Controversies, Myth's, and Fascinating Facts about the Battle


The Female Soldier Who Fought and was Wounded at Wilson's Creek

For years, researchers have been aware of a small blurb that appeared in an 1863 edition of the Poughkeepsie (NY)Telegraph. No author was given and while it raised periodic interest, without any author or secondary source, little merit was given to the possibility. The article.....

"The 1st Kansas regiment, of which I have spoken before, is encamped near us. One of the members of that regiment, a sergeant, died in the hospital two weeks ago. After death his comrades discovered that their companion, by the side of whom they had marched and fought for almost two years, was a woman. You may imagine their surprise at the discovery. I went to the hospital and saw the body after it was prepared for burial, and made some inquiries about her. She was of rather more than average size for a woman, with rather strongly marked features, so that with the aid of a man's attire she had quite a msaculine look. She enlisted in the regiment after they went to Missouri and consequently they knew nothing of her early history. She probably served under an assumed name. She was in the battle of Springfield, where Gen. Lyon was killed, and has fought in a dozen battles and skirmishes. She always sustained an excellent reputation, both as a man and a soldier, and the men all speak of her in terms of respect and admiration. She was as brave as a lion in battle and never flinched from any duty or hardships that fell to her lot. She must have been very shrwed to have lived in the regiment so long and preserved her secret so well. Poor girl! She was worthy of a better fate. Who knows what grief, trouble or persecution induced her to embrace such a life?"

What gave this segment legitimacy to some, was the nature of the article. As can be seen above, the author shows sympathy and admiration, without judgement to her or her fellow male soldiers. For years, the article remained forgotten.

In 2002, DeAnne Blanton and Lauren Cook published a book called "They Fought Like Demons - Women Soldiers of the American Civil War" in which they identified a Wilson's Creek veteran as a disguised woman. With very little additional information in the book, I was curious if they based this off of the above article. I contacted Ms Blanton, who advised me of the existence of a letter written in 1863 by a soldier to his sister. I then enquired of the Kansas Historical Society for a copy of this letter. They sent me a copy, which turned out to be a typed copy of the original letter. After numerous e-mails, I was advised by the Nebaska Historical Society that the original had been sold years earlier to a Minnesota dealer, who was unable to ascertain whom he had sold the collection to. The letter...

"Among the many incidents which are constantly occuring in our camp there is one of more than ordinary interest and I will relate it to you. One of the members of the 1st Kansas Regt. died in the hospital yesterday after a very short illness. After death the somewhat startling discovery was made by those who were preparing the body for burial, that their companion, besides whom they had marched and fought for nearly two years, was a woman. You can imagine their astonsihment. The Regt is camped near us, and I went to the hospital and saw her. She was of pretty good size for a woman, with rather masculine features. She must have been very shrewd to have kept her secret so long when she was surrounded by several hundred men. The 1st Kansas was one of th first regiments tt entered the service two years ago. This girl enlisted after they went to Missouri, so they knew nothing of her early history. She doubtless served under an assumed name. Poor girl! Who knows what trouble, grief, or persecution drove her to embrace all the hardship's of a soldiers life. She had always sustained an exellent reputation in the Regiment. She was brave as a lion in battle and never flinched from the severest fatigues or the hardship duties. She had been in more than a dozen battles and skirmishes. She was a sergeant when she died. The men in the company all speak of her in terms of respect and affection. She would have been promoted to a Lieutenancy in few days if she had lived."

From this letter, dated April 6, 1863, Blanton and Cook had identified the woman soldier as Sgt Alfred J Luther, who records showed died of disease in Providence, LA 22 March 1863. The author, who is obviously the Poughkeepsie Telegraph's correspondent, was Lt Frederick Haywood, section leader for the First Minnesota Artillery. Military records show the following. Alfred J Luther joined the 1st Kansas Infantry 30 May 1861, and reached the rank of Corporal before the Wilson's Creek battle. Newspaper accounts list Corporal Luther among the wounded (slightly) of this battle. On 1 May 1862, Luther was promoted to sergeant. According to National Archive records, no member of Luther's family ever filed for a military pension after the war.

