Tuesday, August 9, 2011

August 10, 1861 (Saturday): Battle at Wilson's Creek

Lyon's Marker-Wilson's Creek Battlefield (NPS)

Report of Maj. John M. Schoefield, First Missouri Infanty, and Acting Adjutant-General Army of the West, of operations August 1-14.   
…During the forenoon of that day, the 9th of August, General Lyon and Colonel Sigel held a consultation, the result of which was the plan of attack upon the enemy’s position at Wilson’s Creek, which lead to the battle of the 10th
…The column under General Lyon reached the point where the enemy’s most advanced picket was expected to be found at about 1 o’clock at night.  The picket not having been found, the column halted and the men lay on their arms till early dawn, when the march was resumed, Captain Plummer’s battalion of regular infantry in advance….At about 4 o’clock the enemy’s picket was reached and fled upon our approach.

Report of Captain Joseph B. Plummer, First U. S. Infantry

…I overtook Captain Gilbert with his skirmishers in a deep jungle, where he had been checked by an impossible lagoon.  Much time was consumed in effecting the passage of this obstacle.  The battalion, however, finally emerged in good order, and all resent, into the corn field to the left of the attack, which by this time was in full progress…

Reports of Brig. Gen. Ben McCullock, C. S. Army, with orders and proclamation.

…While still hesitating in the morning the enemy were reported advancing, and I made arrangements to meet him.  The attack was made simultaneously at 5.30 a.m. on our right and left flanks, and the enemy had gained the positions they desired.  General Lyon attacked us on our left, and General Sigel on our right and rear.  From these points batteries opened upon us.

Report of Captain Joseph B. Plummer, First U. S. Infantry

…Our advance was in the direction of the enemy’s battery, on the hill opposite Lieutenant Du Bois’ battery, with the intention of storming it, should the opportunity offer.  This was observed by the enemy, and a large force was accumulated in our front and on our left flank, our forward progress was checked.  Nevertheless, the men stood steady and squarely up to their work, until I deemed our position on longer tenable, and I then drew off my command, steadily and without confusion in the direction of Totten’s battery, the key of our position.  In the field I had many men killed and wounded.  Lieutenant Wood and myself are among the latter.  We were materially aided in extrictating ourselves by the timely aid of Du Bois’ battery, which beat back the advance of the enemy with much slaughter.

Reports of Col. Franz Sigel, Third Missouri Infantry, commanding Army of the West.

…At Sharp’s place we met numbers of the enemy’s soldiers, who were evidently retiring in this direction, and, as I suspected that the enemy on his retreat would follow in the same direction, I formed the troops across this road, by planting the artillery on the plteau, and the two infantry regiments on the right and left across the road, whilst the cavalry companies extended on our flanks.  At this time, and after some skirmishing in front of our line, the firing in the direction of northwest, which was during an hour’s time roaring in succession, had almost ceased entirely.  I therefore thought the attack of General Lyon had been successful, and that his troops were in pursuit of the enemy, who moved in large masses towards the south, along the ridge of a hill, about 700 yards opposite on our right.
    This was the state of affairs at 8.30 o’clock in the morning, when it was reported to me by Dr. Melchior and some of our skirmishers that Lyon’s men were coming up the road. Lieutenant-Colonel Albert, of the Third, and Colonel Salomon, of the Fifth, notified their regiments not to fire on troops coming in this direction, whilst I cautioned the artillery in the same manner.  Our troops in this moment expected with anxiety the approach of our friends, and were waving the flat, raised as a signal to their comrades, when at once two batteries opened their fire against us, one in front, placed on the Fayetteville road, and the other upon the hill on which we had supposed Lyon’s forces were in pursuit of the enemy, whilst a strong column of infantry, supposed to be the Iowar regiment, advanced from the Fayetteville road and attacked our right.
    It is impossible for me to describe the consternation and frightful confusion which was occasioned by this unfortunate event.  The cry “They (Lyon’s troops) are firing against us,” spread like wildfire through our ranks,; the artillerymen, ordered to fire and directed by myself, could hardly be brought forward to serve their piece; the infantry would not level their arms till it was too late.  The enemy arrived within ten paces of the mouth of our cannon, killed the horses, turned the flanks of the infantry, and forced them to retire.  The troops were throwing themselves into the bushes and by roads, retreating as well as they could, followed and attacked incessantly by large bodies of Arkansas and Texas cavalry….

Report of Col. Louis Hebert, Third Louisiana Infantry.

…Some of the enemy still remained on the hill and in a ravine.  I, however, hesitated to attack, having discovered a force immediately in my rear, whom I did not ascertain to be friends for some twenty minutes.  I then ordered the advance, attacked the enemy, and put them to flight.

Report of Maj. S. D. Sturgis, First U. S. Cavalry.

   Early in this engagement, while General Lyon was leading his horse along the line on the left of Captain Totten’s battery, and endeavoring to rally our troops which were at this time in considerable disorder, his horse was killed, and he received a wound in the leg and one in the head.  He walked slowly a few paces to the rear and said, “I fear the day is lost.”  But upon being encouraged that our troops could again be rallied, that the disorder was only temporary, he passed over to another horse, and swinging his hat in the air, led forward the troops who promptly rallied around him   A few moment slater he was carried from the field dead…
….Thus closed, at aobut 11.30 o’clock, an almost uninterrupted conflict on nearly six hours.  The order to retire was given immediately after the enemy gave way from our front and center, and Lieutenant Du Bois’ battery at once took position with its support on a hill in our rear.
…it was still undecided whether the retreat should be continued or whether we should occupy the more favorable position in our rear and await tidings of Colonel Sigel, one of his men reached us, and reported that his brigade had been totally routed and all his artillery captured, Colonel Sigel himself having been either killed or taken prisoner.  Most of our men had fired away their ammunition and all that could be obtained from the boxes of their killed and wounded.  There was then nothing left us but to return to Springfield.

Reports of Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch, C. S. Army, with orders and proclamation.

..The incessant roll of musketry was deafening, and the balls fell thick as hailstones, but still our gallant Southerners pushed onward, and with one wild yell broke upon the enemy, pushing them back and stewing the ground with their dead.  Nothing could withstand the impetuosity of our final charge.  The enemy fled and could not again be rallied, and they were seen at 12 m. fast retreating among the hills in the distance.

Official Records, Series I., Vol. 3, Pages 54-130.

McCulloch’s description of the end of the battle is far from accurate.  The Union forces disengaged when the Confederates withdrew after a third charge on the main Union line.  The Confederates made no attempt at pursuit, as bloodied and exhausted as their opponent.  Control of Southwestern Missouri belonged to the rebels.

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