THE BATTLE OF WILSON CREEK.
The Return from Dug Spring.—The Rebels follow in Pursuit.—Preparations to Attack them.—The Plan of Battle.—Moving to the Attack—A Bivouac.—The Opening Shot.—“Is that Official?”—Sensations of a Spectator in Battle.—Extension of Distance and Time.—Characteristics of Projectiles.—Taking Notes under Fire.—Strength and Losses of the Opposing Armies.—A Noble Record.—The Wounded on the Field.—“One More Shot.”—Granger in his Element.—General Lyon’s Death.
The return of General Lyon from Dug Spring emboldened the enemy to move nearer to Springfield. On the 7th of August the Rebels reached Wilson Creek, ten miles from Springfield, and formed their camp on both sides of that stream. General Ben. McCulloch was their commander-in-chief. On the night of the 8th, General Lyon proposed to move from Springfield for the purpose of attacking their position. The design was not carried out, on account of the impossibility of securing proper disposition of our forces in season to reach the enemy’s camp at daylight.
During the 8th and the forenoon of the 9th, preparations were made for resisting an attack in Springfield, in case the enemy should come upon us. In the afternoon of the 9th, General Lyon decided to assault the Rebel camp at daylight of the following morning. A council of war had determined that a defeat would be less injurious than a retreat without a battle, provided the defeat were not too serious. “To abandon the Southwest without a struggle,” said General Lyon, “would be a sad blow to our cause, and would greatly encourage the Rebels. We will fight, and hope for the best.”
In arranging a plan of battle, Colonel Sigel suggested that the forces should be divided, so that a simultaneous attack would be made upon either extremity of the enemy’s camp. The two columns were to move from Springfield at sunset, bivouac within four miles of the proposed battle-field, and begin their march early enough to fall upon the enemy’s camp a little past daylight. We left Springfield about sunset on the 9th, General Lyon taking about three thousand men, while Colonel Sigel took less than two thousand. Exceptions have frequently been made to this mode of attack. Had it been successful, I presume no one would have found it faulty. It is an easy matter to criticise the plans of others, after their result is known.
The columns moved by different roads to obtain the desired positions. The march was as silent as possible. The only sounds were the rumbling of wheels and the occasional clank of arms. No one was heavily encumbered, as we expected to return to Springfield before the following night. Midnight found us in a hay-field, four miles from the Rebel camp. There we rested till morning.
On the previous night I had been almost without sleep, and therefore took speedy advantage of the halt. Two journeys over the Plains, a little trip into New Mexico, and some excursions among the Rocky Mountains, had taught me certain rules of campaign life. I rarely moved without my blankets and rubber “poncho,” and with a haversack more or less well filled. On this occasion I was prepared for sleeping in the open air.