1,000 yards away. Totten's guns were brought into battery, and at once be-
came engaged. Almost at the same moment an artillery duel began two or
three miles to the south. Sigel had heard the signal and was at work.
The admirable plan for a surprise had not only succeeded, but both wings
of the rebel army were being crushed in on the center, and Totten was serving
his guns within less than a half a mile of Price's headquarters, where he and
McCullough were at breakfast, before those generals had any suspicion that
Lyon had left Springfield. Never was a battle begun under brighter promise
The confederate historian, Sneed, Price's adjutant-general, characterizes
the appearance of the rebel army at this time as "a panic-stricken drove."
It was coming as fast as men and horses could run from both directions, the
fugitives throwing away their arms and abandoning everything in their
flight. Staff officers dashed up to McCullough in a frenzy of excitement, and
stammered out in the most bewildered and incoherent manner that the
federals were covering the prairie and sweeping everything before them with
a hundred cannon!
Referring to the action at this time, one of the union officers who had
exceptional opportunities for observing the whole situation said: "For a
few moments I thought we had won the fight almost before we had begun it.
but just then I saw the rebel camp fairly vomiting forth regiment after
regiment, until it seem.ed as if there was no end of men coming against us;
they were coming on the left and right and in front of us, in some places in
three lines, all on the double-quick, and then I changed my mind."
For six hours from that time the bloodiest fight this country had ever seen
raged in that valley and on those battle-scourged hills; and our Kansas men
were ever in the front. At last it was to be demonstrated whether volunteer
soldiers were of any account; whether singing soldiers would fight, and
122 Kansas State Eistorlcal Society.
whether the men who had been brutally flogged would redeem their good
promise to shoot Sturgis at the first opportunity.
The story has been told many, many times, of how the boys fought and
died. How on the left and right comrades saw great gaps torn by the volleys,
and chums and bunk-mates fall in blood and agony, amid groans and execra-
tions, or in a silence more ghastly and significant. How they went in like
regulars, fought like veterans, and conducted themselves, standing or falling,
The Kansas contest, in which Lyon and his men had seen the portent of
this greater strife, had literally been transferred from the preliminary skirm-
ishes of Black Jack, Franklin, Coon Point and Fort Titus, to Wilson Creek,
without any material change of leadership or principles. The trial of the
issue that had been joined there had simply been removed, under a change
of venue, from Kansas to Missouri â€” from Lecompton to the hills and hollows
of Wilson Creek. The position of plaintiff and defendant had been exchanged,
it is true, but the title of the case had not been amended; it was still "the
constitution with slavery, or the constitution without slavery." It was the
constitution in either case now, as they had once proposed in Kansas.
I have mentioned the names of many of the free-state leaders who were
there. Opposed to them, frequently within speaking distance, was David
R. Atchison, once acting vice-president of the United States, afterwards com-
mander of the border-ruffian army in Kansas, now a volunteer aide on Price's
staff; John T. Hughes, engrossing clerk in the Kansas legislature when John
A. Halderman was chief clerk, now at the head of a regiment of Missouri
rebels; L. A. Maclean, of candle-box notoriety, a staff officer under Price;
Richard Hanson Weightman, of Atchison, one of the incorporators of the
Santa Fe railroad, a man of military education and a gentleman of high
character. He had killed F. X. Aubrey it is true, but the seeming necessity
was the regret of his life, and he frequently said if it was to do over again he
would let Aubrey kill him. He died at the head of a brigade of Missouri
rebels. Joseph Orville Shelby, Parsons, Rains, Frost, and many others who
had made themselves obnoxious to the free-state people of Kansas, were in
important positions on this field, and some of them were wounded.
