Friday, November 18, 2005

The Civil War in the West

This afternoon, when my son gets home from school, we will start heading south through Missouri and spend the night near Springfield. Saturday morning we will tour Wilson's Creek Battlefield, which was the second major battle of the Civil War. By all objective standards it was a loss for the Union, yet it was instrumental in preventing the Confederate-leaning Missouri State Guard under the command of General Sterling Price from taking enough key points to deliver Missouri into the Confederacy.

General Nathaniel Lyon, who was a captain at the outset of the war, mounted a suprise attack on August 10th 1861 with 5,400 men -- less than one-half the 12,000 men at General Price's disposal. Both sides lost over 1200 men apiece (including General Lyon), and the Union forces performed a rapid retreat, but the damage was done. Price and another commander chose to split their forces and the state of Missouri remained in the Union.

On March 6-8, 1862, about 80 miles away, another major battle involving over 26,000 combatants occurred at Pea Ridge, Arkansas. This was a clear Union victory, and pretty much ended the Confederacy's aspirations in the West.

One particularly interesting aspect of all this are the supply lines -- In Missouri, the Union controlled the big rivers -- the Missouri, Osage, and it's bank of the Mississippi. The railroad heading southwest stopped at Rolla (I-44 travels this corridor down toward Springfield today). The supply lines for the Union in Springfield were pretty long, but manageable. The supply lines toward Little Rock were several hundred miles long, thus the Union army spent a lot of time camping rather than fighting.

When one thinks of the key battles of the Civil War, the ones in the east come to mind, yet Missouri was the site of many bloody battles.

We will continue heading south toward Houston, TX after our visit to Pea Ridge. My boy will miss two days of school, but his language arts teacher will expect a journal of his visits to the battlefields, and other experiences along the way. Maybe he'll be interested in blogging...

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