The Battle of Oak Hills, Missouri, or Wilson's Creek by its more popular Yankee name, was a Federal humiliation. The Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price combined with Confederates from Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana to defeat the Yanks. The day proved to be a glorious day for patriotic Missourians. August 10, 1861 would be the last day the despicable and most-hated Nathaniel Lyon would terrorize Missouri. The Yanks ran so fast they left their commander on the battlefield not once...but twice!!! (Or maybe the Yanks didn't like him either).
The following letter can be found in the Western Historical Manuscript Collection, University of Missouri-Columbia.
Aug. 12th 1861
On Saturday last we had one of the most terable [sic] battles that ever was fought on this continent, resulting in the defeat & route of the entire Federal army. On Friday evening the order was issued for us to advance on Springfield at 9 o ck [sic] and our picket guards were drawn in. The appearance of rain prevented the execusion [sic] of the order, & McCulloch did not think it necessary to send them back, so that the first thing we know in the morning they commenced firing on us from three points, having entirely surrounded us, such scampering of wagons & rushing to arms was never seen. And notwithstanding the great advantage in the ground & of a sudden surprise, on the enemy's part, our men soon formed and commenced driving them back at every point. They rallied and returned several times & not until after some six hours hard fighting were they entirely routed.
We lost 267 killed dead and double that number wounded. The enemy lost more than twice as many and amongst the killed was Missouri's greatest enemy: Genl Lyon! So completely were they routed they could not take time to bury him, although they sent a white flag to ask for his body, but left him in an open house to be buried by any one who would be so charitable: They had permission to bury their dead, and gather their wounded; the former they neglected in toto, & the latter in part.
We captured eight pieces of Artilery [sic], & some fifteen hundred small arms.
Missouri lost many brave men, & several field officers killed, Ben Brown, & Weightman amongst the number. Genl Price slightly wounded, also Genl Clark, & Genl Slack severely if not mortally.
My horse was shot dead under me early in the action, otherwise I came off Scot free. I am happy to say that our neighbors of Kansas suffered most terably [sic] & many of them are amongst the prisoners, who number some four or five hundred.
I sincerely hope that after their late defeat in Va & this one here that the people of the north may take the sober second thought & that none of us will ever be called on to witness another such a day. Sturgess, Capt Steel & Conrad of my acquaintance were in the fight, the latter wounded in the foot.
The battle was fought against the best regulars of the U S army & won by less numbers of raw recruits promiscously [sic] armed with shot-guns, old rifles, &tc We had only some six thousand in the fight. Lyon nine thousand.
Our troops have borne all sorts of _________. Almost naked, bare footed, without sugar or coffee, in fact nothing but beef & half rations of bread, & that half the time without salt. We were in hopes that when we got here we would find the necessaries of life more plenty, but the Dutch were before us, and we remain pretty much in the old fix. I hope ere long however we will be nearer the Mo. river, & that by the time Musquitoes [sic] are gone we may be in St Louis. I have not heard from St Louis since I left but do sincerely hope our dear father may have lived to hear of the triumph of Missouri over Lincoln.
Had I had an opportunity I would have written to Ike & Petter for one of them to come down but, if rumor be true there is no telling how soon their services may be needed there against the JayHawkers of Kansas.
I will direct this to Julia, so that you may all hear the news, and if Tuck has not gone he will take this as an answer to his letter. I should have written to him ere this but had no opportunity of sending a letter.
Please enclose this to Mother as soon as you read it, as I do not know when I will have a chance of sending a letter to St Louis.
My true love to Aunts S. A., Betty, Bell, Nannie, etc.
Hoping ere a great while to meet you all in a free country, I remain
** Col. Randolph Harrison Dyer, Asst. Quartermaster, General Staff, Missouri State Guard
The following letter was printed in the Missouri State Tribune, August 10, 1900. It has been reprinted in Pioneers of High, Water, and Main - a collection of Dr. R. E. Young's reminiscences.
The Great Battle Fought 39 Years Ago Today
Jefferson City, Aug. 10, 1900
To the Editor of the State Tribune:
Today, thirty-nine years ago was fought the battle of Wilsons Creek. The night before, Gen. M. M. Parsons' brigade of Prices army was camped about Sharps house - the infantry and artillery north of the house and the cavalry to the south in an open field. Headquarters was just down the hill in the flat north of Sharps house and [Col. Joseph] Kellys infantry and [Henry] Guibors battery were north of headquarters. I belonged to [Fountain] McKenzies company of [Robert A.] Bob McCullochs regiment of cavalry but at that time was detailed as Gen. Parsons' orderly and of course was with the staff at headquarters. I had been ordered by the General to keep my horse saddled and bridled for we expected to make a night march toward Springfield. At 9 p.m. the orders came from Gen. [Sterling] Price to camp for the night but Gen. Parsons ordered me to keep my horse saddled until further orders. Not getting any further orders, I laid down on my blanket near him until morning.
