Frequently Asked Questions

Q. If Wilson's Creek was a Southern victory, why is it called the battle that saved Missouri for the Union?
A. Following the battle, the two principal Southern commanders disagreed about their next course of action, and did not follow up their advantage. In addition, the defeats at Wilson's Creek and Lexington, Missouri (September 20, 1861) convinced Federal authorities to increase Union military activity in Missouri, setting the stage for the decisive Union victory at Pea Ridge, Arkansas in March 1862.

Q. What was the Missouri State Guard? Which side did it support?
A. The Missouri State Guard was one of the most unique military organizations in the Civil War. Created in May 1861 by the Missouri State Legislature, the Guard was the legal militia guaranteed to Missourians under the U.S. Constitution. According to its enabling legislation, the Guard could be called into the field to defend the state, maintain public tranquility, suppress riot, rebellion or insurrection, or repel invasion.
Although most of the Guard's officers and many of its enlisted men favored secession, and they were allied with regular Confederate forces at Wilson's Creek, the soldiers of the Missouri State Guard were not Confederate troops. Under the leadership of Major General Sterling Price, the Missouri State Guard fought heroically at Carthage, Wilson's Creek, Lexington and Pea Ridge. When the Confederate Congress voted to accept Missouri into the Confederacy in November 1861, State Guardsmen were encouraged to enlist in regular Missouri Confederate units. Many did, while some returned home and never fought again, and others went home and joined guerrilla organizations. The M.S.G. basically ceased to exist after mid-1862, although it continued to exist on paper through the end of the war.

Q. Why was there a battle along Wilson's Creek?
A. Wilson's Creek may seem like an odd site for a Civil War battle, as there was no strategic railroad, city, or navigable river in close proximity to the battlefield. On August 9, 1861, the "Western Army" of General Benjamin McCulloch was encamped along Wilson's Creek, an area containing abundant water and crops for men and horses, and along the main road to Springfield. The Union "Army of the West" under General Nathaniel Lyon was located in Springfield. That evening, McCulloch intended to leave Wilson's Creek and launch a surprise attack on Springfield the following morning, but the threat of rain forced him to delay his march. In the meantime, Lyon's army left Springfield in two columns to surprise the Southerners. At about 5 a.m. on August 10, Lyon did just that, and the Battle of Wilson's Creek was on.


Q. Is there a cemetery on the battlefield where all the soldiers killed in the battle are buried?
A. No. Following the battle nearly all the soldiers killed in the fighting were buried on the battlefield. In 1867, the Springfield National Cemetery was created and the Union dead were removed there. A short time later, the Southern dead were taken there as well and placed in an adjacent plot (now part of the National Cemetery). Unfortunately, only a handful of the Wilson's Creek dead at the Springfield National Cemetery are identified.

Q. When is the next "reenactment" of the battle?
A. It is widely believed that a reenactment of the Battle of Wilson's Creek is held every year on the original battlefield. In fact, only three major battle reenactments have been held (one in 1991, one in 2000, and one in 2011). All were done on private land and were hosted by groups or individuals, not by the National Park Service.
Current NPS policy does not allow for battle reenactments (simulated combat with opposing lines and casualties) on NPS property.
The alternative is called "living history." in which park volunteers and staff members dress in reproduction clothing, fire weapons, drill, and give soldier life talks, but do not engage in simulated warfare.

Q. Who won the Battle of Wilson’s Creek?
A. Technically the Southern forces won a tactical victory at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek because they held the field at the conclusion of the battle.

Q. Was Jesse James at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek?
A. No. At the time of the Battle at Wilson’s Creek, Jesse James was about a month away from his fourteenth birthday. His older brother Frank James, William Clarke Quantrill, and Cole Younger did participate in the battle as members of the Missouri State Guard. Jesse joined his brother and friends as part of the guerrilla band led by “Bloody Bill” Anderson in 1864.

Q. I have heard that Missouri was the scene of hundreds and battles and skirmishes during the Civil War? Is that true?
A. Yes, Missouri was the third most "fought over" state during the Civil War, with about 1,162 battles and skirmishes. According to Union veteran and historian Frederick H. Dyer, only Virginia (2,154) and Tennessee (1,462) saw more fighting.

Q. What happened to General Lyon after he was killed?
A. General Lyon was fatally wounded at about 9:30 a.m. on August 10, 1861. Those near him at the time of his death carried his body behind the Union line of battle and placed it in a wagon to be taken to Springfield. In the confusion of the Union retreat, however, his corpse was removed and left on the field. Later that day, Lyon was discovered by the Southerners and transported to the Ray House. Lyon’s body then made the journey to Springfield, where, accordingly to some sources, it was accidentally left behind again when the Union Army retreated to Rolla. Mary Phelps, wife of U.S. Representative John S. Phelps, cared for, guarded, and finally buried Lyon’s body on her family's farm. Soon Lyon’s relatives arrived and transported the body to Connecticut for proper burial. On the long trip back to Connecticut, many people came to view the casket of a hero of the Union, the first Union general to die in the Civil War. Although buried in Connecticut, a monument was erected in his honor in Springfield in the 1880s, and can still be seen at the Springfield National Cemetery.

Q. Why was Missouri so important during the Civil War?
A. Strategically, Missouri shared a border with both Union and Confederate states and territories (Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, the Indian Territory, Kentucky and Tennessee), and contained vital waterways (the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers), which were critical to both transportation and communication. In addition, the state was rich in resources, including agriculture products (hemp, mules, etc.), and raw materials such as iron and lead. Missouri was the eighth most populous state in 1860, and provided a total of about 150,000 volunteers for the Union and the Confederacy.

Last updated: September 12, 2021

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