Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield remembers historic Civil War confrontation on 160th anniversary

Published: Aug. 10, 2021 at 7:04 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Tuesday marks a couple of major moments in the history of Missouri.

It was 200 years ago, on August 10, 1821 that Missouri was admitted to the Union as the 24th state.

And on that same date 40 years later the first major Civil War battle west of the Mississippi River was fought on Missouri soil just southwest of Springfield at Wilson’s Creek.

So on Tuesday the National Park Service, which preserves the 1,750-acre site, held a ceremony to commemorate the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

You can take your own tour of the national park by car, bicycle or on-foot and take along a map that points out eight stops of interest along the way.

Among the best known stops is Bloody Hill where over 1,700 Union and Confederate soldiers were killed or wounded.

You can also visit the homestead of John Ray, who watched the battle from his front porch and later saw mortally wounded Union General Nathaniel Lyon brought to his home. The original bed Lyon was placed in at Ray’s home can still be seen at the newly-remodeled visitors center and it has historical significance because Lyon was the first Union General killed in the Civil War.

Also at the visitors center you can learn about the complete history of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek, background information on what led to the Civil War and a look at the different types of weaponry used in the confrontation.

As you enter the exhibit area the first thing you see are some shackles and a history lesson on slavery, where it’s also pointed out that as Springfield grew around productive farmland, Greene County’s enslaved population grew to nearly 14 percent, higher than all of southwest Missouri.

The next area goes into detail about the turbulent political atmosphere of the time where there was a lot of friction and disagreement across the country.

While the world has changed a lot since then, in many ways it hasn’t changed that much as Dr. John Marshall, the retired pastor from the Second Baptist Church, mentioned during the invocation at the anniversary ceremony.

“Here we are, many years later, struggling and trying to find harmony and cross bitter divides that separate us,” he prayed. “Lord, you helped us a long time ago. We ask that you’d do it again.”

Dr. William Piston, an author of books on the Civil War, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony. The Professor Emeritus at Missouri State University pointed out how some of the same problems back in 1861 are still with us in a different form today.

For instance, immigration.

“Conflict in regard to immigration has been almost a constant in American history,” he said. “As those who made America their home often objected to others attempting to do the same. On the eve of the Civil War Missouri’s history included the American or Know Nothing Party, an openly anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic party that elected candidates across the nation. Immigration mattered at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Lyon’s Union Army included St. Louis regiments raised almost exclusively from the city’s large German immigrant population. Throughout much of American history the majority of enlisted men in the U.S. Army have been foreign-born.”

Another topic that’s still a concern today as it was then?

Medical care.

“Missouri’s history had a shocking absence of health care at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek,” Piston explained. “The failure of either side to anticipate and plan for mass casualties (led to) soldiers in fear and pain who sometimes received their first medical attention from the farm women in the surrounding community.”

At the ceremony there were plenty of Confederate flags on display. Paul Carpenter from Aurora, Mo. was wearing a T-shirt with a Confederate flag and a message on the back saying, “Respect the history of this flag”.

When asked about the message, Carpenter answered that he just wanted both sides to be respected for their sacrifices during the war.

“I had family fighting on both sides of the Civil War,” he explained. “One was wounded here (at Wilson’s Creek) on the Union side and had he not been wounded here they would have faced each other at Pea Ridge.”

Carpenter said he also agrees that today’s political unrest is a reminder of the tensions back in 1861.

“The nation was once divided then united,” he said. “But thanks to the stuff that’s gone on the last few years we’re dividing ourselves even worse.”

“History is full of reminders that democracy is not something you can take for granted,” Piston added. “Our forefathers never intended to create a government to run on its own without people paying attention.”

Piston also said that while we should learn from our history, he’s concerned the changing times may be working against us.

“I do wonder if it is possible to maintain a democracy and civility with such instant communication,” he said. “The world really is working at a different pace. With incredible globalization and the speed of information I think we’re seeing a shift that is greater than that of the internal combustion engine.”

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