You'll have to ask Wilson's Creek personnel what the "official" standing of the NPS on this subject is. As a volunteer I have encouraged them to publicize the story openly, but so far I have been ignored. One concern that the NPS has, and has been involved in law suits in other battlefield's, is the desire of some women wanting to take part in interpretive programs dressed up as soldiers. So far, the courts have held that if a woman can prove a woman soldier took part in a particular battle and if they can "effectively" disguise themselves so that the general public would be no more likely to identify them as female than the Civil War soldier had been, then the NPS should allow them to interprete. The lack of a secondary source is another concern. To this I totally disagree. Many of the "facts" of Wilson's Creek are based on one source, including the popular story of John Ray sitting on his porch during the battle. The only written record we have that this happened was written by the 6 year Olivia, who spent the battle in the basement, and wrote the story much later in life.

I find the story remarkable and now tell the story on every tour I give. If anyone is familiar with who owns the Frederick Haywood papers, I would love to try to obtain a copy of the original letter for the NPS Library at Wilson's Creek.

Update - 8/21/2007 - Thanks to Pat Millett of the Vicksburg National Battlefield Convention and Visitors Center - "Sgt. Alfred J. Luther, who enlisted in Co. A, 1st Kansas, is buried in the Vicksburg National Military Cemetery in Section K, grave # 5971".

George Washington Kirkland

Among the casualties from the battle, was Private George Kirkland of the 1st Missouri, Union. George Kirkland was the child of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Keckley, a slave, and a white man, by the name of Alexander Kirkland, who was a neighbor to her owner. Lizzie would purchase freedom for her and her son, before the war. George would enlist with the 1st Missouri as a white man, although 1/4% black, as his maternal grandmother was a black slave. George would die in the battle, wile his mother would go on to become seamstress to Mary Todd Lincoln, the President's wife.

The Name

Is it Wilson Creek or Wilson's Creek?

The creek which this battle would forever bring to history's attention was named after James Wilson who settled in the area around what would become Springfield in the early 1800's. Mr Wilson was best known for having a habit of marrying Deleware Indian women, only to live with them for a while, and replace them with a new one. After doing this with three different Indian women, he finally settled down with a white womna from St Louis around 1830 at the mouth of a small creek that would soon bear his name.

Old-timers will brissle when you say "Wilson's Creek". They will quickly remind you that the creek is named "Wilson Creek" and was always that way until the "foreigner's" started arriving and changed it. Some old timers called the creek "Bonnie Wilson", although it is unknown where the "Bonnie" came from.

Reports issued by officers after the battle, predominatley used the term "Wilson's", while many letters written after the battle use "Wilson". When the National Park was formed in 1960, this issue was raised and it was decided that the new battlefield would be named "Wilson's Creek National Battlefield".

While there are those to this day that refuse to accept the new name, the controversy seems to have ended. The Confederate's, known for naming battles after landmark's, never had the controversy, naming the battle after "Bloody Hill's" original name - "Battle of Oak Hill". Or was that Oak Hills? In Missour-ee or Missou-rah?

Oh well!!

Bloody Hill or Bloody Island

In the fall of 1849, a tribe of enslaved Indian's, rebelled against two white men that held the tribe captive, and killed them. After suffering years of torture, starvation, rape and humiliation, few can disagree that with no other form of justice available to the Indian's, the two white men got what was coming to them. The problem was, at the time, Native American's had "no rights" and therefore, morally justified or not, could not kill white men. This happened near Clear Lake in California (which is about 1 hour north of San Francisco), and was at the time, deep in the wilderness. The Army learned of the killings, but were unable to send troops into the area until the following spring. A small detachment of troopers arrived in 1850, and found the tribe had taken refuge on an island on Clear Lake. The lieutenant in charge requested boats from headquarters, with the intention of making an assault on the island. Brevet Captain Nathaniel Lyon, of the 2nd US Infantry, was dispatched with the boats, two small brass cannons, and additional troops. Upon arriving into the area, he assumed command. Splitting his force, he left part of the soldiers on the mainland, and under cover of darkness, took the balance of the men and two cannon, by boat, around the back of the island.

In the morning, the soldiers on the mainland began to fire at the island, and the Indians, knowing they were out of range, began taunting the soldiers. The entire tribe rushed to the shore, to see what the soldiers were up to. Meanwhile, in the back of the island, Capt Lyon off loaded his men and took position. The boats with cannon's sailed on around the island and opened fire. The Indian's, having never heard the roar of a cannon, panicked. They rushed to the opposite side of the island, only to be met by the musket fire of the off loaded troops, waiting in ambush. Running around, with no where to hide, most took to the water. Soldiers, both on the island, and on the mainland, began to shoot the fleeing Indian's, meeeting very little resistance. It was reported that many Indian women and children were shot or clubbed to death as they attempted to swim to the mainland. It is also reported that infants were pierced with bayonets and their bodies hurled into the lake.

