- 10 Aug 2019 14:55
August 10, Saturday
Approaching Wilson’s Creek southwest of Springfield, Missouri, after a night march, General Lyon has a stroke of luck—thanks to the heavy rain, the Confederate commanders placed their pickets under shelter so their ammunition would stay dry, and so Lyon’s main force of about 3,600 men isn’t discovered until dawn and the flanking movement of about 1,200 men under Sigel isn’t detected at all. As soon as Lyon sees he is detected he deploys his troops and advances at the double up the northern slope of the soon-to-be-named Bloody Hill where he quickly forces back a 600-man Confederate detachment armed with shotguns. To the south, at the sound of guns to the north, Sigel’s artillery opens up on a Confederate regiment from Arkansas at their cookfires only 500 yards away, which breaks and runs from the surprise bombardment.
The battle is a nightmare of blundering maneuver. On the southern slope of Bloody Hill, the two armies struggle clumsily and savagely to gain control of the summit. Lyon’s men wait with increasing anxiety for Sigel’s men to sweep up the south slope of Bloody Hill and take the Confederates in the rear. But Sigel is in trouble. After his original surprise attack he has continued circling to his right until he’s nearly three quarters of the way around the Confederate army. There he is intercepted by McCulloch’s hastily formed force, and once again the lack of standard uniforms plays a part as Sigel mistakes the mass of gray-clad men for Union men from Iowa. Before he can realize his mistake the Confederates charge in a howling frontal attack while batteries on the hills to the west and east open fire, enfilading Sigel’s lines. The Federals break and run, leaving behind five cannon. Sigel will manage to get back to Springfield with a small escort.
Now the whole Confederate army, at this point almost three times the number of Lyon’s force, turns on the remaining Federals. The opposing lines are less than 300 yards apart, but the scrub conceals them from each other. For hours on end the lines approach again and again within less than fifty yards of each other, fire, then fall back a few paces to reform, reload, and advance again. The Union line seems about to buckle, though the Federal artillery still dominates the field, breaking up every Confederate attack. Lyon is wounded in the head and leg by fragments from a bursting shell, but though he fears the day is lost he mounts a horse and leads one more charge. As he gallops over the crest of Bloody Hill a bullet takes him full in the chest and knocks him off his horse.
With Lyon’s death the battle dwindles, both sides fought to exhaustion. The two armies slowly disengage. The Federals, with not an officer left above the rank of major to take over command, fall back toward Springfield; the Confederates are too spent to follow. But Springfield is not far enough; the Federal army will withdraw clear back to Rolla, Missouri, southwest of St. Louis, abandoning a huge section of the state to the Confederates and pro-secessionists. The loss of Lyon, the defeat of Sigel and his German troops, the retreat of the main Federal force, loss of a primary outpost in Missouri, all emphasize the Confederate victory.
Another significant battle has been fought and won by the South, this time beyond the Mississippi. But Wilson’s Creek, Oak Hills, or Springfield is described by one soldier as being “a purty mean-faught fite.” The figures prove it: Federal total for duty 5,400, killed 258, wounded 873, missing 186 for a total of 1,317; Confederate effectives 11,000, killed 279, wounded 951 for a total of 1,230. In one third the time, and with less than one-third the number of troops involved, more than half as many men have fallen along Wilson’s Creek as had fallen at Bull Run. An argument between McCulloch and Price over who is to command has been settled in favor of Ben McCulloch. Both leaders and their somewhat ragtag Southern forces have performed well in victory.
President Lincoln calls on Lieutenant General Scott to try to ease friction between the General-in-Chief and youthful George B. McClellan.
We are all ignorant, only in different ways, and no one is as ignorant as an educated man outside his own field.
To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society.