Lyon Catches Confederates By Surprise
Location: It's best to experience this part of the tour on foot. Start at the Wilson's Creek National Battlefield (WCNB) Visitor Center [ Waypoint = N37 06.953 W93 25.131 ] and walk along the Tour Loop Road about a third of a mile east of the Visitor Center Picnic area to [ Waypoint = N37 07.002 W93 24.866 ]. This point is about the center of the initial Union line of battle. The Federals would move south up the slopes of the northern spur of what would soon become Bloody Hill.
To get view from the perspective of the Confederate forces, walk back to where the Tour Loop Road begins and then walk about 0.2 miles south to WCNB Auto Tour Stop 8. Follow the gravel path about 0.1 miles to the West Overlook historical marker [ Waypoint = N37 06.710 W93 24.989 ]. If you continue to walk northeast out into the open field for about 100 yards and look to the northeast, you will be near the spot where the Hunter's dismounted cavalry regiment first attempted to hold off Lyon's attack. The Federal forces were approaching from the tree line to the north.
Description: Lyon's forces left the place at which they had stopped for the night at around 4:00 A.M. on August 10, 1861. The First Brigade commanded by Major Samuel Sturgis took the lead position. The Third Brigade commanded by Lt. Colonel George L. Andrews followed the First Brigade. Bringing up the rear was the Fourth Brigade commanded by Colonel George W. Deitzler. Lyon force, which would attack from the north, contained around 3,800 infantrymen, 350 cavalrymen, and 150 artillerymen. There were two batteries. Totten's Battery commanded by Captain James Totten had six artillery pieces. Du Bois' Battery commanded by Second Lieutenant John V. Du Bois had four artillery pieces.
By 5:00 A.M. Lyon had led his forces to the point at which you are currently standing. On the hill near the Visitor's Center Lyon deployed four guns from Totten's Battery. About one third of a mile to the east near the Short Farm House, he deployed Sokalski's Section of two guns from Totten's Battery (just south of current day Farm Road 182). Lyon deployed his advance troops into line of battle. On the right of the Federal forces was the Second Missouri Infantry Battalion commanded by Major Peter J. Osterhaus. In the center was the First Missouri Infantry commanded by Lt. Colonel George L. Andrews. Anchoring on the Union left was the First US Infantry Battalion commanded by Captain Joseph B. Plummer. Approaching from the northeast were the rest of the Federal forces.
On the morning of August 10, 1861, Colonel James Cawthorn, who commanded the Cavalry Brigade in the Second Division of the Missouri State Guard, received reports of a large Federal force approaching from the north. He sent a cavalry regiment commanded by Colonel DeWitt C. Hunter to reconnoiter. Hunter took his regiment to the top of the ridge of the north spur of what would become Bloody Hill and saw the Federal forces deploying about 500 yards in front of him. Hunter sent word back to Cawthorn and had his dismounted men form a defensive line along the ridge. Around 5:00 A.M., Lyon ordered Sokalski's Section of Totten's Battery to open fire on the Confederate positions. The Federals began to advance up the hill. Hunter's Regiment quickly began to yield to the overwhelming numbers of Federals. Lyon was able to lead his men to the top of the ridge of the northern spur. Once Cawthorn heard the fighting, he took the rest of his brigade to assist Hunter. He established a second line of defense on the top of Bloody Hill.
Lyon decided to send Plummer's Battalion across to the east side of Wilson's Creek to shore up his left flank. He also brought up Deitzler's Fourth Brigade to shore up his line of battle. Lyon pressed the attack and by 6:00 A.M. was able to drive the Confederate dismounted cavalrymen from the ridge and down the southern slope of Bloody Hill.