Report of Major John M. Schofield, First Missouri Infantry, and Acting Adjutant-General Army of the West regarding operations from August 1 to August 14, 1861.
CAMP NEAR ROLLA, Mo.,
August 20, 1861
From the time of the arrival of General Lyon's command at Springfield till that of the battle we were well informed through our scouts and spies of the movements and strength of the enemy. It was General Lyon's opinion, and doubtless a correct one, that could we have moved forward at once and succeeded in bringing the enemy to an engagement, we would have gained an easy victory; but this movement was impossible. We found our commissary stores, which had been ordered from Saint Louis at the time of our marching from Booneville, were still lying at Rolla for transportation. We were consequently thrown upon such resources as the country afforded for subsistence. The heavy rains prevented the farmers from thrashing their wheat, and our daily expected supplies from Rolla failed to come, so that at no time could our troops have full rations of bread, and launch of the time they had no coffee or sugar. In the event of a forward movement even these limited supplies must have failed. Under these circumstances, the general made frequent and urgent appeals to the Government for aid in troops and provisions. It was well known that the strength of the enemy was rapidly increasing; that he was continually receiving small-arms and artillery from the South, with well-disciplined troops, while our numbers were continually diminishing by the discharge of three-months' volunteers, and the strength of our troops wasting from privation, and large numbers of them were entirely without shoes. To all these appeals for aid no favorable response was received. We were not even encouraged to hope for re-enforcements. Amidst these embarrassments General Lyon early and frequently expressed the most gloomy forebodings for the future. He saw clearly the inevitable necessity of either retiring to Rolla, and abandoning to the enemy all the southwest portion of Missouri and Southern Kansas, or of risking the utter destruction of his little army and the loss of all his material of war in a desperate engagement with a vastly superior force of the enemy.
It soon appeared that the enemy's design was to move upon Spring field in three different columns, by the routes leading to that place from Cassville, Harrisonville, and Greenfield. General Lyon at once determined to await their approach only till they were within about two days' march of our position, and then to move out and attack the strongest column, and in the event of success to turn upon the others. In pursuance of this plan, it having been ascertained that the advance guard of the enemy had reached a point on the Cassville road about 18 miles from Springfield, General Lyon marched on the [1st] of August to the crossing of Wilson's Creek, 10 miles from Springfield, and was there joined by the force under Major Sturgis, then encamped near Little York, about 4 miles west from the crossing; two detachments, under Colonel Deitzler and Captain Carr, which were absent, obtaining provisions, having been ordered to join the command as soon as possible.
A small advanced picket of the enemy was met at about 9 o'clock the next morning, and fled upon our approach. Toward evening of the same day the enemy's advanced guard, of considerable strength, was met near Dug Springs, about 23 miles from Springfield, and after a brisk skirmish of several hours with a few companies of infantry, under Capt. Frederick Steele, Second Infantry, and Lieut. W. L. Lothrop, Fourth Artillery, a company of cavalry under Captain Stanley, and, finally, Captain Totten's battery, together with two pieces of the battery attached to Colonel Sigel's brigade, was driven in confusion from the field, suffering considerable loss.
The next morning a small force was again discovered at Curran Post Office, 3 miles from Dug Springs, but fled upon the first fire of artillery, our whole column moving forward and occupying their camp, the Second Regiment Kansas Volunteers (Colonel Mitchell) even pushing on by the left flank of our position to McCulla's, 2 miles beyond, without seeing any sign of the enemy in force. It was too late in the day to make an attack upon what appeared to be the enemy's position, and hence our troops bivouacked for the night.
It had now become apparent that the enemy was only seeking to amuse us by demonstrations upon our front and flanks while he could retire to a strong position and be re-enforced by the columns that had been moving towards Springfield by the other routes, and which were making forced marches to join him. The general therefore called a council of the principal officers of his command, and laid before them the question whether we should advance or retreat, explained at some length the possible and probable consequences of either course, and asked the opinion of each officer present. The question was discussed at considerable length and opinions freely given. While all appeared to be willing, and most, if not all, anxious, to risk a pitched battle, if one could be brought on before our supplies were exhausted and our men so far weakened as to leave no chance of success, it was the unanimous opinion of all present that under the existing circumstances there was nothing left us but to retire. The order to retire was therefore given, and on the afternoon of the 6th the main body encamped about Springfield, while about 2,000 regulars and volunteers, under Major Sturgis and Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews, remained 4 miles from the town.