There were reports that up to 200 Indian's were killed that day, depending on who told the story (Lyon himself reported over 60). Capt Lyon, then proceeded to another two Indian village's, where one hundred to two hundred more Indian's were killed. To this date it is known as the "Clear Lake Massacre".

While there were a few native American's fighting at Wilson's Creek, it is extremely doubtful any of them fired the bullet that killed Gen Nathaniel Lyon. But long before the white man had arrived into the Wilson Creek valley, Deleware Indian's had used the area for tribal grounds.

To this date, there are two small monuments to deeds performed by Nathaniel Lyon and the renamed places he left behind. One in California marks a hill that is known today as Bloody Island. The other - Bloody Hill at Wilson's Creek in Missouri. More on Bloody Island or Clear Lake Massacre.

The Spanish Treasure Stone

In recent years, the supposed discovery of a rock with mysterious Spanish writing on it, has lured hundreds of curious treasure hunters to Willson's Creek. All hope to decipher the writing on it, to determine its origin and the secret it holds.

A long time Wilson's Creek resident finally answered the mystery in 1995. Apparently her father, Dick O'Connor, who resided on the battlefield and operated a museum there (before it became a National Battlefield) became irritated with a local college professor. According to his daughter, in a letter to the battlefield, he made the stone in his garage in unintelligble symbols, and "discovered" it on the battlefield. The college professor, Mr Meadows, examined it and advised it was the writing of ancient Spanish traders, and probably revealed the directions to a secret burial place of Spanish gold. Apparently what turned out to be a hoax, snowballed so fast, and drew so many more tourists to his museum, Mr O'Connor never revealed the hoax. The legend lived on until his daughter finally revealed the truth to Park Ranger Jeff Patrick.

The Infant found on the Battlefield

According to an article that appeared in the Springfield Leader, March 2, 1921, an infant was discovered on the battlefield, found abandoned the day after the battle. Rumors have existed for years that the infant was left there by a camp follower of the Southern force. Locals have long gossiped that it was in fact an illegitimate child of a local family. Eliza, as she was named, was adopted by a family by the name of Jones, and apparently, from accounts, was placed in a county asylum with a neuroligical condition at the age of 5.

Soldiers that supposedly fought here

Frank Crawford Armstrong - the story goes that Armstrong fought for the Union side at the fist major battle of the Civil War, the Battle of Bull Run. Apparently, after the Union Army's disastrous defeat there, he traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana, where he joined the 3rd Louisiana Infantry, He was with this unit when it fought at the second major battle of the Civil War, Wilson's Creek. While recent evidence has surfaced implying these were actually two different Frank Armstrong's, the story persists.

Remains of the dead of Wilson's Creek

A common question on Civil War Battlefield's is "Were all the bodies removed?" The 'official' answer given by the NPS is sometimes 'yes'. The reality of the matter is no one really knows. Human remains are constantly being found on Civil War battlefield's, although they are usually found by accident. Of the 223 Union soldiers killed at Wilson's Creek, 151 of these were exhumed and relocated to the National Cemetery in nearby Springfield. Civil War soldier diaries mention skeletal remains being found on the battlefield throughout the war. At least one resident who lived on the battlefield, has advised "bones" were sometimes found during yearly plowings, up until the NPS took the park over.

On the Bloody Hill walking tour, you will see the sink hole (Pit A), where 30 bodies were exhumed. Pit B, where another 72 bodies were exhumed, is located 151 yards east and 2 yards south of Pit A. No visual evidence remains of this pit. The well, that so many bodies were disgarded in and later exhumed, is located directly west of Stop #5, and also bears no physical evidence of its existence.

Military battlefield's are thus, living cemeteries. They are preserved by the US government as sacred ground, but as National Park's, are also available to the public for limited recreational purposes.

One other thing worth mentioning. You will meet no finer, nor nicer people than those that work at Wilson's Creek. But if you are caught digging on NPS grounds, caught with a metal detector, or caught carrying off any artifact you might find, the federal felonies that the NPS will charge you with could easily ruin your life. Don't be a grave robber - use E-Bay to locate war artifact's.

Slavery in Missouri Data - 1860

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