Moments in Time--Wilson's Creek
A battle in four parts
by Sam Smith
"A Mean Fought Fight"
August 10th, 1861
Control of the border states was a major strategic concern throughout the war. Missouri's loyalties were still divided in the summer of 1861 and both sides thought it was ripe for the taking. Nathaniel Lyon led a 6,000-man Union army from St. Louis to Springfield and set off after the secessionist state government as they fled towards the border.
Meanwhile, 12,000 Confederate soldiers were marching on Springfield from the southwest led by Ben McCulloch and Sterling Price. Lyon learned of the size of the approaching host on August 2nd and made plans to withdraw further northeast, towards Rolla. In order to cover his maneuver he designed a surprise attack meant to throw his opponents on their heels and allow him to complete his withdrawal with room to spare.
By August 6th McCulloch and his Confederate army was concentrated 10 miles outside of the city at Wilson's Creek. On the evening of August 9th Lyon sent out his marching orders. He would lead one portion of his army through the night and attack the Confederates from the north at dawn on the 10th. Franz Sigel took command of the other portion, instructed to move around the Confederate flank and attack from the southeast as soon as he heard Lyon's cannons begin their bombardment.
What followed was the first taste of combat for most of the soldiers on both sides and chaos reigned for six hours under the hot Missouri sun. This violent baptism led to countless examples of courage, terror, and even humor all across the field.
While looking at the maps for each phase of the battle, refer to the text for accounts of soldiers at each marked spot.
Next: Lyon Attacks