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The Battle of Wilson’s Creek took place 147 years ago this week. Yesterday, the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield recognized the anniversary of the actual battle, unveiling an original painting of the historic campaign.As part of our ongoing series, “A Sense of Place,” KSMU’s Jennifer Moore went on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Civil War battlefield and reports on how the National Park Service is trying to keep the area looking just as it did on the day of the battle.
Confederate troops were stationed along Wilson’s Creek just southwest of Springfield. Their southern commanders were planning on attacking Springfield. However, they were caught by surprise at dawn when northern troops attacked them instead.
The fighting that ensued over the next six hours would come to be known as the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, which was only the second battle in the Civil War. Ted Hillmer, the superintendent of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, gave me a tour of the battle site, beginning at banks of the actual creek.
Moore: We’re just going over Wilson’s Creek here, and it’s very dense vegetation. Is that exactly as it was back then?
Hillmer: No, in fact if you look at a diary from a corporal, it talked about a savannah type of environment. If you look on the left here, you’ll see about 18 trees per foot. If you look on the right side, however, you get 18 trees per foot.
We pull up next to a corn field bordered by a split-rail fence. The sign says “Ray’s Corn Field.” Hillmer says for decades there was no corn there, but now the park service has planted a field full of corn to show how it looked in 1861.We go off the main road on a gravel path which is known as the "Wire Road," or the "Telegraph Road."
We come upon Edwards cabin. The cabin was the headquarters of the Southern Troops during the battle of Wilson’s Creek. The southern troops ate corn from the nearby cornfields, and drew water from Wilson’s Creek and nearby springs, while their southern commanders Price and McCullogh planned their next step.
Next, Hillmer drives up to the site of most of the activity: after the battle it came to be known as “Bloody Hill.” The Confederates tried three times unsuccessfully to break the Union line. The Union General Nathaniel Lyon's body was brought back to the Ray House, where there were surgeons treating the wounded and dying. We stop by the house, which still has its original fireplace, cellar, and spinning wheel.
Although they had the high ground, the northern troops were exhausted, outnumbered and running out of ammunition. Major Samuel Sturgis, who took over after Lyons fell, ordered a retreat to Springfield. It was a victory for the South, and gave the Confederates control of southwestern Missouri.
Ted Hillmer says the National Park Service is trying to keep the site as close as possible to what it looked like in 1861. The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, he says, was early in the War, but was a defining moment in the nation’s history.The Battle of Wilson’s Creek is also known as the battle of “Oak Hills.”
Many of the fallen soldiers from the battle are buried in the Springfield National Cemetary, just north of Battlefield Mall in Springfield.
For KSMU’s “A Sense of Place,” I’m Jennifer Moore at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield. Support for “A Sense of Place” on KSMU is provided by the Springfield-Greene County History Museum and Founders Park.