Just last week was the 158th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – the first major battle fought west of the Mississippi River. With approximately 2,500 wounded, killed, and missing Federal and Southern soldiers, the battle itself undoubtedly set the stage for Union occupation and ultimate victory in Missouri. During the battle itself, the climactic fights took place on what was later named “Bloody Hill,” a plateau marked by deep ravines and thick brush. Images of Bloody Hill I took on my visit show the heavy brush and uneven terrain (see below).
During every Southern assault and Federal movement on that hill, units had difficulty maintaining alignment and structure between the ravines. After visiting the battlefield myself in July, I walked along the trails on Bloody Hill and wondered how the terrain looked on a topographical map and elevation profile.
I visited the USGS National Map viewer and pulled up the USGS Imagery Topo map to look at the hill’s elevation and terrain. Continue reading →
“Our men were generally armed with the old Springfield rifle, while the Confederates had in many instances only shotguns. Most of our wounded were disabled by buckshot or buck-and-ball. Some of the Confederates used old double-barreled guns,” remembered Major John Halderman of the First Kansas Infantry. He was not writing about just any Trans-Mississippi Confederate troops. In fact, he was recalling the troops of the Missouri State Guard at Wilson’s Creek, who went into battle there with a hodgepodge of firearms. 
Two members of the Moniteau County Rangers, Missouri State Guard. The soldier on the left is shown with most likely an 1841 Mississippi Rifle, while the soldier on the right is armed with a long rifle. Courtesy of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield.
Due to the speed of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon’s movement at the start of the campaign, Governor Claiborne Jackson and the state legislature was unable to properly supply the newly-formed Missouri State Guard was uniforms or weapons. The units of the Guard were either former militia or they were newly-formed. Roughly 30% of the Guard was properly uniformed. Continue reading →
Just days after surviving the first major battle west of the Mississippi River – the Battle of Wilson’s Creek – German-born Sergeant Otto C. Lademann of the 3rd Missouri Infantry promised Colonel Thomas Snead of Major General Sterling Price’s staff that he would never take up arms against the enemy in order to return home to St. Louis. He, along with most of Colonel Franz Sigel’s column, had been routed and captured on the south end of the battlefield.
Sergeant (later promoted to captain) Otto Lademann is seen on the left, and the Confederate officer who saved his life – Captain Emmett MacDonald. Courtesy of the Missouri Historical Society.
On August 20, Lademann, along with eight commissioned officers and one fellow non-commissioned soldier, departed Springfield in the wagon of a pro-Union man who offered to take them to Rolla for sixty dollars. By wagon, they would travel along the Wire Road to Rolla. There, the Union soldiers would depart for St. Louis by train on the Southwestern Branch of the Pacific Railroad.
On the second day of the journey, they were four miles southwest of Lebanon and sixty miles from Rolla. Lademann’s wagon was stopped by a dozen armed pro-Southerners who were on their way to join Price’s army. Continue reading →
This article was originally posted on the Emerging Civil War blog on September 5, 2018, written by Kristen M. Pawlak.
Ever since the guns were silenced in the spring of 1865, veterans and civilians alike trek the battlefields of the Civil War to inspire them and understand the carnage and sacrifice that occurred on those hallowed fields. Learning about what happened at these locations and why it matters is one of the most meaningful ways to honor soldiers of the Civil War – even the veterans themselves said that.
One of those veterans was William T. Sherman, the great, but controversial, commander of the Federal military division that captured Atlanta, marched through Georgia and the Carolinas, and forced the surrender of Johnston’s Army of Tennessee at Bennett Place. After the war, he continued to serve in the United States Army as its Commanding General until 1883.
General William Tecumseh Sherman just three years following his visit to the Wilson’s Creek battlefield. Courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
Having lived in Missouri – specifically in St. Louis – in the years before the Civil War, Sherman had a close relationship with Missouri veterans, particularly fellow West Pointers and career soldiers he served with in the Army before, during, and after the Civil War. In 1885, Sherman “desired to visit the battlefield of Wilson’s Creek and the spot where Gen. Lyon fell.” To Sherman, who knew him personally before the war, Lyon “was somewhat careless in dress and manner, but intensely earnest in his ways, thoughts, and expressions … personally brave to a fault, not very social or friendly, yet honest and fearless.” Though Sherman served at another early-war battle, Manassas, he still wished to walk in the footsteps of a fellow Union war hero. Continue reading →
Three days following the Confederate victory at Wilson’s Creek, Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch wrote to the people of Missouri, urging them to act. Because McCulloch and his Western Army of Arkansans and Texans returned to the Indian Territory following the battle, the Texas Confederate leader has not been held in high regard and is frequently blamed for not pursuing the Federals and advancing to Lexington with Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, even though he led the Western Army and Missouri State Guard to victory. In McCulloch’s eyes, he needed to return to the territory his army was ordered to protect in the first place. He also saw the Missouri State Guard has ragtag and unfit for proper military service, causing major rifts between him and Price. Instead of remaining with the State Guard and establishing Confederate control in the state, McCulloch urged the people of Missouri to take up arms and finish the job on their own. Continue reading →
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.
Thomas L. Snead in the decades following the Civil War. Courtesy of Findagrave.
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.” Continue reading →
Just three months after fighting raged across the fields near Wilson’s Creek, 40,000 men sent by Major General John C. Fremont were sent toward Springfield, Missouri to regain the initiative against the Missouri State Guard, who were victorious at Wilson’s Creek and Lexington. On November 11, the men of the 17th Missouri Infantry (“The Western Turner Rifles”) visited the battlefield that wrecked havoc on their fellow Federal soldiers and killed Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon.
The effects of shot and shell on trees on Culp’s Hill at Gettysburg would have been similar to the sights at Wilson’s Creek. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
On November 21, 1861, Pvt. John W. Lindner of the Western Turner Rifles penned a letter to his friend August Duemler about what they saw ten days before. Read the letter below: