Reichley: Wilson’s Creek battle one of Army’s largest

By John Reichley

Posted Aug 10, 2012

Leavenworth, Kan. —

As if things in general weren’t confusing enough, we are in the midst of “celebrating” all sorts of past wars and things.


We are in the first year of the bicentennial of the War of 1812, and the second year of the sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the beginning of our highest award for bravery in combat, the Medal of Honor.
Before the remembrance of the two wars is over, we’ll be beginning the centennial of the Great War, aka The War to End All Wars, finally named WW I.


Today’s column is about a battle of the Civil War, one fought close enough to Leavenworth that it can be visited in a day. Although little known, at the time it was fought, 151 years ago yesterday, it had more importance than it has today due to many larger battles fought later in the war.
History instructors at CGSC at Fort Leavenworth have produced many excellent books about a variety of battles for many years. In 1993 Ret. Maj. George Knapp, who is still at CGSC, wrote The Wilson’s Creek Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour, a superb 93-page soft cover booklet that tells most readers more than they ever wanted to know about the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo.


Most of the information in this column is from Knapp’s book. In re-reading it for this column, I learned that when it was fought on Aug. 10, 1861, it was the second largest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, eclipsed only by the 1st Battle of Bull Run in Virginia, fought only 20 days before.
Both early battles were defeats for the U.S. Army, and both assisted in causing planners to realize that the Civil War would be a much more bloody and drawn out war than anyone had first imagined.
The Confederate army had almost twice as many men as the U.S. Army did in the battle.  Its 10,200 men suffered 279 killed and 951 wounded, about 12 percent of its force.


The U.S. Army had 5,400 men and suffered 258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 captured or missing in action, a total of 24 percent of the force.
The Union commander, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, was one of those killed in action, the first Union general lost in the war.
Today Wilson’s Creek is a national battlefield.  It is less than a four-hour drive from Leavenworth, due south through Missouri, just south of Springfield, off the well travelled highway to Branson, Mo.
It has been several years since I toured Wilson’s Creek, before Knapp’s book was published. After rekindling my interest in the largest Civil War battle folks living in this area can visit that is within driving distance, it is probably time for a return look see.

When I was there the visitor center had an excellent small museum.  One display I remember was a number of U.S. Army manuals printed in German for use by the many German-speaking troops who used them.
Since I saw the unusual manuals I’ve wanted to add one to my library to display when I provide Civil War displays, but although the museum had several of them, I’ve found none for sale.


Back to another sesquicentennial subject, there were subsequently five awards for the Medal of Honor for action at Wilson’s Creek, including Maj. John M. Schofield of the 1st Missouri Infantry, who went on to be a general officer and commanding general of the Army before he retired in 1895 after 46  years in the Army.  Schofield Barracks in Hawaii is named for him and, if memory serves me correctly, he is in the Fort Leavenworth Hall of Fame.
John Reichley is a retired Army officer and retired Department of the Army civilian employee.

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