Sunday, August 11, 2013

Civil War Sunday - The "Bull Run of the West"

The first major battle of the Civil War, fought a little bit more than 152 years ago, was the first Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) near Manassas, Virginia.  I've been to the battlefield (during the 150th anniversary commemoration in July of 2011), and the battle is well known.

The South bore the brunt of fighting in the Civil War - but at least one Union state was up there in the statistical count, too.

The Confederate state of Virginia was "first" (a first not exactly wanted) with 122 battles (not counting battles that took place in West Virginia, which left Virginia and rejoined the union in June of 1863) and a total of 2,154 skirmishes, battles and "other actions".

Second was the Confederate state of Tennessee, (although it had strong Union sympathies - just as the Union state of Missouri had strong Confederate sympathies) with 38 battles, and a total of 1,462 skirmishes, battles and "other actions" .

Third?  The above Union state, Missouri, with 29 battles and 1,162 skirmishes, battles and "other actions".

It still amazes me, a person who grew up in New York State, but who also lived part of her life in the South (Florida, Texas, Arkansas), and in Kansas, that the "western" actions of the Civil War - Tennessee, Missouri, Kansas and other states not on the Eastern Seaboard all the way to Colorado and even New Mexico and California- that we ignore a lot of the Western actions.

Take Wilson's Creek, near Republic, Missouri, for example.  Its 152nd battle anniversary was yesterday.  I had never heard of it until two days ago, and yet it was the second battle of the Civil War.

It was fought where it was fought despite the fact that there was no strategic city, railroad, or river there to fight over.  Missouri, itself was quite important.  It borders the Mississippi River, a river still extremely important to the commerce of our nation.  It bordered both Confederate and Union states, something that put it in an uncomfortable position.  It was the eighth most populous state in the Union in 1860, and its citizens fought for both North and South.

Missouri allowed slavery.  Since it stayed in the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 did not directly affect it or the other slave states that stayed in the Union (Maryland, Delaware, Kentucky).  Missouri would not abolish slavery until 1865.

And one piece of trivia;  The famous outlaw Jesse James' brother Frank fought in the battle.  Jesse joined the war later, as a guerrilla fighter.

It was a Confederate victory, but it paved the way for Missouri to stay in the Union.

And the lessons of Wilson's Creek?
-Just because you win a battle doesn't mean you will stay victorious unless you immediately take advantage of your victory (the Confederates did not take proper follow-up - something both sides were guilty of on several occasions);
-All is not lost if you don't win initial battles in the war (the action that started the War, the shelling of Ft. Sumter in South Carolina, the first Battle of Bull Run and Wilson's Creek were all Confederate victories) and you can't depend on early victories;
-If your enemy's attention is drawn to your victory and realizes it must act, it was really not a victory. Indeed, the Union forces paid attention to this defeat, regrouped, and gained a major victory in 1862 at the Battle of Pea Ridge, March 6-8, 1862, in nearby Arkansas.  

Missouri stayed in the Union.

And, most of all:

The Civil War was going to be a battle of, literally, brother against brother, starting almost immediately.  Wilson's Creek, for example, featured Joseph Shelby, of the Missouri State Guard, fighting for the Confederates and his step brother, Cary Gratz, of the1st Missouri Infantry, fighting for the United States Army. Gratz died in the battle.  Shelby, on the other hand, survived and might have become a general hadn't the war ended when it did, and - well, you'll have to read it for yourself.

The Civil War histories of Missouri and a Union state it bordered, Kansas, are quite fascinating and something I will feature in my blog 

Later this year, I hope to visit some battlefields not on the Eastern Seaboard, although, unfortunately (a factor of both timing and the recent flooding in that part of Missouri) I won't be able to get to Wilson's Creek.

Later this month, Civil War Sunday will go on hiatus, while I gather additional material to explore the Western fronts.


  1. Thanks for sharing. I love history. Anita

  2. Wow, great information. Heck I didn't even know any of this. Thank you for sharing. :)

  3. Thanks for the post and I know where to come for this information now. Will bookmark this now. Cheers

  4. Yes, Virginia was pretty much devastated by all those battles and hungry soldiers. Any idea how many battles it had if you count West Virginia?


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