Tuesday, August 13, 1861
The long march of retreat from the Wilson’s Creek battlefield to Rolla, Missouri entered its third hot and dusty day. The column of defeated Union troops waited in the increasingly uncomfortable sun for three hours, while General Sigel allowed his German troops to eat a hearty breakfast. The cries for Sigel’s removal, from privates and officers alike, that had risen during the first two days of the march reached a crescendo on this morning.
Officers took their ire to Major Sturgis, who had temporarily taken command of the Army of the West during the late battle when General Lyon was killed, and begged him to retake control of the forces. Seeing that the situation was nearing the stage of mutiny, Sturgis reluctantly agreed.
Though General Sigel technically outranked Major Sturgis, Sigel had received no commission in the regular army. He was just a Brigadier-General of volunteers. This might be enough to convince Sigel that he had to go.
When Sturgis approached Sigel, the General was outraged and refused to let go the reigns. Seeing, however, that not all of the officers under him wished to see him gone, he suggested it be put to a vote. Sturgis refused. If it were put to a vote and Sigel won, said Sturgis, “some of you might refuse to obey my orders, and I should be under the necessity of shooting you.”
The matter was closed and the retreat march resumed in good order, though it would take another four days to reach Rolla. The Confederates under General Ben McCulloch remained in Springfield, too undisciplined and worn out to follow.1
At Least Three Independent Rebel Commands in Missouri, and General US Grant
In southeastern Missouri, things had taken the air of a stalemate. The Union controlled three points along the Mississippi River: Bird’s Point and Cape Girardeau in Missouri and Cairo, Illinois. Down the river, the Confederates, 12,000 strong under General Gideon Pillow, held New Madrid. Pillow had received orders from his commander, General Leonidas Polk, who was a bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana, to abandon his position, but when Polk heard of Lyon’s victory at Wilson’s Creek, the orders were countermanded.
In between McCulloch’s victorious army and Pillow’s force at the Mississippi was a sizable Confederate command under General William J. Hardee, the man who, quite literally, wrote the book on infantry tactics. Hardee occupied Greenville, roughly eighty miles northwest of Pillow’s position.
Adding to the mix was the Missouri State Guard under General Jeff Thompson at Sikeston, twenty miles north of Pillow.
Though the three commands were technically on the same side (that of the rebellion), they were largely independent. The two Confederate Generals, Pillow and Hardee, were under the command of General Polk, headquartered in Memphis. Pillow, however, had been a general in the Tennessee Army (similar to the Missouri State Guards) and wasn’t especially keen on being folded into the Confederate Army. Hardee, being so far away, was basically on his own. Thompson, commanding the Missouri State Guards, took orders from the disposed Governor of Missouri, Claiborne Jackson.2
Thompson and Pillow wished to take Union-held Cape Girardeau and wanted Hardee and his 2,000 men to join them. On this date, Thompson, who was busy destroying railroads near Sikeston, wrote to Hardee. He informed him that Pillow would remain in New Madrid and that he hoped Hardee would act in conjunction with them.3
Though he wished to see Cape Girardeau in Confederate hands, Hardee had other problems to worry about. Less than forty miles north was a 4,000 strong Union force under General Ulysses S. Grant. Having already been denied the use of General Thompson’s Missouri State Guard, on this date, Hardee wrote to General Ben McCulloch, asking him to join forces (or at least send reinforcements) so they might confront Grant.4
General Grant, however, was flooded with rumors of 3,000 mounted troops nearby tearing up the railroads (this was probably a gross exaggeration of Thompson’s Missouri State Guards) and, more importantly, that 5,000 well-armed men under General Hardee were advancing on Ironton. Of course, these were just rumors and were basically untrue. Hardee and his couple thousand men had no plans to leave Greenville.5
In St. Louis, General John Fremont, commander of the Western Department, had just received word of the Union defeat at Wilson’s Creek. He immediately forwarded a brigade of Iowans to Rolla, fearing that McCulloch might be in pursuit. While that was certainly a sign of solid leadership (or fairly decent hindsight), Fremont was beginning to lose control. He sent a flurry of frantic and almost nagging telegraphs to several Cabinet members and even the President in Washington.
This series of telegrams moved Washington to act. Secretary of War Simon Cameron sent orders to Ohio and Illinois to immediately forward troops to Fremont.
Closer to a New State
The Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention had been meeting since August 6 in an attempt to form their own state. By this time, things seemed to be progressing well enough, with the argument evolving from whether or not to secede from Virginia to the question of how many counties will form the new state.
The counties in the Shenandoah Valley were a sticking point. On this date, the Committee on a Division of the State published its Division of the State Ordinance. This took the incredibly bold step of including not only every Shenandoah Valley county, but all counties along the Potomac River and near Washington.
The state was to be called New Virginia, but then it was changed to Allegheny. There was some opposition to the Ordinance itself, however. More than a few delegates urged the postponement of the Ordinance until February, 1862.
For the next week, the Ordinance would be argued over by the delegates, most hoping to form their own state, but disagreeing over how and when.6
- Bloody Hill by Brooksher. [↩]
- Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, Volume 2 by Benson John Lossing, T. Belknap, 1874 – This sounds like a children’s book or something, but I assure you that it is not. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p647-648. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p672. [↩]
- Official Records, Series 1, Vol. 3, p440. [↩]
- Proceedings of the Second Session of the Second Wheeling Convention, August 13, 1861. [↩]