History of Greene County, Missouri

R. I. Holcombe, Editing Historian

Chapter 8
The Battle of Wilson's Creek—The Union or Federal Account

Part 1
Gen. Lyon in Springfield — His entreaties to Gen. Fremont for Reinforcements — Lyon Loses His Temper — "War! Horrid War!" — Preliminaries to the Final Conflict — Slight Skirmishes — Proposals to Retreat — Gen. Sweeney Opposed — A False Alarm — Thursday, August 8th — Friday, August 9th — A Messenger from Fremont — No Hope — Lyon's Last Letter — Confederate Military Movements — Failure to discover or Develop the Federal Position — McCulloch Reconnoiters in Person — Price Loses His Patience — An Advance Ordered on Springfield — Gen. Lyon Marches Out to Battle — Order of March, List of Regiments and Battalions, etc. — The March Begun — Lyon's Route —"Gay and Happy," — Col. Sigel's Advance and. Route — Preparations in Springfield for Retreat — Great Excitement Among the Citizens — The Federals in Position, Waiting for the Dawn — Lyon Opens the Battle — Temporary Success of the Federals — Desperate Fighting on Both Sides — Death of Gen. Lyon — Full Particulars — Still the Battle Goes On — Nearing the End — The Last Grand Charge of Price's Men


When Gen. Lyon returned to Springfield after the Dug Springs expedition, he scattered his forces upon the different roads leading into the city at a distance of from three to five miles. Five miles from town, on the Fayetteville road, was a force of 2,500 under command of Maj. Sturgis. The other roads were well guarded, and all precautions were taken against a surprise or a sudden attack. Gen. Lyon's private room and personal headquarters were in a house on North Jefferson street, not far from the public square. The building, a small one, was then owned by Mrs. Boren; it is now the property of Mrs. Timmons. His general headquarters were on the north side of College street, a little west of Main, in a house owned then by John S. Phelps, but which had been recently occupied by Maj. Dorn. In this same house his body lay, after it was borne from the battle field of Wilson's Creek. The house was burned by Curtis' Federals in February, 1862, and where it once stood is now (February, 1883) a vacant lot, on which are the remains of an old cellar. [301]

As soon as Lyon reached Springfield he again sent off a courier to Fremont at St. Louis asking for reinforcements. Hon. John S. Phelps, who had started for Washington City to attend the extra session of Congress convened by President Lincoln, had stopped in St. Louis, called upon Gen. Fremont, and urged him to help Lyon and the Union people of Southwest Missouri with men and supplies, both of which were at St. Louis in abundance.1 But Fremont stated that he did not believe Gen. Lyon was in anything, like desperate straits; that McCulloch and Pierce could have nothing but an inconsiderable force; since the country in Southwestern Missouri was too poor to support a force of any formidable strength; that in his opinion Lyon could take care of himself; and finally that he had no troops to spare him anyhow, as he had received information through Gov. Morton, of Indiana, that a large Confederate force and flotilla of gunboats, under command of Gen. Pillow, were coming up the Mississippi to attack Cairo, Bird's Point, and if successful in their destruction, would come on and destroy St. Louis, and that he had need of every available man to guard those threatened points.

Gen. Lyon consulted with his officers and with the prominent Union men of Springfield very freely. He knew the situation perfectly. His scouts came in every day from McCulloch's army and gave him all needed information. He was impatient to fight the force in his front, but he anxiously desired reinforcements to enable him to have a reasonable chance of success. Every day he visited the out posts and nearly every day sent off messages for help. Sometimes he would lose his temper and curse and swear quite violently. On one occasion he received a message from Fremont that no more troops could or would be sent for the present. Striding back and forth in his room, with the paper in his hand, he suddenly threw it on the table, and smiting his hands together cried out: "G—d d—n General Fremont! He is a worse enemy to me and the Union cause than Price and McCulloch and the whole d—d tribe of rebels in this part of the State!"2


And now the people of Greene county had come to realize what civil war meant. Years before they had had its horrors pictured to them by Benton and Phelps and Richardson and Rollins and Orr and Hendrick and Boyd, but now they were seeing and feeling them and destined full soon, to sup to gorging thereon. What a change in a few brief months! The peaceful citizens of one year ago were now soldiers, with arms in their hands seeking to blow out one another's brains or cut one another's throats. Peaceful fields were converted into military camps; dwelling houses were made hospitals; peaceful plow horses were harnessed to cannon carriages, the rumble of whose wheels, mingled with those of the "army wagons," was to be heard at all hours in lieu of the cheerful rattle of the farmer's wagon a year ago; bands of illy-disciplined soldiers of both armies were ravaging the country, killing stock, plundering gardens and smoke-houses, "pressing" this, that, or the other article of property, terrifying the inhabitants out of their wits—while a great battle, sure to be fierce and bloody, was imminent and to be fought on Greene county soil, accustomed aforetime only to the pleasures and delights of a time of peace.

