MILITARY ORDER OF THE LOYAL LEGION OF THE UNITED STATES

War Papers


THE BATTLE OF WILSON'S CREEK, AUGUST 10, 1861
By
Otto C. Lademann, Captain, 3rd Missouri Infantry, U.S. Volunteers
Companion of the 1st Class
Wisconsin Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.
Read December 3, 1913
(First Published 1914)


Transcribed by Douglas R. Niermeyer, Commander, Missouri Commandery
Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the U.S.
momollus@sbcglobal.net
(September 1999)

In this relation of the battle of Wilson's Creek, I give principally my own recollections:

I belonged to Sigel's column as Acting 2nd Lieutenant of Co. B, 3rd Missouri Infantry. Sigel's column consisted of the 3rd Missouri Infantry, the 5th Missouri Infantry, Col. Salomon, six pieces of artillery commanded by Lieutenant Schaefer, in all 1,075 men; Company 1, 1st U. S. Cavalry, 60 men, and Company C, Second Dragoons, 65 men, total 1,200. General Lyon's forces amounted to 4,200, making a total of 5,400 men. The Missouri State Guard (Confederate forces), commanded by General Price, 5,221 men, the regular Confederate forces commanded by Gen. McCulloch, 4,836 men, a total of 10,057 men.

Sigel's column started from Springfield at sundown Friday, August 9th, due south on the Forsyth Road to attack the enemy's right wing, while General Lyon started at the same time on the Little York road, due west, to attack the left wing of the enemy.

The camp of the Confederates extended the length of seven miles from Gibson's Mill at the north to Tyrrell's Creek at the south the creek itself runs nearly north and south. Where the Wilson's Creek runs it is mostly bottom land. but on each side of the creek are bluffs. Where the Wilson's Creek is crossed by the Springfleld-Fayetteville road, the latter runs parallel to the creek in the bottom for about half a mile, but when it crosses Skeggs' Branch it rises to the bluff nearly in front of Sharp's House. Skeggs' Branch runs into Wilson's Creek nearly half way between Tyrrell's Creek and Gibson's Mill.

And now to the story of Sigel's march, his positions and his grand defeat. As stated before, we left Springfield on the evening of Friday, August 9th, 1861, marching due south, the regiment formed left in front. We marched all night, leaving the road and marching through woods and farms. A very slight drizzle about midnight caused a halt of some time. We resumed our march, and just at break of day we heard Lyon firing and commenced firing ourselves on the guard of a drove of cattle as they were crossing Tyrrell's Creek where it enters Wilson's Creek.

After crossing Wilson's Creek, we formed a line crossing two roads, running due north. Our artillery was left behind on the bluff facing the cavalry camp of Col. Greer, 800 men; Col. Churchill, 600 men; and Col. Major, 273; a total of 1,673 cavalry extended along the creek for over one mile, they facing east; we flanked them entirely, but were not permitted to fire. After about half an hour we advanced on the western road to its junction with the great Springfield or Fayetteville road, about three-quarters of a mile due north till we arrived at Sharp's house situated on the cliff of Skeggs' Branch which entered the Wilson's Creek only a hundred yards further north near the crossing of the Springfield road. Up to the time we had left the cavalry line in a large open field, we had been in line on their left flank, and unperceived, their whole attention being directed to two pieces of artillery vigorously shelling them. We could have emptied many a saddle if we had been permitted to fire.

Reaching the bluff on Skeggs' Branch, in front of the Sharp house, on the great Springfield road (the line of retreat for the enemy), we were formed by Col. Sigel in the following manner:

The 3rd Missouri infantry in column of companies, left in front (Capt. Meuman, Co. H. leading) the last company being my company, B. About ten yards behind us were the six pieces of artillery, not unlimbered or in any manner prepared for action. but mounted the same as on the march. In this space Col. Sigel and his staff were the most of the time. I cannot give you the exact time, which is always of the highest importance in narrating military events, but it was about 9 o'clock a.m. Behind the artillery, and on the big road, were three or four hundred rebel prisoners who had been caught straggling about the camp, quite surprised to find U. S. troops so near them. In the rear of the prisoners were the 5th Missouri Infantry. What had become of our cavalry I don't know. I did not see them. The ground we occupied was very wooded and you could scarcely see ahead. Here we fooled away our precious time, for only activity and rapid movement could make up for the scarcity of our numbers. The enemy soon found out our position with Bledsoe's Missouri battery firing north of Skeggs' Branch, and our left flank, and Reed's battery, east of Wilson's Creek, almost direct on our right flank, both firing, and against this latter battery Col. Sigel ordered Lieut. Schaefer with two guns about one hundred yards to our right. I was within two feet when Sigel gave the order and soon these two guns opened and when Schaefer returned to report that the order had been executed, Sigel pounced upon him in a rage, "Who is firing there on my right?" Lieut. Schaefer got angry and said, "Why, Colonel Sigel, ten minutes ago you ordered me to take two guns over there and open fire on Reed's battery. Colonel Sigel with a rattled look in his face said, 'Did I? Did I? Well, bring them back here, I want them here." I as a young acting lieutenant thought it was very strange of a commanding officer to dispose of one-third of his artillery and in ten minutes forget all about it.

