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NPS History E-Library

Civil War Series

The Battle of Wilson's Creek



When Lyon reached the top of the northern spur of Bloody Hill, his blood was up. Now confident of inflicting a severe blow, he quipped to Schofield, "In less than an hour they'll wish they were a thousand miles away." From his position in the glow of dawn, Lyon could see plainly the camps of Rains's command and recognized that his advance up the slope had left his left flank exposed. He took steps to secure it, though it meant dividing his small command. As his Missourians and Kansans moved toward the crest of the hill, the federal commander directed Plummer to take his battalion of regulars to the east side of Wilson Creek toward the Wire Road and "carry forward the left flank of the attack."

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As Lyon consolidates his forces on Bloody Hill, his line comes under fire from the Pulaski Battery located across Wilson Creek. This gives Price's Missourians time to move from their camps and press forward to oppose the federals. Plummer's force crosses Wilson Creek and enters Ray's cornfield about 6:30 A.M. By 7 A.M., Plummer has made contact with the Third Louisiana and the Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles, and in a brief but sharp fight the regulars are driven out of the cornfield and retreat back across Wilson Creek. By 7:30, McBride's Missouri State Guard Division has launched an attack on Lyon's right flank on Bloody Hill. In the meantime, Sigel crosses Terrell Creek, enters the Sharp Farm, and deploys his men to meet a formation of rallied southern cavalrymen. After a brief bombardment, the southerners retire and Sigel advances toward the Sharp House in order to block the Wire Road.

Instead of backtracking to the ford just south of John Gibson's mill, Plummer led his three hundred men directly east toward Wilson Creek, dropping down a "rocky hillside" into the thick undergrowth that lined both sides of the creek at that point. There they found an area of backwater between two dams that John Gibson had built to provide a sufficient flow of water to operate his mill. After a great deal of time and effort, Plummer's force pushed up the steep slope and around 6:30 A.M. entered the northern end of John Ray's property. They soon crossed a rail fence into a field of "Indian corn of moderate height," just as the main column under Lyon had reached the crest of Bloody Hill and was beginning to engage the Missouri State Guard advancing up the slopes toward them. Plummer consequently began moving southward as fast as possible toward the Ray farmhouse, up steadily rising ground, bringing his troops into alignment. As Plummer approached the center of the cornfield, he observed the Pulaski Arkansas Battery delivering enfilade fire across the valley against Lyon's line on Bloody Hill. He responded by leading his command toward the battery, to attempt to capture it.


Having seen Plummer's battalion crossing the Ray property toward the cornfield, Woodruff sent word to McCulloch of the federal advance east of the creek. The Texan instructed his adjutant, Colonel James McIntosh, to take his own unit, the Second Arkansas Mounted Rifles, together with the Third Louisiana under Colonel Louis Hebert and a battalion of Arkansas infantry, to oppose Plummer. The 220 horsemen road ahead to engage Plummer in the Ray cornfield, while the remaining column of 1,100 men hastened up the Wire Road. Leaving the road and advancing up the steep slope just beyond the Rays' springhouse, they nearly immediately confronted Plummer's line on the other side of the cornfield's rail fence.

When the federals opened fire, the bulk of the southern troops were still in column, and it may have taken twenty to thirty minutes before McIntosh got all of his men into position. The rail fence, choked with weeds, and the thick underbrush actually assisted the southerners more than the federals by blocking their field of vision, while the fence that Plummer's men crouched behind actually provided little defensive cover. That the federals caught the Confederates in mid-deployment alone allowed them to maintain their position for as long as they did. As the Louisianans deployed to the right, pressing to the rail fence, they actually reached the eastern end of the cornfield and wrapped around it to the north, assuming the shape of an "L" and outflanking the smaller federal line in the field. After several minutes, as the smoke grew thick, both sides ceased fire as if by mutual consent. Concerned about growing casualties, McIntosh ended the lull by ordering his troops to charge, leading it himself. The advance threatened to overwhelm the outnumbered Plummer and his men retired through the cornfield, closely pursued by McIntosh's Confederates. They followed the fleeing federals all the way to Gibson's fields, well north of the mill, where McIntosh halted his disorganized lines. The respite allowed Plummer's men to retire in good order.


Now in a position to threaten the federal left flank and rear of Lyon's forces across Wilson Creek, McIntosh quickly received heavy artillery fire that stopped his advance. Over on Bloody Hill, Du Bois's Battery of four guns began delivering a well-aimed "storm of shrapnel and grape" that raked the exposed flank of McIntosh's Confederates and covered Plummer's retreat, allowing him to cross back to the west side of Wilson Creek. McIntosh's force, never before exposed to artillery fire, withdrew in confusion, avoiding a rout largely because many of Hebert's panicky Louisianans threw themselves to the ground at every discharge of a federal artillery piece. The southerners had suffered around one hundred casualties, while Plummer lost eighty, more than a fourth of his total force. Plummer himself was among the wounded, and after directing the recrossing of the creek turned his command over to Captain Arch Houston. By 7:30 A.M., the fight on the east side of the creek was over, a fact that would soon have significant implications for the rest of the battle.

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