The enemy did not make his appearance during our retreat, but the next day after our arrival at Springfield, His advance guard encamped at Wilson's Creek. An attack upon this advanced force was planned for the night after its arrival at Wilson's Creek, and orders were issued for the advance of a portion of the force under Major Sturgis and Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews; but owing to the lateness of the hour when our spies returned with the necessary information, and other adverse circumstances, the plan was abandoned, and the commands of Major Sturgis and Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews took position in the line of defense about Springfield the next day.
Strong advanced parties of the enemy moved forward during the day, and were engaged by our cavalry scouts. An attack was hourly expected, and our troops were kept upon their arms during the day. Frequent alarms from country people and Home Guards, who came rushing into town and reporting the advance of the enemy, served to worry and fatigue the troops, and deprive them of the rest which was absolutely necessary to fit them for battle after their fatiguing march. At length, about the middle of the day, a report from one of our scouting parties showed the enemy advancing, with a considerable force of infantry and two pieces of artillery, on the Little York road, and a force of regulars and Kansas volunteers, with two pieces of artillery from Colonel Sigel's brigade, was sent out to meet them. The report proved in the main false, the small force of the enemy fled, and our troops returned without meeting it, having made a rapid march of 9 miles.
General Lyon then determined to make a night march with his entire force down the Cassville road, upon the front of the enemy's position, and attack him at dawn in the morning. The chief officers of his command were called together to receive instructions relative to the order of march and plan of attack. Many of the officers were so strongly of the opinion that the execution of the plan was impossible, on account of the exhausted condition of a large portion of the troops, that the plan was abandoned, and the evening and next day spent in recruiting the strength of the men, supplying them with shoes, which had recently arrived from Rolla, and in making all possible preparations for battle. Meanwhile our scouts were kept well out towards the enemy's position, and attacked his scouts with vigor whenever opportunity offered the enemy showed no indication of an intention to advance in force, and hence our troops enjoyed comparative quiet during the day, and at evening were in good condition for battle.
During the forenoon of that day, the 9th of August, General Lyon and Colonel Sigel held a consultation, the result of which was the plan of attack upon the enemy's position at Wilson's Creek, which led to the battle of the 10th. I was not present at the conference, having spent the morning in going the rounds of the camp to see if any improvement could be made in our dispositions for defense, thinking all intention of making an attack had been abandoned. Upon my return General Lyon informed me of his determination to make the attack the next morning, and gave me the general features of the plan, but owing to press of business did not go much into detail. Colonel Sigel was to move with his brigade, consisting of the Third and Fifth Regiments of Missouri troops, six pieces of artillery, and two companies of cavalry (regulars), to the left of the main Cassville road, and leading to the right of the enemy's position, while General Lyon, with the remainder of his force, consisting of the First Missouri, First Iowa, First and Second Kansas, two companies of the Second Missouri, a company of riflemen, eight companies of regular infantry and rifle recruits, ten pieces of artillery, and two companies of cavalry, amounting to about 4,000 men, besides about 250 mounted Home Guards, was to move down the road towards Little York to a point nearly opposite the enemy's advanced pickets on Wilson's Creek, and thence across the prairie, and attack his left flank. Colonel Sigel was to make the attack as soon as he heard that of General Lyon.
The column under General Lyon reached the point where the enemy's most advanced picket was expected to be found at about 1 o'clock at night. The picket not having been found, the column halted and the men lay on their arms till early dawn, when the march was resumed, Captain Plummer's battalion of regular infantry in advance, Major Osterhaus' battalion of Missouri volunteers following, with Captain Totten's battery. At about 4 o'clock the enemy's picket was reached, stud fled upon our approach. Major Osterhaus' battalion was then sent on the right as -skirmishers, Captain Plummer being on the left, and the First Regiment Missouri Volunteers, under Lieutenant-Colonel Andrews, brought forward to the support of Totten's battery.
