This post is excerpted from Every Day of the Civil War, A Chronological Encyclopedia By Bud Hannings. McFarland Publishing, Incorporated, Jefferson, North Carolina and London. 2010
August 10 (Saturday) THE BATTLE OF WILSON’S CREEK (SPRINGFIELD AND OAK HILL) At Wilson’s Creek, Missouri, at about 0500, Union guns, the batteries of Captain James Totten (West Point, 1805) and Lt. John Van Deusen Du Bois (West Point, 1855), announce the presence of the Yankees; however, the Confederates, under General Ben McCulloch, themselves making preparations to assault the Union at Springfield, are up for the fight, reducing the element of surprise. Nevertheless, the Union makes progress against the Confederate Missouri Guards under Generals (state troops) John Bullock Clark Jr., J.H. McBride, William Y. Slack and Mosby Monroe Parsons. The Union Infantry, supported by the mounted horse guards, pushes the Rebels back beyond some hills. The 1st Iowa and 1st Missouri Regiments secure the ground, protected by the guns of Totten in the heights and those of DuBois to the rear, staring down toward the concealed Confederate batteries.
Meanwhile, Colonel Franz Sigel plows Brigadier General Louis Blenker against the rear and forcefully drives the Rebels into the woods. His 1,200 troops and six guns convince Confederate Colonel Ben Brown and Colonel Thomas J. Churchill (1st Arkansas Mounted Rifles) to seek more tenable positions. Sigel, like Lyon, continues to advance, but neither is aware of the other’s progress. Many of the Rebels also wear blue uniforms, causing confusion on the field. At General Lyon’s positions, a large contingent of troops, thought surely to be Union, seem to be approaching the guns, but when they reach a point close to the line, like the pirates of old, the Rebels replace the Union colors with the Stars and Bars, revealing their identity. The ploy works perfectly, but only for awhile, as the effective fire of the Union’s guns turn the force back, essentially saving the guns and the battalion of regular infantry, led by Captain Joseph Plummer (West Point, 1841).
In the meantime, to the rear, a similar experience befalls Franz Sigel as he notices that the intensity of the firing of the Union guns had slackened immensely, giving him the false impression that the Confederates had been beaten at the front. He continues the advance driving down Fayetteville Road and soon after, he is informed that friendly troops are approaching. Upon this seemingly good news, Sigel brings his columns to a halt to await what he expects to be the forces of Lyon. And then as the advancing columns of blue get within close range of Sigel’s line, the Stars and Stripes vanishes and is replaced the Stars and Bars, followed by a enfilade of incoming fire. This new unexpected action, including a deadly continuing sheet of fire emerging from concealed artillery positions, causes horrendous problems for the Union. Lyon’s line collapses as the troops scatter, and in an instant, their discipline vanishes.
The Confederate fire relentlessly rakes the Union column, kills the artillery’s horses and collapses the flank. The successful ruse nearly costs Sigel his entire force. About 300 troops, including Sigel, manage to pull back, dragging one gun out of six with them and accomplishing that feat only by compelling some reluctant Confederate prisoners to pull the cannon from harm’s way.
All the while, the forces of Lyon continue to hold their own against the Rebels, but still there is no word of Sigel’s action in the rear. Suddenly the Confederate pressure bursts through the line to the left of Totten’s battery. As the Rebels make progress, General Lyon alters his plans, transferring Major Frederick Steele’s battalion of regulars to bolster the gap and rally the troops. Steele holds the line as his troops forge an impenetrable wall of fire. Both sides fight to a stalemate for about one hour.
General Lyon moves between the enfilade of fire to maintain morale and discipline, but a shot kills his horse and another shell wounds him in the leg, then yet another shot strikes him in the head. He somehow changes horses and rejoins the battle, ignoring his severe wounds to lead a cavalry charge to change the tide and bring the momentum back to his army.
The 1st Kansas and 1st Iowa Regiments, having lost their commanders, mount a bayonet charge, led by General Lyon. At about 0900, while ferociously engaged in the attack, he receives another wound, his third, but this last one is mortal and he is taken from the field. At this time, subsequent to about four constant hours of combat, the Union has been able to forestall defeat, and they have reclaimed and held the previously lost ground.
The command passes to Major Samuel Davis Sturgis, who still has no intelligence regarding Sigel’s action in the rear. While information is sought, Major Sturgis is confronted by another ruse by the Confederates facing him. They slowly approach in blue uniforms presenting themselves as friendly troops, but as they encroach, the Stars and Stripes is again replaced with the Confederate colors when the assault begins. The Union lines meet the grueling attack and hold the ground, driving the Rebels back; however, the unrelenting pressure and the superior numbered Rebels regroup and mount yet another charge. This surge turns the tide. Sturgis, still unaware of Sigel’s plight, has no alternative.
He orders a retreat following six hours of incessant battle and begins the trudge to Springfield, joined by the survivors of Sigel’s command as they retire, arriving back at Springfield at the conclusion of the nine-mile march at about 1700.
The Union suffers 223 killed, 721 wounded and 291 missing. The Confederates have 265 killed, 800 wounded and 30 missing. Union Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon (West Point, 1841) is mortally wounded while charging Confederate positions during the engagement; his body remains on the field and is recovered by Confederates. Also, Colonel Robert Byington Mitchell (2nd Kansas Infantry) is severely wounded. Confederate General Sterling Price (Missouri Militia) ensures that General Lyon’s body is returned to Springfield; however, soon after, the Union troops under Colonel Sigel retire from Springfield and again General Lyon’s remains are left behind. Confederates under General J B. Clark prepare his remains for burial and deliver the body to Mrs. J.S. Phelps, who arranges internment. Later, General Lyon’s body is removed and is buried at East Hartford, Connecticut.
Colonel (later brigadier general) George Washington Dietzler, 1st Kansas Volunteers, sustains a severe wound that incapacitates him for a prolonged period of time. Union Pvt. Nicholas Boquet, Company D, 1st Iowa Infantry, at great risk, saves a Union cannon from capture and after the ordeal is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery. The 1st Cherokee Mounted Rifles under Stand Watie (later brigadier general) participate at this battle.
In Missouri, a contingent of the Missouri Home Guards engages a group of Confederates at Potosi. The Union suffers one killed. The Confederates sustain two killed and three wounded. In other activity, a Union contingent skirmishes with Confederates at Charleston. The Union sustains one killed and six wounded, including Colonel Thomas E. Ransom. The Confederates sustain 40 killed.
In Union general officer activity, Union Captain Charles Champion Gilbert (West Point, 1846) is wounded. Gilbert is subsequently promoted to brigadier general during September 1862 and commands the 3rd Provisional Corps at Perryville in October 1862, where he will be chastised for not contributing his support to General Alexander McCook, then under heavy pressure from the Rebels. Major Samuel D. Sturgis (West Point, 1846), who assumed command after the demise of General Lyon, is appointed brigadier general during the following March, effective the date of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
In Confederate general officer activity, Captain (or Major) Francis Marion Cockrell, leading a company of Missouri militia, participates in this battle. Cockrell is promoted to brigadier general during July 1863. In addition, Colonel (later brigadier general) Thomas Pleasant Dockery commands the 19th Arkansas Infantry at this action. The Confederate 3rd Texas Cavalry, led by Colonel (later brigadier general) Elkanah B. Greer, participates in this battle, as does the 3rd Texas Cavalry, led by Lt. Colonel (later brigadier general) Walter P. Lane. At this time, Major General Sterling Price (Missouri State Guard) retains his title, given to him previously by former Missouri Governor Claiborne Fox Jackson; Price does not receive his appointment in the Confederate Army until April of the following year.