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 remote 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, we will meet at the Courtyard Inn at the Springfield Airport to meet and greet your fellow students. We will follow with a two-hour opening program followed by Q&A. Rick and Bill will overview the program, and then Bill will deliver a lecture on “Missouri in the Civil War” that will help ground you in the significance of this major clash of arms. We will follow that with the park’s excellent film August Light. Q&A will likely end at about 9:45 PM.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

7:45 AM: Depart the hotel. One of the high-value benefits of visiting Wilson’s Creek is the spectacular Trans-Mississippi artifacts they possess. That the park does not see a high number of visitors, you will be greeted by Superintendent Sarah Cunningham and their indispensable historian, Connie Langum. Rick and Bill will then take you on a guided tour of the exhibits at the visitor center. Following a short break, you will be immersed in the Wilson’s Creek artifact collection led by historian Jeff Patrick. It is a chance to get up close and personal with items that are well-sourced, and thus real artifacts of the battle and the region. They are being brought out for your edification and study. Before we break for lunch, you also will be grounded in their truly remarkable Civil War library.

After lunch, we will roll into the battle, which is interesting in its construction. Lyon moving to the Southwest decided to withdraw back toward Rolla, but before going, he would attack the Confederates in camp to ensure they could not attack him. Franz Sigel brought him a complex but certainly workable plan to attack simultaneously in the rebels’ front and rear. We will move to examine the Confederates in camp and Lyon’s (who had now been promoted to brigadier general) initial attack. We then move to the Ray Cornfield fight, which involves a little over an hour of walking and talking. The key position in this walk is the Pulaski Artillery, whose severe fire checked the triumphant Federals who had overrun the Confederate camps.

We will close the day by looking at the medical display set up in the Ray House and enjoying a lecture on the Ray family delivered by local docent, Jim Gallion. At 5, we will head back to the hotel. After dinner on your own, we will reassemble for a post-mortem of the day with Bill and Rick and a presentation by Bill on Medicine at Wilson’s Creek at 8:00 PM.

Lunch is included, and dinner is on your own.

Friday, September 29, 2023

7:45 AM: Depart the hotel. We’re back to the battlefield, where you will get to walk off breakfast as we spend the morning tracking the Confederates’ robust response to the attacks by Lyon and Sigel. Indeed, the majority of the 2 ½ hour morning will be spent walking and talking, as that is the best way to progress across a linear battlefield. From the Confederate camps, we will visit both the Edwards Cabin and the site of the Pulaski Artillery.

Following lunch, we will return to the battlefield, where we will examine the Federals’ stubborn but ultimately ineffective handling of the Confederates’ counter-attacks. In doing so, we will finish at Sigel’s final position for a full discussion of the Federals’ now imperiled expedition.

We then move to Guibor’s Battery to set up the remainder of the day, which will be the repeated Confederate attacks against Bloody Hill. This last stop will involve more than two hours of walking and talking. The Federals have held their line, but with Lyon dead and their deputy commander wounded, Maj. Sam Sturgis elects to withdraw. We will return to the hotel by 6:30 and then go have a group dinner at 7.

Lunch and dinner are included.

Saturday, September 30, 2023

8:15 AM: Depart the hotel. We have finished the interpretation of the battle but will go back to pick up some interesting and important sites outside the park boundary. We will reorient with a final trip at the visitor center before going to the western part of Bloody Hill, which also saw Confederate operations staged against the Federal position atop the hill. We will then follow Sigel’s retreat from the battlefield. Lunch and a trip back to Springfield, where we will visit the National Cemetery and talk about the fighting that took place in Springfield. We will then return to the hotel to dismiss.

You can be on your way by 5:00 PM.

About the Faculty

William Garrett Piston is retired as a Professor of History from Southwest 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.