Verily, the conduct of those who would do nothing to prevent civil war, but everything to bring it on, was causing terrible results and bearing bitter fruits. [302-303]

1 The following is a literal copy of the memorandum given to Col. Phelps by Gen. Lyon, when the former left Springfield. Lyon instructed Phelps to give this to Fremont: "Memorandum for Col. Phelps. — See General Fremont about troops and stores for this place. Our men have not been paid and are rather dispirited; they are badly off for clothing and the want of shoes unfits them for marching. Some staff officers are badly needed, and the interests of the government suffer for the want of them. The time of the three months volunteers is nearly out, and on their returning home my command will be reduced too low for effective operations. Troops must at once be forwarded to supply their place. The safety of the State is hazarded. Orders from Gen. Scott strip the entire West of regular forces and increase the chances of sacrificing it. The public press is full of reports that troops from other States are moving toward the northern border of Arkansas for the purpose of invading Missouri. Springfield, July, 27."
2 From statements of two prominent Union men of Greene county who were present.


On Monday, August 5, the day of Lyon's arrival at Springfield, as before stated, he left a force of 2,500 strong at a point about five miles from Springfield, on the Fayetteville road. This force (comprising fully one-third of Lyon's army), under Major Sturgis, was ordered by Gen. Lyon to be ready to move at a moment's notice, and at about 6 o'clock on the evening, of the next day the men were in ranks, the artillery horses harnessed, and everything in readiness to march back and attack the advancing enemy.

Shortly afterward a stream of visitors, messengers, and communications poured in upon the general, some reporting the engagement of Capt. Stockton, of the 1st Kansas and two companies of Home Guards with a party of Price's cavalry, on the prairie west of town, in which two of the latter were wounded; some gave other information; some were the bearers of excellent advice (!); others came for orders; still others had no business.

Two companies were ordered to the relief of Capt. Stockton. Eight companies of the 1st Kansas infantry, a part of the second Kansas, and Major Osterhaus' battalion of the 2d Missouri were ordered to a certain point in town to await the arrival of Gen. Lyon, who, it seems, was so entirely occupied with other matters that instead of starting at 10 o'clock, it was midnight when he left his headquarters, and without looking at his watch he proceeded to Camp Hunter, having already ordered Major Sturgis to drive in the enemy's pickets, if within two miles of his own. A company of cavalry under Capt. Fred Steele3 was dispatched on this errand (to find the pickets) at half past 12, and Gen. Lyon, with the troops above mentioned, arrived at 3 o'clock in the morning. Here he consulted his watch, and, finding the time more than two hours later than he supposed, he at once called together his principal officers, communicated to them his embarrassing, position, and taking their advice, withdrew the entire force to Springfield.

It had been Lyon's intention, on retreating from Dug Springs to Springfield, to wheel suddenly about on reaching the latter place and march back upon Price and McCulloch (who, he considered, would be following him up), fall upon them when they least expected an attack and defeat them if possible. On arriving at Springfield appearances indicated the approach of a Confederate force from the west, and this caused him to wait a few hours. The night of the 6th his information was to the effect that Price and McCulloch were only seven miles away from Sturgis' camp, and he intended attacking them at daylight. On the return to town the general remarked to Major Schofield, of the 1st Missouri, (Frank Blair's regiment), that he had a premonition that a night attack would prove disastrous, and yet he had felt impelled to try it once, and perhaps should do so again, "for my only hope of success is in a surprise," he added. Before the Federals reached Springfield it was daylight. An ambush was formed in the timber southwest of town, in case of pursuit.

During Wednesday continual alarms were circulating in Springfield, and a real panic prevailed among many of the citizens, who packed up and left, or prepared to leave, for supposed places of safety. The troops were under arms in every quarter, and several times it was reported that fighting had actually commenced. Toward night the panic in a degree subsided; but many of the people who had remained did not retire or make any attempt to sleep. Phelps' regiment of Home Guards, commanded by Col. Marcus Boyd, was on the qui vive the whole night.

A consultation of the principal Federal officers was held at Gen. Lyon's headquarters, which lasted till midnight. The question of evacuating Springfield and abandoning Southwest Missouri to its fate was seriously discussed. Looking at the matter from a military point of view, there was no doubt of the propriety and even the necessity of such a step, and Gen. Lyon and the majority of his officers counseled such a movement. Some favored a retreat to Fort Scott, while others thought Rolla a point easier reached and promising better results.

Gen. Sweeney, however, was strongly opposed to retreating without a fight. With his naturally florid face flushed to livid red, and waving his one arm with excitement, he exclaimed vehemently against such a policy—pointing out the disastrous results which must ensue upon a retreat without a battle—how the "rebels" would boast over such an easy conquest, how they would terrorize, harass, and persecute the unprotected Unionists if given undisputed possession of the country, how the Unionists themselves would become discouraged, crushed, or estranged, and declared himself in favor of holding on to the last moment, and of giving battle to Price and McCulloch as soon as they should offer it.4

Gen. Lyon and some of the other officers became converts to Gen. Sweeney's views, and it was decided to remain, save the reputation of the little army, hope against hope for reinforcements, and not evacuate Springfield and Greene county until compelled to. The next day when Sigel's brigade quartermaster, Major Alexis Mudd, asked Gen. Lyon when the army would leave Springfield, the latter replied: "Not until we are whipped out." [304-305]

3 Afterward Major General in command of the Federal troops in Arkansas.
4 Gen. Sweeney said: "Let us eat the last bit of mule flesh and fire the last cartridge before we think of retreating."


Thursday morning, Price and McCulloch were reported to be actually advancing on Springfield. Lyon's troops were quickly in line of battle, the baggage wagons were all sent to the center of the town, and in this position they remained during nearly the entire day. The Southern troops had advanced, but only about two in miles, and into camp in the southern part of this county, nearly on the line between Greene and Christian counties (in sections 25 and 36, tp. 28, range 23, partly in Greene and partly in Christian county), their tents being on either side of Wilson's creek, and extending a mile or so east and south of the Fayetteville road. Thursday the Federals were ready for marching orders, but a portion of the Kansas troops had been so much engaged the night before as to be really unfit for service, and an order for all of the soldiers, except those actually on guard, to retire and rest was issued and the night attack was again deferred. The Home Guards were on duty and in active service in the city at this time.

And so the soldiers lay down to rest and to sleep—to many of them it was to be the last repose they should take until the should lie down to take their final sleep. Soon the camps were wrapped in silence and slumber and no sound was to be heard save the cry of the night birds and the challenges of the watchful pickets as they hailed the relief guard, or arrested the steps of some belated wanderer. There they lay, these men from Iowa and Kansas, dreaming of the homes and loved ones they had left behind them on the beautiful prairies of their own States, and in vision seeing faces and forms and scenes, they were destined to never see again in reality. There they lay, these bearded Germans from St. Louis, dreaming, perhaps, of families and kinsmen in the city by the great river, or of their early homes in the fatherland, far across the deep, blue sea. There they lay, these Missouri Unionists, sleeping as peacefully as their brethren in arms. There they lay, too, only a few miles away, those men under the folds of the new flag, who had come out from their homes by the bayous of Louisiana, on the plains of Texas, amid the hills and dales and valleys of Arkansas and Missouri, to do battle for the cause they believed to be just and righteous, to drive out those whom they believed to be the wrongful invaders of their country, the despoilers of their homes. And to blue and gray alike, with an equal peace and softness, came that balmy blessing which "knits up the raveled sleeve of care." [306]

Friday, the 9th, Springfield was remarkably quiet. But the calm preceded the storm. Those timid creatures who had made it a business to repeat exciting rumors had been frightened away with much of the material upon which they operated. Enlistments in the Springfield regiment had been rapid, and really among the uninitiated and uninformed a feeling of security prevailed. During the afternoon Capt. Wood's company of Kansas cavalry and Capt. Stanley's company of regulars had a skirmish with a scouting party of Price's cavalry on the prairie about five miles west of town, defeating them, wounding two and capturing six or eight prisoners. From the prisoners among other information, it was learned that the Southern troops were badly off for provisions and were forced to do some pretty liberal foraging on both friends and enemies.


About noon there arrived a messenger from St. Louis and Fremont bearing a dispatch from the latter to Gen. Lyon. This dispatch informed Lyon that his situation was not considered critical; that he had doubtless over-estimated the force in his front; that he ought not to fall back without good cause, and assured him that no reinforcements would be sent, but that he must report his future movements as promptly as possible, and do the best he could.

No hope for you now, Gen. Lyon! With a force three times that of yours in numbers and four times in efficiency, in a country especially adapted for the movements of cavalry, with the terms of enlistment of half of your best men expired, and with but a few thousand of inexperienced troops under your command at the best—there is no hope for you now! You cannot retreat—honor forbids it; you cannot fight in defense—that means annihilation; you can hardly attack— that invites defeat and destruction.

No matter that there are and have been thousands of your fellow-soldier at St. Louis, at Jefferson, at Ironton, and at other points, anxious to go to your relief and urging to be sent, your commander is frightened at a mythical "rebel flotilla," said to be somewhere on the Tennessee shore—or has some other reason (heaven and himself only know what it is), for not relieving you, and "you must do the best you can with the forces at your command."5

Like the brave, disciplined soldier that he was, Lyon accepted the situation, and prepared to obey the orders of his superior officer. With Fremont's message before him, he sat quietly down at his little table in his headquarters and wrote the following reply with his own hand the last letter he ever wrote:

Springfield, Mo., Aug. 9 1861.
I have just received your note of the 6th inst., by special messenger. I retired to this place, as I have before informed you, reaching here on the 5th. The enemy followed to within ten miles of here. He has taken a strong position, and is recruiting his supplies of horses, mules, and provisions by forages into the surrounding country. His large force of mounted men enables him to do this without much annoyance from me.

I find my position extremely embarrassing, and am at present unable to determine whether I shall be able to maintain my ground or forced to retire. I shall hold my ground as long as possible, though I may, without knowing how far, endanger the safety of my entire force with its valuable material, being induced, by the important considerations involved, to take this step. The enemy yesterday made a show of force about five miles distant, and has doubtless a full purpose of making an attack on me.
Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
N. Lyon, Bri-Gen. Vols., Commanding

To Major Gen. J. C. Fremont
Commanding Western Department, St. Louis, Mo.
No word of complaint; no murmuring; but with the expressed knowledge that he was to be attacked, when attack meant defeat, he calmly announced his determination to hold his ground as "long as possible."


