Wilson's Creek (Oak Hills)
Wilson's Creek National Battlefield

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield is located three miles east of Republic, MO, and 10 miles southwest of Springfield, MO: from U. S. Interstate I-44, take exit 70 (Missouri Highway MM) south to U. S. Highway 60. Cross Highway 60 and drive 3/4 mile to Missouri Highway ZZ. The battlefield is two miles south on Highway ZZ; from U. S. Highway 60 and U. S. Highway 65, take the James River Expressway to the Kansas Expressway, then south to Missouri Highway M. Follow Highway M west to Missouri Highway ZZ. Turn left (south) and proceed circa 1 1/2 miles to the battlefield.

Wilson's Creek National Battlefield is administered by the National Park Service of the United States Department of the Interior. The mailing address is 6424 West Farm Road 182, Republic, MO 65738-0403. Telephone: 417-732-2662.

The National Park Service maintains a Visitor's Center at the entrance to the Park grounds, containing a museum, gift shop, audiovisual programs, literature and maps which provide an introduction to the battlefield and its relevance to the Civil War. The Visitor Center is open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except December 25 and January 1.

The battlefield of Wilson's Creek has a self-guided automobile tour along a 4.9-mile route augmented by 8 Tour Stops, each with wayside exhibits with maps, photographs, and historical information concerning the battle. There are also walking trails at several battlefield locations: Gibson's Mill, the Ray House, Pulaski Arkansas Battery position, Price's Headquarters, Bloody Hill, and the historic overlook. The Tour road is open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the summer; 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. after Labor Day.

Guided tours of the battlefield, historic weapons firing demonstrations, and other interpretive services are provided during the spring, summer, and fall.

Civil War Sites Advisory Commission Report on Wilson's Creek: MO004
(The CWSAC Battle Summary Will Open In Its Own Window)

Wilson's Creek: August 10, 1861

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The Battle of Wilson's Creek (called Oak Hills by the Confederates) was fought 10 miles southwest of Springfield, Mo., on August 10, 1861. Named for the stream that crosses the area where the battle took place, it was a bitter struggle between Union and Confederate forces for control of Missouri in the first year of the Civil War.

Border State Politics

When the Civil War began in 1861 , Missouri's allegiance was of vital concern to the Federal Government. The State's strategic position on the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and its abundant manpower and natural resources made it imperative that she remain loyal to the Union. Most Missourians desired neutrality, but many, including the governor, Claiborne F. Jackson, held strong Southern sympathies and planned to cooperate with the Confederacy in its bid for independence.

When President Lincoln called for troops to put down the rebellion, Missouri was asked to supply four regiments. Governor Jackson refused the request and ordered State military units to muster at Camp Jackson outside St. Louis and prepare to seize the U. S. Arsenal in that city. They had not, however, counted on the resourcefulness of the arsenal's commander, Capt. Nathaniel Lyon.

Learning of the governor's intentions, Lyon had most of the weapons moved secretly to Illinois. On May 10 he marched 7,000 men out to Camp Jackson and forced its surrender. In June, after a futile meeting with Governor Jackson to resolve their differences, Lyon (now a brigadier general) led an army up the Missouri River and captured the State Capitol at Jefferson City. After an unsuccessful stand at Boonville a few miles upstream, Governor Jackson retreated to southwest Missouri with elements of the State Guard.

Why Wilson's Creek?

After installing a pro-Union State government and picking up reinforcements, Lyon moved toward southwest Missouri. By July 13, 1861, he was encamped at Springfield with about 6,000 soldiers, consisting of the lst, 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Missouri Infantry, the 1st Iowa Infantry, the 1st and 2nd Kansas Infantry, several companies of regular Army troops, and three batteries of artillery.

Meanwhile, 75 miles southwest of Springfield, Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, commanding the Missouri State Guard, had been busy drilling the 5,000 soldiers in his charge. By the end of July, when troops under Generals Ben McCulloch and N. Bart Pearce rendezvoused with Price, the total Confederate force exceeded 12,000 men. On July 31, after formulating plans to capture Lyon's army and regain control of the State, Price, McCulloch, and Pearce marched northeast to attack the Federals. Lyon, hoping to surprise the Confederates, marched from Springfield on August 1. The next day the Union troops mauled the Southern vanguard at Dug Springs. Lyon, discovering that he was outnumbered, ordered a withdrawal to Springfield. The Confederates followed and by August 6 were encamped near Wilson's Creek.