With this disposition the column moved forward about one and a half miles, when at about 5 o'clock a brisk skirmish was opened along our entire front. The enemy was now discovered in considerable force, occupying the crest of a ridge running nearly perpendicularly to our line of march and also to the valley of Wilson's Creek, and lying between us and his main camp. The First Missouri Volunteers was now sent forward and deployed in line of battle, at once advancing upon the ridge under a brisk fire, and driving the enemy from his position on our right, while the First Kansas came forward and engaged the enemy on our left, causing him to retire. Captain Totten's battery meanwhile moved forward in the center and reached the crest of the ridge.
The enemy now rallied in large force near the foot of the slope, and under considerable cover opposite our left wing and along the slope in front and on our right towards the crest of the main ridge running parallel to the creek. During this time Captain Plummer, with his four Companies of infantry, had moved flown a ridge about 500 yards to our left, and separated from us by a deep ravine, and reached its abrupt terminus, where he found his farther progress arrested by a large force of infantry occupying a corn field in the valley in his front. At this moment an artillery fire was opened from a high point about 2 miles nearly in our front, from which Colonel Sigel was to have commenced his attack. This fire was answered from the opposite side of the valley, and at a little greater distance from us, the line of fire of the two batteries being nearly perpendicular to our own. After about ten or twelve shots on either side the firing ceased, and we neither heard nor saw anything more of Colonel Sigel's brigade till about 8.30 o'clock, when a brisk cannonading was heard for a few minutes about a mile to our right of that heard before, and from 2 to 3 miles distant. This was the last during the battle.
Our whole line now advanced with much energy upon the enemy's position, the firing, which had been spirited for the last half hour, now increasing to a continuous roar. During this time Captain Totten's battery came into action by section and by piece, as the nature of the ground would permit (it being wooded with much undergrowth), and played upon the enemy's lines with great effect. After a fierce engagement, lasting perhaps half an hour, and in which our troops retired two or three times in more or less of disorder, but never more than a few yards, again to rally and press forward with increased vigor, the enemy gave way in the utmost confusion, and left us in possession of the position.
Meanwhile Captain Plummet was ordered to move forward on our left, but meeting with overpowering resistance from the large mass of infantry in the corn field in his front and in the woods beyond, was compelled to fall back; but at this moment Lieutenant Du Bois' battery, which had taken position on our left flank, supported by Major Osterhaus' battalion, opened upon the enemy in the corn field a fire of shells with such marked effect as to drive him in the utmost disorder from the field.
There was now a momentary cessation of fire along nearly the whole line, except the extreme right, where the First Missouri was still hotly engaged with a superior force of the enemy attempting to turn our right. The general having been informed of this movement sent the Second Kansas Regiment to the support of the First Missouri. It came up in time to prevent the Missourians from being destroyed by the overwhelming force against which they were unflinchingly holding their position.
The battalion of regular infantry, under Captain Steele, which had been detailed to the support of Lieutenant Du Bois' battery, was during this time brought forward to the support of Captain Totten's battery. Scarcely had these dispositions been made when the enemy again appeared in very large force along our entire front and moving towards each flank. The engagement at once became general, and almost inconceivably fierce, along the entire line, the enemy appearing in front often in three or four ranks, lying down, kneeling, and standing, the lines often approaching to within 30 or 40 yards, as the enemy would charge upon Captain Totten's battery and be driven back. Early in this engagement the First Iowa Regiment came into line, and relieved the First Kansas, which had been thrown into some disorder and compelled to retire.
Every available battalion was now brought into action, and the battle raged with unabated fury for more than an hour, the scale seeming all the time nearly equally balanced, our troops sometimes gaining a little ground and again giving way a few yards to rally again.
