ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOX) — While we may think political fighting is fierce today, we’ve seen nothing compared to what our ancestors faced in this nation’s Civil War.
Today marks the 150th anniversary of one of Missouri’s major battles in that conflict.
This week, KMOX News takes you back to 1861, and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
“It was the second major battle of the war and what we see are two opposing forces that are trying to gain control of Missouri,” explains Missouri History Museum Curator Jeff Meyer.
As both sides gathered in cornfields and forested hills near Springfield, Missouri, the union army was outnumbered — the Confederate forces poorly trained.
Historian and re-enactor Gerald Perschbacher says the Confederates were able to muster more men, yet they lacked equipment and military discipline. “Most of the Confederate soldiers had been pulled together so quickly, they didn’t even know how to march. They didn’t know what the sound of a trumpet was. The would use the sound of a fife and drum to gather together.” Perschbacher says they didn’t have the gear, the cannon or the training. Many had grabbed their old flint-lock and left their farms to fight.
Although they were better prepared, the Union troops led by a determined Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon were facing very tough odds. The History Musuem’s Jeff Meyer: “Even Lyon was criticized somewhat for not retreating to Rolla even before the battle had started, just because he did not have the numbers to make that successful.”
Meyer explains Lyon had just gained control of the state armory, and sent Missouri’s secessionist governor running from the state capitol, so he had no problem with confidence.
The Union army marched half the night to where the Confederates were camped near Springfield, Missouri.
They launched their attack at dawn, but it wasn’t long before the oppressive August heat settled on the battlefield.
“You’re talking about basically close to a hundred degrees and some of the men were dressed in very heavy outfits,” says Perschbacher.
“It’s hot and the men are weary, they’re fighting sometimes at very close range, they’re surrounded by artillery fire,” adds Meyer.
Union forces split their men to try and surround the southerners but faltered in the confusion of battle. Before noon the Union soldiers were on the run. Lyon had fallen in battle, shot through the heart as he charged up what was later called ‘Bloody Hill’.
Yet Meyer says the Confederates failed to capitalize. “When the Union forces retreated, they didn’t pursue them and they weren’t able to secure the state for the Confederacy.” Meyer explains, the commander of the Confederate Army, Brigadier General Benjamin McCulloch, had so little respect for the men they’d fought alongside — Major General Sterling Price and his Missouri State Guard — McCulloch pulled his soldiers out of Missouri.
And so the Union kept a tenuous hold, fighting small skirmishes against members of the Missouri Guard for the remainder of the war.
Thursday, KMOX News will have more on the aftermath of Missouri’s Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
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