From their camp at Moody's Spring, where they had arrived Monday night, Generals Price and McCulloch moved forward to the point on Wilson's creek, heretofore described and went again into camp on the 6th. Scouting parties were at once sent out, especially to discover the Federal position, but with little success, while foraging parties scoured the country in every direction and were equally inefficient in obtaining information. The combined forces were at once put in position to advance on Springfield, and only waited the decision of Gen. McCulloch to begin the move. The latter was irresolute and undecided for some days. From the information he possessed as to the strength and character of Lyon's forces and his knowledge of his own, he was fearful of the result of an engagement at that time. He had but little confidence in Price's Missiourians who were somewhat undisciplined and inexperienced, it is true, and at one time he characterized them as "splendid roasting-ear foragers, but poor soldiers. It is an undoubted fact that at one time Gen. McCulloch had decided to retreat into Arkansas. Gen. Price, however, was anxious for an immediate advance and attack. He knew that Lyon's force was inferior even to his own, and that the entire Southern army had but little to risk in offering battle. He knew furthermore that Lyon ought to be reinforced and that the chances were that he could and would be, and of course it was desirable that he should be attacked before this reinforcement should be effected. The most serious feature considered by McCulloch, that the Missourians were illy disciplined, imperfectly organized, and poorly armed, Price thought would be overcome by their superiority in numbers and their pluck in fighting on Missouri soil against a detested enemy—"the Yankee Dutch."

There remains to be shown a good reason why McCulloch did not follow up Lyon and attack him on the 6th; it is true that he gained a victory by waiting, but that victory could have been won four days earlier and made more complete, more decisive and more lasting in its results. And yet McCulloch,, on the 8th, seriously meditated a retreat—knowing his enemy's strength as well as his own, and understanding, or supposed to understand, the situation perfectly.

In his report to the Confederate Secretary of War (see Rebellion Records, Series 1,Vol. III., p. 745) Gen. McCulloch says: " * * * I asked of the Missourians, owing to their knowledge of the country, some reliable information of the strength and position of the enemy. This they repeatedly promised, but totally failed to furnish, though to urge them to it I then and at subsequent periods declared I would order the whole army back to Cassville rather than bring on an engagement with an unknown enemy. It had no effect, as we remained four days, within ten miles of Springfield, and never learned whether the streets were barricaded, or if any kind of works of defense had been erected by the enemy." [309]

Col. Snead says that McCulloch made every effort to discover the condition of Springfield; that he (McCulloch) would frequently sting his rifle over his shoulder, mount his horse and reconnoiter in person; but all to no purpose. Incredible as it may seem, it could not even be ascertained whether or not the Federals had thrown up breast-works, which it might be supposed could be learned from inspection a mile away.

Gen. N. B. Pearce says the first information, concerning Gen. Lyon's condition was furnished by two ladies, who, " on a pass to go out of Lyon's lines, came around by Pond Springs, and came to Gen. Price's headquarters and gave the desired information." No corroboration of this story has been obtained, but it is given on the high authority of such a gallant officer and high-minded gentleman as Gen. Pearce, now of Whitesboro, Texas. At last, Gen. Price lost all patience, and at sunrise on the morning of the 9th, sent Col. Snead over to McCulloch to say to him that if he did not give orders for an immediate advance he (Price) would resume command of the Missouri State Guard and advance alone, be the consequences what they might. This led to a conference of the general officers at Price's headquarters that afternoon, which conference resulted in orders for an advance on Springfield that very night, the movement to begin at 9 o'clock.


Upon the receipt of Gen. Fremont's last message, to the effect that no help would be sent, Gen. Lyon resolved upon attacking his enemy down on Wilson's creek and trusting to the effect of a surprise and a fierce fight. He was led to this course by the fact that be know his situation would not improve with time, and perhaps by his knowledge of the fact that Price and McCulloch were about to attack him.6 To fight on the defensive about Springfield, with a town full of women and children behind him and an open country, well adapted to the movements of cavalry, of which he had but a handful, and of which his enemy's force largely consisted, could but result one way—in defeat. The Confederates were expecting to attack, not to be attacked, and if the Federals should fall suddenly upon them it would disconcert them very materially, to say the least. These were the tactics adopted by Gen. Lee when Grant crossed the Rapidan, in the spring of 1864, and by Napoleon, in the first campaign in Italy. [310]

Accordingly, late in the afternoon of the 9th (Friday) word was sent to the subordinate commanders that after nightfall another movement against the Confederates would be made. Between Gens. Lyon and Sweeney, Col. Sigel, and Maj. Sturgis, the plan of attack was agreed upon. The army was to be divided into two columns. The first column, under Lyon, was to consist of three small brigades; the second, under Sigel, was to consist of one small brigade composed of two regiments of infantry, two companies of cavalry, and six pieces of artillery.

The first brigade of Lyon's column was composed of three companies of the 1st U. S. regular infantry, as follows: Co. B, Capt. Gilbert; Co. C, Capt. Plummer; Co. D, Capt. Huston; a company of regular rifle recruits under Lieut. Wood, —the four companies being commanded by Capt. Plummer of Co. C. Then there were two companies of the 2d Missouri Volunteers, under Maj. P. J. Osterhaus Capt. Wood's company (mounted) of the 2d Kansas Volunteers; Company B., 1st U. S. regular cavalry, under Lieut. Canfield, and a light battery of six pieces commanded by Capt. James Totten. The first brigade was commanded by Maj. Sturgis. The second brigade was commanded by Lieut. Col. Geo. L. Andrews, of the 1st Missouri volunteers (Blair's regiment), and was composed of the 1st Missouri infantry; Cos. B and E, 2d U. S. regular infantry, under Capt. Fred. Steele; one company of regular recruits under Lieut. Lathrop; one company (squad) of mounted recruits under Sergeant Morine, and Lieut. Dubois' light battery of four pieces, one a 12-pounder. The third brigade was commanded by Gen. Sweeney and was composed of the 1st Iowa volunteers, under Lieut. Col. Merritt, the colonel, J. F. Bates, being sick in Springfield; the 1st Kansas, under Col. Geo. W. Deitzler; the 2d Kansas, under Col. Mitchell, and about 200 mounted Dade county home guards, under Capt. Clark Wright and Capt. T. A. Switzier. Gen. Sigel's command consisted of eight companies of the 3d Missouri volunteers (Sigel's regiment), under Lieut. Col. Albert; nine companies of the 5th Missouri, under Col. Salomon; one company, 1st regular cavalry, under Capt. Carr; one company, C, of the 2d U. S. dragoons, under Lieut. Farrand, and six pieces of light artillery manned by details from the infantry recruits under Lieuts. Schaeffer and Schuetzenbach. [311]

