1861: “We Could See The Enemy Plainly”

Gazette665 Blog Series 1861: In Their WordsAugust 10, 1861

The fighting was desperate for about half an hour; when a sort of lull took place as if by mutual consent, to draw breath and let the smoke clear away.

When the smoke cleared away a little we could see the enemy plainly. They stood as firm as ever, but their ranks were thinned and their dead lay think. …Some of them had been slightly wounded in the head but they still stood in their places, while the blood running down their faces gave them a ghastly but fierce and determined look…

With a tremendous cheer we rushed out upon them. They broke; the great part retreating toward their center on Oak Hill (Bloody Hill). …One young officer stood holding a small flag or marker along their line. I ran to seize the flag from him. He with his sword inflicted a slight wound on my wrist. I closed with him, but found the poor fellow was already severely wounded, and he fell fainting to the ground, still holding the flag…

We followed them up toward the base of Oakhill (Bloody Hill), but we were checked by a storm of shrapnel and grape, which was opened upon us from a batter [artillery battery] on the enemy’s left. Fortunately, we were not in a very compact order at the time and not much damage was done.

William Watson, 3rd Louisiana Infantry (Confederate), Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Battle of Wilson's Creek

Battle of Wilson’s Creek

Missouri

Missouri was considered a border state during the Civil War. It was one of those state where slavery was still legal (thanks to the 1820 Missouri Compromise), but it didn’t secede and join the Confederacy. However, that didn’t mean Missouri was staunchly pro-union. Nope.

When the war began both sides formed armies in the state and maneuvered around, engaging in small skirmishes. The first large battle in the Western Theater of the war and in Missouri was the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. The battle was a Confederate victory, allowing Southerners to retain control of the geographically-southern part of the state for most of the war.

Partisan fight was fairly common in Missouri and would remain a devastating problem for the next four years as bands of men roamed the countryside, fighting or plundering in the name of their causes.

General Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union general killed during the Civil War.

General Nathaniel Lyon was the first Union general killed during the Civil War.

Battle of Wilson Creek

Fought on August 10, 1861, on the rolling hills and farmland outside Springfield, Missouri, the Battle of Wilson Creek was the first major battle in the west. It was the first battle where a Union general was killed. General Nathaniel Lyons was shot and became a national martyr-figure for the Union. Total casualties (both sides, combined) was about 2,500 dead, wounded, and missing. Prominent geographical features on the battlefield were/are Ray’s Cornfield and Bloody Hill.

The Confederate victory bolstered the Southerners hope of war victory, especially considered they’d just won the first two major battles. (Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek).

Historical Musings

Did you notice the personal feeling in William Watson’s account? He could see the enemy. He even describes them. He tells us about the wounded man with the flag. He notes that the artillery shots weren’t very destructive because of how he and his comrades were positioned.

The Civil War was fought in a period when warfare was transitioning. The rifles had firepower and accuracy unlike the muskets of previous wars. But the battlefield tactics hadn’t changed yet. Troops were still getting very close to fire, close enough to see the look on the enemy’s face.

In our modern era – with even more powerful military weapons and sniper skills – it’s easy to forget how close the soldiers stood to each other and to the enemy on Civil War battlefields. In 1861 war was close, personal, and very traumatic.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Eastern or Western Theater of the Civil War? Do you have a preference?

Wilson Creek Civil War quote

 

About Sarah Kay Bierle

I’m Sarah Kay Bierle, historian, living history enthusiast, and historical fiction writer. When sharing history, I try to keep the facts interesting and understandable. History is about real people, real actions, real effects and it should inspire us today.
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3 Responses to 1861: “We Could See The Enemy Plainly”

  1. Pingback: 1861: “Modify That Paragraph So As To Conform” | Gazette665

  2. Pingback: 1861: “I Have Never Contemplated A Long War” | Gazette665

  3. Pingback: 1861: “I Have Never Contemplated A Long War” | Gazette665

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