In Missouri’s Civil War history, Thomas L. Snead was at the forefront of the state’s secession crisis, its opening campaigns in 1861, and its relationship with the Confederate government. A native of Virginia, Snead studied law and worked in journalism in St. Louis in the years leading up to the war. His loyalty to Governor Claiborne Jackson earned him a position as his aide, as well as a commission in the Missouri State Guard and as Chief of Staff to Maj. Gen. Sterling Price. In 1864, Snead continued his work for the Confederate efforts in Missouri by serving as a Representative from Missouri in the Second Confederate Congress.
His most significant role, however, was in forming the memory of the war in Missouri. In 1886, he published The Fight For Missouri, a full-length history of Missouri in 1861, including detailed accounts of the 1861 campaigns. According to the preface of his book, Snead wrote the book “because I am the only living witness to many facts the remembrance of which ought to be preserved.” He was a witness to the Jackson administration, the Planter’s House Hotel meeting, and the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Snead was also responsible for writing numerous articles on Missouri in the Southern Historical Society Papers.
In late April 1874, while living in New York City as a journalist, Snead wrote a letter to a fellow Missouri Confederate veteran. The fellow veteran was prolific central Missouri artist William B. Cox, who was in the process of painting a scene from the Battle of Wilson’s Creek when Snead wrote him a letter explaining why naming it “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek” would be preferable to the Confederate names of “Oak Hill” or “Springfield.”
My Dear Cox: – I think it would be best to call your painting “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek,” for as such it is known in the military archives of the United States, and by that name, will be known in history. Moreover [sic], if we Confederates will persist in calling it “The Battle of Oak Hills,” as it is called in our Confederate annals, or “The Battle of Springfield,” as it was wisely and properly called by our dear old General the hero of it – confusion and uncertainty will inevitably result; and history, while admitting that McCulloch won “The Battle of Oak Hills” and Price, “The Battle of Springfield,” will perpetuate, on her lasting tablets the oft repeated falsehood, that Lyon won “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek.” Let us rather accept the name which the United State Government has given to the field, and let our artists and writers, with truthful pens and pencils make “Wilson’s Creek” a glorious name in the History of Confederate Victories. And in simple truth there was not, through all the war, a harder fought battle than that, nor a more complete victory for the Confederate forces. Perhaps the result might have been different – it certainly would have been less disastrous to the Federal arms – had Lyon lived, for he was, unquestionably, one of the greatest soldiers that I have ever known; but even he could hardly have withstood the accumulated force which Price hurled against the Federal army, when the troops of McCulloch and Weightman flushed with their victory over Sigel’s column, came to the aid of the hard-pressed Missourians, who had been facing Lyon and his undaunted soldiers all that day. It was the loud shouts of these reinforcements that told Lyon of Sigel’s defeat and of his own great danger; and it was then that he, with the instinct of the true captain, put himself at the head of his men, and made the last grand and desperate charge, wherein he fell mortally wounded. Later in the day, I delivered up his body, by order of Gen. Price, to a party sent by the Federal commander, to ask it. And no stronger proof of the utter rout of the Federal troops, can be given, than the fact that when at the head of a detachment of cavalry, I entered Springfield the next morning, the ambulance containing Lyon’s body was standing there in the street, where it had been abandoned by his men in their precipitate retreat. The original draft of Gen. Price’s report of the battle, written by me, on the field of battle, is lying before me. The sight of it brings vividly to my remembrance the noble and brave patriots who fought there, that sultry summer’s day, and my conscience reproaches me, that I have not written my long promised “Annals of the Missouri State Guard.” I shall try to redeem that promise, in part before the close of the year, by writing a truthful account of the “Battle of Wilson’s Creek,” for the Southern Historical Society. I have a good deal of matter prepared for it, but would thank you and your friends for any other that you or they can furnish me.
Very Truly Yours,
Thomas L. Snead