Monday, July 1, 1861
After his relatively simple victory in Boonville, Missouri, Union General Nathaniel Lyon spent the next two weeks preparing to march. His opponents, Missouri Governor Claiborne Jackson and General Sterling Price, had fled the area. Price had separated from the Missouri State Guard and Jackson in order to recruit more men.
By this date, he had collected nearly 800, encamped at Poole’s Prairie (six miles south of Neosho), thirty-five miles south of Carthage. Jackson and the Missouri State Guard were licking their wounds in Lamar, twenty miles north of Carthage. By this time, however, he had collected several thousand men and was able to arm most of them.
Lyon had begun to consolidate the Union forces under his command (soon to be known as the Army of the West). His column of 2,400 men had fought and won the skirmish at Boonville, but left the remainder of his force in St. Louis. Since the skirmish, troops had been moving from St. Louis to Rolla by train. This column under Col. Franz Sigel was 3,500 strong, but spread out through the towns of Neosho, Mt. Vernon and Sarcoxie. These towns, however, were between Poole’s Prairie and Lamar, held by the Rebels.1
Sigel wished to dispose of Price, who he outnumbered, and then turn on Jackson, who he knew he didn’t outnumber. On the 29th, he began marching towards Poole’s Prairie, but soon got word that Price had fled to Elk Mills in the southwest corner of the state. With Price out of the immediate picture, he turned to focus upon Jackson.
Additionally, a force of 2,200 United States Regulars and Kansas volunteers under Major Samuel Sturgis had just crossed the boarder into Missouri. Lyon wished for both of their columns to meet in Osceloa, 90 miles northwest of Carthage. On this date, after leaving Kansas City, they were near Harrisonville.
General Lyon, however, was still in Boonville. The Missouri rains had forced his men to stay put, even after they had procured a train to take them south.2
When Will Patterson Cross?
North of Washington, Union Col. Stone was readying his Rockville Expedition for a march from Poolesville, Maryland to join with General Patterson’s army near Hagerstown and Williamsport. Stone thought that by the next evening, he should be able to occupy Maryland Heights opposite Harpers Ferry. These were the same heights that Patterson’s scouts claimed were retaken by 2,000 Rebels two days before. Stone did not believe these claims and made no mention of them. He regretted leaving Poolesville and hoped that his troops “may be replaced before any evil results.” As he was leaving, he placed a guard of 100 District of Columbia militiamen at Edwards Ferry with two days rations.3
General Patterson had wired Washington that his force would cross the Potomac on this day. However, it did not. No explanation was ever given (even in his memoirs), but on July 1st, his entire command was still in Maryland. General-in-Chief Winfield Scott wired Patterson to inform him “in confidence” that he hoped to “move a column of about 35,000 men [under General Irvin McDowell] early next week” towards General Beauregard’s Confederate Army of the Potomac near Manassas. No questions or orders accompanied this information.
Patterson’s role in this movement was already known. He was to keep Johnston’s Confederate Army of the Shenandoah from reinforcing Beauregard. To do this, he would actually need to cross the Potomac.4
The Confederate Situation in Western Virginia
Confederate troops under General Robert Garnett were holed up in the mountains in two passes near Beverly and Leedsville. He had told General Lee of his situation and on this date, Lee replied, praising Garnett for his defenses. He also promised that a few companies of infantry and two companies of cavalry would be sent right away. Lee again brought up the Cheat River Bridge near Rowlesburg, telling Garnett that “the rupture of the railroad at Cheat River would be worth to us an army.”
Lee’s letter would take a few days to reach the front, in the mountains of western Virginia. In the meantime, Garnett wrote again to Richmond. His outlook was grim. While Lee praised the General’s defensive position, Garnett saw the situation first-hand. He was indeed on the defensive “with the railroad running across my entire front, I have become satisfied that I cannot operate beyond my present position with any reasonable expectation of substantial success, with the present force under mycommand, and deem it my duty to state the fact.”
He had hoped to gather recruits from the area, but only eight had joined him because “these people are thoroughly imbued with an ignorant and bigoted Union sentiment.”
He knew that Lee wanted him to attack the Cheat River Bridge, but moving enough men in that direction would leave only 2,000 to cover his present position. Besides, twenty-two carloads of Union infantry were reported to have reinforced the area around the bridge. If that turned out to be true, the Union forces could easily descend upon his rear, forcing him to divide his forces a third time.
All in all, Garnett wished to have 3000 – 4000 more men. He doubted that they could be spared for his command, but feared if they were not.5
- Wilson’s Creek by Piston & Hatcher [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p15-17, 389. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p119. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p158. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 2, p239-240. [↩]