BATTLE OF WILSON’S CREEK – AUGUST 10, 1861
(a.k.a. Oak Hills and Springfield)
The second major battle of the Civil War and the first major battle west of the Mississippi. Gen. Lyon’s 5000-man force attacked a 12,000-man force under CSA Gen. McCulloch that had invaded Missouri at the invitation of Gov. Jackson. Gen. Lyon was killed but his men retired unmolested and returned to their supply base at Rolla. Gen. McCulloch and all non-Missouri forces returned to Arkansas.
Forces Engaged: Union est. 5,000 vs. estimated total of 12,000 Confederates (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas), Arkansas militia, and Gov. Jackson’s State Guard
Stamp Location: Battlefield Visitor Center
Address: 6424 West Farm Road 182, near Republic, Missouri.
Phone Number: 417-732-2662 ext. 227
Staff Available: See battlefield website
Visit Fee: See battlefield website. Fee not required for stamp.
Click the link below for an interesting National Park Service video tour of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
(Note: The Confederates Army referred to this battle as the Battle of Oak Hill. Initially, some referred to it as the Battle of Springfield, before it was officially designated the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.)
General Nathaniel Lyon, the commander of Union forces at Wilson’s Creek was killed during the battle. As he was the first Union general killed in battle during that war, we have attached a collection of pictures and short articles showing how his men, Missouri Unionists, and the North reacted to his death:
On August 1, General Lyon moved the majority of his force from Springfield down Wire Road “in hopes of attacking General Price and his force before he had joined General McCulloch’s force.” After making contact with the enemy and participating in two small skirmishes at Dug Springs and McCulloch’s Station, General Lyon discovered Price and McCulloch had already joined forces and that he was badly outnumbered. Unprepared for a major engagement and fearing an attack on Springfield to his rear, Lyon pulled his force back to Springfield.
Lyon retraced his march, reaching his old camps at Springfield on the 6th, the troops having suffered greatly from the heat and want of water. The loss of Union men in the entire expedition was three killed, two deaths from heat, and eight wounded. The rebel loss could not be ascertained though it is known to have been quite serious. Their wounded, it was later learned, numbered forty.
The enemy, under the chief command of Rebel (MSG) Sterling Price, advanced slowly but in full strength toward Springfield, arriving at Wilson’s Creek, ten miles south of Springfield. Lyon knowing that his only hope lay in obtaining some advantage over the opposing host—numbering, as it did, fully twenty thousand men—Lyon arranged a night attack hoping to surprise the enemy. On the night of the 9th, the federal force marched out from Springfield and the adjoining camps, in two columns—one commanded by Lyon, the other by Sigel. Lyon was to advance and assault the front, while Sigel should pass the enemy’s camps to the east and, falling upon them, cut through their right while Lyon drove through their center.
The enemy, also, had resolved upon a night advance from Wilson’s Creek camp, upon Springfield, hoping to surround it and, by day-break, to close in upon Lyon so as to prevent his escape to Rolla. Every disposition was made for the movement—the men were under arms, with orders to march by four columns at nine o’clock p.m. Price, having passed over the chief command to Confederate General McCulloch, the latter ordered the expedition to be given up, late at night, as the darkness was intense and a storm threatened. Lyon was not intimidated by the darkness—it rather was favorable, as it covered his passage and general disposition from the observation of pickets and scouts.
Before dawn on August 10, the Union soldiers were preparing for a surprise strike on the Rebel encampment. What followed can take rank as one of the best-fought battles, when the number engaged is brought into consideration. The duration of the battle was about four and a half hours. The whole force under the national flag was 5,000 men. The Rebels acknowledged having 12,000 of all arms.