I do not know whether Claib. Jackson was there or not, as he was not far
away, as he was frequently mentioned, both before and after the battle, as
being in that part of the state arranging for convening the secession conven-
tion which finally met in Neosho and, metaphorically speaking, lugged Mis-
souri into the confederacy. But I do know, for I have read it myself, that in
an obscure corner of the cemetery of Little Rock was the grave of the fugitive,
and over it this brief historical fact, painted on a wooden slab:
: CLAIBORNE F. JACKSON, DIED A TRAITOR TO HIS COUNTRY. :
After his first successful onslaught, in which he sent the rebels flying in
every direction, Sigel did nothing but plunder the enemy's camp and wait for
something to turn up for nearly three hours! He seems to have given his men
unrestrained liberty and is reported, on what seems good authority, to have
plundered McCullough's headquarters himself! One of his lieutenants got a
bag of gold, after which there was no pretense of discipline. He says in his
official report that he was directed to cut off the retreat of the enemy, and he
was determined to do it at all hazards. He accordingly formed his com-
Addresses before the Society. 123
manci so as to hold the Fayetteville road and waited while Lyon did the fight-
ing. He speaks complacently of the terrific fighting of the other column, a
mile away, but never intimates that he had anything to do but sit on his
horse and wait to bag the game when Lyon had done with it. By and by
there was a lull, and he thought the work was done, and mistook a retreating
rebel column for the First Iowa and let it come within 20 feet of his battery
before discovering his mistake. His guns were taken, his men cut down like
sheep, and his command utterly routed. Sigel himself escaped to Springfield
with one man, and went to bed before the battle was done. The confused
and conflicting reports of Sigel's officers show plainly the demoralized and
irresponsible condition of mind they were in. To sum up Sigel's part of the
battle, it is stating it mildly to say that he could have saved the day, but from
some unexplained reason failed to do it.
After Lvon's men had wondered for hours what had become of Sigel, the
mystery was explained: first, when one of Du Bois' artillerymen, recognizing
the peculiar shriek of a "basket" shot, exclaimed, "Great God, they 're shooting
Sigel's ammunition at us," and later, when Sigel's flag with Lyon's name on it
was borne at the head of a charging rebel column. That settled it.
In this connection it is proper to state that the different methods in report-
ing the "availables" observed by the union and confederate forces is mislead-
ing when comparing the numbers engaged in any given battle. The union ad-
jutants included all enlisted men and officers present for duty, comprising
cooks, clerks, detailed orderlies, wagon guards, farriers, teamsters, hospital
details and helpers of every kind and character; while the confederate adju-
tants pursued the better plan of reporting as engaged only those with arms in
their hands and actually in the line of battle.
The effect of this in the battle of Wilson Creek is illustrated, imperfectly,
in the case of the First Kansas, which is reported to have had 800 men engaged,
while as a matter of fact, the number just before the battle began, when the
column was formed in platoons, was but G44. In the Second Kansas 600 men
were reported as present, but of these 155 were somewhere else than in the line
In the case of Churchill's regiment of Arkansas troops, the confederate ad-
jutant reported, "total availables 600, present 500." These round numbers indi-
cate that they were estimated or lumped off, but the different methods are
forcibly illustrated, nevertheless.
A careful examination of the reports on both sides shows that Lyon's force
consisted of 3,594 officers and men, of whom 2,044 with 10 guns, were engaged
for the first three hours of the battle. Plummer's batallion of 300 fought on
the left in the valley, in the corn-field and beyond, leaving the number of Ly-
on's immediate command a.t 1,744. All the rest of his men wei-e in reserve,
supporting the batteries, protecting the flanks, and waiting for the order to
go in. Against this thin line of less than two full regiments the rebels brought
6,900 men and eight guns, or four men to the union one.
When three hours had expired and each side brought up its reserves, the
losses had reached, assuming the same per cent, was maintained throughout,
Lyon's forces, 510; McCulloughs, 615; reducing the available men on the union
side, including Plummer's remnant, to 1,534, and on the rebel side to 6,285, a
disparity still of four to one. But even this was exceeded in fact, because the
fiercest fighting and most deadly work was done when Price's Missourians
made the onslaught and before the regular confederate forces were brought
up, The first Kansas and the First Missouri, the main line of Lyon in the first
124 Kansas Slate Historical Society.
half of the fight, had lost, the former 44 and the latter 33 per cent, before the
reserves were ordered up.
