On August 10th, 1861, a Union Army force of 5400 men under the command of Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon attacked a much larger Confederate army of approximately 12,000 at a location along a stream ten miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri. Although his command was smaller than his opponent, Lyon detached 1200 men under Colonel Franz Sigel to make a movement upon the Confederate right flank. Early in the morning, Lyon led the rest of his men on a surprise attack on the Confederate encampment and achieved some early success before Rebel artillery fire stopped the Federal advance at some high ground that would be later known as “Bloody Hill”.
Fighting continued on the hill for several hours. The ever aggressive Lyon was wounded twice but was preparing to lead a counterattack when he was shot in the chest and killed. Major Samuel Sturgis assumed command of the Union forces on Bloody Hill. Meanwhile, Sigel attacked a Confederate cavalry encampment early that morning, and by skillfully deploying his artillery, had driven off the cavalrymen. Sigel continued his advance, but did not deploy his men well and a counterattack led by Confederate Brigadier General Ben McCulloch drove the Federals from the field and ended the threat to the Confederate flank and rear.
Back on Bloody Hill, with casualties rising and ammunition running low, and with no help from Sigel forthcoming, Sturgis withdrew from the field, leaving it to the victorious Confederates. Both sides had suffered over 1000 total casualties in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
One of Sigels’ unit commanders was Captain Eugene Carr, who led Company I of the 1st U.S. Cavalry. He filed this after action report:
CAMP NEAR ROLLA, Mo.,
August 17, 1861.
SIR: Having been requested, through Major Shepard, to write a report of my share in the late battle, I have the honor to state that on the afternoon of the 9th instant I was ordered to report to Colonel Sigel at 6 o’clock, with my company (I, First Cavalry), which I did. Company C, Second Dragoons, commanded by Lieutenant Farrand, First Infantry, also reported to Colonel Sigel, but was not under my command, being placed at the opposite extremity of the brigade. Colonel Sigel placed me in advance, with orders to seize persons who might give information to the enemy; and the command moved about sunset. The night was very dark, and it was with great difficulty that we avoided losing our way or getting separated. At about 11 o’clock the command was halted, and rested till 2, when it moved approaching the rear of the enemy’s camp. Upon nearing the camp, after daylight, different stragglers were met going from the camp to the surrounding country, and all captured, so that no intimation was given to the enemy of our presence till the first gun was fired.
Colonel Sigel directed me to take the right flank, and then proceeded into the valley below the camp and opened fire of cannon upon it., I in the mean time moving to the edge of the bluff and opening fire with my carbines, for the purpose of distracting the attention of the enemy, being at too great a distance to do much execution. A few minutes before Colonel Sigel opened fire I heard the firing at the opposite end of the camp, and sent word to him that General Lyon was engaged. This was a little after 6 a.m. The enemy ran out of their camp, which was of cavalry, and contained the headquarters and tents of McCulloch and Mcintosh. Colonel Sigel then took position on their camp ground, and I moved up along the bluff.
Up to this time I had observed wagons and horsemen moving off wards the west and going south along the Fayetteville road, the point where we struck the camp being in the valley below that road and probably 2 miles from where it crosses the creek. At this time I was about a mile from the main command, it being on the west side of the Valley, while I was on the bluff and higher up, when I observed a large body of cavalry forming and approaching the command. I immediately sent word to Colonel Sigel, and retired myself, as it was getting between me and him. I was obliged to go back to the ford to get across the creek, and in the mean time the cavalry had formed to charge, and had been broken up by Colonel Sigel and put to flight, though their officers raved and stormed and tore their hair in trying to make their men advance.
When I reached Colonel Sigel again he told me he was going to advance, and to take my place on the left flank, which I did, keeping in line with the advance along the road. After advancing a short distance, I think to within about half a mile to the Fayetteville crossing, and over a mile from where we first engaged, the command encountered a concealed battery on or near the Fayetteville road, into which ours had forked. The action here was hot, and there was continual cannonading, with some firing of musketry, for I should think half an hour. I could see but little, being mostly in the timber to the left with my company, among which bullets, shot, and shell frequently struck, without, however, killing a man. At that time really were in doubt if it were not our own troops firing upon us.
At about 10 o’clock one of my corporals told me that one of Colonel Sigel’s staff officers had brought an order to retreat, and as all the troops in sight were retreating I did so too, bringing up the rear. After retiring about one
anda half miles, during which we were fired on from a bushy hill-side by a body of men whom I repulsed, but who caused the loss of one of our remaining guns by killing a wheel-horse, I saw Colonel Sigel at the spring where we camped the first night when returning from Dug Springs. It was then decided to move south on the Fayetteville road till we could go out and circle round the enemy towards Springfield. We then had my company, 56 men, about 150 infantry, badly demoralized, one piece, and two caissons.
After retiring about one and a half miles, a large body of cavalry was discovered in front of us, and I was sent to the front, where I observed a column of horse of at least a quarter of a mile in length moving towards the south on our right and filing into the road in front. I watched them for a few moments, when Colonel Sigel sent me word to take the first left-hand road, which luckily happened to be just at that point. While retreating along this road, Colonel Sigel asked me to march slowly, so that the infantry could keep Up. I urged upon him that the enemy would try to cut us off in crossing Wilson’s Creek, and that the infantry and artillery should at least march as fast as the ordinary walk of my horses. He assented, and told me to go on, which I did at a walk, and upon arriving at a creek I was much surprised and pained to find that he was not up. As, however, I observed a great dust coming from the enemy’s camp, which was not far off, I concluded that it was no time for delay, and moved on, after watering my horses, till I arrived at a spot where I thought I could venture to halt and wait for Colonel Sigel, which I did for some time, and then pursued my march to Springfield. It turned out that the colonel was ambuscaded, as I anticipated, this whole party broken up, and that he himself narrowly escaped.
It is a subject of regret with me to have left him behind– but I supposed all the time that he was close behind me till I got to the creek, and it would have done no good for my company to have been cut to pieces also. As it was, four of my men were lost who had been placed in rear of his infantry.
I am, sir, very respectfully, your obedient servant,
E. A. CARR,
Captain, First Cavalry.
To the ASST. ADJT. GEN. ARMY OF THE WEST.
Carr was a West Point graduate who had served on the frontier before the Civil War. He served with distinction in the Civil War. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Pea Ridge in March 1862, where he was wounded three times. That same month, he was promoted to Brigadier General. He commanded troops in the Vicksburg, Camden, and Mobile Campaigns. Carr remained in the U.S. Army after the Civil War, serving on the plains and in the west until his retirement in 1893.
“The Flanking Column at Wilson’s Creek” by Franz Sigel. In Battles and Leaders of the Civil War, Volume I.
Generals in Blue by Ezra Warner
Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies in the War of the Rebellion Series I, Volume 3
Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove: A Battlefield Guide, with a Section on Wire Road
By Earl J. Hess, Richard Hatcher III, William Garrett Piston and William L. Shea