5 Said to be Fremont's literal words.
6 There are grounds for stating that Lyon knew of the intended attack upon him within four hours after it had been agreed upon, receiving his information through one of his spies, actually a commissioned officer in the Missouri State Guard!


At about 6 p.m. of Friday evening, the 9th, the movement of troops began. Gen. Lyon's column went to the westward, on the Mt. Vernon road, Capt. Gilbert's company of regular infantry having the advance. In a short time it was dark, but the march was continued. Although the march was intended to result in a surprise, and, it was expected, would be conducted silently, yet there, was a great deal of noise made. The Iowa and Kansas volunteers were disposed to exercise their vocal organs, and camp songs of all sorts were sung con spirito, along the march. The 1st Iowa had a favorite song, the burden of which ran:

So let the wide world wag as it will,
We'll be gay and happy still.
Gay and happy, gay and happy,
We'll be gay and happy.still.

The strains of this song were wafted out over the prairie, loud enough, it would have seemed, to have been heard by McCulloch's pickets, if any were out. The Kansas men sang "The Happy Land of Canaan," and raised the neighborhood with their vocal efforts. Toward midnight, however, the line became more quiet, by Gen. Lyon's orders. The latter had remarked during the march that the Iowa troops had too much levity in their composition to do good fighting, but added that he would give them an opportunity to show what they were made of. It so turned out that the general was mistaken in his estimate of the fighting qualities of the Hawkeyes. Lyon marched west from Springfield on the Mt. Vernon road, about five miles, or near Little York, when he turned South, and made his way over neighborhood roads and across the prairies as best he could nearly six miles, when he reached a point within striking distance of Price's Missourians. The center of the camp of the Southerners was about six miles west and about seven miles south of the public square of Springfield. Gen. Lyon had for guides Pleasant Hart, Parker Cox, and other men. Nearly twenty men have come forward to claim this distinction.

It was 1 o'clock in the morning when the advance discovered the camp-fires of the Missourians. The command was then halted and the ground reconnoitered as well as possible until the dawn of day, when it again moved forward and formed in battle line, moving a little southeast so as to strike the extreme northern point of the enemy's camp. [312]


Sigel left "Camp Fremont," on the south side of Springfield, at about 6:30 p.m. taking at first the "wire" road, or road to Cassville and Fayetteville, along which the telegraph wire ran. About four miles southwest of town, the command left the main Cassville road, which led directly through McCulloch's camp and bore south, and then along a road parallel with the Cassville road, and in the same general direction, until below the Christian county line. Col. Sigel had for guides, C. B. Owen, John Steele, Andrew Adams, (Sam or Jo.) Carthal and L. A. D. Crenshaw. Sigel's column marched perhaps twelve or thirteen miles, passing clear around the extreme southeastern camp of the enemy, and arriving at daylight within a mile of the main camp. Taking forward the two cavalry companies of Carr and Farrand, Col. Sigel contrived to cut off about forty men of McCulloch's troops, who had gone out early to forage, and were engaged in digging potatoes, picking roasting ears, gathering tomatoes and procuring other supplies for their individual commissary departments. These captures were made in such a manner that no news of the Federal advance from this quarter was brought into the Confederate camp. Moving cautiously up, Sigel planted four pieces of his artillery on a little hill, in plain view of the Confederate tents, which spread out to his front and right. The two regiments of infantry advanced so as to command the Fayetteville road at the point where it crosses Wilson's creek, while the two companies of cavalry guarded the flanks. In this position the command rested, awaiting the sound of Lyon's guns as a signal to open the ball. The prisoners were left in charge of Capt. Flagg, with his companv (K) of the 5th Missouri.

In conformity to the plan agreed upon between the Federal commanders, Sigel disposed his troops so as to command the Fayetteville road, and prevent the Confederates from retreating by that thoroughfare. Too well did Sigel carrry out his part of the programme. It is claimed by officers of both armies that, had an avenue of retreat been left open, it is highly probable that the result of the day's battle would have been different. This will more fully appear in subsequent details of this article.

