Moments in Time--Wilson's Creek Part One
August 10, 1861 5 AM to 6 AM
by Sam Smith
Lyon's assault came as a complete shock to McCulloch's army. Most of the Confederate soldiers were still in camp, focused on breakfast. The onrushing Union brigades drove in a cobbled together cavalry screen and quickly reached the crest of Oak Hill. The events of the day would forever change its name to "Bloody Hill."
1. "It filled my heart with joy...[The Confederates] would be wiped off the earth."
John Short, son of farmer Elias Short, was nine years old at the time of the battle. The Short Farm was in an "acoustic shadow," a curiosity of geography and air density that prevented the travel of sound over long distances. The approach of a whole army of men, horses, and cannons only became audible when Lyon's force passed right beside the farm at around 4:30 in the morning. John looked out the front door with what must have been extremely wide eyes. The Shorts quickly evacuated their home over John's protests.
2. "So let the wide world wag as it will/We'll be gay and happy still/Gay and happy still/Gay and happy, gay and happy/We'll be gay and happy still"
General Lyon was frustrated by the 1st Iowa's insistence on singing their favorite marching song as they trudged up the slope of Oak Hill. He was afraid that the noise would alert the drowsy Confederates to his approach. As it turned out, the acoustic shadow stymied any Confederate pickets that may have been nearby. When they crested the heights the 1st Iowa could see the valley full of Confederate cavalry fleeing south towards their camps at high speed.
3. "Is that official?"
One Confederate officer was loathe to leave his breakfast, even when a messenger arrived at full gallop and told him to move his troops out to meet the Union threat. Unfortunately for him, Lyon's artillery had just deployed near Oak Hill. As if in reply to his question, a whooshing shell pulverized a sapling a few yards away. "Well, by God! That is official," he exclaimed as he left his breakfast behind.
4. "In less than an hour they'll wish they were a thousand miles away."
From the top of Oak Hill General Lyon had a magnificent view of the valley below. The Confederate camps were quickly coming alive, and Lyon wasted no time dispatching orders to exploit his early advantage.
5. "There's going to be fighting like hell in less than ten minutes."
The opening salvo of the Union cannons sent Confederate soldiers scattering all over the field. One cavalryman rode immediately to John Ray's farm, where he had slept the night before, found Ray's children--Olivia, Livonia, and Wesly--and told them to find shelter fast.
Next: "Glorious Victory"