When "Bloody Hill" became the focal center of all guns and every available
man was contending there, the rebels had at leastl2,000men contending against
a possible 2,400 union men, or five to one. But even this is underestimating the
cdds that were against Lyon. Price had 3,000 unarmed but organized troops in
reserve, waiting to supply themselves with muskets from the dead and wounded
on the field. This they did, and the rebel losses were more than made good
by this replenishment. Snead admits this, and Price says there were guns for
all and to spare. In other words, there were more men opposing the union
army in the end than in the beginning, and yet they i-an away. The rebel ar-
tillery, also, had been augmented by the capture of five of Sigel's guns; but in
spite of the overwhelming advantage in men and material, their officers or-
dered, begged, raved and swore in vain â€” they knew when they had enough.
There are many incidents related, which show a splendid contrast in favor
of the union troops at this stage of the battle. They were more than willing to
fight; in fact, they could not be restrained. The only service performed by
the officers after the lines were formed in many instances, was to keep the men
from unnecessarily exposing themselves. Our Kansas regiments were lying
flat on their faces, the line officers sitting on the ground a few paces in the
rear. Everybody was cool after the first volley, and a desultory conversation
was kept up in which jokes predominated. Captain Cracklin took out his old
briar-root pipe, and, after fumbling for his tobacco in every pocket, got up and
borrowed a supply from one of his men and smoked as unconcerned as if it w^s
all a sham battle. A rebel cavalryman became separated from his command
and when the smoke lifted was within easy range of the Second Kansas, several
of whom fired at him as he galloped away. Pie had escaped to the right and rear
more than 1.50 yards when Captain Russell, for whom Russell county is
named, said "See me fetch him." Without rising he swung his arm up till the
elboM^ rested on the ground and shot him dead with his pistol. When the
men were ordered to lie down a tall German by the name of Henry Newkampf,
refused to do so, but kept walking back and forth along the rear of the line,
picking off the Johnnies as the opportunity offered. For a time he seemed to
bear a charmed life, and escaped injury where the bullets were fiying so thick
that a gun or ramrod held up a few feet above the ground was sure to be hit.
To all entreaties of comrades he stoically replied, "O, veil, it makes me no dif-
ference out." He was hit on the head after an hour of exposure and a mortal
wound inflicted.- "Now I vas mad," said he, and dropping to his proper posi-
tion fought like a tiger to the end of the battle. He died 12 days afterwards
in Springfield. An Indian sharpshooter who had climbed to the crotch of a tree
between the lines wounded two men in Cracklin' s company with one shot. Bob
Schuyler drev/ a bead on him and tumbled Mr. Indian to the ground stone
dead. One of these wounded men was Jacob W. Longfellow, now a well-
known citizen of Kansas City, Kas.
This is the character of the men who were representing Kansas that day.
At the lower end of the field was a farmhouse which was occupied at the
time by a family named Sharp. The lady of the house witnessed the fight
from, her porch, and gave it as her opinion that the rebels were "whipped
within an inch of their lives."
A daughter of Judge Perkins, whose home was near enough to be hit by a
cannon shot, also saw the whole battle, and declared that both armies were
retreating at the same time!
Addresses before the Society. 125
At 10 o'clock both sides were occupying the ground they had taken four
hours before. The lines were within shot-gun range. Neither line was more
than half a mile in length, but the rebel forces were more than five times the
deepest. They extended in masses away back into the valley, and across the
creek and to the crest of the hills beyond. There was a lull in the firing, and
as the smoke cleared away all this could be seen. The men as well as the
officers knew what was coming. It was the calm before the storm. No won-
der the sight of the swarming hosts appalled even the brave heart of Lyon,
and made him fear the day was lost. There was a rush on the left. Schofield
led the First Iowa to meet it; Lyon rode with the file-closers at the right of
the battalion. His favorite horse was killed under him, and at the next
moment he received a shot in the leg and one in the head. He staggered a
few paces to the rear and met Sturgis, who begged him not to so recklessly
expose himself. Doctor Lyon, a distant relative of the general, wanted to dress
his v/ounds. Captain Totten coming up offered him some brandy. He de-
clined everything and walked back toward the front. All the mounted officers
on the field gathered around him. He took the horse of Sturgis's orderly and
rode toward the right. Just then a brigade of rebel cavalry was discovered
in an effort to turn the union right. The Second Kansas was ordered up on
double-quick â€” fixing bayonets as they came â€” to brace the wavering line.