Lyon had left behind him the Greene and Christian County Home Guards to take care of Springfield, directing the officers in command to watch the Fayetteville road below where Sigel turned off, and send word to him across the country, should the Confederates be found approaching from that quarter. This is a circumstance corroborative of the theory that Lyon knew that the Confederates meditated a night attack on him (as they did) or believed that such was a fact. Everything in Springfield had been gotten ready for a retreat. Wagons were loaded, and the funds of the bank were secured for transfer, and were being guarded by the Home Guards. The citizens were in quite a state, to be sure. [313]


In describing the battle of Wilson's Creek in this history, which, it is believed, contains the only fully elaborate and accurate account ever published of that memorable contest, it is proper to do so in detail. The statements herein made have been derived from the official reports of commanders, and from the fairest accounts of actual participants. Care has been taken to discard all reports which are highly, colored, sensational, not corroborated by undisputed facts, and savoring of the improbable. Both Federal and Confederate accounts of this character have been rejected. The Federal accounts believed to be the most reliable are those furnished by Maj. (General) Sturgis, Lieut. Col. Merritt of the 1st Iowa, Lieut. Col. Blair and Maj. Cloud, of the 2d Kansas, Major J. M. Schofield, then of the 1st Missouri, Capt. Totten, and Lieut. Dubois of the artillery, and Capt. Steele of the regulars, Capt. Wright of the Home Guards, all of Lyon's column; and Gen. Sigel, Dr. S. H. Melcher, the guides, and Capt. Carr, of Sigel's column. The Confederate or Southern accounts relied upon, are the official reports of Gens. Price, McCulloch, Pearce, Clark, Rains, McBride and Parsons; reports of Col. John T. Hughes, of Slack's division, and Col. John R. Graves, of Rains' division letters from Col. Thos. L. Snead, Asst. Adj. Gen. Of Gen. Price, and Lieut. W. P. Barlow, of Guibor's battery; reports of and letters from Col. T. J. Churchill, 1st Arkansas Mounted Riflemen; Col. James McIntosh, and Lieut. Col. B. T. Embry, 2nd Arkansas Mounted Riflemen; Lieut. Col. D. McRae, of McRae's battalion, Arkansas Volunteers; Col. Lewis Hebert, Lieut. Col. S. M. Hyams and Maj. W. F. Tunnard, 3d Louisiana Volunteers; Col. E. Greer, South Kansas-Texas Regiment Cavalry; Capt. J. G. Reid, of Reid's Arkansas Battery; Col. John E. Gratiot, 3d Arkansas; Col. J. D. Walker, 4th Arkansas; Col. Tom P. Dockery, 5th Arkansas Infantry; Col. De Rosey Carroll, 1st Arkansas Cavalry and other commissioned officers, and many private soldiers and a few citizens. [314]

Maj. Sturgis, who assumed command of Lyon's column after the battle, states that at daylight, Lyon's battle line was formed, the infantry in front, closely followed by Totten's battery, which was supported by a reserve. In this order the line advanced but a few hundred yards, when the first outpost of Price's men was encountered. Firing was commenced instantly, and the outpost hurriedly retreated. This was the advance of Rains' division. The Federal line then halted, and Capt. Plummer's battalion of regulars, with the, Dade County Home Guards on his left, was sent to the east across Wilson's creek, and ordered to move toward the front, keeping pace with the advance on the Federal left. The main line then swept forward, and after crossing a considerable ravine and ascending a high ridge, a full view of a line of Rains' skirmishers was had. Maj. Osterhaus' two companies of the 2nd Missouri, and two companies of the 1st Missouri under Capts. Yates and John S. Cavender, were deployed to the left, all as skirmishers. Firing between the two skirmish lines now became very severe, and Totten's battery, then in position, opened with shell, and the boom of the cannon and the crashing of the bombs added to the excitement.7

The 1st Missouri, Col. Andrews, and the 1st Kansas, Col. Dietzler, were now hastily moved to the front, supported by Totten's battery; the 2d Kansas, Col. Mitchell, Steele's battalion, and Dubois' battery, were held in reserve. The 1st Missouri took its position in front, upon the crest of a small elevated plateau. The 1st Kansas went to the left of the 1st Missouri, while Totten's battery was placed opposite the interval between the two regiments. Osterhaus' two companies occupied the extreme right, with their right resting on a ravine, which turned abruptly to the right and rear. Dubois' battery, supported by Steele's battalion, was placed 75 yards to the left and rear of Totten's guns, so as to bear upon a well-served Confederate battery (believed to have been Capt. Woodruff's, "Pulaski Artillery," of Arkansas), which had come into position to the left and front on the opposite side of Wilson Creek, and was sweeping with canister the entire plateau upon which the Federals were posted. [315]

The Missourians now rallied in considerable force under cover at the foot of the slope and along it in front and opposite the Federal right, toward the crest of the main ridge running parallel to the creek. During this time Plummer's battalion had advanced along the ridge about 500 yards to the left of the main Federal position, and had reached the terminus of this ridge, when he found his further progress; arrested by a force of infantry (a portion of McCulloch's division), which was occupying a cornfield (Mr. Ray's) in the valley. At this moment the "bang of a canon was heard more than a mile to the South, at about the point where Sigel was supposed to be. This fire was apparently answered from the opposite side of the valley, at a still greater distance, the line of fire of the two batteries being apparently east and west, and nearly perpendicular to Totten's and Dubois' batteries. After about ten or twelve shots this firing ceased and nothing more was heard of Sigel until about 8:30, when a brisk cannonading was heard for a few minutes, about a mile to the right of that heard before, and still further to the rear.

Early in the engagement the 1st Iowa had been brought up from the reserve to the front and immediately became hotly engaged, doing good fighting and winning the praise of Gen. Lyon, who thought at one time that men who sang rollicking songs would not fight well.

