Reports of Col. Franz
Sigel, Third Missouri Infantry, commanding Army of the West.
AUGUST 10, 1861.--Battle of Oak Hills, Springfield, or Wilson's Creek, Mo.
O.R.-- SERIES I--VOLUME 3 [S# 3]
NIANGUA CROSSING, 28 MILES EAST OF SPRINGFIELD,
August 12, 1861.
Commanding Department of the West.
SIR: I respectfully report to you that after a battle fought 10 miles south of Springfield, on Saturday, the 10th, between our forces and the rebel army, and in which General Lyon was killed, I have taken temporarily the command of the Union troops.
Arrived after the battle at Springfield, on the evening of the 10th, it was found necessary to retreat towards Rolla. We are now here with 3,000 men of infantry, 300 cavalry, and thirteen pieces of artillery. The Irish Brigade, about 900 strong, will meet us at Lebanon. The Home Guards amount to about 200 infantry and 500 mounted men, who are more or less valuable. The enemy's forces cannot be less than 20,000 men, of which about one-fourth are infantry, the others cavalry, besides fifteen pieces of artillery.
Once in possession of Springfield, the enemy will be able to raise the southwest of the State against us, add a great number of men to his army, make Springfield a great depot, and continue his operations towards Rolla, and probably also towards the Missouri (Jefferson City). I do not see the probability of making an effective resistance without reinforcement of not less than 5,000 men, infantry, one or two regiments of cavalry, and at least two batteries. To meet the momentous danger we want re-enforcements, and to be prepared against the last reverses which may befall us in this State, I would respectfully propose to you to make, in the shortest time possible, the necessary preparations for two intrenched camps, one at Saint Louis, the key to the Southwest, and another at Jefferson City, or, perhaps better, between the Osage River and Moreau Creek, on the heights of Taos Post Office. At the same time it would be necessary to be master of the river between Jefferson City and Saint Louis, and to arm the two intrenched positions by heavy ordnance.
The Missouri will now become our natural line of defense, with the Osage River in advance, and the two places, Tuscumbia and Linn Creek, as the most important points where têtes-de-pont could be constructed. I make these remarks because I am aware of our strength and weakness. Our 4,000 men will be crippled by the discharge of the three-months' men, who cannot be kept longer in our midst because they are anxious to go home, and would be of more damage than use if forced to serve longer.
I therefore respectfully request you to give your kind attention to our little army, and enable us to take up anew the struggle with our enemy.
With the greatest respect, your obedient servant,
HDQRS. SECOND BRIGADE MISSOURI VOLUNTEERS,
Camp of Good Hope, near Rolla, August 18, 1861.
GENERAL: I respectfully submit to you the report of the battle at Wilson's Creek, as far as the troops under my command are concerned:
On Friday, the 9th of August, General Lyon informed me that it was his intention to attack the enemy in his camp at Wilson's Creek on the morning of the 10th; that the attack should be made from two sides, and that I should take the command of the left. The troops assigned to me consisted of the Second Brigade Missouri Volunteers (900 men, infantry, of the Third and Fifth Regiments, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Albert and Colonel Salomon, and six pieces of artillery, under Lieutenants Schaefer and Schuetzenbach), besides two companies of regular cavalry, belonging to the command of Major Sturgis.
I left Camp Frémont, on the south side of Springfield, at 6.30 o'clock in the evening of the 9th, and arrived at daybreak within a mile of the enemy's camp. I advanced slowly towards the camp, and after taking forward the two cavalry companies from the right and left, I cut off about forty men of the enemy's troops, who were coming from the camp in little squads to get water and provisions. This was done in such a manner that no news of our advance could be brought into the camp. In sight of the enemy's tents, which spread out in our front and right, I planted four pieces 'of artillery on a little hill, whilst the infantry advanced towards the point where the Fayetteville road crosses Wilson's Creek, and the two cavalry companies extended to the right and left to guard our flanks. It was 5.30 o'clock a.m. when some musket firing was heard from the northwest. I therefore ordered the artillery to begin their- fire against the camp of the enemy (Missourians), which was of so much effect, that the enemy's troops were seen leaving their tents and retiring in haste towards the northeast of the valley. Meanwhile the, Third and Fifth Regiments had quickly advanced, passed the creek, and, traversing the camp, formed almost in the center of it.
As the enemy made his rally in large numbers before us, about 3,000 strong, consisting of infantry and cavalry, I ordered the artillery to be brought forward from the hill, and formed them in battery across the valley, with the Third and Fifth Regiments to the left and the cavalry to the right. After an effective fire of half an hour the enemy retired in some confusion into the woods and up the adjoining hills. The firing towards the northwest was now more distinct, and increased till it was evident that the main corps of General Lyon had engaged the enemy along the whole line. To give the greatest possible assistance to him, I left the position in the camp and advanced towards the northwest, to at attack the enemy's line of battle in the rear. Marching forward, we struck the Fayetteville road, making our way through a large number of cattle and horses until we arrived at an eminence used as a slaughtering place, and known as Sharp's farm. On our route we had taken about 100 prisoners, who were scattered over the camp.