At daylight, I called up Parsons cook Sid, a bright colored boy, the Generals servant, and whom he had brought with him from home. Sid soon had breakfast, such as it was, ready - roasting ears, coffee (made of cornmeal browned) and "sow belly." The General and I breakfasted together although I was a private soldier on detail. The General had known me from infancy and always treated me socially as though I was his own son. The General was a small eater and was soon done and ordered his horse, a beautiful blooded bay with black mane and tall black legs, not a white hair on him, to be saddled. He sat there joking me about my eating and declaring that I ate so much it made me poor to carry it. I was about the sparest-built man in camp. Capt. [Col. Austin] Standish, adjutant of staff, being nearly as slim as myself, often said: "Bob, you and I are safe if we keep sideways to the enemy for we are so thin we would split a bullet."
While we were talking and I still eating, a twig from a sycamore fell down on the camp table and immediately we heard the report of a cannon on our extreme left toward Springfield. General Parsons immediately mounted and ordered me to do likewise and to call his staff which was camped a little further toward Springfield than the General and I. I found them mounted and we were all soon about the General awaiting orders and he awaiting orders from General Price. The orders soon came to form his brigade to the left of the road to Springfield and on a wooded eminence immediately on our left. The Generals staff and Guibors battery led the way but before the infantry could cross the road, an endless stream of fleeing baggage wagons so blocked the road that the infantry which had formed in their camp on the right of the road could not cross.
As soon as General Parsons had found a position for his battery, he turned to Lieut. [Lt. Col. James T.] Jim Edwards, his aide-de-camp, and ordered him to tell Kelly to form on his left and to bring the cavalry and form them on our right. Lieut. Edwards* started to deliver the orders to Col. Kelly when his horse was killed and he was afoot. The General then asked me if I knew where Kellys regiment was. I answered: "I will find it." He said: "Tell the colonel to move up rapidly and form to the left of the battery."
All this time, Guibor was pouring shot and shell into the advancing foe. I found Colonel Kelly with his regiment drawn up on the road by his camp awaiting orders, or rather waiting for the wagons to clear the road so he could cross. Just as I reached him the road cleared somewhat and I delivered my message. The Colonel said: "Bob, show me where the battery is (everybody in the brigade knew me as Bob, the man that rode the bobtail gray horse)." I succeeded in leading them to where the battery was and as the regiment was wheeling into line and while I was still between the enemy and Kellys regiment, a volley from the hidden foe swept over us and about us like hailstones. Charley OMalley, my poor, faithful horse that my father gave me to ride away to the war, fell to rise no more. As he sank beneath me, he neighed and some of my comrades always said I cried. Be that as it may, I never saw his like again.
On foot I reported to the General that the regiment was formed as he had ordered and was paying its compliments to the enemy and that I awaited further orders. He said: "Well done, my boy, get mounted if you can; if not do as you please." I joined Captain [James Rockne "Rock"] Champion who was by this time in command of Kellys regiment, the colonel having been wounded and Lieutenant-Colonel [Stephen O.] Coleman having been killed.
At the time Edwards and I had been sent after Kellys regiment, Col. Standish had been sent after McCullochs cavalry but by this time General [Franz] Sigel had turned our right and cut the cavalry off [and] were forced to retreat toward Cassville. Colonel Standish rode into the foe thinking they were part of Prices forces and was captured. About this time, the Third Louisiana regiment charged Sigels forces with fixed bayonets and captured his battery and with the assistance of Texas and Arkansas troops put him in full flight. Up to this time we were between the fire of Sigel in our rear and [Nathaniel] Lyon in our front. For seven mortal hours we struggled with Lyons advancing columns and Wilson Creek flowed colored with the blood of as fine a body of men as ever met in opposing columns.
It would take many of your valuable columns to tell of the heroic deeds that were performed there that hot August day. I fought with Champion through the battle after my horse was slain and received honorable mention in my Generals report.