In regard to the success of this mission on the Union side, the Official Military History of Kansas Regiments states the following:
The most conclusive evidence that the rebels were whipped at Wilson’s Creek is the fact that our command was unmolested during the long ten days’ march to Rolla, through a rough and heavily wooded country, offering every advantage to a pursuing army, and one so thoroughly acquainted with the country. The large train filled with valuable baggage and such as the enemy so much needed, also about $250,000 of the funds of the Springfield Bank, was a prize too tempting to be neglected or overlooked by the rebels had they been victorious (as their official report claimed) or even in a condition to have made pursuit. All that Gen. Lyon had expected to accomplish as the result of the battle had now been secured—a safe retreat.
 E. R. Hagemann, Fighting Rebels and Redskins: Experiences in Army Life of Colonel George B. Sanford, 1861-1892 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1969), p. 127-130.
 According to C.S.A. Gen. McCulloch (see Report No. 16 of FLP: Vol 10-Annex-2), the loss on the Confederate side was 265 killed, 800 wounded, and 30 missing; according to Thomas L. Snead (see the appendix of FLP: Vol 33, The Fight for Missouri, p. 244), the loss was 279 killed and 951 wounded. No figures were given for the missing.
 Orville Victor, The History, Civil, Political, & Military of the Southern Rebellion, Volume II (J.D. Torrey-Publisher, 1863).
 Thomas Knox, Camp-Fire and Cotton-field: Southern Adventure in Time of War (Blelock & Company, 1865), p. 74.
 Official Military History of Kansas Regiments During the War for the Suppression of the Great Rebellion. Leavenworth: W. S. Burke, 1870, p. 10.
BOOKS ABOUT THE BATTLE OF WILSON’S CREEK
Holcombe, Return I. and W. S. Adams. An Account of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Dow & Adams, 1883.
Knox, Thomas W. Camp-Fire and Cotton-Field: Southern Adventure in Time of War. Blelock & Company, 1865.
Tunnard, W. H. A Southern Record: The History of the Third Regiment Louisiana Infantry. University of Arkansas, 1997. (1866)
OFFICIAL AFTER ACTION REPORTS OF THE BATTLE OF WILSON’S CREEK
More Confederate reports (O.R., Series 1, Volume 53 Supplement; pages 422-435.)
MAGAZINE ARTICLES ABOUT THE BATTLE OF WILSON’S CREEK
Boyd, J. N. “The Battle of Oak Hills or Wilson’s Creek.“ Confederate Veteran, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Jan. 1911): p. 9-10.
Brant, Randolph C. “Campaign of Gen. Lyon in Missouri.” Oregon Commandery War Paper No. 4, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States, Schwab Bros. Printing and Litho. Co. (1895): p. 3-14.
Fox, Simeon M. “The Early History of the Seventh Kansas Cavalry.“ Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1909-1910, Vol. 11 (1910): p. 238-253.
Gill, Adelaide. “Frederick Steele.“ The Palimpsest, Vol. 11, No. 4 (April 1930): p. 151-159.
Greene, Albert Robinson. “On the Battle of Wilson Creek.“ Transactions of the Kansas State Historical Society 1889-’96, Vol. 5 (1896): p. 116-127.
Johnson, Robert Underwood and Clarence Clough Buel. “The Opposing Forces at Wilson’s Creek, Mo.” In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 1, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, The Century Co. (1887): p. 306.
Jones, George M. “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek.” Confederate Veteran, Vol. 16, No. 6 (June 1908): p. 272.
Laune, Seigniora Russell. “Avra P. Russell.” Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, Vol. 14 (1918): p. 84-88.
McGonigle, James A. “First Kansas Infantry in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.“ Collections of the Kansas State Historical Society, 1911-1912, Vol. 12 (1912): p. 292-295.
Moore, Frank, (ed.) “General Lyon’s Memory.” The Civil War in Song and Story. Colliers, 1865, p. 235.
Mudd, Joseph A. “What I Saw at Wilson’s Creek.“ Missouri Historical Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Jan. 1913): p. 89-105.
Sigel, Franz. “The Flanking Column at Wilson’s Creek.“ In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 1, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, The Century Co. (1887): p. 304-306.