Early in this engagement, while General Lyon was leading his horse along the line on the left of Captain Totten's battery, and endeavoring to rally our troops, which were at this time in considerable disorder, his horse was killed, and he received a wound in the leg and one in the head. He walked slowly a few paces to the rear and said, "I fear the day is lost." But upon being encouraged that our troops could again be rallied, that the disorder was only temporary, he passed over to the right of the center, where our line seemed to be giving way, obtained another horse, and, swinging his hat in the air, led forward the troops, who promptly rallied around him. A few moments later he was carried from the field dead. His death was known at the time to but very few, and those few seemed to fight with redoubled valor.
Meanwhile our disordered line on the left was again rallied, and pressed the enemy with great vigor and coolness, particularly the First Iowa Regiment, which-fought like veterans. This hot encounter lasted perhaps half an hour after General Lyon's death, when the enemy fled, and left the field clear-as far as we could see, and almost total silence reigned for twenty-five or thirty minutes.
As soon as the enemy began to give way, and it became apparent that the field was at least for the present ours, the principal officers of the command were informed of General Lyon's death, and Major Sturgis assumed command. He at once called together the chief officers in his vicinity, and consulted with them as to the course that should be pursued. The question was a very perplexing one. Nothing had been heard from Colonel Sigel for a long time. No one could tell where he was or what he was doing.. Should we move forward in pursuit of the enemy without knowing whether we should receive any support from Sigel, should we make a detour to the left and attempt to join him, or should we withdraw from the field?
At this time a considerable force of infantry was seen to move around the right of the position from which Sigel's cannonading had been seen some time before and advance in column toward the front of our left wing. These troops wore a dress resembling extremely that of Colonel Sigel's men, and carried the American flag. The opinion was general that this was. Sigel's brigade, and preparations were commenced to move to the left and front and join him. Meanwhile the column in front moved down the hill within easy reach of our artillery, but was permitted to move on unmolested till it had reached the covered position at the foot of the ridge on which we were posted, and from which we :had been so fiercely assailed before. But suddenly a battery was planted on the hill in our front, and began to pour upon us shrapnel and canister, species of shot which had not been fired by the enemy before. At this moment the enemy showed his true colors, and at once commenced along our entire line the fiercest and most bloody engagement of the day. Lieutenant Du Bois' battery on our left, gallantly supported by Major Osterhaus' battalion and the rallied fragments of the First Missouri, soon silenced the enemy's battery on the hill and repulsed the right wing of his infantry. Captain Totten's battery in the center, supported by the First Iowa and regulars, was the main point of attack. The enemy could frequently be seen within 20 or 30 feet of his guns, and the smoke of the opposing lines was often so confounded as to seem but one.
Now for the first time during the day our entire line maintained its position with perfect firmness. Not the slightest disposition to give way was manifested at any point, till finally the enemy gave way and fled from the field.
A few moments before the close of the engagement the Second Kansas Regiment, which had firmly maintained its position on the extreme right from the time it was first sent there, found its ammunition exhausted, and was ordered to retire, which it did slowly and in good order, bringing off its wounded. This left our right exposed, and the enemy renewed the attack at that point after it had ceased along the line, but was met by Captain Steele's battalion, which had just driven the enemy from the right of the center, and after a sharp engagement drove him precipitately from the field.
Thus closed, at about 11.30 o'clock, an almost uninterrupted conflict of nearly six hours. The order to retire was given immediately after the enemy gave way from our front and center, and Lieutenant Du Bois' battery at once took position with its supports on a hill in our rear. Captain Totten's battery, as soon as his disabled horses could be replaced, retired slowly with the main body of the infantry, while Captain Steele was meeting the demonstration upon our right flank. This having been repulsed, and no enemy being in sight, the whole column moved slowly to the high open prairie about 2 miles from the battle ground. Our ambulances meanwhile passed to and fro, carrying off our wounded, and after making a short halt upon the prairie we continued our march to Springfield. It should be here remarked that just after the order to retire had been given, and while it was still undecided whether the retreat should be continued or whether we should occupy the more favorable position in our rear and await tidings of Colonel Sigel, one of his men reached us, and reported that his brigade had been totally routed and all his artillery captured, Colonel Sigel himself having been either killed or taken prisoner. Most of our men had fired away all their ammunition and all that could be obtained from the boxes of the killed and wounded. There was then nothing left us but to return to Springfield. Upon reaching the Little York road we met Lieutenant Farrand with his company of cavalry and a considerable portion of Colonel Sigel's command, with one piece of artillery. We reached Springfield at 5 o'clock p.m., and had the satisfaction of learning that Colonels Sigel and Salomon had each arrived there some hours before in safety. I at once started for Colonel Sigel's quarters, and met him riding towards mine. He told me of his disaster, and said we must decide upon our course for the future. A council was called at my quarters, and was attended by nearly all the chief officers who were able.
