Civil War Profiles — A Civil War trip of a lifetime: Part 4

Date Published: 
Feb. 2, 2018

As the quest for learning about the struggle that took place between Northern and Southern forces in the area of the Mississippi River continued, the travelers left Springfield, Ill., drove about 100 miles, and crossed “The Father of Waters” to Hannibal, Mo. This was the birthplace of Samuel Clemens — better known in the literary world as Mark Twain.


After a visit to his boyhood home and the adjacent Mark Twain Museum, we checked out the town of Hannibal and some of its historic locations. For the record, Clemens, after a two-week stint in the Confederate Missouri militia, changed his mind about fighting and went to the Nevada Territory, where he spent the war years.

Working as a newspaper reporter, he adopted the name Mark Twain. Reportedly, the humorist’s explanation why the South lost the war was “his retirement from it, which left the Confederate side too weak.”

We drove south along the Mississippi, 115 miles to St. Louis, and acquired a copy of “The Civil War in St. Louis, A Guided Tour” by William C. Winter. However, we spent an equal amount of time visiting attractions including the Gateway Arch and Budweiser Brewery.

The next stop was Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield near the Arkansas border, outside of Republic, Mo., in the Ozark Mountains, 230 miles farther southwest. The battle took place on Aug. 10, 1861, and was a struggle for control of the pivotal state of Missouri.

Union Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon instigated the fighting at Wilson’s Creek with 5,400 troops against a Confederate force of 12,000 under Gens. Ben McCulloch, N. Bart Pearce and Sterling Price. Lyon hoped the element of surprise would be in his favor.

A Union flanking maneuver with about 1,200 troops under Brig. Gen. Franz Sigel proved costly for the Union forces, and for Gen. Lyon as well, who was killed on what became known as “Bloody Hill.” However, although Lyon lost the battle and his life, the Confederate forces were too poorly armed to follow up, and Missouri remained under Union control.

Upon arrival at the battlefield, we stopped at the visitor center, which features a film, battle map and a museum. Armed with the an official map and guide, featuring a Kurz & Allison chromolithograph of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the death of Gen. Lyon, we started on the 5-mile-loop driving tour that led to all the major points along the battlefield — so pristine it maintained the aura of a recently fought engagement.

At each stop there were markers and exhibits, and trails provided a better view of the battlefield. Since few visitors were there that day in October 1995, the solitude enhanced the ability to visualize events more than 130 years ago.

The park area encloses the entire battlefield and is surrounded by farmland that provides a sense of realism. Since the changing vegetation over the years has resulted in reduced visibility in some areas, the National Park Service instituted a program to return the battlefield to its historic landscape.

A pamphlet describes what took place at the stops along the way. These include Gibson’s Mill, the Ray House, Pulaski Arkansas Battery and Price’s Headquarters, Sigel’s Second Position, Sigel’s Final Position, Guibor’s Battery, Bloody Hill and Historic Overlook.

It was on Bloody Hill, at about 9:30 a.m. on Aug. 10, 1861, that Gen. Lyon was killed during the fighting that ended in a Confederate victory. Although outnumbered, the Union army inflicted nearly as many casualties (1,184) on the Rebels as they sustained (1,235).

Returning to the visitor center gift shop, I purchased copies of “The Battle of Wilson’s Creek” by Edwin C. Bearss and “Nathaniel Lyon: Harbinger from Kansas” by Capt. Richard Scott Price.

We then headed south a short distance over the border into Arkansas, enjoying the quaint vistas of the Ozark Mountains. Along the way, we stopped at roadside vendors, including a 91-year-old Indian basket weaver.

The next segment will discuss “the battle that saved Missouri for the Union.” It took place in Arkansas, at a location now designated the Pea Ridge National Military Park.

Tom Ryan is the author of the multiple award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War.” Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, and at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.