Join us on August 11 when our speaker, Richard (Rick) W. Hatcher III, explores some Western theater action with the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Meeting time: 7:30 p.m., August 11, 2015
Location: Thomas Balch Library, 208 West Market Street, Leesburg, Virginia
Topic: The Battle of Wilson’s Creek
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek was the culmination of a campaign that began on June 13, 1861, in St. Louis, Missouri. That day, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon led U.S. forces up the Missouri River to secure Jefferson City, the state capital, and defeated the pro–Confederate Missouri State Guard. Over the next two months, one column, commanded by Maj. Samuel Sturgis, joined Lyon. On July 13, they united with a third column under Col. Franz Siegel at Springfield. During this phase of the campaign, two engagements were fought. The first on June 17 at Boonville, on the Missouri River, was a Union victory; the second, the July 5 “battle of Carthage,” was won by the State Guard.
While these events were unfolding in Missouri, troops from Texas, Louisiana, and Arkansas, commanded by Confederate Brig. Gen. Ben McCulloch, gathered in northwest Arkansas. After a meeting with Gen. Sterling Price, the Missouri State Guard commander, these troops joined forces on July 29 about 50 miles southwest of Lyon’s 7,000 man “Army of the West.” McCulloch’s “Western Army,” about 12,000 strong, began marching toward Springfield. On August 2, Lyon defeated advance elements of the Confederate forces in a brief skirmish at Dug Springs, but the outnumbered federals fell back to Springfield, and the Southerners advanced toward Springfield and went into camp along the banks of Wilson’s Creek about 12 miles southwest of town.
After a few days of scouting and insignificant skirmishing, the campaign culminated in the August 10 battle of Wilson’s Creek. Lyon divided his command into two columns. He led the main Union force in a dawn attack on the north end of the Southern camps while Sigel commanded a second column that attacked from the south. Although initially successful, the surprise attack faltered, and after about six and a half hours of combat, the federals withdrew from the field.
The battle of Wilson’s Creek, or Oak Hills, as it was called by the Confederates, was fought just twenty days after First Manassas. It was the second major battle of the war and the first west of the Mississippi River. The 5,400 strong Union “Army of the West” suffered 24.5% casualties (285 killed, 873 wounded, and 186 missing). Gen. Lyon was killed, the first U.S. general officer to be lost in battle in the war. McCulloch’s “Western Army” suffered 12% casualties (277 killed and 945 wounded, a total of 1,222 out of a force of 10,200).
Richard (Rick) W. Hatcher III, a native of Richmond, Virginia, graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1973 with a BA in history. In 1970, he began his career with the National Park Service as a volunteer and seasonal employee at Richmond National Battlefield, and then at Fort Pickens—Gulf Islands National Seashore. Hatcher became a permanent employee in 1976 at Colonial National Historical Park, transferred to Kings Mountain National Military Park in 1977, then to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in 1978. In 1992, he accepted the position of historian at Fort Sumter National Monument, which includes Fort Moultrie and Charles Pinckney National Historic Site. In 2015, Hatcher retired, having served more than 44 years with the National Park Service. He continues his work with the NPS as a volunteer at Fort Sumter National Monument. Hatcher is the author of The Campaign and Battle of Wilson’s Creek and has written entries for the “The South Carolina Encyclopedia,” The Civil War Battlefield Guide, and the Encyclopedia of the Confederacy. He is the co-author of The First Shot; Wilson’s Creek, Pea Ridge, and Prairie Grove; and Wilson’s Creek, The Second Major Battle of the Civil War and the Men Who Fought It.