jefferson, just a short distance from the public square. Lyon established his official army headquarters in a home owned by Congressman John S. Phelps. Phelps and his family were among the best known Unionists in Greene County. The house stood on College Street, just west of Main and close to the Christian Church. From here, Sigel convinced Lyon to divide his command and attack the Southern encampment along Wilson’s Creek at dawn on August 10. The Union troops were defeated in a hard fought battle and Lyon was killed.
Lyon’s body was brought back to army headquarters after his death, but unfortunately, the structure did not survive the war. Union troops under General Samuel Curtis burned the home in February 1862.
The above photograph shows the modern buildings that currently occupy the former location of Lyon's headquarters. The Wilson's Creek National Battlefield Foundation is hosting a sesquicentennial reenactment near the park August 12-14, 2011. Go to their website, www.wilsonscreek.com/ for more information.
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