Lyon galloped back to Totten, and in a moment his battery was flying to the
threatened flank. Before the Kansans could fire a volley Totten's guns had
done the vÂ»'ork by a murderous enfilading fire, and the thinned ranks of the
enemy recoiled in dismay and left the field.
A lull of half an hour ensued. Again the field officers gathered about
Lyon on the crown of Bloody Hill. There was no enemy in sight. What did
it mean? Conjectures were various, but the men believed they had won a
great victory. Lyon was giving orders for extending the line on the right,
and the Second Kansas, which had come up meantime, was clamoring to be
assigned a place.
At this instant a line of men was seen at right angles to the column of
Lyon, and a question arose as to who they were. There was a possibility of
their being Sigei's men. Lyon, Mitchell and an orderly rode out toward
them. Three officers at the same time advanced from their lines and asked
"Who are you?" From some cause Lyon at once saw they were rebels, per-
haps he recognized them as old army associates, at any rate he turned to his
body-guard, which had come up, and said: "Shoot them! Shoot them!"
Instantly there was a volley from a thicket a few rods away and Lyon received
a bullet in the heart. Mitchell was hit in the thigh at the same time, but
caught Lyon as he was falling and lowered him from his horse to the ground.
To his orderly, Albert Lehman, he mui'mured, "I am killed; take care of my
body." Lieutenant Shroyer of the Second and two men sprang forward and
bore the corpse through the ranks to the rear. Lehman was crying and
making a great noise, and was told to keep still. The face was then covered
with a handkerchief and the guard told to keep the fact of Lyon's death from
This simple recital is gathered from personal interviews with soldiers who
witnessed the event, officers within speaking distance of Lyon when he fell,
numerous letters, and lastly, the official records of the battle. It differs from
the popular accounts which have given inspiration for the cheap pictures, the
only representations extant, of the death of Lyon.
There was none of the impetuous dash and wild clamor of war, "peal on
126 Kansas State Historical Society.
peal afar;" no leaping steed, frenzied with the clash of arms; no fluttering
pennants, nor host of aides in brilliant uniforms to signalize the event; none
of the stock accessories of the death that came to Nelson and Packenham.
Simply a quiet, unassuming soldier, bareheaded, and bloody from crown to
foot, sitting on a jaded horse with a few comrades at his side. In this way
Lyon fell; the first great sacrifice of the war; the only leader who had rightly
interpreted secession, and the only one who had seized it by the throat or
seriously threatened its overthrow. At the time of his death there was no
general in the union army worthy to be compared with him. What he had
done and attempted to do had already endeared him to the whole north.
Suddenly elevated from a captain to a general, he at once disclosed the quali-
ties of leadership, roused the hopes of his countrymen by his tremendous
energy in pursuing and sublime audacity in fighting overwhelming odds, and
crowded into two months a career as brilliant as it was brief, and as precious
to the cause as its ending was bloody and pathetic.
There was more fighting, more prodigies of valor, more heroic dying on
the stricken field, but the battle culminated with the death of Lyon.
He had ceased to fear the day was lost since the repulse of the impetuous
attacks upon the left and right and the lifting smoke had revealed a field
unquestionably his own. That he was not permitted to survive the moment
of victory, and that his successor, either through incompetency or cowardice,
fled the field, cannot detract from his glory or dim the luster of his great
name. All union authorities agree that at half past 11 o'clock the enemy had
been driven from the field. Half an hour after the firing ceased he burnt a
portion of his train and set the remainder in motion toward Fayetteville.
The union forces were withdrawn to a new position a short distance in the
rear, and a new line formed facing the field. This line remained there so long
that discipline was relaxed, and the men sat down on the ground to rest and
play cards and talk over the battle. Everybody but Sturgis believed the
union forces had won a great victory. The men were exulting and, although
they had marched all night and fought for six hours in thirst and hunger,
were impatient to pursue the enemy. Sturgis was importuned to do so by
the highest officers in his command. Sweeney insisted on following up the
victory and making it complete. So did the brave Surgeon-General Cornyn,
who kept his gun ready near the surgeon's table, and whenever opportunity
offered lan to the front to pick off a rebel or two. So did Gordon Granger,
who rode up to Sturgis, after making a reconnoisance of the field alone, and
remarked that there was not an enemy in sight and that he ought to be pur-
sued and cut to pieces. To this Sturgis replied, "I order you to leave the
field." "But," said Granger, "they have burnt their train." "I order you to
leave the field!" said Sturgis sharply, and the army retreated to Rolla, and
Price, recovering from the blow, overran Missouri and wintered on the Osage.