Sigel, Franz. “The Military Operations in Missouri in the Summer and Autumn of 1861.“ The Historical Magazine, Vol. 1, No. 3 (March 1872): p. 129-134.
Wherry, William M. “The Campaign in Missouri and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, 1861.” Missouri Historical Society Collections, Vol. 1 (1880): p. 1-18.
Wherry, William M. “Wilson’s Creek, and the Death of Lyon.“ In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Vol. 1, edited by Robert Underwood Johnson and Clarence Clough Buel, The Century Co. (1887): p. 289-297.
Wood, Henry Clay. “The Left of the Federal Line of Battle at Wilson’s Creek.“ Journal of the Military Service Institute of the United States, Vol. 39, No. 95 (Nov.-Dec. 1906): p. 341-352.
NEWSPAPER ARTICLES ON THE BATTLE OF WILSON’S CREEK
Aug 13, 1861 Missouri Democrat “From the Southwest” [Summary: Lyon is trying to draw the enemy out into a fight, but without success.]
Aug 13, 1861 Missouri Republican “The News from Springfield, Mo.” [Summary: Dispatches from Fremont say no encounter between Lyon and McCulloch took place up to noon on Friday. Yet an advance of Lyon’s cavalry drove back an advance of McCulloch’s with some loss. Gives info on number of men and supplies.]
Aug 13, 1861 Missouri Republican “Latest News from Springfield” [Summary: While waiting for word from Springfield, the correspondent with Col. Wyman traces back a rumor that “Lyon and Sigel had been cut to pieces” to an 11-year-old boy. Wyman says that any news coming from Springfield will come to him first in Rolla and word can arrive in as little as 12 hours.]
Aug 13, 1861 St. Louis Bulletin “Affairs in the State–Battle at Springfield” [Summary: Accuses the Federals of squelching the news of the battle by stationing Home Guards at several newspaper presses. Gives its own account of the battle from three sources bringing the news to Franklin County.]
Aug 14, 1861 Burlington (IA) Hawkeye “Great Battle Near Springfield” [Summary: An official report on the battle at Wilson’s Creek.]
Aug 14, 1861 Davenport (IA) Democrat & News “News From Missouri” [Summary: An early report of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.]
Aug 14, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Great Fight at Springfield”
Aug 14, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Official Report” [Summary: Report as forwarded by one of Gen. Lyon’s aides-de-camp.]
Aug 14, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Some Additional Items” [Summary: Sigel makes prisoners haul his gun to Springfield; Short letter from a citizen who encountered troops fleeing Springfield.]
Aug 14, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Battle at Springfield” [Summary: A special train arrived from Rolla bringing Maj. Farrar, Lyon’s aid, bearing news of a great battle on the 10th, nine miles east of Springfield. The loss on the Federal side was about 800 killed and wounded, among whom was Gen. Lyon, killed making a charge.]
Aug 14, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Springfield Battle” [Summary: A short report on how the news of the Battle at Springfield was received by the people of St. Louis.]
Aug 14, 1861 New York Times “Another Battle in Missouri” [Summary: Early info on Wilson’s Creek, and Lyon’s death.]
Aug 14, 1861 New York Tribune “The Battle in Missouri” [Summary: Brief article on the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, praising Lyon whose name alone was a tower of strength. 8,000 national troops scattered and drove before them three times their number of rebel adversaries. “The death of Gen. Lyon is a great calamity, but we may gather some consolation from the fact that he died as a soldier can best afford to die, at the moment of victory, and while completing the good work which his courage and sagacity had begun.”]
Aug 14, 1861 The Star Extra “Important From Missouri” [Summary: Single page “Extra” edition of the Star gives further particulars of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, including Fremont’s after-action report of the battle. A subheading includes a sketch of the life of General Lyon.]
