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.