When the army reached Springfield, Sturgis had sufficiently recovered
from his fright to recall the fact that he had forgotten to bring Lyon's body
from the field. A flag of truce was sent back after it and when the detail
arrived on the field the rebel officers were straggling back in a surprised sort
of way and a few rebel soldiers were robbing our dead, but as yet there was no
general occupation of the field.
McCullough, in his defense before the rebel secretary of war, says Price
urged him to pursue the federals, but his men were out of ammunition and
he decided to let well enough alone.
In this battle the First Iowa lost 154 officers and men, the First Kansas
Addresses before the Society. 127
284, and the First Missouri 295, an aggregate of 733, or one regiment out of
The country owes it to itself that the sacrifice of these men â€” the first free
offering of three great states on the altar of the union, together with the valor
of all who were there, living or dying, should be commemorated by a monu-
ment to Lyon and his men and the dedication of the field for a national park
It is perhaps enough for that day's work to say that it has been the fireside
theme for a generation; the pride of all who saw the stricken field as the army
marched away, the glory of all who, for the union of these states, participated
in that carnival of blood.
(It is a perilous thing- to invite the participants in a battle to contribute incidents
of the day's doings. Especially is this true when their memory has been impaired
by a lapse of years since the event. The more important the point to be estab-
lished the more these authorities differ. According- to the conflicting statements of
eye-witnesses, Lyon was dressed in the uniform of a brigadier-general, the uniform
of a captain of infantry, and in citizen's clothes, including a linen duster, at the
moment he was Ivilled. By the same authorities he wore a forage cap, a yellow
wool slouch hat, and was bare headed, when he fell. All agree that he was am-
bushed in the most cowardly manner, and that he died at the head of a Kansas
regiment. A. R. G.)
THE ROMANCE OF KANSAS HISTORY.
Eead before the Kansas State Historial Society by Prof. Osc.iR E. Olix at the annual meeting,
January 1.5, 1S9.').
I heard the story of Kansas in the neighboring state of Iowa at the most
impressible time of boyhood. It had a strange fascination for me, and I fol-
lowed it from week to week as the history was made, little thinking I should
ever look into your faces or stand among you. In the 25 years that I have been
a Kansan I have met many of the men who made that history. I have seen
the scars of conflict; I have seen heads grown gray before their time; I have
seen gray heads bowing low every year, and I should rather talk to you to-
night of the power and pathos of it all, than read the paper I have prepared.
A romance is popularly supposed to be the blending of truth and fiction
found in the legends and marvels of mediaeval time. But there is a sense in
which whatever stimulates the imagination by what is fanciful, unusual, of
wide variety, ideal, full of sentiment, heroic, bringing about improbable re-
sults, may be and is called romantic.
The field of reality, except for its commonplace, is no less romantic than the
realm of fiction. He is a daring novelist indeed who will portray life in as
strange relations as it bears about each one of us.
Historyâ€” the record of events and of life â€” is full of romantic interest to him
who really studies it. Romance may be dramatic, developing the play of char-
acter and of plot. It may be tragic to the last degree; and history is both. It
is the highest drama of human life; it is the long tragedy of nations; and
surely nothing in the range of fiction can compare with some of the actual
events of history. "What novelist has drawn ideal courage and sacrifice to
equal the real Thermopyle? What hero of fiction can equal in achievement
the real Alexander? What event of fiction was ever more opportune than the
coming of the steel-turreted "Monitor" to buffet the iron giant of Hampton
128 Kansas State Historical Society.
Macaulay was right, that history should be so studied and written as to
bring out its dramatic character, and keep as its own the interest that now at-
taches only to romance. He has written in five volumes the history of Eng-
land, covering only 15 years; but that story is as fascinating as Waverly, and
those 15 years stand out from the annals of the past in all the freshness of