Symposium Spotlight: “This Means War”: The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Welcome back to another entry in our continuing Symposium Spotlight series. Over the last several months we have been introduced to the full line-up of speakers for the Sixth Annual Emerging Civil War Symposium. Starting today, our spotlight series will now give you a sneak peak look at the presentations our presenters will deliver in August. Continue to follow the series and discover some of the research our presenters have uncovered, themes that they will be exploring at the symposium, and insight into these “Forgotten Battles of the American Civil War.” This week Kristen Pawlak looks at Wilson’s Creek.

Sterling Price before the war. Courtesy of the State Historical
Society of Missouri.

On August 10, 1861 in southwestern Missouri, Confederate and Federal forces clashed along the banks of Wilson Creek in the first major battle of the Civil War fought west of the Mississippi River. Outnumbered two-to-one, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon’s Union Army of the West faced the task of securing Missouri and preventing its possible secession. Maj. Gen. Sterling Price’s Missouri State Guard had just weeks prior combined forces with Brig. Gen. Benjamin McCulloch’s Western Army, hoping to defeat and oust Lyon’s Federals, establish Confederate control, and lead the slave state out of the Union. During the summer of 1861, all was uncertain for the fate of Missouri. Eyes across the nation focused on the situation in Missouri. One decisive battle could determine whether or not Missouri would remain loyal to the United States.

With 15,000 men engaged between both sides, the Battle of Wilson’s Creek was seemingly small compared to the massive battles seen later in the war, such as Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and throughout the Overland Campaign. Its outcome had little immediate effect, but Lyon’s bold actions in 1861 to capture the Missouri state capital, overthrow the pro-secessionist governor, and chase after Price had lasting effect that would directly impact Missouri’s fate.

This battle, though largely forgotten in the narrative of the Civil War, had tremendous effect on the strategies of both sides in Missouri and the Trans-Mississippi West. More troops would be shuffled into Missouri and Arkansas soon after, resulting in battles that would secure the Union foothold there in the region. Also, the first Federal general to die in the war was struck through the heart at Wilson’s Creek, turning him into a martyr of the Union cause. Lyon, along with other early-war Union heroes, symbolized the tremendous sacrifice this war would require. Five Union soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for their bravery here. As seen at Wilson’s Creek, this war would be a long and bloody struggle.

Haven’t gotten your tickets for the 2019 Emerging Civil War Symposium? Looking for more information about this great yearly event? Head over to our 2019 ECW Symposium page to get your tickets or find out more!

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4 Responses to Symposium Spotlight: “This Means War”: The Battle of Wilson’s Creek

  1. John Pryor says:

    Cannot wait to hear about the Wilson’s Creek battle at the Symposium. My ancestor was with the 2nd Arkansas Mounted Rifles; this was the first battle he participated in. And currently I live in Connecticut, the home state of the fiery Mr. Lyon.

  2. Sean Chick says:

    Good post.

    This is my brother’s favorite battle in the Civil War, so he featured it as the first video of his Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ip1JgpkKKdo&t=902s

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