After the battle was over, the Captain detailed me with a score of others to hunt up our dead and collect them for burial. It was then that I saw the remains of the beautiful dapple-gray ridden by Gen. Lyon, the gift of D. A. January of St. Louis. He was a beautiful charger and has been immortalized with his master in painting and in song. I have often read "the rivers ran with blood" but I came near seeing it at Wilson Creek. Bleeding men and horses sought the creek that day and in many places the stream was red with blood of friend and foe. I was never in but one hotter fight in my four years service and some day I may tell you of that.
R. E. Young
EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF SURGEON JOHN J. WYATT
2nd Infantry Regiment, 7th Division, Missouri State Guard
The diary of John J. Wyatt can be found at the Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri.
Aug 7th 1861 Orders today are to cook 3 days rations & it is likely we will move on Springfield tonight where the enemy is said to be fortifying. Our forces now consist of One Louisiana Regt., Seven Arkansas Regiments, 1100 Texas Rangers with some 10,000 Missourians, many of whom are unarmed & a warm time is expected. This evening the orders for a move are countermanded, and we will remain here till morning and perhaps longer.
It is really sickening just to think of only 10 miles between us and the enemy and the men all keen to advance and give him battle, and the Commanders holding back in this way. Too bad. Too bad. Ten Generals, and all together would not make one good commander. I believe they are afraid to attack. This is my opinion privately expressed by the by.
Aug 8th 1861 Breakfast over & no orders about moving. Hell and Damnation what do they mean. Suspense is killing us all. If we do not move today something will be done. Hell to such damn one horse commanders. Gods moments are flowing and I fear the time has already passed for a successful movement.
Aug 9th Still in camp without any hopes of an order. Much grumbling in consequence. The Yankees it is reported are about leaving Springfield - they are reported to have robbed the banks of all the specie and sent it to St. Louis. Oh for a chance at them before they leave, and here we lie down trodden where in all probability if we had done so we could have captured them all very easy if we had tried, but it seems the time has passed.
August 10 1861 Last night the orders were to move at nine o'clock, all ready when it commenced raining, and the orders were countermanded. This morning still cloudy but has rained but little. I wish we could go. Provisions are scarce, everything used up, everybody anxious to attack the enemy. The plan of attack is drawn up and if we can get there must be successful - night - I had scarcely written the above before it was reported that the enemy was, and sure enough the firing commenced and we found we were entirely surrounded. It seems that the picket line had been called in or had not been sent out as usual. We being lulled into security, but by hard fighting and the greatest bravery we won the day. There is no telling how many of the Yankees were killed. I counted by riding thru the woods over 80 dead. Our loss is more of wounded than killed. I do not think there were a great many killed. The great Gen. Lyon is among the dead, this is the best of all. I never heard bullets whiz so in all my life, they shot sometimes into our Hospital Camp. Wounded Dr. Small in the neck. Killed Dr. Wootens horse. We broke for a while but rallied again and did the best we could under the circumstances. My esteemed friend I regret most of all - was brought in badly wounded by a grape shot in the leg. I hope however it will not be serious. Many of the wounded I fear will never recover - poor fellows they stood it well. In the morning we will have several amputations to make. I suppose it will not be long till we move on Springfield.
Though it seems they have fled from here by this time, we took most all of their artillery with much small arms. They should in my opinion have been followed up and cut to pieces. They had every advantage over us 10 or 15000 men. Our men fought like Devils. A few more such licks and Missouri will be free. What a pitiful sight to ride through the brush & see so many dying in the scorching sun. They have come in with a flag and begged leave to care for the wounded and bury their dead which was granted.
August 11 1861 Yesterday one of the hardest battles on record was fought. It is estimated that the enemy lost over 2000. How it is I cannot tell. Only that the slaughter was great. So far as I can learn from 150 to 200 of our men were killed. Our Brigade suffered more than any other. There are 60 or 70 wounded tho [sic] no dead. I cannot tell tho [sic] we hear today that the Dutch have fled in the direction of St. Louis. We are following along after him today but he has a days march advantage on us. We are so fond of holding back.
It is uncertain about overtaking him. I am still at the Hospital having
participated in many operations today. After all many of our wounded are likely to die.
Poor fellows. They stand it well. Several of the enemy's wounded are here. I understand we
got 600 prisoners. I shall follow on after the army this evening leaving several Sgts.
here with the men. Many of the citizens of Springfield came out today to see us. It being
the first chance they have had. The Dutch kept them in strings. They the Dutch report as
usual all the glory on their side. Dam him I hope we may overtake him and use him up.
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