September Meeting: Ed Bearss

Continuing our sesquicentennial-timed presentations, on September 13 the incomparable Ed Bearss will lecture on the Battle of Wilson’s Creek:

Meeting time:  7:30 PM, September 13, 2011.

Location:   Old Loudoun Court House, 18 Market Street, Leesburg., Virginia.

Topic:  The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, Missouri

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The Ray House on the Wilson's Creek Battlefield

The battle of Wilson’s Creek, fought on August 10, 1861, is often billed as “The Bull Run of the West.” But this masks the battles importance in the context of the war. The fighting at Wilson’s Creek was the culmination of four months of political and military maneuvers to control the state of Missouri.

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Edwards Cabin, near Price's Headquarters

After moving up from Texas and Arkansas Confederate troops under General Ben McCulloh joined with Missouri State Guard under General Sterling Price southwest of Springfield, Missouri.  Faced with the option of either giving up hard won gains, or attacking a numerically superior force, Federal General Nathaniel Lyon mounted a surprise attack on the enemy camp.

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Wilson's Creek

Lyon’s plan called for an encirclement of the enemy’s camp by two wide-ranging columns.  The attack met with initial success, and with more coordination may have won the day.  But enemy counterattacks sapped the Federal momentum.  When Lyon fell while rallying troops on Bloody Hill, the Confederates and Missourians pressed their numerical advantage.

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Marker Where Lyon Fell

While the Confederates scored a victory on the battlefield, they were unable to press the initiative.  Price and his Missouri State Guard troops would mount a limited, unsuccessful offensive.  The state government in exile took the opportunity to secede, joining the Confederacy.   But Ben McCulloh’s Confederate troops remained on the Arkansas state line.  In the aftermath of Wilson’s Creek the southern half of Missouri remained “no man’s land.”

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Last Position of Backof's Missouri Battery (Federal)

About our speaker:
Edwin C. Bearss served as the Chief Historian of the National Park Service from 1981 to 1994. He holds a B.S. degree from Georgetown University and a M.A. in history from Indiana University.  He served in the Marine Corps during World War II.  Ed first joined the National Park Service in 1954 and was assigned to Vicksburg National Military Park.  There he researched the sinking of and helped locate the site of the ironclad USS Cairo. During the Centennial, he lead efforts to develop several battlefield parks to include Wilson’s Creek.

Ed Bearss at the Sharp Field

Ed Bearss at the Sharp Field, Wilson's Creek

After his retirement in 1995, he was named Chief Historian Emeritus of the National Park Service.  He has received many honors and awards to include the Bruce Catton Award, the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of the Interior, and Commendation from the Secretary of the Army. The Civil War Preservation Trust has created the Ed Bearss Award for achievements in historic preservation (which he was awarded in 2001).  Ed was featured on the PBS documentary The Civil War.  His written works include “The Vicksburg Campaign – a 3 vol. study”, “Fields of Honor: Pivotal Battles of the Civil War” and his most recent work, “Receding Tide: Vicksburg and Gettysburg: The Campaigns that Changed the Civil War”  He is often quoted saying, “You can’t describe a battlefield unless you walk it,” which best captures his approach to the study and interpretation of the Civil War.

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About Craig Swain

"Historical marker hunter" and Civil War enthusiast.
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