The entire Federal line was now successfully advanced with much energy, and apparently with every prospect of success. The firing, which had been spirited for half an hour, now increased to a continuous roar heard miles away—in Springfield plainly. Capt. Totten's battery came into action by section and by piece, as the nature of the ground would admit, it being wooded, with much black-jack undergrowth, and played vigorously upon the Confederate lines with considerable effect.

More desperate fighting was not done during the civil war. The men of the West were fighting. Missourians met Iowans, and Kansans met Missourians, and again, Missourians met other Missourians. For fully half an hour the armies fought over the hill before described "Bloody Hill," it was afterward called. The 1st Kansas gave way and went to the rear, but the 1st Iowa promptly took its place, and the fighting went on. Back and forth over the ground they went. Now the Union troops fell back a few yards, then advanced again and drove the secession troops a short distance then the latter advanced, and so it was for half an hour. At last the Federals were left in possession of the ground for a short time, the Confederates falling back and reforming. [316]

Meantime Plummer's battalion on the Federal left had encountered McIntosh's regiment of Arkansas riflemen, and Hebert's 3d Louisiana regiment, in Ray's cornfield and been driven back with considerable loss. The Arkansas and Louisiana regiments both belonged to McCulloch's army. They would have annihilated Plummer almost, but just as they were preparing to do so Dubois' battery opened with shells, filling the cornfield full of them, and making it untenable for any troops,and the two regiments retreated in some disorder. Steele's battalion was supporting Dubois' battery on this occasion. Plummer was severely wounded.

Just now there was a momentary cessation of firing, the advantage being with the Federals, and it became apparent that some of the Southerners desired to retreat, but they soon learned that they were practically surrounded, for there was no road to the east or the west, and the only outlet from their position, the Fayetteville road, was held by Sigel. The only way therefore to get out was to fight out. Along the right of the Federal line, however, the 1st Missouri was hotly engaged with McBride's division of Missourians and was about to be overcome. Lyon hurried the 2d Kansas to its relief and saved it. During the temporary lull in the firing, the Federal line was reformed under the direction of Lyon himself. Steele's battalion, which had been supporting Dubois' guns, was brought forward to the support of Totten's, and preparations were made to withstand another attack, which, as could be ascertained by the shouts of the enemy's officers, plainly audible, was being organized.

Scarcely had Lyon disposed his men to receive the attack when his enemy again appeared with a very large force along his entire front and moving toward his flanks as well. At once the firing again began and for a time was inconceivably fierce along the entire line. The Confederates were in three lines in some places, the front line lying down, the second kneeling, the third line standing, and all the lines and every man loading and firing as rapidly as possible. Every available Federal battalion was now brought into action, and the battle raged with great fury for an hour, the scales seeming all the time nearly equally balanced, sometimes the Federal troops and then the Confederates gaining ground and then losing it, while all of the time some of the best blood in the land was being spilled as recklessly as if it were ditch-water.

How they did fight, these men of both armies!—fought until their gun-barrels became so hot they could scarcely hold them—fought when their leaders fell and without commands—fought when the blood and brains of their comrades were spattered into their faces fought, many of them, until they died. By and by, as the Confederate fire never slackened, but was constantly increased by the arrival of reinforcements, and as some of the Federals reported that their cartridges had given out, detachments of the latter began to give way, and Gen. Sweeney and Gen. Lyon were engaged from time to time in bringing them back into the fight. [317]


Early in this engagement, while Gen. Lyon was walking and leading his horse along the line on the left of Totten's battery, his horse, the iron gray, was killed and be was wounded in two places, in the head and in the leg. Captain Herron, of the 1st Iowa,8 states that he saw the horse fall, and, that the animal sank down as if vitally struck, neither plunging nor rearing. Lyon then walked on, waving his sword and hallooing. He was limping for he had been wounded in the leg. He carried his hat, a drab felt, in his hand and looked white and dazed. Suddenly blood appeared on the side of his head and began to run down his cheek. He stood a moment and then walked slowly to the rear. Capt. Herron states that he was within twenty feet of Lyon when this happened, near enough to observe that he was wearing his old uniform, that of captain in the regular army.

When he reached a position a little in the rear Lyon sat down and an officer bound a handkerchief about his wounded head. He remarked despondingly to Maj. Schofield, of Blair's regiment, one of his staff: "It is as I expected; I am afraid the day is lost." The Major replied: "O, no, General; let us try once more." Major Sturgis then dismounted one of his own orderlies and offered the horse to Lyon, who at first declined the animal, saying: "I do not need a horse." He then stood up and ordered Sturgis to rally a portion of the 1st Iowa which had broken. Sturgis, in executing this order, went to some distance from his general. The 1st Iowa was being ordered forward by a staff officer, when some of the men called out, "We have no leader," "Give us a leader, then," etc. Lyon immediately asked to be helped on the orderly's horse. As he straightened himself in the saddle the blood was dripping off his heel, from his wounded leg. Gen. Sweeney rode up and Lyon spoke quickly to him, "Sweeney, lead those troops forward (indicating the 1st Iowa) and we will make one more charge." [318]

Then, swinging his hat, Lyon called out to the 2d Kansas regiment, "Come on, my brave boys, (or "my bully boys," as some say), I will lead you; forward! He had gone but a few yards when he was shot through the body. One of his orderlies, a private named Ed. Lehman, of Co. B, 1st U. S. cavalry, caught him in his arms and lowered him to the ground. With the breath still feeling at his lips, and his great heart throbbing and striking his own death-knell, the dying chieftain gasped. "Lehman, I'm going," and so passed away his spirit through the battle-clouds to the realms where is everlasting peace. The place where Lyon fell was afterward called "Bloody Point." A heap of stones marks the spot to this day. Lyon's body was borne to the rear by Lieut. Schreyer, of Capt. Tholen's company of the 2d Kansas, assisted by Lehman and another soldier.