Major Sturgis explained the circumstances under which he had assumed command upon the field; stated his convictions of the necessity for our retreating towards Rolla at once and before the enemy could organize for pursuit, and resigned his command to Colonel Sigel. No difference of opinion seemed to exist as to the propriety and even necessity of the course proposed by Major Sturgis, and the necessary orders were at once issued, 2 o'clock a.m. being the hour designated for the march to commence, in order that the entire column, with its long train (370 wagons), might leave the town and obtain favorable ground for defense before dawn, when an attack would probably be made if one were contemplated.
Colonel Sigel arranged the order of march, his brigade and the Iowa regiment forming the advance guard, followed by the baggage train, then the main body of the army, and lastly Major Sturgis' brigade of regulars. I gave the necessary instructions for the movement of the various portions of the train and of the different commands; made provision for the transportation of such of the wounded as could be carried with us and for the care of such as must be left behind, detailing four surgeons for this duty; went to the various camps, except Colonel Sigel’s, and saw that all possible preparation was made. At 1.30 o clock I went to Colonel Sigel's camp, and found his wagons not loaded, his men apparently making preparations to cook their breakfast, and no preparations to march. I could find no officer to execute my commands nor any one to pay the slightest heed to what I said. I rode at once to Colonel Sigel's quarters, arriving there at 2 o'clock, and found him asleep in bed. I aroused him, told him the hour for marching had arrived, and that all were ready except his brigade. I urged upon him the importance of marching at once if at all. He said, "Yes; I will move at once." I started the train immediately, and sent the Iowa regiment ahead, directing it to halt about a mile from town. In this condition the column was delayed more than two hours for Colonel Sigel's brigade, so that the rear guard could not leave town till about 6 o'clock.
During the first three days of our retreat the same order of march was preserved, the same troops doing the fatiguing duties of rear guard, in spite of my remonstrances. Although we made daily marches of only ordinary length, long halts were made in the middle of the day, so that while the advance guard would reach camp at night early enough to obtain and cook provisions, the rear guard would be in the road till long after dark, and in the inextricable confusion resulting from the attempt to encamp a large force with an immense train in an extremely rough and wooded country in a dark night, many would abandon as hopeless the attempt to find their wagons and get them in position, and lie down without food. Many of our men were compelled to go twenty-four hours without a morsel and some much longer.
On the morning of the third day the whole column was detained three hours for Colonel Sigel's brigade to have beef killed and cooked for breakfast, the remainder of the command having made their breakfast upon such as they had, and, with the exception of the Iowa regiment marched 6 miles before the killing of beef for Colonel Sigel's breakfast commenced.
By this time the clamor for relief became such that almost total anarchy reigned in the command. At length, after numerous entreaties from officers of the command, Major Sturgis resumed command of the army, giving as his reason for so doing, that, although Colonel Sigel had been for a long time acting as an officer of the army, he had no appointment from any competent authority.
Upon this change of command I was relieved from the duties of adjutant-general, and took command of my regiment, then without a field officer, and much in need of my care. My functions as acting adjutant-general of this command therefore ceased on the 14th instant.
J. M. SCHOFIELD,
Maj., First Reg. Mo. Vols., late A. A. G., Army of the West
Source - The Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies
Image Source - The Library of Congress
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