Ozarks Life: The Battle for Wilson’s Creek’s recognition

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield joined the National Parks in 1960.
Published: Apr. 22, 2022 at 8:56 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2022 at 1:14 PM CDT
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GREENE COUNTY, Mo. (KY3) - In southern Greene County, there is peace.

You can’t hear traffic. The wind howls through the trees, birds chirp, and a creek churns through the hills.

But as soon as you hear the name of this creek, your opinion of this place will change. This is Wilson’s Creek and in 1861 peace was far from here.

“The Battle of Wilson’s Creek is the second major battle of the Civil War,” superintendent of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield Sarah Cunningham said. “It’s also the first major battle west of the Mississippi.”

Missouri was a key state to hold thanks to the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. A large Confederate army was camping near Wilson’s Creek with plans of claiming the state for the South.

But on August 10, 1861, General Nathaniel Lyon led his Union soldiers from Springfield to surprise the southern encampment on what became known as Bloody Hill.

“It was a five or six-hour bloody battle that took place,” Cunningham said.

A few hours into the fight, General Lyon was killed while positioning his troops. He becomes the first Union general killed in action in the Civil War.

By afternoon, the North retreats with 1,300 casualties. The South is also critically injured with 1,200 casualties.

Three-and-a-half years later, the North would win the Civil War and for many, this Battle of Wilson’s Creek was forgotten.

“For years, veterans of this battle would come back to remember,” Cunningham said, “and commemorate the battle that occurred here.”

Those veterans would lay rocks at the spot where their leader, General Lyon died. In 1928, the rocks were replaced with a stone marker made by the University Club of Springfield. But to see it, visitors would have to trespass on the private land.

Following World War II, there was a reunited pride in America. In 1950, the Wilson’s Creek Foundation was created with the intent of purchasing the Civil War Battlefield as a way to honor those veterans.

“Schoolchildren would go to school and they would bring pennies, nickels, anything that they could save,” Cunningham said, “and contribute to the preservation of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.”

In 1951, the Foundation purchased the 37-acres of land known as Bloody Hill. Over the next few years, the property would grow in size but not in status.

With 16 Civil War sites as National Parks, the government didn’t need another. The Pea Ridge National Military Park in Arkansas was added in 1956. One account mentioned the National Parks thought Pea Ridge was enough to tell the story of the war west of the Mississippi.

After several failed attempts, the Foundation’s persistence paid off.

“On April 22, 1960, President Eisenhower signs into law the establishment of Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield,” Cunningham said.

Over the decades, a tour road was built around the site as well as a horse riding trail and walking trails. Signs were placed telling stories about this battle and taking you to the points of interest.

In 2021, a $3.5 million renovation was made to the Visitor’s Center and Museum.

“We’ve got a bunch of new exhibits,” Cunningham said. “Interactive videos, some really neat things that help visitors understand the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.”

The Arts in the Park Music Series is back on Saturday nights in May at Wilson’s Creek. It’s also planning a large event over Memorial Day weekend. And, the National Parks just launched a Wellness Challenge you can do while at Wilson’s Creek. Just visit the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield website for more information.

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