The Battle

Despite inferior numbers, Lyon decided to attack the Confederate encampments. Leaving about 1,000 men behind to guard his supplies, the Federal commander led 5,400 soldiers out of Springfield on the night of August 9. Lyon's plan called for 1,200 men under Col. Franz Sigel to swing wide to the south, flanking the Confederate right, while the main body of troops struck from the north. Success hinged on the element of surprise.

Ironically, the Confederate leaders had also planned a surprise attack on the Federals, but rain on the night of the 9th caused McCulloch (who was now in overall command) to cancel the operation. On the morning of the 10th, Lyon's attack caught the Southerners off guard, driving them back. Forging rapidly ahead, the Federals overran several Confederate camps and occupied the crest of a ridge subsequently called "Bloody Hill." Nearby, the Pulaski Arkansas Battery opened fire, checking the advance. This gave Price's infantry time to form a battleline on the hill's south slope.

For more than five hours the battle raged on Bloody Hill. Fighting was often at close quarters, and the tide turned with each charge and countercharge. Sigel's flanking maneuver, initially successful, lost momentum in the fields of the Sharp farm as it came under Confederate artillery fire. Sigel's attack collapsed altogether when McCulloch's men counterattacked. Defeated, Sigel and his troops fled.

On Bloody Hill at about 9:30 a.m., General Lyon, who had been wounded twice already, was killed while leading a countercharge. [1] Maj. Samuel Sturgis assumed command of the Federal forces and by 11 a.m., with ammunition nearly exhausted, ordered a withdrawal to Springfield. The Battle of Wilson's Creek was over. Losses were heavy and about equal on both sides--1,317 for the Federals, 1,222 for the Confederates. The Southerners, though victorious on the field, were not able to pursue the Northerners. Lyon lost the battle and his life, but he achieved his goal: Missouri remained under Union control.

The Civil War in Missouri

The Battle of Wilson's Creek marked the beginning of the Civil War in Missouri. For the next 3 1/2 years, the State was the scene of savage and fierce fighting, mostly guerrilla warfare, with small bands of mounted raiders destroying anything military or civilian that could aid the enemy. By the time the conflict ended in the spring of 1865, Missouri had witnessed so many battles and skirmishes that it ranks as the third most fought-over State in the Nation.

The Confederates made only two large-scale attempts to break the Federal hold on Missouri, both of them directed by Sterling Price. Shortly after Wilson's Creek, Price led his Missouri State Guard north and captured the Union garrison at Lexington. He and his troops remained in the State until early 1862, when a Federal army drove them into Arkansas. The subsequent Union victory at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March kept organized Confederate military forces out of Missouri for more than two years.

In September 1864 Price returned to Missouri with an army of some 12,000 men. By the time his campaign ended, he had marched nearly 1,500 miles, fought 43 battles or skirmishes, and destroyed an estimated $10 million worth of property. Yet the campaign ended in disaster. At Westport on October 23, Price was soundly defeated in the largest battle fought west of the Mississippi and forced to retreat south. His withdrawal ended organized Confederate military operations in Missouri.

(Text Adapted From: Wilson's Creek National Park Service pamphlet distributed to visitors of the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield.)

1. About midmorning on the day of the battle, as he was leading a charge of the 2nd Kansas Infantry against Col. Richard Weightman's Missourians, Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was struck by a musket ball that passed through his chest. Slowly dismounting, the mortally wounded Lyon collapsed into the arms of orderly Pvt. Ed Lehmann. A granite marker, placed on the battlefield in 1928 by the University Club of Springfield, MO, marks the approximate spot where Lyon was killed, commemorating the death of one of the Union's outstanding officers, and the first Union general to die during the Civil War.

revised: December 29, 2001
created: August 13, 2001
© 2001 Civil War Landscapes Association - All Rights Reserved.