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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: An important date in Civil War history

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  • We are still in the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, but I’ve seen or heard little about it in several months. Today is the day before a battle with major consequences, so this column will take you back to those bloody days of 153 years ago.
    The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Mo., was fought on Saturday, Aug. 10, 1861, about 10 miles southwest of Springfield, Mo. It was fought just three weeks after the first battle of the war, the First Bull Run.
    It pitted some 5,400 Federals against some 10,200 Confederates, so the outcome of the battle should not have been in doubt — 2-1 odds almost invariably favor the larger force.
    To eliminate suspense until the end, the Confederates did win the battle, but it's what some call a “Pyrrhic victory,” meaning one that one side won but it proved too costly in the end.
    The cost to the Confederates was that, after two defeats in the first three weeks of the war, Union Army planners took a more serious view of the war and began planning for long and protracted operations on several fronts.
    For one thing, the Union rushed troops to Missouri, and following the ensuing Battle of Pea Ridge, Ark., effectively eliminated the possibility of Missouri joining the Confederacy.  
    Today, the battlefield is a national battlefield site located in Republic, Mo. A booklet about it warns that in warmer seasons “chiggers, ticks, and snakes abound.” Ergo, visitors should dress appropriately and be forewarned.
    It was the first battle for troops in the Western Theater of the war, and troops on both sides used some weapons and tactics left over from the Mexican War of 20 years before. Some of the troops were probably veterans of that war also.
    The commander of Union troops was Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, who just a few months before the war began had been a captain. He was killed in action at Wilson’s Creek, becoming as I recall the first general officer killed in the war.
    The Union quickly moved supplies from Fort Leavenworth and Fort Scott, Kan., thus giving Fort Leavenworth a role in the battle.
    Although by standards of future Civil War battles Wilson’s Creek was quite small, as a critical first battle it gave both sides an opportunity to evaluate and alter tactics and logistical procedures.
    One area for improvement was in medical care, an important area for both sides.
    The lessons learned 153 years ago were put to good use many times over on battlefields far removed from the rolling hills of southwest Missouri.  
    Interestingly, although it had not yet been approved, there were to be six Medals of Honor for bravery at Wilson’s Creek. One would be awarded to Maj. John M. Schofield, a career Army officer for whom Schofield Barracks in Hawaii is named.
    Page 2 of 2 - Very interesting is the fact that all six Medals of Honor were awarded in the 1890s, more than 30 years after the battle.
    After a day of heavy fighting, the casualties were not as heavy as one might expect. On the Union side, there were 1,317 casualties, 258 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing or taken prisoner.
    Confederate casualties of 1,230 included 279 killed, 951 wounded. The Union lost 24 percent of its force, the Confederates 12 percent.
    Most of the statistics above came from the Wilson’s Creek Staff Ride and Battlefield Tour booklet by George E. Knapp, a Combat Studies Institute publication from CGSC in 1993.

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