Aug 14, 1861 New York Times “Views From the Capital—The Recent Battle Near Springfield” [Summary: Editorial from Washington, D.C. talks about the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Lyon “has left to his country a heroic memory to be treasured up for all time.” Wonders why he was not reinforced before the battle. On a broader scale, wonders why the Union army never has enough men in all the important battles. Why does our government turn away regiments tendered for service? Why does the rebel army, though smaller, accept more regiments than we do?]
Aug 15, 1861 Burlington (IA) Hawkeye “Further Particulars of the Battle of Springfield” [Summary: More info on Wilson’s Creek.]
Aug 15, 1861 Dubuque (IA) Weekly Times “Lyon’s Latest Fight” [Summary: Info on events of the battle.]
Aug 15, 1861 Glasgow (MO) Weekly Times “Great Battle at Springfield” [Summary: First news of the battle from a letter from John B. Clark, Jr. Some wildly incorrect information is circulated. Includes a reprint of the article, “The Battle at Springfield ,” from the Republican, August 14, 1861.]
Aug 15, 1861 Memphis (TN) Daily Appeal “War in Missouri” [Summary: Snippets from a few St, Louis papers with reports on the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, including one from the Missourian which said Lyon was killed by his own men because he had treated them inhumanely.]
Aug 15, 1861 Missouri Democrat “The Great Battle at Springfield” [Summary: Lengthy report with list of killed and wounded.]
Aug 15, 1861 Missouri Republican “Springfield Battle” [Summary: Introductory article says that in another column it will present additional facts. If the odds had not been so great, the victory would have been with the Union troops. Sigel is retreating but will move forward again once he has more troops.]
Aug 15, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Battle of Springfield–Additional Particulars” [Summary: Reports coming in corroborate the main facts in yesterday’s article. More details are given.]
Aug 15, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Latest from Springfield” [Summary: Two more detailed accounts of the battle with a list of killed and wounded.]
Aug 15, 1861 Louisiana (MO) Journal “The Great Battle of Springfield” [Summary: The Journal‘s first report of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek says the Federals were victorious and the Arkansas rebels were beaten due to the loss of their leader McCullough. Gen. Lyon was killed while most bravely leading his men to victory.]
Aug 15, 1861 New York Tribune “Further from Missouri–Eight Hours of Battle” [Summary: This additional account of the battle near Springfield was given by an eye-witness who just arrived at Rolla from Springfield. “Gen. Lyon began the attack upon the receipt of intelligence that the enemy were expecting reinforcements from General Hardee’s column which was approaching from the Southeast.” After Lyon received a bullet in the left breast, and fell from his horse, he was asked if he was hurt, and replied, “No, not much.” But in a few minutes he expired, without a struggle; Gen. Lyon’s body had been treated with great respect, and was brought back with some of the wounded to Springfield; Fremont declares martial law in St. Louis county and appoints McKinsty as Provost-Marshal.]
Aug 15, 1861 New York Times “The Battle in Missouri” [Summary: Some corrections, but still optimistic view.]
Aug 15, 1861 New York Times “The Great Battle in Missouri” [Summary: Subjective view of the fight.]
Aug 15, 1861 Olathe (KS) Mirror “News from Springfield” [Summary: Report from troops.]
Aug 16, 1861 Anamosa (IA) Eureka “Fight at Springfield” [Summary: The official report from Lyon’s aid is published with an additional report at the end about subsequent events.]
Aug 16, 1861 Anamosa (IA) Eureka “The Springfield Battle” [Summary: Three short blurbs with stats and repercussions of the Springfield battle.]
Aug 16, 1861 Liberty (MO) Tribune “Battle at Springfield” [Summary: Account of Wilson’s Creek with impressive exaggerations. Includes the article, “The Battle at Springfield ,” from the Republican, August 14, 1861.]
Aug 16, 1861 Missouri Democrat “Further Incidents of the Great Battle” [Summary: More details surface, so an updated report from correspondent “B” is published.]
