- Adventure #11-Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield
As we have traveled around our state of Missouri, I have often wondered at the absence of the state’s history in the history books of our school systems across the nation. My husband and I both grew up in Michigan, went to college in Illinois, and taught in schools in Michigan, Indiana and Missouri. In all those places, in all those years, we never happened across curriculum that would inform our students, or even us personally, about the history of the Civil War as it related to Missouri. Nor was there any way for students to learn of the experiences of ordinary citizens within the state as they dealt with the consequences of the great divide between the North and the South. I have always believed that the failure to include the story of Missouri during the Civil War deprived us all of the opportunity to learn how the war affected Americans far-flung from the eastern states and eastern battlefields. The Civil War was fought across the nation with consequences still being felt today…across the nation.
As we seek to visit all the national park sites in Missouri during the Park Service’s 100th anniversary year, we find ourselves at Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield in southwestern Missouri. We have taken our children there many times, helping them to better understand some of the things that happened in this state they call home, and to help them understand some of the things still happening in Missouri…both good and bad. We always sought to teach them that they did not simply live in a “fly-over” state, but one that was, and is, a vital part of America.
And so, this is Missouri during the Civil War, and Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield…
In 1820, Missouri applied for statehood as a slave state. In 1821, under the conditions of the Missouri Compromise, Missouri was admitted as a slave state, while, to maintain a balance between free states and slave states, Maine was admitted as a free state.
But as time went by, and by the time the Civil War began, a majority of Missourians had voted to stay in the Union, and were willing to fight to preserve the Union. The governor of Missouri, Claiborne Jackson, however, sympathized with the Confederacy, and was in favor of secession. The Missouri State Guard, under the command of Maj. Gen. Sterling Price, was charged with the task of moving Missouri into the Confederacy. The stage was set for hostilities, and these hostilities would break out in battles near towns, as well as on fields and farms throughout Missouri.
At the beginning of August, 1861, Maj. Gen. Price and his troops were camped just outside Springfield, MO. They were preparing to attack and capture Union troops positioned at Springfield.
At the same time, Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon, commander of the Union troops at Springfield was planning to attack and defeat Price’s troops in order to save Missouri for the Union.
On August 10, 1861, Lyon and his combined forces of around 6,400 men attacked the State Guard forces, 12,000 strong, at Wilson’s Creek. While Lyon and his force of 4,200 men quickly overtook Price and his men, the follow up force of around 1,200, led by Col. Franz Sigel, was unsuccessful in its assigned flanking action.
The ensuing battle lasted for more than five hours, on a field that would forever after be known as “Bloody Hill”. The advantage went back and forth between the Union and Confederate forces, but in the end, Sigel and his men fled, and Brig. Gen. Lyon was killed on the battlefield, the first general to be killed in battle in the Civil War. All totaled, the Union lost one of every four soldiers in the battle.
Victory in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek went to the South, but the Confederate forces were unable to pursue and totally defeat the Union army. Under the command of Maj. Samuel Sturgis, the Union troops were able to withdraw and maintain a position for the Union in the state of Missouri.
The Battle of Wilson’s Creek has been called the “Bull Run of the West”, yet very few have ever heard of it. To further understand the impact that Missouri had in the War, it should be noted that Wilson’s Creek was not the only battle fought in Missouri during the Civil War. Missouri ranked third among all the states in the number of Civil War battles within its boundaries. The battles to preserve the Union were indeed not fought only in the eastern states.
When you visit Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield, you will be able to take a 4.9 mile auto tour of its important sites. You will also be able to get a feeling of what it would have been like to be a civilian living in southwestern Missouri, confronted with a terrible war in “your own backyard”. Here are some of the sites you will see, and what you will learn from them.
For years, the area around Wilson’s Creek had been home to many pioneers. They had come from the East, from the states of Kentucky and Tennessee to start a new, and hopefully prosperous, life on the fields of southwestern Missouri. The people living in the community would have walked to Gibson’s Mill for supplies, to learn of news from the outside world, and to visit with friends. It would have been a gathering place. Children of the area would have played outside, helped in the fields, and traveled to school. Families would have traveled to church services, and planned outings and picnics with other families of the area. One can only imagine the horror that filled them as they saw war break out around them, and the bodies of dead soldiers on their fields as a result of the battle.
John Ray owned a house along the Wire Road, where he lived with his wife and nine children. Part of the battle was fought in his cornfield. During the battle, his wife, children, his slave Aunt Rhoda, and her four children all hid in the cellar of the house. During the battle, the Ray House became the field hospital. It was here that the body of Brig. Gen. Nathaniel Lyon was carried following his death on the battlefield. The events of that August day would live in the minds of this family for as long as they lived.
Maj. Gen. Sterling Price set up his headquarters near William Edward’s cabin. The cabin you will find at the site is not the original, but one that was found about two miles down the Wire Road. It was uncovered when a house that had been built over it was being raised to make room for the construction of a new home.
There are eight stops in all along the auto tour. In addition to pointing out the ways in which the battle affected civilians, you will find stops that explain the battle as it was conducted on the surrounding landscape.
I hope you will take an opportunity to visit Wilson’s Creek if you ever find yourself in southwestern Missouri. It gives tribute to an important event in the Civil War, most of us know too little about. The Civil War was a fight for the survival of a nation, and it was a fight that was fought across the whole nation. You can find more about Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield at its National Park Service website.
Harvest Tomato Soup
As I thought about the recipe I would use for this post, and as I stopped at the John Ray house and learned about his family, I could not help thinking about the time of year we have just begun. It is autumn, and with autumn comes harvest time. I could not stop thinking about the mountain of tomatoes I had left sitting on my kitchen counter when I left on this little trip. It made me think of Mrs. Ray, and the vegetables she would be getting out of her own garden.
When I returned home, I decided to find a soup in one of my vintage cookbooks that would use many of my tomatoes, and thought maybe Mrs. Ray would have done the same with some of hers. I found one in “An Army Wife’s Cookbook”, a favorite of mine for many years. The recipe I am including in this post is adapted from that soup I found in the cookbook. This soup is not as thick as that you would get from a can, but it is oh so very tasty…Jim loves it, and that says a lot, because he is a very fussy eater. Served with Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and a salad, it makes a wonderful autumn meal.
Harvest Tomato Soup
- 1 qt. homemade beef stock*
- 2 qt. fresh tomatoes, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 turnip, cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1 carrot, cut into pieces
- 1 onion, finely cut
- 4 ounces butter
- 2 Tbsp. flour
- 1-2 tsp. sugar
- Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the cut tomatoes, onion, carrot, and turnip together for about 1 hour. Strain. I pressed it a bit to get as much of the tomato pulp into the soup as possible. This should give you about 1 quart of tomato mixture. Put the tomato mixture and the beef broth together in a pot. Set aside.
Melt the butter in a small pan, add the flour, and cook, stirring constantly until the mixture is brown and has a nutty odor. Add this mixture to the tomato and broth mixture. Add the sugar, the salt and pepper, and simmer for 5 minutes.
*I make my own beef stock for this soup, because it does not have the dark color of store bought beef stock. This lighter broth allows the red of the tomatoes to be a beautiful characteristic of the soup.