On General Lyon’s arrival all the troops were concentrated in the vicinity of Springfield. It was known that the Rebels were encamped near the Arkansas border, awaiting the re-enforcements which had been promised from the older States of the Confederacy. General Fremont had been assigned to the command of the Western Department, and was daily expected at St. Louis to assume the direction of affairs. Our scouts were kept constantly employed in bringing us news from the Rebel camp, and it is quite probable the Rebels were equally well informed of our own condition. We were able to learn that their number was on the increase, and that they would soon be largely re-enforced. After three weeks of occupation our strength promised to be diminished. Half of General Lyon’s command consisted of “three-months men,” whose period of enlistment was drawing to a close. A portion of these men went to St. Louis, some volunteered to remain as long as the emergency required their presence, and others were kept against their will. Meantime, General Lyon made the most urgent requests for re-enforcements, and declared he would be compelled to abandon the Southwest if not speedily strengthened. General Fremont promised to send troops to his assistance. After he made the promise, Cairo was threatened by General Pillow, and the re-enforcing column turned in that direction. General Lyon was left to take care of himself.
By the latter part of July, our situation had become critical. Price’s army had been re-enforced by a column of Arkansas and Louisiana troops, under General McCulloch. This gave the Rebels upward of twelve thousand men, while we could muster less than six thousand. General Price assumed the offensive, moving slowly toward Springfield, as if sure of his ability to overpower the National forces. General Lyon determined to fall upon the enemy before he could reach Springfield, and moved on the 1st of August with that object in view.
On the second day of our march a strong scouting party of Rebels was encountered, and a sharp skirmish ensued, in which they were repulsed. This encounter is known in the Southwest as “the fight at Dug Spring.” The next day another skirmish occurred, and, on the third morning, twenty-five miles from Springfield, General Lyon called a council of war. “Councils of war do not fight” has grown into a proverb. The council on this occasion decided that we should return to Springfield without attacking the enemy. The decision was immediately carried out.
The beginning of August, in Southwest Missouri, is in the midst of the warm season. The day of the march to Dug Spring was one I shall never forget. In Kansas, before the war, I once had a walk of several miles under a burning sun, in a region where not a drop of water could be found. When I finally reached it, the only water to be found was in a small, stagnant pool, covered with a green scum nearly an inch in thickness. Warm, brackish, and fever-laden as that water was, I had never before tasted any thing half so sweet. Again, while crossing the Great Plains in 1860, I underwent a severe and prolonged thirst, only quenching it with the bitter alkali-water of the desert. On neither of these occasions were my sufferings half as great as in the advance to Dug Spring.