Eyes Turned Westward: Wilson’s Creek August 1861

A BGES Civil War Field University Program

Presented by Richard Hatcher and Bill Piston

September 27-30, 2023; from Springfield, MO

Most careful students of the Civil War understand Bloody Kansas and the border wars that took place in Missouri as the frontier burst into flames over the expansion of slavery. So it should come as no surprise that Missouri was contested early in the war and eventually controlled by the Federal government; however, it was not easy, nor bloodless.

With control of Missouri uncertain, a Union officer, Nathaniel Lyon, rose from the lower ranks to assert Union control in the state starting in and around St. Louis. A number of well-known politicians contested that declaration and organized a state guard to counterbalance the Federal influence. With a state house and governor who did not immediately declare for Union, the state would be contested early and, by the end of 1862, severe battles in Northwestern Arkansas had secured Missouri for the Union.

Missourians would not easily accept this verdict and, with the return of Gen. (former Gov.) Sterling Price in 1864, the state again was contested.

This program examines the role of Missouri in the Civil War and focuses on the often overlooked but very important action at Wilson’s Creek just to the southwest of Springfield. It is a site whose grounds have not changed remarkably in more than 162 years. Like Shiloh, in rural Tennessee, it awaits people looking to harvest the diamonds from its hills and swales. This is a program rarely done and, if you want to know the Trans-Mississippi, this is a program to register and attend.


Wednesday, September 27, 2023

7:00 PM: Have your dinner early, as we will gather at the Courtyard Inn at the Springfield Airport to meet and greet your fellow students, and historians Rick Hatcher and Bill Piston. There is a two-hour opening program, including a lecture on “Missouri in the Civil War” to ground you on the significance of this major clash of arms. Q.&A. to follow. The program ends about 9:45 PM.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

7:45 AM: Depart the hotel.
8:15 AM (approximate): Arrive at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (WICR).
After viewing exhibits at the Visitor Center, we begin following the WICR tour road and walking designated trails. The morning’s interpretative emphasis is on Lyon’s initial contact, the Ray Cornfield fight, and medical treatment of the wounded, particularly at the Ray House. We break for lunch in nearby Republic. The afternoon tour emphasizes the role of the Arkansas State Troops, whose contribution is often slighted.
4:30 PM (Approximate): Depart WICR for the motel.

Friday, September 29, 2023

7:45 AM: Depart the hotel.
8:15 AM (approximate): Arrive at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (WICR).
We continue our tour, following the WICR tour road and designated walking trails. The morning’s interpretative emphasis is on Sigel’s actions and the fight at the Sharp Farm. We break for lunch in nearby Republic. The afternoon tour focuses on the struggle for Bloody Hill, with emphasis on the role of the Missouri State Guard led by Price, and the Regulars and Volunteers led by Lyon until his death.
4:30 PM (Approximate): Depart WICR for the motel.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

8:15 AM: Depart the hotel.
8:45 AM (approximate): Arrive at the Wilson’s Creek National Battlefield (WICR).
The day’s interpretative emphasis is on sites relating to the Battle of Wilson’s Creek that are not within WICR. We begin with the western portions of Bloody Hill, then proceed to possible routes of Sigel’s retreat and his final encounter with the Missouri State Guard. We return for a final stop at the Visitor Center. We break for lunch in Springfield, where we will view the public square and discuss Springfield’s importance in the Civil War. We conclude by visiting the National Cemetery in Springfield, which includes what was once a separate Confederate cemetery.
You can be on your way by 5:00 PM.

About the Faculty

William Garrett Piston is retired as a Professor of History from Missouri State University, where he had a robust career as a lecturer and as the corporate academic knowledge of the region. Bill is a prolific author, having penned five different books and offering introductions and commentary on scores of others in his field of expertise. He published the remarkable and interesting book Lee’s Tarnished Lieutenant, about James Longstreet. In addition to the book he wrote with Rick on Wilson’s Creek, he also penned Carter’s Raid: An Episode of the Civil War in East Tennessee, Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War with the late Thomas Sweeney and, most recently, We Gave then Thunder: Marmaduke’s Raid and the Civil War in Missouri and Arkansas, which he co-authored with John Rutherford. Measured, entertaining, and very well prepared, it is a coup to have him and Rick on the same program.

Richard W. Hatcher is widely identified as the voice of the Charleston, South Carolina–area National Park Service sites. Until his recent retirement, Rick was the historian for the Fort Sumter National Monument and also was responsible for other NPS sites around Charleston, including Fort Moultrie on Sullivan Island, and the Charles Pickney National Historic Site. Rick was deeply involved in the Hunley project, including the high-visibility burial in Magnolia Cemetery. Rick is also the co-author of the definitive account of the Battle of Wilson’s Creek and the author of Thunder in the Harbor: Fort Sumter, Charleston, and the American Civil War.

Hotel Information

This program will be at the Courtyard Inn Springfield Airport, 3527 West Kearney, Springfield, MO 65803. The rate is $129 per night, plus tax. Call 417-869-6700 and ask for the Blue and Gray Education rate for September 27 through the 30. You may also directly book from the following hotlink:

Book your group rate for Blue and Gray Education

This block goes away on August 28.

Parking at the hotel is $7 a day. The hotel has a free airport shuttle that runs 24/7.


The servicing airport is Springfield (SGF). Airline service has improved over the past 10 years, and every major legacy carrier (United, Delta, and American) has a convenient schedule—even Allegiant Airlines has non-stops from L.A., St. Petersburg, and Phoenix–Mesa Airport. Most legacy carriers have just one stop to and from Springfield. For people driving in, the hotel is convenient to Interstate 44.

Recommended Reading

You will be provided with maps upon arrival. The following books are suggested to enhance your readiness for the program. These books are available online:


Registration includes three lunches, one dinner, all paid admissions, maps, the academic program, the support of two professional historians, a tour director, and transportation by passenger bus or van. We will also provide snacks and bottled water.

Register for this program using a secure PayPal link

Registration Type

To register by mail or fax, download this printable registration form: Eyes Turned Westward: Wilson’s Creek August 1861

Questions? Need more information? Please contact us.