August 10th 1861
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was one of the minor engagements of the Civil War that sent a clear message to both parties. This would not be over anytime soon. The Confederates were faced with the problem of respecting the state of Kentucky’s right to neutrality.
They needed to get to St. Louis, Missouri but had to go around neighboring Kentucky to get there. The plan was hatched and the Confederates mustered an army of about 10,000 men from a volunteer force of southerners from the states of Arkansas, Missouri, and Louisiana.
These included the infamous “Muskrats” from Mizzou and the tough Louisiana fellows under the leadership of General Pillow. General McCulloch was selected as the commander of the Confederate forces and immediately he put together an attack plan. The Union was lead by General Lyon and General Sigel; both would have their metals tested in this battle.
Lyon attacked the Confederates at Wilson’s Creek from the north, while his counter part, Sigel, attacked from the south. Both attacking parties found no Confederates so they both joined forces a short distance for the still unsuspecting Rebels. The attack transpired and for the better part of a day the fighting continued from farmhouses to creek beds.
After a few hours in the early afternoon, General Sigel was forced out of the battle. This left only General Lyons to fight the
Confederates and being outnumbered two to one did not help the fight. The defeat of Sigel’s troops permanently stained the reputation of this fiery northern commander.
The fighting continued with the Confederates driving the Union forces out of the creek area and captured the city of Springfield, Missouri. During the fighting, General Lyon was killed. This spurned the Federals to leave the fight and be considered the loser. This was not a giant battle nor was it particularly important to the overall outcome of the war, what it did have was the reminder that war is hell and men die.
The final numbers showed that although the North was outnumbered and out fought, they still were able to inflict heavy losses onto the Confederates and leave a bloody nose to the cause of the South. The battle was considered one of the most fiercely contested of the war. The federals lost 1,200 men while the Confederates were pinned with 1,400 casualties.
Basing these impressive Union numbers in light of what they had going against them, it is easy to see how the “win” for the Confederates was stained. If not for Lyon’s demise, the North could have routed the South and kept Springfield in the clutches of the union. Sigel’s performance was rated so low that his tactical abilities as a leading Union commander were questioned for the rest of the war.
General McCulloch would not pursue the retreating Federals, since he had achieved his objective with the sacking of Springfield. The retreating Union forces settled in Rolla, Missouri while the Confederates enjoyed the bounties of war with Springfield and an added captured bonus, a brigade of Federals at Lexington.
The war would seem to be at a stalemate with the battle being won by the Confederates, yet the truth would be just the opposite as Lincoln began his splintering of the South campaign.