Aug 16, 1861 Missouri Republican “Further Particulars of the Battle at Springfield” [Summary: Lieut. Nehrig of the Missouri Volunteers, who participated in the battle, gives his account. Longer list of killed and wounded.]
Aug 16, 1861 New York Tribune “From Missouri–The Battle at Wilson’s Creek” [Summary: Some corrections and refinements to the battle account plus a list of killed and wounded.]
Aug 16, 1861 New York Tribune “The Latest War News” [Summary: No updates on Wilson’s Creek, except to say the Federal killed is 200 and wounded between 600-700. From St Louis: 7,000 rebel troops are approaching Ironton from the South. Federal troops are posted at Ironton, Pilot Knob and Arcadia.]
Aug 16, 1861 Missouri Republican “War in Missouri” [Summary: Editorial hopes the Springfield battle will make known to the war department that Missouri has been neglected. Fremont is busy calling troops to the state. Says Missourians can have peace if they are determined to be in favor of it and do all they can to argue for it.]
Aug 17, 1861 Atchison (KS) Freedom’s Champion “The Battle at Springfield” [Summary: From a Kansas 1st Regiment view of the fight.]
Aug 17, 1861 Baton Rouge Gazette and Comet “Great Battle in Missouri” [Summary: Brief report from an eye-witness.]
Aug 17, 1861 Daily Picayune (LA) “A Rebel Shout of Exultation” [Summary: Celebration over Wilson’s Creek, prediction of ultimate victory.]
Aug 17, 1861 Easton (MD) Gazette “Great Battle in Missouri” [Summary: Captures the climax of the battle at Wilson’s Creek in which General Lyon lost his life to a force that greatly outnumbered his.]
Aug 17, 1861 Kansas State Register “Full Particulars of the Battle” [Summary: A report by one of Lyon’s aids to Fremont.]
Aug 17, 1861 Kansas State Register “Great Battle in SW MO” [Summary: A brief early report.]
Aug 17, 1861 Missouri Democrat “The Attack of Sigel’s Division” [Summary: Account of Sigel’s attack on the enemy’s camp at Wilson’s Creek.]
Aug 17, 1861 Missouri Republican “The Great Battle” [Summary: An unnamed gentleman from Rolla gives his report of the battle with statistics. Says for all essential purposes–the number of killed and wounded, the destruction of the baggage train of the invader–the victory was a substantial one for the Union.]
Aug 17, 1861 Missouri Republican “Untitled” [Summary: Dispatch from Little Rock gives a short account of the Springfield battle from the Confederate point of view. Says Sigel’s been shot and Sweeney, killed.]
Aug 17, 1861 North Carolina Standard “Great Victory in Missouri” [Summary: The paper gloats that “the truth is unwillingly forced from the Yankees” about Wilson’s Creek.]
Aug 17, 1861 Sioux City (IA) Register “War in Missouri” [Summary: Reports on the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.]
Aug 17, 1861 New York Tribune “The Battle in Missouri–Gen. Sigel and Command Safe–Only 400 Federals Killed, Wounded and Missing” [Summary: Messenger reports that Sigel has arrived at Lebanon unmolested, expected to reach Rolla today. Lyon was buried on Phelps’ farm. Erroneously reports Ben McCulloch dead. Democrat Correspondent reports Gen Rains (Confederate) entered Springfield on Sunday and hoisted a rebel flag on the Court House.The Federal wounded were not mistreated at the hospital, only the Home Guard is subject to resentment. The rebels purchased everything in the stores. Most of them were barefoot. One of Sigel’s skirmishers gives some details of the Wilson’s Creek Battle. Sigel’s attack on the rear of the rebel camp was a complete surprise to them and they were driven back toward Lyon’s command. For the first half hour Gen. Sigel did not lose a man.”Wagons containing the families of Union men continue to arrive [at Rolla]. More than one-half the population of Springfield have left, and the farmers along the route to this place are abandoning their homes.”]
More…to be continued