William Riley Brooksher,
Bloody Hill: The Civil War
Battle of Wilson's Creek

(Brassey's, 1995; 2000)

Bloody Hill, as the subtitle says, discusses the Battle of Wilson's Creek, which occurred in August 1861 in southwest Missouri, as well as events that were happening in Missouri before that particular battle. The book flows in a very readable way and kept me guessing what would happen next.

William Riley Brooksher discusses how the Southern or Confederate sympathizers worked their way into controlling the Missouri state government. He also shows how the Northern or Federal sympathizers -- who were mainly non-Missourians -- kept Missouri in the Union.

The hero for the Union was Nathaniel Lyon, a soldier from New England who started out in Missouri as a captain and eventually became a brigadier general. Lyon worked first at the arsenal in St. Louis. He had differences with his military superiors, but he had a close ally in Congressman Frank Blair, whose brother, Montgomery, was a member of Lincoln's cabinet. Lyon and Blair's opponents were Missouri Gov. Claiborne F. Jackson and his militia's major-general, Sterling Price.

Lyon's troubles began in St. Louis with the local Confederate sympathizers, but he and the army he was able to gather defeated them in small skirmishes. Then the state government decided to secede, so Lyon took his army and marched upon the state capital of Jefferson City -- but the governor and the other officials had evacuated to Boonville with the Missouri State Guard to await the Federals there. The Federals moved to Boonville and routed the State Guard, which regrouped around Carthage, Mo. The Confederate Missourians were seeking help from the Confederate army that was in nearby Arkansas with Brigadier General McCulloch, and the Confederate government decided to send McCulloch and his army to help them. They met up with them around Wilson's Creek, southwest of Springfield.

Now the scene is set for the Battle of Wilson's Creek. Lyon split his army into two groups giving command of the second group to Franz Sigel. They hoped to surprise the Confederates and catch them between the two groups, but this did not work out. The Confederates defeated Sigel's army, which became disorganized and started a massive retreat -- rather, a run for their lives -- back to Springfield. Then the Confederates turned their attention to Lyon. General Lyon was killed early on and the new commander decided to retreat back to Springfield as well, fleeing overwhelming Confederate forces even though the Federals were holding their own.

Of Lyon's 5,600 troops he lost 1,317, with 258 killed including himself. He was the first general to be killed in the Civil War. The Confederates had a combined army of around 15,000 troops and they lost 1,230 with 279 killed. The hill where most of the fight occurred was originally called Ozark Hill, but after the battle it was renamed Bloody Hill because so many had died there.

Brooksher makes you feel like you are there in St. Louis, Wilson's Creek and the other places with Lyon and the other historical figures involved with this tragic battle. If you want to read about early Civil War Missouri, this is the book.

- Rambles
written by Benet Exton
published 26 March 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.