Scarcely had the two guns returned to their place when a battalion in line crawled up the bluff of Skeggs' Branch on our left flank. Only our left flank files could see them - they were in gray uniform; some one shouted. "Don't shoot! They are the 1st Iowa, sent by General Lyon," but in place of being the 1st Iowa Infantry, they were the 3rd Louisiana Infantry, and when within fifteen paces of us, fired a volley. This did not hurt our infantry much because they were too far down the bluff, but it hurt our artillery horses and principally the drivers. One poor wheel driver got eight bullets in him and lived about an hour. The artillery horses rushed into our infantry column, and we instantly were a big crowd of men, horses, guns and caissons all mixed together, all running to the south, followed by the 3rd Louisiana, who captured here six guns and five caissons. Our rebel prisoners ran back to their friends, and the 5th Missouri was not touched at all. They sensibly turned to the north with quite a portion of the 3rd Missouri, where they soon reached General Lyon's troops returning from the battlefield to Little York Prairie, while several hundred men, myself included, followed Colonel Sigel, who foolishly turned to the left. After marching about with his guides we at noon arrived at the mouth of Tyrrell's Creek, where we had started at daybreak. The battle had ceased at about 10 o'clock when Gen. Lyon was killed, and Major Sturgis of the regular service took command as the ranking officer. This column of over 4,000 men, capable for duty, and 1,200 wounded, returned to Springfield unmolested by the enemy.

Our little Sigel column was joined by Capt. Eugene Carr's company of Cavalry, and just as soon as we had crossed Wilson's Creek at the mouth of Tyrrell's Creek, the whole of that Confederate cavalry which we had failed to destroy, pounced upon us from flank and rear and started a regular rabbit chase. I had mounted myself, on finding an old gentleman sitting by the road with his whole lower jaw shot off. I quietly took the reins of a saddle horse out of his hands and gently told him he would not use a horse in heaven, while I needed his horse on earth. How long this rabbit chase lasted, I don't remember, but we finally got to a very steep bank of some three hundred feet. At the foot was a little river, wide, but not deep; you could see the pebbles at the A bottom of it, and an old dilapidated sawmill On the other side, a nice large place for rallying in front of it, and a road leading to Springfield, with a cornfield on each side. While going down this hill all the spokes of one wheel of our saved caisson broke, and the drivers unhitched the horses and left the caisson. Our color-bearer having been wounded, our colors were lashed on this caisson and lost. They were kept in Richmond, Va., four years and then came back to Jefferson City, where they are today.

All our remaining men had been rallied in front of the old sawmill and started on the road apparently leading to Springfield. We had not marched eighteen yards before we got a fearful volley from the left hand cornfield; the road was instantly covered with dead and wounded men and horses; an orderly of Colonel Sigel (a regular sergeant) instantly jumped from his horse, and, during the firing after the volley, pulled down sufficient fence rails so we could jump with our horses into the right hand cornfield. We rode through this cornfield of, say about fifty acres, not followed by the enemy. We rode like Indians in single file when, having passed the cornfield. we struck a field of double its size, but fallow. In about the middle of this fallow field Colonel Sigel rode off to the left by himself, and he was followed by Lieut. Schuetzenbach of the artillery. I was riding in the rear of the lieutenant, who followed Colonel Sigel. I was debating in mv mind whether I should follow Schuetzenbach or stay with the crowd. I concluded the latter. Sigel and Schuetzenbach escaped; all the rest of us were taken prisoners.

Having arrived within one hundred yards of the next fence a gentleman rode forward to meet us, waving his hat. We waved our hats in token of amity. He rode up to us and said, "Gentlemen, you are surrounded on all sides and you'd better surrender." We were only about forty men left, and after a short consultation we concluded it would be useless to offer any further resistance, and we surrendered. The horseman who had come to us said, "Gentlemen, throw down your arms," which we did. He then gave the rebel yell and the cavalry came out from every direction, front, rear, and both flanks. They wanted to know where Colonel Sigel was. I informed them that he and Schuetzenbach had turned off to the left. They wanted to know how he looked, and I told them that lie was a small reddish looking man with gold spectacles, a slouch grey felt hat, and a blue blanket worn poncho fashion, when several exclaimed, "Why, that man passed right close to us, and the manner he wore his blanket made tis believe he was our man and we let him and the man with him pass without any hindrance."

Thus ended the battle for me as a prisoner of war.

But before I close my little sketch I desire to add a short description of General Nathaniel Lyon's life. He was born in Ashford, Connecticut, on the 14th of July, 1818. He entered West Point in 1837, graduating in 1841, was assigned to the Second Infantry. With that regiment he served in Florida till 1843, and with it he took part in the war. On the march from Vera Cruz to the City of Mexico he was promoted to the first lieutenancy of his company and remained as such during that campaign. At Cerro Gordo he was with Harney, and for his gallant conduct in the battles of Churubusco and Contreras he was breveted Captain, August 20, 1847. On entering the city he was slightly wounded. From 1849 to 1855 he served in California. General Persifer F. Smith in his report to the War Department, says, "In the war against the Indians in North California (Clear Lake Indians), Captain Lyon deserved the highest praise for his untiring energy and skill," and attributes Lyon's success to "the rapidity and secrecy of his marches and to his skillful dispositions on the ground." During the greater part of 1852 he was on leave of absence in the eastern states. In 1854, sent with company to Fort Riley, he remained till 1859, during the Missouri and Kansas troubles. From this point he wrote a letter containing the following sentence: "I shall not hesitate to rejoice at the triumph of my principles, though this triumph may involve an issue in which I certainly expect to, and very likely shall, lose my life. I would a thousand times rather incur this than recall the result of our presidential election." -(Abraham Lincoln's.)

Four days later he was ordered to St. Louis with his company.

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Source:
Lademann, O.C. 1914. THE BATTLE OF WILSON'S CREEK, AUGUST 10, 1861, War Papers Read before the Commandery of the State of Wisconsin, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States.Burdick and Allen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Volume 4, pp.69-75.

Copyright © 2000 Douglas Niermeyer, Missouri Commandery, Military Order of the Loyal Legion of the United States


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