7 It must be borne in mind that the Confederate line extended in a general direction from north to south along Wilson's creek; that Lyon attacked the northern end from the west and northwest, while Sigel was stationed at the southern end, over a mile away.
8 Afterward Major-General and in command of this department.


In the meantime the disordered Federal line was rallied and reformed. The 1st Iowa took its place in the front, and Major Sturgis says, "fought like old veterans." The Kansans and the Missourians were also doing well, and the Confederates were driven back, only to come again. The situation of the Federals was now desperate. The commander, Gen. Lyon, was killed; Gen. Sweeney was wounded, Col. Deitzler, of the 1st Kansas, lay with two bullets in his body; Col. Mitchell, of the 2d Kansas, by the same fire that killed Lyon, was severely wounded (it was thought at first mortally) and as he was borne from the field called to an officer of Maj. Sturgis' staff, "For God's sake support my regiment;" Col. Andrews, of the 1st Missouri, and Col. Merritt, of the 1st Iowa, were wounded, and thus it was that all of the regimental commanders of Lyon's column were wounded. Still the battle went on.


The great questions in the minds of Sturgis and Sweeney and the other Federal officers, who had been informed of the plan of attack agreed upon were, "Where is Sigel? Why doesn't he co-operate?" Although it seemed as if there must be a retreat should the Southerners make another vigorous charge, yet if Sigel should come up with his near 1,000 men, and make an attack on Price's right flank and rear, then the Federals could go forward with strong hopes of success. If Sigel had been whipped, however, there was nothing left but to retreat. [319]

Maj. Schofield, Lyon's chief of staff, rode to Sturgis and informed him that Lyon was killed and Sigel could not be heard from, and moreover, that the ammunition was about exhausted, some of the troops being entirely out. Sturgis thereupon assumed command— although only a major at the time. He at once summoned the principal officers left and consulted with them. All agreed that unless Sigel made his appearance very soon there was nothing left but to retreat, if indeed retreat were possible.

The consultation was brought to a close by the advance of a heavy column of infantry from towards the hill where Sigel's battery had been heard at the beginning of the struggle. These troops carried flags which, drooping about the staffs, much resembled the stars and stripes, and Sturgis and Schofield say the troops had the appearance of Sigel's. A staff officer in front of where the consultation was going on rode back and called out delightedly, "Yonder comes Sigel! Yonder comes Sigel!" and the officers departed, each to his command to arrange for the expected change in the programme.

On came the moving mass in Sturgis front, the soldiers cool and steady as grenadiers. Down the hill across the hollow in front they swept and took position along the foot of the ridge on which the Federals were posted. And now, "they are rebels!" was heard from the more advanced of the Kansans and Iowans. Suddenly a battery (Guibor's) which had followed the line and had reached the hill in front of "Bloody Hill," wheeled about, unlimbered and the command and the command "Fire!" rang out and the guns belched forth shrapnel and canister before the trail pieces had hardly touched the ground. The infantry at the foot of the hill, now began firing and slowly ascending the hill, and at once commenced the fiercest and most bloody struggle of all that bloody day.

Lieut. Dubois' battery, on the Federal left, supported by Osterhaus' two companies and the rallied fragments of the Missouri 1st opened on the new battery (Guibor's) and soon checked it. Totten's battery, still in the Federal center, supported by the Iowans and regulars, seemed to be the main point of the Confederate attack.

The Missourians frequently came up within twenty feet of the muzzles of Totten's guns and received their charges of canister full in their faces, and the two clouds of battle smoke mingled until they seemed as one. [320]

For the first time during the day the Federal line never wavered and the Confederate line never flinched. At one time Capt. Steele's battalion, which was some yards in front, together with the left flanks, was in danger of being overwhelmed and captured, the contending lines standing so close that the muzzles of their guns almost touched. Capt. Granger, of Sturgis' staff, ran to the rear and brought up the supports of Dubois' battery, consisting of Osterhaus' battalion, detachments of the 1st Missouri, 1st Kansas, and two companies of the 1st Iowa, in quick time, and took position on the left flank, and poured in a heavy volley upon the Confederates, which was so murderous and destructive that that portion of the line gave way. Capts. Patrick E. Burke and Madison Miller, and Adjutant Hiscock, of the 1st Missouri were especially mentioned for gallantry in this assault.

The entire Confederate line now fell back a short distance and began again forming. Sturgis took advantage of this lull in the storm to make good his retreat. Perceiving that Totten's battery and Steele's battalion were entirely safe, for the present, and directing Capt. Totten to replace his disabled horses at soon as possible, Sturgis sent Dubois' battery to the rear with its supports to take up a position on the hill in the rear and cover the retreat. The 2d Kansas, on the extreme right, having been nearly out of ammunition for some time, was ordered to withdraw, which it did bringing off its wounded. This, however, left the Federal right flank exposed, and the Missourians at that point to the number of 100 or more advanced at once; they were driven back, however, by Steele's battalion of regulars and joined the main force reforming in the rear. [321]

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