Fought less than a month after the better known battle of Bull Run, Wilson’s Creek was the second major battle of the Civil War. Families and history buffs traveling through Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas can have a nice military history experience at the battlefield, which is located a few minutes southwest of Springfield, Missouri.
As a battle, Wilson’s Creek has much to recommend it. It was one of the few battles where the Union forces were both outnumbered and on the attack, at least at the outset. In August of 1861, Union general Nathaniel Lyon led five and a half thousand men in a surprise attack against more than twelve thousand Confederates. Though initially successful, Lyon’s reinforcements from the south were cut off, forcing he and his remaining men to make a stand on what came to be known as Bloody Hill. Lyon himself was killed in the fighting and after six hours of terrible battle, his successor led the beaten Union army into retreat.
The Confederate victory left the South with control of the southwestern part of the state of Missouri, and helped fuel additional support for the Confederacy from pro-slavery elements within it. It also setup a re-match that would be fought at Pea Ridge in 1862.
As one of the less well known battlefields, Wilson’s Creek National battlefield lacks some of the amenities that more famous battlefields have received over the years. For example, Wilson’s Creek lacks the video room and custom short film that shows a re-enactment of the battle that has become standard at most Civil War battlefields. The table light show that does exist, however, gives a good view of how the battle progressed, while the mementos and pictures can give visitors a reasonable understanding of the lead-up to, fighting of, and aftermath of the battle.
Like most Civil War battlefields, Wilson’s Creek has a single road running around it, allowing visitors to drive the battlefield. At various point along the way there are large signs that show the significance of any given spot, making it possible to see all the important sites in an hour or two, depending on how much walking one is willing to do. Afterwards, food and accommodations can be found in nearby Springfield, Missouri.
Though the Wilson’s Creek Visitor Center is free to visit, the battlefield itself is not. Entry to the battlefield costs $5.00 per adult (age 16 and up) to a maximum of $10 per car. Children aged 15 and less enter for free. You can also by a Wilson’s Creek Annual Pass for $20.00 and a National Park Annual Pass for $80.00. The former lets you get into Wilson’s Creek as much as you like over a year, the latter any national park for that year. The best deal, however, is the Senior Pass. For only $10.00 a U.S. citizen aged 62 or older can gain entrance to any national park for the rest of his or her life, and bring a carload of people with them! If you have a history minded parent or grandparent, or are one yourself, there’s no better deal than travelling the national parks together.