At Sharp's place we met numbers of the enemy's soldiers, who were evidently retiring in this direction, and, as I suspected that the enemy on his retreat would follow in the same direction, I formed the troops across this road, by planting the artillery on the plateau and the two infantry regiments on the right and left across the road, whilst the cavalry companies extended on our flanks. At this time, and after some skirmishing in front of our line, the firing in the direction of northwest, which was during an hour's time roaring in succession, had almost ceased entirely. I therefore thought that the attack of General Lyon had been successful, and that his troops were in pursuit of the enemy, who moved in large masses towards the south, along the ridge of a hill, about 700 yards opposite our right.
This was the state of affairs at 8.30 o'clock in the morning, when it was reported to me by Dr. Melchior and some of our skirmishers that Lyon's men were coming up the road. Lieutenant-Colonel Albert, of the Third, and Colonel Salomon, of the Fifth, notified their regiments not to fire on troops coming in this direction, whilst I cautioned the artillery in the same manner. Our troops in this moment expected with anxiety the approach of our friends, and were waving the flag, raised as a signal to their comrades, when at once two batteries opened their fire against us, one in front, placed on the Fayetteville road, and the other upon the hill on which we had supposed Lyon's forces were in pursuit of the enemy, whilst a strong column of infantry, supposed to be the Iowa regiment, advanced from the Fayetteville road and at tacked our right.
It is impossible for me to describe the consternation and frightful confusion which was occasioned by this unfortunate event. The cry "They (Lyon's troops) are firing against us," spread like wildfire through our ranks; the artillerymen, ordered to here and directed by myself, could hardly be brought forward to serve their pieces; the infantry would not level their arms till it was too late. The enemy arrived within ten paces from the mouth of our cannon, killed the horses, turned the flanks of the infantry, and forced them to retire. The troops were throwing themselves into the bushes and by-roads, retreating as well as they could, followed and attacked incessantly by large bodies of Arkansas and Texas cavalry. In this retreat we lost five cannon, of which three were spiked, and the color of the Third Regiment, the color-bearer having been wounded and his substitute killed. The total loss of the two regiments, the artillery and the pioneers, in killed, wounded, and missing, amounts to 292 men, as will be seen from the respective lists.
In order to understand clearly our actions and our fate, you will allow me to state the following facts:
1st. According to orders, it was the duty of this brigade to attack the enemy in the rear and to cut off his retreat, which order I tried execute, whatever the consequences might be.
2d. The time of service of the Fifth Regiment Missouri Volunteers had expired before the battle, I had induced them, company by company, not to leave us in the most critical and dangerous moment, and had engaged them for the time of eight days, this term ending on Friday, the 9th, the day before the battle.
3d. The Third Regiment, of which 400 three-months' men had been dismissed, was composed for the greatest part of recruits, who had not seen the enemy before and were only insufficiently drilled.
4th. The men serving the pieces and the drivers consisted of infantry taken from the Third Regiment, and were mostly recruits, who had had only a few days' instruction.
5th. About two-thirds of our officers had left us. Some companies had no officers at all; a great pity, but the consequence of the system of the three-months service.
After the arrival of the army at Springfield, the command was intrusted to me by Major Sturgis and the majority of the commanders of regiments. Considering all the circumstances, and in accordance with the commanding officers, I ordered the retreat of the army from Springfield. The preparations were begun in the night of the 10th, and at daybreak the troops were on their march to the Gasconade. Before crossing this river I received information that the ford could not be passed well, and that a strong force of the enemy was moving from the south (West plains) towards Waynesville, to cut off our retreat. I also was aware that it would take a considerable time to cross the Roubidoux and the Little and Big Piney on the old road.
To avoid all these difficulties, and to give the army an opportunity to rest, I directed the troops from Lebanon to the northern road, passing Right Point and Humboldt, and terminating opposite the mouth of Little Piney, where, in case of the ford not being passable, the train could be sent by Vienna and Linn to the mouth of the Gasconade, whilst the troops could ford the river at the mouth of Little Piney to re-enforce Rolla. To bring over the artillery, I ordered the ferry-boat from Big Piney Crossing to be hauled down on the Gasconade to the mouth of Little Piney, where it arrived immediately after we had passed the ford. Before we had reached the ford Major Sturgis assumed the command of the army. I therefore respectfully refer to his report in regard to the main body of the troops engaged in the battle.
With the greatest respect, your most obedient servant,
Commanding Second Brigade Missouri Volunteers.
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