Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

Where is it?

Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield is located at 5242 S. State Hwy ZZ,
Republic, Missouri.

The thistle and other wildflowers were showing off their end of summer beauty when we visited Wilson’s Creek.

The park features:

  • Visitor center with gift shop
  • Museum
  • Self-guided auto tour
  • Hiking and horseback riding trails
  • Civil War research library – by appointment only

When using Google Maps for directions to this park, be sure to use the address above in Republic, Missouri. This public service announcement is brought to you by our wild goose chase through Springfield, Missouri’s industrial district.

Here is a link to the park’s website: Wilson’s Creek 

Wilson’s Creek

Why is Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield significant?

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek, which took place on August 10, 1861, was the second major battle of the Civil War and the first battle west of the Mississippi River. Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon was killed in the battle and was the first Union general to die in action in the Civil War. Confederate troops, who outnumbered the Union troops by almost double, won the battle giving the Confederacy control of southwestern Missouri.

Interesting map showing Civil War battles in the western U.S.

Trivia: Nearly as many men died in Civil War prison camps as died in the Viet Nam War.

Did the battle at Wilson’s Creek result in Missouri’s secession?

No, although the state remained deeply divided throughout the Civil War. While some Missourians wanted to secede from the Union to join the pro-slavery Confederate States, others chose to side with the pro-abolitionist Union. Missouri, according to Wikipedia, “…sent armies, generals, and supplies to both sides, maintained dual governments, and endured a bloody neighbor-against-neighbor intrastate war within the larger national war.”

The Ray House

Ray House, Wilson’s Creek

An excerpt describing the Ray family and their house from the National Park Service’s wayside information board:

“The Ray House is the only park structure on its original site that dates back to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Postmaster and farmer John Ray built it in the 1850s. For ten years it served as the Wilson’s Creek Post Office, a stopping place on the old Wire Road that connected Springfield, Missouri with Fort Smith, Arkansas. In 1861, twelve people were living here: John and Roxanna Ray, their nine children, and a mail carrier. Their slave “Aunt Rhoda” and her four children occupied a small cabin to the rear of the house. On August 10, 1861, they found themselves in the path of war.”

The Ray’s original springhouse still exists today.

The Ray family used the cool springhouse as a place to store perishable foods, and it also provided them with water. Their house served as a Confederate field hospital during and after the battle. Water from the springhouse was vital to the wounded soldiers as well as to the surgeons tending to their injuries.

John Ray stood on his front porch and watched the battle take place in his cornfield and on Bloody Hill. The rest of the family hid in a cellar, but when they emerged hours later, soldiers who lay wounded and dying were everywhere in and around their house.

Trivia: Senator John J. Crittendon of Kentucky had two sons who became generals during the Civil War – one for the North and one for the South.

Bloody Hill

This is an unnamed section of Bloody Hill where Lyon began his advance. The Ray House is located near the barely visible clearing on the horizon at center right.

The Battle of Wilson’s Creek began and ended at Bloody Hill. Union soldiers managed to hold their ground for a while, but they were dreadfully outnumbered. Finally, with a quarter of their men lost after five hours of courageous fighting, the Union soldiers were forced to retreat. Among the dead was their leader, Brigadier General Nathaniel Lyon. Lyon was a fearless warrior though. He was shot in the knee and in the head, and his horse was also killed. Even after suffering two life-threatening wounds, he mounted another horse and continued to lead his men in the battle. A third and final shot to the heart was the mortal wound.

A three-quarter mile trail at Bloody Hill takes visitors through the Union line and other areas where the battle took place.

In the chaotic aftermath of the battle, Lyon’s body was somehow forgotten on the battlefield. Confederate soldiers found his body and took it to the Ray house where they placed it on a bed in their living room so a surgeon could assess the wounds. (The bed is on display in the park’s museum.) Lyon’s final resting place is in a family cemetery in Eastford, Connecticut, although he was initially buried on a farm in Springfield, Missouri. Click here to read some interesting personal recollections of Lyon’s post-mortem and first burial.

Trivia: The Gettysburg Address is one of the greatest and most famous speeches of all time, but it contained just 272 words and was only two minutes long.

Thank you for joining us on our visit to Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield!

 

Need more road trip inspiration? Click on these great destinations:
Antietam National Battlefield
Portland, Maine
Gettysburg National Military Park

Travel safe, and we will see you on the road.

Mike and Kellye  

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As always, we strive to be as accurate with our information as possible. If we made a mistake, it was unintentional. (Hey, we’re only human!) We aren’t paid for our recommendations, and we only recommend our own tried and true vendors and venues. Our suggestions are for places that we’ve heard good things about but haven’t visited personally, and our opinions are our own.

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45 thoughts on “Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield

  1. Including disease but excluding civilians the Civil War killed more Americans than all other U.S. wars combined. That is a very interesting story behind the Ray house. Civilians often find themselves as innocent bystanders and victims of war.

      1. In 2018 I did a WWII Battle of the Bulge tour from Bastogne, Belgium. The guide witnessed the battle from his home. He was eight at the time. German soldiers slept in their house. His father was killed by artillery fire while getting water from their well. I imagine the Ray family had similar harrowing experiences to tell as first hand witnesses to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.

  2. Great piece Kellye and my second Civil War battlefield of the week following Grand Misadventures’ recent post on Stones River National Battlefield. Love the story behind Ray House and the fact that it still stands, what incredible heritage. I had never read the Gettysburg Address, it is indeed powerful and the brevity adds to that I think. Please check out this link the you have a moment: https://leightontravels.com/recommended-by-leighton-travels/

    1. Aw, Leighton, I am so very honored to be included in your recommended/favorites post. As you know, you are one of my favorites too – at least I hope you know. I value your opinions, so I am going to follow the other bloggers you recommended that I didn’t know about until now. Hugs to you and Sladja. I wish safe travels for you as you leave Georgia and wherever your next adventure takes you. Cheers! (That’s a West Texan’s way of trying to talk British to you! – LOL) (This is a third try because my first and second comments on the “recommendations page” apparently didn’t post – gotta love WP!)

  3. I had a notification that you ‘liked’ my comment but I don’t see the comment here. I hope you did indeed get it? I had been speculating how Aunt Rhoda felt about the battle being fought on her doorstep, and about the Union defeat. I’m guessing no one asked for her views 🙁

  4. I never knew that nearly as many men died in Civil War prison camps as died in the Viet Nam War. I can’t image what it was like to find all those dead bodies on their land. Thank you for a great history lesson! 💕

  5. This is some really sad history especially having to witness it right in front of you. Thank you for sharing this information and for the vivid pictures that always accompany your great work!

  6. History was never my favourite subject while in school, but I have more of an appreciation for it now as we travel. Visiting some of these historic sites like this one is a great way to learn more about our history, even the bad bits.

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