In August 10th, 1861, the second large scale battle of the Civil War was fought about 10 miles southwest of Springfield, Missouri. A Union army under Brigadier General Nathanial Lyon attacked a larger Confederate force under Generals Ben McCullough and Sterling Price along a stream called Wilson’s Creek. The fighting resulted in 1317 total (killed, wounded , captured or missing) Federal and 1222 Confederate casualties, ending with the Union army retreating back to Springfield. Though the Confederates had won the battle and control of part of Missouri, they were unable to follow up the victory and drive out Federal forces from the rest of the state.
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was fought on rolling farmland that had a few houses and farm buildings at the time. The only building left from the time of the battle is the Ray House, which was home to John and Roxanna Ray and their family. John Ray had a 420 acre farm, complete with cropland, an orchard, and livestock. He also owned a slave named Rhoda and her four daughters. The Ray House was a busy place. Besides the farm, John was also the local postmaster. The house was located on the Wire Road, named after the telegraph line that ran along side of it. The Wire Road ran from Springfield to Fort Smith, Arkansas. The Butterfield Overland Stagecoach line that ran from Tipton, Missouri (near Jefferson City) to Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1857 until 1861 traveled on the Wire Road, and the Ray House was a flag stop on the line. The Wire Road was an important transportation route for both sides during the Civil War.
The Ray House was on the eastern edge of the battlefield. While there was fighting in the Ray’s farm fields to the northwest, the house itself was undamaged, although a few Union artillery shells did land in the yard and hit an outbuilding. John watched the fighting from his front porch. During and after the battle, the house served as a Confederate field hospital. General Lyon was killed in action during the fighting, and his body was brought to the Ray House before it was eventually taken to the Union army at Springfield.
The Ray family continued to live in the house after the war. John died in 1875 and Roxanna in 1876. After that the house passed through a series of owners. Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield was established in 1960, and the National Park Service acquired the house. It was eventually restored to its 1861 appearance.
The Ray House is one of the stops on the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield park tour road. The inside of the house is open subject to park staffing availability, mostly in the summer months. The house contains the bed upon which the body of General Lyon rested while at the house.