The First Battles: April 1861 to February 1862

Movements in the West

Why do we know so much less about the fighting in the West?

In part this is because there were so many more reporters, newspapers, and telegraphs in the East. News traveled more quickly there, and, over time, the seekers of news came to listen more to what happened in Virginia than in Missouri or Kentucky. But if one examines the situation from a modern-day perspective, it is apparent that Missouri and Kentucky were extremely important: if the Confederates had won both of those states, it is unlikely that the Union could have prevailed.

Operating under that belief, Nathaniel Lyon, who had recently been promoted to brigadier general,, led about six thousand federal men into central Missouri, where they battled almost twice as many Confederates at the Battle of Wilson’s Creek. Lyon fought with the same crazed ferocity that marked his conduct in St. Louis, and he died that afternoon, the first person of general rank to die on the Union side. The battle was a bloody standoff, but in its wake, the Federals withdrew across the state, leaving much of Missouri in Confederate hands.


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